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Something strange is generating a ton of radiation from our galaxy’s core

Published Aug 28th, 2020 4:05PM EDT
milky way radiation
Image: Yin/Adobe

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  • Scientists are trying to narrow down the possible sources of gamma radiation coming from the center of the Milky Way.
  • The latest research shoots down the possibility that the radiation is coming from the destruction of dark matter.
  • Going forward, additional research will be needed to further narrow the possible sources.

In space, size is relative. Earth is huge… until you look at Jupiter. The same goes for our solar system, which seems massive until you consider how many stars and planets are chilling out in our home galaxy, the Milky Way. We think we know most of what’s going on in our little galactic neighborhood, but there are still some mysteries yet to be uncovered.

One such mystery is a bizarre radiation source near the center of the galaxy. Scientists believe there’s a supermassive black hole sitting near the galactic center — and this is true of most galaxies, or so the theory goes — but there’s something else nearby that is producing a whole bunch of energy in the form of radiation. What is it? Well, we don’t know yet, but a new study helped prove what it’s not.

In a new paper published in the journal Physical Review D, a research team led by the University of California explain that one of the more popular theories regarding the energy source appears to be debunked. According to the researchers, the idea that the radiation was the result of dark matter being torn apart by the intense activity near the galactic center just doesn’t hold water.

Using a wealth of gathered data, the researchers crunched the numbers and say that the math just doesn’t add up, ruling out the possibility that the gamma rays bursting from the galactic center couldn’t have been produced by “weakly interacting massive particles,” which is what scientists believe makes up dark matter.

“In many models, this particle ranges from 10 to 1,000 times the mass of a proton, with more massive particles being less attractive theoretically as a dark matter particle,” Manoj Kaplinghat, co-author of the study, said in a statement. “In this paper, we’re eliminating dark matter candidates over the favored range, which is a huge improvement in the constraints we put on the possibilities that these are representative of dark matter.”

Now, it’s important to note that there’s still a ton we don’t know about dark matter. Scientists believe it exists because it would be the missing piece in most accepted calculations regarding the universe, its expansion, and the gravitational forces at work in deep space. The researchers accounted for a wide range of potential “dark matter candidates” to check for the widest range of compatibility with the models they tested.

So, for now, we still don’t know what is causing all that radiation near the Milky Way’s center, but at least now there’s one less possibility for scientists to consider.