Dark matter shape determined by Groningen researcher

Photo: Stephan Peters
Photo: Stephan Photo: Stephan Peters, Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of GroningenPhoto: Stephan Peters, Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen

Doctoral student Stephen Peters of the University of Groningen has uncovered new research about one of the greatest scientific mysteries in nature and astronomy: dark matter.

The nature of dark matter, a substance which fills much of our universe, has evaded scientists for many years. The matter itself is difficult to study as its inability to emit nor absorb light means that it cannot be viewed directly with a telescope. However, Peters' 276-page PhD thesis reveals the creation of a new scientific model which posits that dark matter in our Milky Way is shaped like a rugby ball.

“It looks similar to the relationship between the earth and the moon,” Peters explains to the Groningen University newspaper. “The gravity of the earth tries to pull the moon closer to it, but the turning motion of the moon works against this. That way, everything stays in its place.”

Scientists have known of the existence of dark matter since the 1970s due to the movement of stars, gas and plants in areas near black holes, but they have been unable to make exact determinations of the mass of the material.

"The phenomenon somewhat resembles a fog. You can’t tell if it’s ten meters or ten kilometers thick," says Peters. "With galaxies, we can only look a certain distance into the gas, so we don’t know what’s behind it."

Peters is currently a consultant in the Business Intelligence & Analytics department at Deloitte Consulting.