Dark matter halo

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Simulated dark matter halo from a cosmological N-body simulation

A dark matter halo is a hypothetical component of a galaxy that envelops the galactic disk and extends well beyond the edge of the visible galaxy. The halo's mass dominates the total mass. Since they consist of dark matter, halos cannot be observed directly, but their existence is inferred through their effects on the motions of stars and gas in galaxies. Dark matter halos play a key role in current models of galaxy formation and evolution.

Galaxy rotation curve for the Milky Way. Vertical axis is speed of rotation about the galactic center. Horizontal axis is distance from the galactic center. The sun is marked with a yellow ball. The observed curve of speed of rotation is blue. The predicted curve based upon stellar mass and gas in the Milky Way is red. Scatter in observations roughly indicated by gray bars. The difference is due to dark matter or perhaps a modification of the law of gravity.[1][2][3]

Rotation curves as evidence of a dark matter halo[edit]

The presence of dark matter in the halo is inferred from its gravitational effect on a spiral galaxy's rotation curve. Without large amounts of mass throughout the (roughly spherical) halo, the rotational velocity of the galaxy would decrease at large distances from the galactic center, just as the orbital speeds of the outer planets decrease with distance from the Sun. However, observations of spiral galaxies, particularly radio observations of line emission from neutral atomic hydrogen (known, in astronomical parlance, as HI), show that the rotation curve of most spiral galaxies flattens out, meaning that rotational velocities do not decrease with distance from the galactic center. This is a very general behaviour, evident in the Universal Rotation Curve of Spirals. The absence of any visible matter to account for these observations implies either that unobserved ("dark") matter exists or that the theory of motion under gravity (General Relativity) is incorrect.

The Navarro-Frenk-White profile:[4]

\rho(r)=\frac{\rm constant}{(r/a)(1+r/a)^2}

is often used to model the distribution of mass in dark matter halos. Theoretical dark matter halos produced in computer simulations are best described by the Einasto profile:[5]

\rho(r) = \rho_0 e^{-\alpha r^n}.

Theories about the nature of dark matter[edit]

The nature of dark matter in the galactic halo of spiral galaxies is still undetermined, but there are two popular theories: either the halo is composed of weakly interacting elementary particles known as WIMPs, or it is home to large numbers of small, dark bodies known as MACHOs. It seems unlikely that the halo is composed of large quantities of gas and dust, because both ought to be detectable through observations. Searches for gravitational microlensing events in the halo of the Milky Way show that the number of MACHOs is likely not sufficient to account for the required mass.

See also: dark matter

Milky Way dark matter halo[edit]

The visible disk of the Milky Way Galaxy is embedded in a much larger, roughly spherical halo of dark matter. The dark matter density drops off with distance from the galactic center. It is now believed that about 95% of the Galaxy is composed of dark matter, a type of matter that does not seem to interact with the rest of the Galaxy's matter and energy in any way except through gravity. The luminous matter makes up approximately 9 x 1010 solar masses. The dark matter halo is likely to include around 6 x 1011 to 3 x 1012 solar masses of dark matter.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peter Schneider (2006). Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology. Springer. p. 4, Figure 1.4. ISBN 3-540-33174-3. 
  2. ^ Theo Koupelis, Karl F Kuhn (2007). In Quest of the Universe. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. p. 492; Figure 16-13. ISBN 0-7637-4387-9. 
  3. ^ Mark H. Jones, Robert J. Lambourne, David John Adams (2004). An Introduction to Galaxies and Cosmology. Cambridge University Press. p. 21; Figure 1.13. ISBN 0-521-54623-0. 
  4. ^ Navarro, J. et al. (1997), A Universal Density Profile from Hierarchical Clustering
  5. ^ Merritt, D. et al. (2006), Empirical Models for Dark Matter Halos. I. Nonparametric Construction of Density Profiles and Comparison with Parametric Models
  6. ^ Battaglia et al. (2005), The radial velocity dispersion profile of the Galactic halo: constraining the density profile of the dark halo of the Milky Way
  7. ^ Kafle, P.R.; Sharma, S.; Lewis, G.F.; Bland-Hawthorn, J. (2014). "On the Shoulders of Giants: Properties of the Stellar Halo and the Milky Way Mass Distribution". The Astrophysical Journal 794 (1): 17. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/794/1/59. 

Further reading[edit]

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