In a paper published online in the journal Physics Letters B (arXiv.org’s version), theoretical physicists from Vanderbilt University propose that dark matter may be made out of a type of basic particle called the Majorana fermion.
Previous studies have suggested that dark matter is made from Majorana fermions, whose existence was predicted in 1937 by the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana. In the new study, Vanderbilt scientists have performed detailed calculations that demonstrate that these particles are uniquely suited to possess a rare, donut-shaped type of electromagnetic field called an anapole. This field gives them properties that differ from those of particles that possess the more common fields possessing two poles (north and south, positive and negative) and explains why they are so difficult to detect.
“There are a great many different theories about the nature of dark matter. What I like about this theory is its simplicity, uniqueness and the fact that it can be tested,” said co-author Prof Robert Scherrer.
“Most models for dark matter assume that it interacts through exotic forces that we do not encounter in everyday life. Anapole dark matter makes use of ordinary electromagnetism that you learned about in school – the same force that makes magnets stick to your refrigerator or makes a balloon rubbed on your hair stick to the ceiling.”
“Further, the model makes very specific predictions about the rate at which it should show up in the vast dark matter detectors that are buried underground all over the world. These predictions show that soon the existence of anapole dark matter should either be discovered or ruled out by these experiments.”
The existence of dark matter was also first proposed in the 1930′s to explain discrepancies in the rotational rate of galactic clusters. Scientists hypothesize that dark matter cannot be seen in telescopes because it does not interact very strongly with light and other electromagnetic radiation. In fact, astronomical observations have basically ruled out the possibility that dark matter particles carry electrical charges.
More recently, though, several physicists have examined dark matter particles that don’t carry electrical charges, but have electric or magnetic dipoles. The only problem is that even these more complicated models are ruled out for Majorana particles. That is one of the reasons that Vanderbilt scientists took a closer look at dark matter with an anapole magnetic moment.
“Although Majorana fermions are electrically neutral, fundamental symmetries of nature forbid them from acquiring any electromagnetic properties except the anapole,” said study co-author Dr Chiu Man Ho. The existence of a magnetic anapole was predicted by the Soviet physicist Yakov Zel’dovich in 1958. Since then it has been observed in the magnetic structure of the nuclei of cesium-133 and ytterbium-174 atoms.
Particles with familiar electrical and magnetic dipoles, interact with electromagnetic fields even when they are stationary. Particles with anapole fields don’t. They must be moving before they interact and the faster they move the stronger the interaction. As a result, anapole particles would have been have been much more interactive during the early days of the Universe and would have become less and less interactive as the Universe expanded and cooled.
The anapole dark matter particles would annihilate in the early Universe just like other proposed dark matter particles, and the left-over particles from the process would form the dark matter we see today. But because dark matter is moving so much more slowly at the present day, and because the anapole interaction depends on how fast it moves, these particles would have escaped detection so far, but only just barely.
Bibliographic information: Chiu Man Ho, Robert J. Scherrer. 2013. Anapole dark matter. Physics Letters B, vol. 722, no. 4–5, pp. 341–346; doi: 10.1016/j.physletb.2013.04.039