Astronomers wonder what holds together a distant galaxy that appears to contain no traces of dark matter.
The galaxy, called AGC 114905, is located about 250 million light years from Earth and is almost as large as the Milky Way. This distant galaxy, however, contains a thousand times fewer stars than our galactic home.
According to theoretical models, these scattered galaxies must be held together by dark matter, the mysterious invisible matter that, according to estimates, makes up about 85% of all matter in the universe. But when astronomers measured AGC 114905 using the Very Large Array in New Mexico, they found that this strange galaxy contains absolutely nothing.
Gallery: dark matter throughout the universe
The team, led by Pavel Mancera Piña, an astronomer at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the Dutch Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), did not choose to study AGC 114905 by chance.
Previous observations indicated that this galaxy, as well as five others, could be very poor in dark matter. But the findings were so at odds with the theory that Mancera Piña and his colleagues decided to measure again.
However, even after 40 hours of measurements with one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, the researchers found no dark matter at all.
“This is, of course, what we thought and expected because it confirms our previous measurements,” Mancera Piña said in a statement. “But now the problem remains that the theory predicts that there must be dark matter in AGC 114905, but our observations say there is not. In fact, the difference between theory and observation is increasing.”
AGC 114905 is not the first galaxy devoid of dark matter discovered by astronomers. In 2018, a team led by Yale University astronomer Pieter van Dokkum discovered that a galaxy called NGC 1052-DF2, about 60 million light-years from Earth, appears to contain no dark matter. However, the techniques and measurements used in the recent Mancera Piña study are more robust than that work, the scientists said in the new statement.
Scientists believe that their galaxy could have been stripped of its dark matter by another nearby, more massive galaxy. The strange thing, however, is that there seems to be no galaxy capable of such a feat in the vicinity of AGC 114905.
Meanwhile, researchers are examining a second ultra-fuzzy dwarf galaxy from its original set of six. If they also find no traces of dark matter in that galaxy, the case for dark matter-poor galaxies will be even stronger, the scientists said in the statement.
The study was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on Monday (December 6).
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