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New Hubble Data Explains Missing Dark Matter

The small fraction of dark matter in the galaxy NGC1052-DF4 has worried the astronomical community for several years. New research has found a mechanism that can explain it.

An international team of researchers uncovered in 2018, for the first time, a galaxy in our cosmic neighborhood that is missing most of its dark matter. This discovery of the galaxy NGC 1052-DF2 was a surprise to astronomers, as it was understood that Dark matter (DM) is a key constituent in current models of galaxy formation and evolution. In fact, without the presence of DM, the primordial gas would lack enough gravity pull to start collapsing and forming new galaxies. A year later, another galaxy that misses dark matter was discovered, NGC 1052-DF4, which further triggered intense debates among astronomers about the nature of these objects.

The researchers looking now into new data from the Hubble Space Telescope which provides further evidence for tidal disruption in the same galaxy.
The gravity forces of the neighboring massive galaxy NGC 1035 are tearing NGC 1052-DF4 apart. During this process, the dark matter is removed, while the stars feel the effects of the interaction with another galaxy at a later stage.

Until now, the removal of dark matter in this way has remained hidden from astronomers as it can only be observed using extremely deep images that can reveal extremely faint features.

By studying the galaxy’s light, the astronomers also found evidence of tidal tails, which are formed of material moving away from NGC1052-DF4 — this further supports the conclusion that this is a disruption event. Additional analysis concluded that the central parts of the galaxy remain untouched and only ∼ 7% of the stellar mass of the galaxy is hosted in these tidal tails. This means that dark matter, which is less concentrated than stars, was previously and preferentially stripped from the galaxy, and now the outer stellar component is starting to be stripped as well.

“This result is a good indicator that, while the dark matter of the galaxy was evaporated from the system, the stars are only now starting to suffer the disruption mechanism,” explained team member Ignacio Trujillo of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in Spain. “In time, NGC1052-DF4 will be cannibalised by the large system around NGC1035, with at least some of their stars floating free in deep space.”

The discovery of evidence to support the mechanism of tidal disruption as the explanation for the galaxy’s missing dark matter has not only solved an astronomical conundrum, but has also brought a sigh of relief to astronomers. Without it, scientists would be faced with having to revise our understanding of the laws of gravity.

The discovery of evidence to support the mechanism of tidal disruption as the explanation for the galaxy’s missing dark matter has not only solved an astronomical conundrum, but has also brought a sigh of relief to astronomers. Without it, scientists would be faced with having to revise our understanding of the laws of gravity.

“This discovery reconciles existing knowledge of how galaxies form and evolve with the most favorable cosmological model,” added
Mireia Montes, of the University of New South Wales in Australia, led the international team of astronomers to study the galaxy using deep optical imaging.

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