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The First Possible Dark Stars

By Yena Yun

September 22, 2023


[Photo Credit: NASA]

Dark matter is an invisible substance that doesn't absorb, reflect, or shine with any light, and makes up 85% of all matter in the universe. However, despite its abundance in the universe, dark matter is a hypothetical substance that hasn’t been observed directly. Therefore, not much is known about the mysterious matter. Still, we do know that where there is normal matter, dark matter can be found. Gravitational influences on stars and galaxies can clue us to know dark matter does exist.

The first real evidence of dark matter was in 1933, when Fritz Zwicky, a Swiss astronomer, used the Mount Wilson Observatory to measure the visible mass of a cluster of galaxies. However, he found the size of the cluster was disproportionate to its gravitational pull, meaning something else was holding the clusters of galaxies together–dark matter. Although more is unknown than known about dark matter, research continues, and a recent discovery may help scientists understand dark matter better.

[Photo Credit: JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey]

One of the candidates, JADES-GS-z13-0, is shown by the arrow.

In December of 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched on December 24, 2021, with a mission to study the Universe and its extensive history, identified three objects: JADES-GS-z13-0, JADES-GS-z12-0, and JADES-GS-z11-0. While these objects were initially identified as galaxies, a recent study by astrophysicist Katherin Freese and her colleagues theorized the trio may be dark stars–immense, ultrabright, hypothetical objects powered by dark matter rather than nuclear fusion. The stars we know, like our Sun, are powered by nuclear fusion, a process in which 2 light atomic nuclei combine at high temperatures to form a single heavier nucleus. The study was published in July of 2023 and builds on Freese and her colleagues’ previous work. In 2007, Freese and her colleagues proposed characteristics of dark stars, and that they may have been some of the first types of stars to form in the universe. Their previous work was the foundation of their theory that the three objects were stars, drawing similarities between the characteristics of the objects and dark stars. In the study, Freese stated “These things are atomic matter that is powered by dark matter, and one supermassive dark star could be as bright as an entire galaxy containing normal fusion-powered stars,” when describing the possible dark stars.

If the three objects are dark stars, scientists could better understand dark matter and a new type of star would be discovered. Moreover, we could get a glimpse into star formation in the early universe. While dark stars are still hypothetical they are theorized to be enormous and powered by heat from dark matter interactions. Dark matter particles may be able to interact with themselves, annihilating each other and producing vast amounts of light and heat. However, other references theorize the interaction of dark matter particles would result in a shower of energetic gamma-ray radiation. More data and research are required to establish clarity on whether JADES-GS-z13-0, JADES-GS-z12-0, and JADES-GS-z11-0 are the first dark stars we witness or just bright galaxies.


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