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Physicists provide new insight into dark matter, dark energy

Physics Professor Djordje Minic and Associate Professor Tatsu Takeuchi won a Buchalter Cosmology Prize from the American Astronomical Society for a paper that tackles the puzzles of dark matter and dark energy, the two mysterious components of the universe that respectively comprise about 26 percent and 69 percent, or 95 percent of the content of the universe.

The paper postulates that the ratio of ordinary matter to dark matter is governed by dark energy.

(The remaining 5 percent of the universe’s makeup? That’s everything we can see.)

“The hypothesized dark matter is completely shrouded in mystery,” Minic said. “Dark matter cannot be observed electromagnetically and hence the term ‘dark’ as opposed to the familiar visible matter, also known as baryonic matter,” he added. “However, dark matter makes its presence known unambiguously via gravitational effects at different length scales.

“Suggestions that the abundances of baryonic and dark matter at the galactic scale may be related via an acceleration scale set by dark energy has been made previously. What is new in our model is that we are extending that premise to all scales, to the scale of galaxy clusters, and even to the cosmological scale,” Minic said. “And we are supporting this hypothesis with a careful analysis of astronomical data.”

Tastu and Djordje stand with cinderblock hallway receding in background
(Left to right) Physics Tatsu Takeuchi and Djordje Minic

The five-member team behind the paper has more Hokie connections than Minic and Takeuchi, with Doug Edmonds, a Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Physics, and former Virginia Tech faculty member Duncan Farrah — now at the University of Hawaii. Rounding out the team is Jack Ng, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a regular collaborator of the Virginia Tech group.

Takeuchi added, “In five years, we not only will have more astronomical data in addition to the already vast database of existing data, but also a better idea of how to process that data in order to extract more information about the properties of dark matter. Whether our findings are surprising or mundane, we expect to gain a deeper understanding of what kind of dark matter is really out there.” 

For further reading on this breakthrough, visit Virginia Tech scientists win cosmology prize for research about dark matter and dark energy