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It may account for more than 80% of the matter in the universe and provide the "gravitational glue" that keeps galaxies together, but dark matter remains a mystery – despite tantalizing hints obtained by researchers in the US late last year. The current best bet is that it consists of slow-moving (or "cold") particles that do not interact with electromagnetic radiation. Indeed, this "cold dark matter" (CDM) is so abundant that astrophysicists can simply use it to predict the shape of some types of galaxies – completely ignoring the tiny effects of visible matter that makes up the stars.
However, this CDM-only approach has failed spectacularly when it comes to studying "dwarf" galaxies – bodies with less than 10% of the mass of the Milky Way. CDM–only simulations suggest that the central regions of these dwarf galaxies should contain a dark-matter core that gets rapidly denser towards the middle. However, observations reveal no such central cusp but a constant density of dark matter throughout the core. Even worse, CDM–only models also predict that the centres of dwarf galaxies should include a dense bulge of stars, which is not seen in real life either.
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After years of struggling to understand how to properly assemble a galaxy, astronomers have discovered that the answer is blowin’ in the wind. The supernova wind, that is.
New computer simulations show that winds generated by supernovas, which are the explosions of massive stars, can push stars out from the center of a dwarf galaxy. This simulation of supernova winds redistributes both ordinary matter and invisible dark matter in a way that almost perfectly matches observations of the way matter is distributed in actual dwarf galaxies. Fabio Governato of the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues describe their simulations in the Jan. 14 Nature.
Previous attempts to model galaxy formation based on the highly successful theory of cold dark matter — which states that invisible material must account for 85 percent of the mass of the universe — have done “an awesome job” of explaining such global properties as where, when and how many galaxies should form, notes Governato. But the models have failed to reproduce some of the key features of individual galaxies.
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