In the 1930s, astronomers began to suspect that clusters of galaxies in our universe must be filled with a mysterious dark matter that kept the galaxy clusters from flying apart. This dark matter can’t be seen, even with telescopes. It doesn’t emit light. It doesn’t absorb light. But since the 1930s, astronomers have come to use the idea of dark matter to account for a large part of the total mass of the universe.
But what about our local area of space – the immediate vicinity in the neighborhood of our sun? Do astronomers know of dark matter that exists nearby?
When we speak of dark matter, we’re often speaking on a grand scale – the scale of our galaxy at least – and often the scale of the whole universe. But experts have been less sure how much dark matter there is in the neighborhood of our own Earth and sun. However, in 2012, European and Chinese astronomers said they found large amounts of dark matter near our sun.
These astronomers developed a new way of measuring mass. They tested their technique first on a state-of-the-art simulation of our galaxy. The results suggested that, in the past, scientists have been underestimating the amount of dark matter in space. So the team adjusted their technique – and then applied it to real data – in this case, the known positions and velocities of thousands of orange dwarf stars near our sun.
Their work showed that dark matter almost definitely does exist – invisibly – in our sun’s vicinity.
Bottom line: Astronomers have grown convinced over decades that dark matter exists on the large scale of our galaxy and universe. In 2012, astronomers in Europe and China found evidence for dark matter in the space near our sun.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.