The dark side of the Universe in the spotlight
Three teams of scientists from Norway, Czech Republic and Iceland join expertises in the attempt to shed light onto the nature of the most abundant ingredient in the Universe: dark matter.
From observations of the first light after the Big Bang and the way galaxies are distributed in the sky scientists know that less than five percent of the Universe is made up of visible matter. So, what is most of the mass in the Universe that doesn't shine made of? The remaining ninety-five percent of the energy density of the Universe is in the form of dark energy (68%) and dark matter (27%), whose properties remain shrouded in mystery. It should come as no surprise then that scientists working on astronomy and cosmology are trying really hard to understand the nature of this large but unknown part of the building blocks of the Universe.
Joining expertises across borders
Three scientific teams from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences (FZU) in Prague, the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Oslo and the Center for Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik are working together to shed new light on the properties of dark matter.
The three organisations, led by Senior Researcher Federico Urban from FZU, hosted a workshop in Prague, Czech Republic in the fall of 2021 with 13 international speakers and 27 participants. The workshop, called "Lightness @ Prague" (external link), was then followed by several scientific visits among these partners, which aimed to further exchange skills and knowledge with specialised lectures and trainings.
The Unbearable Lightness of the Universe
The project, which was called "The Unbearable Lightness of the Universe" echoing the title of one of the most popular novels of 20th-century Czech literature, was funded through a grant obtained by the EEA and Norway Development Fund. The Fund, financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, aims at reducing social and economic inequality as well as strengthening cooperation with 15 countries within the European Union in Central and Southern Europe.
In the specific, the work of the three groups focussed on the properties and tests related to Ultra-Light Dark Matter, a class of dark matter models that inspired the title of the project, and related screening mechanisms and modifications of gravity. Their research includes developing better computational tools to simulate the structure of the Universe in such models.
"Only when we share our knowledge and combine all of the information from theories and simulations it is possible to check how well the models compare with cosmological data" - Prof. D. Mota
The quest for dark matter
The research groups work on related topics, but since they do not have exactly the same expertise and use different ways to approach the same phenomena, their mutual collaboration can significantly boost their scientific output, contributing to establish a long-term collaboration among the researchers in the three countries.
The final goal is to understand whether dark matter is made of particles and whether the particles are very light or whether dark matter is something completely different. To verify this, the groups have to develop different theories and create large simulation models to test them.
David Mota, professor of astronomy at the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics in Oslo, is the local coordinator of this initiative. Together with his research team, he tries to understand how certain types of dark matter influence the formation and the properties of galaxies and clusters.