Scientists discover a neighboring galaxy filled with dark matter

Sagittarius Galaxy
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Sagittarius Galaxy

A small satellite galaxy (green sphere, lower left) of the Milky Way – dubbed Sagittarius – was observed from Earth through giant gamma-ray lobes (also known as the Fermi bubbles, purple regions below and above the galaxy). Although Sagittarius is crammed with dark matter, this is unlikely to be the cause of the observed emission. Photo credit: Kavli IPMU

Researchers have used gamma rays to spot a small neighboring galaxy.

According to a new study recently published in the journal natural astronomyAn international research team has discovered a small satellite galaxy

Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system and is named for how it looks from Earth. It is a barred spiral galaxy estimated to contain between 100 and 400 billion stars and is between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years across.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>Milky Way filled with dark matter, but its emissions are more likely the consequence of millisecond pulsars shooting out cosmic particles.

The center of our galaxy is blowing a pair of enormous gamma radiation bubbles spanning 50,000 light-years (magenta structures in the image above). This hourglass-shaped phenomenon was seen using the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope roughly ten years ago, but its origin has remained a mystery.

These radiation lobes are known as Fermi bubbles, and they are patched with a few mysterious substructures of very bright gamma-ray emission. The Fermi cocoon, one of the brightest regions in the southern lobe (magnified inset in the image below), was once believed to be the result of previous outbursts from the galaxy’s supermassive Gamma Ray Image of the Fermi Bubbles

Figure 2. Gamma-ray image of the Fermi bubbles (blue) overlaid on a map of RR Lyrae stars (red) observed by the GAIA telescope. The shape and orientation of the Sagittarius (Sgr) dwarf match perfectly well those of the Fermi cocoon – a bright substructure of gamma-ray radiation in the southern part of the Fermi bubbles. This is strong evidence that the Fermi cocoon is due to energetic processes occurring in Sagittarius, which from our perspective, is located behind the Fermi bubbles. Credit: Crocker, Macias, Mackey, Krumholz, Ando, Horiuchi et al. (2022)

This satellite galaxy of the Milky Way is seen through the Fermi Bubbles from our position on Earth (image 1). Due to its tight orbit around our Galaxy and previous passages through the galactic disk, it has lost most of its interstellar gas and many of its stars have been ripped from its core into elongated streams.

Given that Sagittarius was quiescent — with no gas and no stellar nurseries — there were only a few possibilities for its gamma-ray emission, including: i) a population of unknown millisecond pulsars or ii) dark matter annihilations.

Millisecond pulsars are remnants of certain types of stars, significantly more massive than the Sun, that are in close binary systems, but now blast out cosmic particles as a result of their extreme rotational energies. The electrons fired by millisecond pulsars collide with low-energy photons of the Cosmic Microwave Background propelling them to high-energy gamma radiation.

The researchers demonstrated that the gamma-ray cocoon could be explained by millisecond pulsars in the Sagittarius dwarf, therefore disfavoring the dark matter explanation.

Their discovery sheds light on millisecond pulsars as efficient accelerators of highly-energetic electrons and positrons, and also suggests that similar physical processes could be ongoing in other dwarf satellite galaxies of the Milky Way.

“This is significant because dark matter researchers have long believed that an observation of gamma rays from a dwarf satellite would be a smoking gun signature for dark matter annihilation.”

“Our study compels a reassessment of the high energy emission capabilities of quiescent stellar objects, such as dwarf spheroidal galaxies, and their role as prime targets for dark matter annihilation searches,” said Macias.

Reference: “Gamma-ray emission from the Sagittarius dwarf spheroidal galaxy due to millisecond pulsars” by Roland M. Crocker, Oscar Macias, Dougal Mackey, Mark R. Krumholz, Shin’ichiro Ando, Shunsaku Horiuchi, Matthew G. Baring, Chris Gordon, Thomas Venville, Alan R. Duffy, Rui-Zhi Yang, Felix Aharonian, J. A. Hinton, Deheng Song, Ashley J. Ruiter, and Miroslav D. Filipović, 5 September 2022, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01777-x

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