Dark Matter Capture and Annihilation Can Heat Old, Isolated Neutron Stars, Physicists Say

A team of particle physicists from the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, King’s College London and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has calculated that energy transferred when dark matter particles collide and annihilate inside cold neutron stars can heat the stars up very quickly; it was previously thought that this energy transfer could take a very long time, in some cases, longer than the age of the Universe itself, rendering this heating irrelevant.

There has been much recent work on the capture of dark matter in neutron stars as a sensitive probe of dark matter interactions with ordinary matter.

This can potentially be used to test dark matter interactions in a way that is highly complementary to experiments on Earth, especially since dark matter is accelerated to relativistic speeds during infall to a neutron star.

In some cases, neutron star techniques could potentially probe interactions that would be difficult or impossible to ever observe in dark matter direct detection experiments. This includes dark matter that is too light to leave a detectable signal in nuclear-recoil experiments, or interactions for which the non-relativistic scattering cross section is momentum suppressed.

It was recently pointed out that old, isolated neutron stars in the solar neighborhood could be heated by dark matter capture, leading to a temperature increase of 2000 K.

At ages greater than 10 million years, isolated neutron stars are expected to cool to temperatures below this, provided they are not reheated by accretion of standard matter or by internal heating mechanisms.

As a result, the observation of a local neutron star could provide stringent constraints on dark matter interactions. Importantly, neutron star temperatures in this range would result in near-infrared emission, potentially detectable by future telescopes.

“Our new calculations show for the first time that most of the energy would be deposited in just a few days,” said University of Melbourne’s Professor Nicole Bell, first author of the study.

“The search for dark matter is one of the greatest detective stories in science.”

“Dark matter makes up 85% of the matter in our Universe, yet we can’t see it.”

“It doesn’t interact with light — it doesn’t absorb light, it doesn’t reflect light, it doesn’t emit light.”

“This means our telescopes can’t directly observe it, even though we know it exists.”

“Instead, its gravitational pull on objects we can see tells us it must be there.”

“It is one thing to theoretically predict dark matter, but it is another thing to experimentally observe it.”

“Experiments on Earth are limited by the technical challenges of making sufficiently large detectors.”

“However, neutron stars act as huge natural dark matter detectors, which have been collecting dark matter for astronomically long timescales, so they are a good place for us to concentrate our efforts.”

“Neutron stars are formed when a supermassive star runs out of fuel and collapses,” Professor Bell said.

“They have a mass similar to that of our Sun, squeezed into a ball just 20 km wide. Any denser, they would become black holes.”

“While dark matter is the dominant type of matter in the Universe, it is very hard to detect because its interactions with ordinary matter are very weak.”

“So weak, in fact, that dark matter can pass straight through the Earth, or even through the Sun.”

“But neutron stars are different — they are so dense that dark matter particles are much more likely to interact with the star.”

“If dark matter particles do collide with neutrons in the star, they will lose energy and become trapped.”

“Over time, this would lead to an accumulation of dark matter in the star.”

“This is expected to heat up old, cold, neutron stars to a level that may be in reach of future observations, or even trigger the collapse of the star to a black hole,” said University of Melbourne Ph.D. candidate Michael Virgato, co-author of the study.

“If the energy transfer happens quickly enough, the neutron star would be heated up.”

“For this to happen, the dark matter must undergo many collisions in the star, transferring more and more of the dark matter’s energy until, eventually, all the energy has been deposited in the star.”

“It’s previously been unknown how long this process would take because, as the energy of the dark matter particles becomes smaller and smaller, they are less and less likely to interact again.”

“As a result, transferring all the energy was thought to take a very long time — sometimes longer than the age of the Universe.”

Instead, the researchers calculated that 99% of the energy is transferred in just a few days.

“This is good news because it means that dark matter can heat neutron stars to a level that can potentially be detected,” Virgato said.

“As a result, the observation of a cold neutron star would provide vital information about the interactions between dark and regular matter, shedding light on the nature of this elusive substance.”

“If we are to understand dark matter — which is everywhere — it is critical that we use every technique at our disposal to figure out what the hidden matter of our Universe actually is.”

The study was published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

Dark Matter Capture and Annihilation Can Heat Old, Isolated Neutron Stars, Physicists Say Dark Matter Capture and Annihilation Can Heat Old, Isolated Neutron Stars, Physicists Say Reviewed by Explore With Us on April 05, 2024 Rating: 5

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