NASA Interstellar Probe Mission Could Shed Light On The Mysteries Of Dark Matter

nasa solar system
How much dark matter is actually in our solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy? A recent study that was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society calculated approximately how much the gravitational pull of dark matter impacts our solar system. The study further proposed a potential “Interstellar Probe” that would travel 500 astronomical units from the Sun to study and measure dark matter.

The study stated that the further an object is away from the Sun, the more that object is impacted by the gravitational pull of the matter from the halo of dark matter that haunts the edges of the Milky Way. Dr. Edward Belbruno of Princeton University and Yeshiva University, the lead author of the study, calculated the “galactic force” or “overall gravitational force of normal matter combined with dark matter from the entire galaxy.” It was determined that within our solar system, 45 percent of galactic force is from dark matter while 55 percent is from “normal” matter. 

It is believed that if our solar system was further from the center of our galaxy and closer to the “halo,” we would likely feel a greater impact from dark matter. The report calculated that an object would need to travel 30,000 astronomical units, or 30,000 times the distance from Earth to the Sun, for dark matter to become a more powerful and influential force than the Sun. However, it was argued that a spacecraft would only need to travel 100 astronomical units away from the Sun to actually begin determining the direct impact of dark matter.

nasa hubble galaxies dark matter
Hubble Space Telescope image of  "dark matter likely exists surrounding the center of CL0024+17." NASA, ESA, M. J. Jee and H. Ford et al. (Johns Hopkins Univ.)

The Interstellar Probe would carry a reflective ball that would then be deployed once the probe had reached 500 astronomical units from the Sun. The ball would “...feel only galactic forces, while the spacecraft would experience a thermal force from the decaying radioactive element in its power system, in addition to the galactic forces. Subtracting out the thermal force, researchers could then look at how the galactic force relates to deviations in the respective trajectories of the ball and the spacecraft.” The Interstellar Probe would be especially useful in determining the influence of dark matter on our solar system.

It was noted that there are currently quite a few projects that will contribute to our understanding of dark matter, albeit ones focused on dark matter that is further away from our galaxy. NASA’s 2 will gather images and data on galaxies and their “lensing effect,” while the upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will analyze the ways in which dark matter impacts the shape and composition of galaxies. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid mission’s goal is to “map the geometry of the Universe and better understand the mysterious dark matter and dark energy.” One of the purposes of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory that is currently under construction in Chile is to add to our knowledge of dark matter.

Artist rendition of Voyager 1 and our solar system courtesy of NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
Tags:  NASA, probe, dark matter