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When the very first stars lit up, they may have been fueled by the dark matter that has long eluded scientists.
These "dark stars," first born nearly 13 billion years ago, might still exist today. Although they would not shed any visible light, astronomers might detect these invisible giants — some 400 to 200,000 times wider than our sun and 500 to 1,000 times more massive — because they should spew gamma rays, neutrinos and antimatter and be linked with clouds of cold, molecular hydrogen gas that normally would not harbor such energetic particles.
If scientists find these stars, they could aid the search to discover and identify dark matter. They could also help solve the mystery of why black holes formed much faster than expected.
Scientists think unseen, as-yet unidentified dark matter makes up about 95 percent of all matter in the universe. They know it exists because galaxies rotate faster than can be explained by the visible matter within them.
In one corner are calculations for the structure of a neutron star; in another the structure of the proton. The squiggles in the middle concern the neutralino, a hypothetical particle that, if it exists, could be a candidate for the universe's mysterious dark matter.
In particle physics, the neutralino is a hypothetical particle, part of the doubling of the menagerie of particles predicted by supersymmetric theories. The standard symbol for neutralinos is (chi), where i runs from 1 to 4.
As a heavy, stable particle, the lightest neutralino is an excellent candidate to comprise the universe's cold dark matter. In many models the lightest neutralino can be produced thermally in the hot early universe and leave approximately the right relic abundance to account for the observed dark matter. A lightest neutralino of roughly 10-10000 GeV is the leading weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP) dark matter candidate.
Neutralino dark matter could be observed experimentally in nature either indirectly or directly. In the former case, gamma ray and neutrino telescopes look for evidence of neutralino annihilation in regions of high dark matter density such as the galactic or solar center. In the latter case, special purpose experiments such as the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) seek to detect the rare impacts of WIMPs in terrestrial detectors. These experiments have begun to probe interesting supersymmetric parameter space, excluding some models for neutralino dark matter, and upgraded experiments with greater sensitivity are under development.