Galaxy formation simulated without dark matter

For the first time, researchers from the Universities of Bonn and Strasbourg have simulated the formation of galaxies in a universe without dark matter. To replicate this process on the computer, they have instead modified Newton’s laws of gravity. The galaxies that were created in the computer calculations are similar to those we actually see today. According to the scientists, their assumptions could solve many mysteries of modern cosmology.

Cosmologists today assume that matter was not distributed entirely evenly after the Big Bang. The denser places attracted more matter from their surroundings due to their stronger gravitational forces. Over the course of several billion years, these accumulations of gas eventually formed the galaxies we see today.

An important ingredient of this theory is the so-called dark matter. On the one hand, it is said to be responsible for the initial uneven distribution that led to the agglomeration of the gas clouds. It also explains some puzzling observations. For instance, stars in rotating galaxies often move so fast that they should actually be ejected. It appears that there is an additional source of gravity in the galaxies that prevents this—a kind of “star putty” that cannot be seen with telescopes: dark matter.

However, there is still no direct proof of its existence. “Perhaps the gravitational forces themselves simply behave differently than previously thought,” explains Prof. Dr. Pavel Kroupa*. This theory bears the abbreviation MOND (MOdified Newtonian Dynamics); it was discovered by the Israeli physicist Prof. Dr. Mordehai Milgrom. According to the theory, the attraction between two masses obeys Newton’s laws only up to a certain point. Under very low accelerations, as is the case in galaxies, it becomes considerably stronger. This is why galaxies do not break apart as a result of their rotational speed.

“In cooperation with Dr. Benoit Famaey in Strasbourg, we have now simulated for the first time whether galaxies would form in a MOND universe and if so, which ones,” says Kroupa’s doctoral student Nils Wittenburg. To do this he used a computer program for complex gravitational calculations which was developed in Kroupa’s group. Because with MOND, the attraction of a body depends not only on its own mass, but also on whether other objects are in its vicinity.

“Our simulation is only a first step,” emphasizes Kroupa. For example, the scientists have so far only made very simple assumptions about the original distribution of matter and the conditions in the young universe. “We now have to repeat the calculations and include more complex influencing factors. Then we will see if the MOND theory actually explains reality.”

*Helmholtz Institute for Radiation and Nuclear Physics at the University of Bonn

Source: “Galaxy formation simulated without dark matter” PhysOrg, 7 February 2020 <https://phys.org/news/2020-02-galaxy-formation-simulated-dark.html>.

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