Astronomers studying the motions of galaxies and the character of the cosmic microwave background radiation came to realize in the last century that most of the matter in the universe was not visible. About 84 percent of the matter in the cosmos is dark matter, much of it located in halos around galaxies. It was dubbed dark matter because it does not emit light, but it is also mysterious: it is not composed of atoms or their usual constituents like electrons and protons. Many old Black holes with masses between about two and fourteen solar masses, right in the expected range for these exotic objects, could make up Dark Matter.
CfA astronomer Qirong Zhu led a group of four scientists investigating the possibility that today’s dark matter is composed of primordial black holes, following up on previously published suggestions. If galaxy halos are made of black holes, they should have a different density distribution than halos made of exotic particles. There are some other differences as well—black hole halos are expected to form earlier in a galaxy’s evolution than do some other kinds of halos.
The scientists suggest that looking at the stars in the halos of faint dwarf galaxies can probe these effects because dwarf galaxies are small and faint (they shine with a mere few thousand solar luminosities) where slight effects can be more easily spotted.
The team ran a set of computer simulations to test whether dwarf galaxy halos might reveal the presence of primordial black holes, and they find that they could: interactions between stars and primordial halo black holes should slightly alter the sizes of the stellar distributions.
The astronomers also conclude that such black holes would need to have masses between about two and fourteen solar masses, right in the expected range for these exotic objects (although smaller than the black holes recently spotted by gravitational wave detectors) and comparable to the conclusions of other studies.
The team emphasizes, however, that all the models are still inconclusive and the nature of dark matter remains elusive.
The ground-breaking detections of gravitational waves from black hole mergers by LIGO have rekindled interest in primordial black holes (PBHs) and the possibility of dark matter being composed of PBHs. It has been suggested that PBHs of tens of solar masses could serve as dark matter candidates. Recent analytical studies demonstrated that compact ultra-faint dwarf galaxies can serve as a sensitive test for the PBH dark matter hypothesis, since stars in such a halo-dominated system would be heated by the more massive PBHs, their present-day distribution can provide strong constraints on PBH mass. In this study, we further explore this scenario with more detailed calculations, using a combination of dynamical simulations and Bayesian inference methods. The joint evolution of stars and PBH dark matter is followed with a Fokker–Planck code PHASEFLOW. We run a large suite of such simulations for different dark matter parameters, then use a Markov chain Monte Carlo approach to constrain the PBH properties with observations of ultra-faint galaxies. We find that two-body relaxation between the stars and PBH drives up the stellar core size, and increases the central stellar velocity dispersion. Using the observed half-light radius and velocity dispersion of stars in the compact ultra-faint dwarf galaxies as joint constraints, we infer that these dwarfs may have a cored dark matter halo with the central density in the range of 1–2 M⊙pc − 3, and that the PBHs may have a mass range of 2–14 M⊙ if they constitute all or a substantial fraction of the dark matter.