How to keep lonely exoplanets snug -- just add dark matter

Jun 23, 2011 by Gemma Lavender
Exoplanets near the galactic center could accumulate sufficient dark matter to keep them warm enough to sustain life. Image credit: ESO

Dark matter, inferred to exist from its gravitational effects on the universe, is still a mystery to scientists. But a new study says that dark matter could help life evolve and survive on distant worlds outside of our solar system.

Dark matter is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when considering how life can be supported on another planet, but to Dan Hooper and Jason Steffen of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics, could be a contributing factor in allowing life to evolve and survive on outside of our .

The scientists propose that could sink into a planet’s core, and through the annihilation of matter, release enough energy to keep the surface of the planet warm enough for liquid water, even outside the traditional habitable zone.

Dark matter was first postulated in 1933 by Fritz Zwicky, and then again in the 1970s by Vera Rubin to account for evidence of ‘missing mass’ in the orbital velocities of galaxies in clusters and stars at the edges of galaxies. Dark matter is inferred to exist from its on visible matter and background radiation, but it emits no visible light and does not interact with any other matter except by gravity. Despite elusive evidence for its existence, it has been hypothesized to make up around 23 percent of the composition of the Universe (the rest being 4 percent “normal” matter and 73 percent dark energy, which is the unknown force driving the accelerating expansion of the Universe). Dark matter is said to influence the evolution of the gravitationally, even though scientists are still in the dark as to what it is.

“The reason we don't see dark matter directly is that it is made up of very weakly interacting material,” says Hooper. He is the lead author of a paper submitted to Astrophysical Journal titled, “Dark Matter and the Habitability of Planets,” which describes one theory for dark matter – weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. “For that reason, it doesn't interact - or do much of anything else - very much. It’s basically inert, and thus doesn't produce much usable energy.”

The galactic center is believed to contain a high density of dark matter. Image credit: NASA

However, Hooper and Steffen have suggested a way in which what little energy does come from dark matter can keep planets warm. Some parts of the galaxy – in particular the galactic center, as well as the cores of dwarf galaxies that are satellites of our own Milky Way – contain a much higher concentration of dark matter (of the order of hundreds or thousands of times more dense) than the region of space near our Sun. Hooper and Steffen have calculated that when dark matter particles scatter with the atomic nuclei within the cores of rocky planets, they lose momentum and become gravitationally-bound and sink to the core of the planet, where they annihilate and release energy.

“If a dark matter particle passes through a planet, there is a chance that it will collide with an atom and lose some of its speed and momentum,” explains Hooper. “Once this happens, instead of just flying off into space again, it can be stuck to the planet by the force of gravity and once that happens, it does not take very long for the dark matter particle to fall into the core of the planet, where it will stay.”

In dark matter-rich regions of space, enough dark matter can accumulate inside ‘super-Earths’ -- rocky planets with masses several times that of our home planet -- to provide enough energy to keep the surface of the distant world warm enough for liquid water to exist. This holds even far outside the star’s habitable zone, which is usually described as the distance from the star where temperatures, among other factors, allow water to remain as a liquid on the planet’s surface -- an essential condition for life as we know it. In principle, dark matter-rich planets could widen the habitable zone and increase the number of locations where we could find life.

The supposed distribution of dark matter throughout the Universe. Image credit: NASA/UNC

However intriguing this is, it may be too good to be true. “I’m dubious as to how common dark-matter-heated planets really are,” says astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell of University College London. “Although their model is consistent with some theories of the nature and distribution of dark matter, it seems to appeal to a rather special set of conditions. And such rare planets would be virtually impossible to actually spot.”

Nevertheless, with billions of planets predicted to exist in our galaxy, it appears possible that some planets could benefit from dark matter, and these worlds would be very different to Earth.

“Life on a planet heated by dark matter would likely be very different than the life on Earth,” says Hooper. “Many species of on Earth, for example, have evolved to collect energy from sunlight. On a dark-matter-powered planet, the energy would be coming from the center of the planet, and life there would have to find other ways of putting that energy to use.”

The heat provided by the annihilations of dark matter, state Hooper and Steffen in their paper, could keep a planet habitable for trillions of years, even beyond the lifetime of its star.

Despite his skepticism, Dartnell recognizes the importance of Hooper and Steffen’s work. “It is an intriguing idea, and astrobiology as a discipline needs a healthy input of fresh, bold ideas like this one.”

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User comments : 39

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dogbert
2.5 / 5 (17) Jun 23, 2011
Wild speculation is not necessarily a bad thing, but speculation using real particles is more likely to produce real scenarios than speculation using imaginary particles.

It is instructive to note how frequently such drivel is published.
Decimatus
5 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2011
This story came out weeks if not months ago, why is it showing up again?
dogbert
1.6 / 5 (10) Jun 23, 2011
This story came out weeks if not months ago, why is it showing up again?


There is a definite propensity to republish two types of articles:
1) Flawed meta-analysis used to support a position.
2) Wild speculation lacking scientific basis.

Perhaps it is easier than locating and publishing useful articles?
AmritSorli
1.3 / 5 (16) Jun 23, 2011
might be there is a link between dark matter and life energy.........living organism has more mass that the same dead one, might be dark matter concentrated into living organism
A_Paradox
4.3 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2011
Well I haven't seen this idea written anywhere before and I think it is very interesting. I only gave this article 4/5 though because they refer to the very interesting idea of dark matter particles annihilating but don't seem even to hint about why or how this would occur.

I thought the main point about dark matter particles is that they don't interact much, if at all, either with each other or with our kind of matter. Presumably they would be just the same as anything else, say, within the event horizon of a black hole; outside of the event horizon however they would not be trapped into an/the accretion disk because not interacting.
SteveL
4 / 5 (6) Jun 23, 2011
By definition dark matter "does not interact with any other matter except by gravity" and yet their suggestion is "that when dark matter particles scatter with the atomic nuclei within the cores of rocky planets, they lose momentum and become gravitationally-bound and sink to the core of the planet, where they annihilate and release energy".

So, non-baryonic matter that doesn't have any, other than gravitational, effect on and does not react with normal matter, can by their proposal react with normal matter and have an effect on it? Apparently all that is required is for the impossible to become possible. "I reject your reality and substitute my own". - Adam Savage (Mythbusters)

I suppose their suggestion could explain the duration of the furnace at the earth's core and that the present global warming may actually be due to the earth going through a dense section of dark matter - increasing the thermal output. Just having fun here, but could anyone disprove it?
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (10) Jun 23, 2011
@dogfart
" Dan Hooper and Jason Steffen of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics"

-This says that this is not the sort of idle speculation you are implying, but a well-conceived theory by reputable scientists. Show some respect and you may be accorded some in return.

The earth is warmed from within by isotope decay. Io is warmed by gravitational forces. Both exhibit volcanism. I assume these dark planets would be violent steamy places.
vidyunmaya
1 / 5 (7) Jun 23, 2011
Sub; Search beyond Dark-matter concepts.
The Cosmic-Flow sequence must be understood clearly by scientific Community. Cosmology needs best of brains trust.
ANNAM-APAH-the matter is part of Flowing Sequence.
a lot of scientists including philosophers have not applied their minds to sensitive issues- in-depth East West interaction.see Cosmology Definition -Cosmologytrust [dot]blogspot [dot] com
Vidyardhi Nanduri
SteveL
4 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2011
They are only speculating here, with terms such as "suggest" and "propose". I'm glad they didn't use "hypothesis" or "theory" as those terms are abused far too often and require some data to back them up.
dogbert
2.9 / 5 (10) Jun 23, 2011
Ghosty,

Fantasy does not stop being fantasy when the person(s) proposing it have credentials.
lengould100
4 / 5 (4) Jun 23, 2011
Agree with skeptics above. I'd want to see the hypothesis for the claim "dark matter annihilation produces heat" before reading any of this biology stuff. Or even a convincing argument for the existence of dark matter (see MOG). "Unexplained amounts of gravitational force", for which dark matter was invented and which is still the sole evidence for it, could more likely be just oversimplifications in our Einstein-ian models of the force we call gravity.
Shootist
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2011
@dogfart
" Dan Hooper and Jason Steffen of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics"

-This says that this is not the sort of idle speculation you are implying, but a well-conceived theory by reputable scientists. Show some respect and you may be accorded some in return.

The earth is warmed from within by isotope decay. Io is warmed by gravitational forces. Both exhibit volcanism. I assume these dark planets would be violent steamy places.


Violent steamy places like Triton and Titan? Well, violent for -150C, I suppose. Ethane rain and whatnot.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (6) Jun 23, 2011
Ghosty,

Fantasy does not stop being fantasy when the person(s) proposing it have credentials.
And how would YOU know whether these accomplished gentlemen were proposing fantasy or not? Barf barf-
Violent steamy places like Triton and Titan? Well, violent for -150C, I suppose. Ethane rain and whatnot.
A little warmer than that I think. Per the article:

"surface of the planet warm enough for liquid water"
Pyle
3 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2011
Ghosty,

Fantasy does not stop being fantasy when the person(s) proposing it have credentials.


Otto, I hate to admit it, but dogbarf has a point. It's pretty much fantasy at this point. However, his initial post, regarding the "imaginariness" of DM is wrong. DM is a guess that explains real phenomenon. We have detectors (Soudan mine) that detect something we suspect are DM particles interacting with real matter. Right now DM has the biggest number of scientific minds treating it as the best hypothesis with no other real contenders even close (poor, misunderstood MOG). But the flea-ridden fairy tale believer should comment where he has something of real value to add rather than spewing his uninformed criticism around.

Regarding the violent steamy. Stop arguing and clarify, Shootist is being nit-picky.
that_guy
4.1 / 5 (7) Jun 23, 2011
@ steve - WIMP stands for weakly interacting massive particle. generally dark matter is supposed not to interact with real matter much, but theoretically it can interact if it hits it very precisely.

All they have to do now is
A)Prove Dark Matter Exists
B)Prove that the dark matter model this is based on is the correct one.
C)Prove that Dark Matter is its own anti-particle (For them to annihilate each other
D)Prove that rogue exoplanets exist in the denser cores of galaxies without getting captured, long enough to accumulate significant portions of dark matter.
E)Prove that the density and distribution of dark matter in the galaxy is amenable to this idea.

Regardless of what the truth is, I seriously believe that there are far too many suppositions in this theory to be valid or serious. I think you should be allowed up to two suppositions of questionable credibility, or three partially supported suppositions. More than that, and it's just science fiction.
Silverhill
not rated yet Jun 23, 2011
(from the article)
dark matter particles ... become gravitationally-bound and sink to the core of the planet, where they annihilate and release energy ... it does not take very long for the dark matter particle to fall into the core of the planet, where it will stay."
So, does the particle stay in the core, or does it annihilate with something there? Can't have it both ways.
Pyle
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2011
So, does the particle stay in the core, or does it annihilate with something there? Can't have it both ways.
Sure they can. It has to be confined to a very small space in order to increase the chances of annihilation. To your point @Silverhill, maybe we could add a supposition to @that_guy's list something about the rate of accumulation vs. annihilation.
hard2grep
1 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2011
This is a good playground for a WIMP. Now that we have one possible goldilocks area, prepare for a plethora of places to arise as a resting spot for this particle. A gravity well seems to be a great hunting spot. will someone eventually find this reaction is present in all bodies with sufficient mass. We should find this very effect in Earth's core (I agree with the physics presented here- it is the same slowing effect that reactors need to make their emissions useable). think of the possibilities of a reactor based on fusion and fueled not just by the sun but the universe (solar independence day I will call this day of discovery).
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2011
From the article:
"Hooper and Steffen have calculated that when dark matter particles scatter with the atomic nuclei within the cores of rocky planets, they lose momentum and become gravitationally-bound and sink to the core of the planet, where they annihilate and release energy."

A simplier way of stating their idea is the following: When Dark Matter particles super-compress they release energy/forces.
Azpod
5 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2011
What type of evidence is that that dark matter would self-annihilate? Even if that's true, absent any charge or other ways of interacting with other dark matter particles, what's the chances two particles annihilating anyway? It seems to me that even if dark matter could accumulate in the core of a super-Earth that exists far from its home star (or even an orphaned planet), wouldn't it more likely increase the gravitational field to the point where it starts to collect solar wind and interstellar gas, ultimately becoming a small gas giant?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Jun 24, 2011
What type of evidence is that that dark matter would self-annihilate? Even if that's true, absent any charge or other ways of interacting with other dark matter particles, what's the chances two particles annihilating anyway? It seems to me that even if dark matter could accumulate... wouldn't it more likely increase the gravitational field to the point where it starts to collect solar wind and interstellar gas, ultimately becoming a small gas giant?
I would assume that the study conducted by the scientists in the above article took these factors into account. Because they ARE scientists and their work is reviewed by peers before being published, and these types of questions typically occur to scientists who are experts in their fields of endeavor. As well as many other questions which wouldn't occur to people like you and me.

So the answers to your questions as well as additional valuable insight is most likely found in their study.
Pyle
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 24, 2011
The biggest problem I have with all of this is the effect on large stars and possibly black holes. If Dark Matter is annihilating in these planets as they fantasize, shouldn't it be doing the same in stars? I think Ethelred brought this up in a previous thread on this very topic. Stars of equal size and baryon composition in the DM dense areas should be burning hotter than ones in less DM dense areas. This should be testable via lensing and spectrum analysis. Maybe not now, but soon.
TabulaMentis
2 / 5 (4) Jun 24, 2011
The word 'self-annihilate' sounds too harsh. Maybe the word 'decay' would be a better word choice.

Dark Energy Stars sound like an interesting subject to research.

http://en.wikiped...rgy_star
that_guy
5 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2011
@ Tabula and Silverhill

The wording 'self-annihilate' is correct. It is based on the theory that DM particles are their own anti particles. This doesn't mean it would 'decay' or a single particle would destroy itself.

This means that if two DM particles came in contact with each other, they would annihilate like a matter particle and anti-matter particle.
Turritopsis
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 26, 2011
If DARKMATTER self annihilated it would produce PHOTONS.
kevinrtrs
1.4 / 5 (9) Jun 27, 2011
You can't see it, touch it, sense it and now it's capable of sustaining life. Sounds like a ghost or god to me. Maybe there's even a fairy in this tale.
FrankHerbert
2 / 5 (9) Jun 27, 2011
I find it simultaneously highly ironic and highly sad that the most religious among us are the first to denigrate ideas they disagree with as religious.

On a deep level even the most religious know their faith is BS. They just have too much invested in it.
dogbert
1 / 5 (5) Jun 27, 2011
You are wrong Frank. Reality is never B.S., even if you deny it.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2011
The wording 'self-annihilate' is correct. It is based on the theory that DM particles are their own anti particles. This doesn't mean it would 'decay' or a single particle would destroy itself. This means that if two DM particles came in contact with each other, they would annihilate like a matter particle and anti-matter particle.
If the theory you speak of were true then DM would not exist because dense regions of DM would destroy themselves. There is something about the DM theory you speak of that does not add-up. The DM theory you speak of may be true if there is a force to prevent DM particles from self-annihilating.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2011
If DARKMATTER self annihilated it would produce PHOTONS.
How do you figure that? Photons are in the atomic realm. What type of photon(s) are you referring to?
Pyle
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2011
@Turritopsis & @TM: Of course we'll see photons. They are an energy carrier, i.e. gamma radiation. But don't forget neutrinos will likely make up the largest portion of energy carrying end product, if the annihilation is similar to other M/AM pairs. We'll see muons and M/AM pairs popping up as well. But that stuff is unstable and will likely decay to neutrinos and gamma radiation (photons).
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2011
@Pyle:
If you are saying dark matter can form directly into neutrinos, then you are correct. The reverse is also true; neutrinos can form directly into dark matter. If you are saying the dark matter in the article forms into neutrinos which then in return creates photons, then that would also be correct because the neutrinos would be in the atomic realm where photons exist, unless you are talking about another type of photon (dark photon).
The article did not say what type of radiation was heating the surface of the planet. You are suggesting neutrino decay. Maybe the DM scatters with the atomic nuclei within cores of rocky planets to where the DM lose a 'force' besides their momentum enabling them to annihilate and release energy?
Turritopsis
1 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2011
Dark-matter is comprised of quarks of equal charges. Due to lack of charge differentiatial the commonly charged quarks are not magnetically attracting each other to the close distances necessary for quark to quark gluon interaction to take place. Dark-Matter does not form hadrons (baryons or mesons) because of charge repulsion, without differing charge we do not get electromagnetic attraction (magnetism) nor electromagnetic radiation (light). NoLight-Matter.

Because these commonly charged quarks don't form hadrons (nor molecules, nor compounds, nor dark planets, nor dark stars) we don't have particle decay either.

Dark matter affects us by electromagnetic repulsion (dark energy) and by gravitational force (mass).
Turritopsis
1 / 5 (2) Jun 27, 2011
@Pyle

"Of course we'll see photons."

No we won't. Dark-Matter doesn't emit any.
Silverhill
5 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2011
Turritopsis:
"Dark-matter is comprised of quarks of equal charges."
---You know this, how?

"Due to lack of charge differentiatial the commonly charged quarks are not magnetically attracting each other to the close distances necessary for quark to quark gluon interaction"
---Magnetic attraction is not due to charge differential. Besides, the strong force mediates quark-quark attraction, not the EM force.

"without differing charge we do not get electromagnetic attraction (magnetism)"
---Two electrically neutral pieces of iron (no differing charge) can easily demonstrate magnetism.

"nor electromagnetic radiation (light)."
---Electrically neutral atoms emit EM radiation all the time.

"Dark matter affects us by electromagnetic repulsion"
---Not if it has only a gravitational effect on normal matter, as is supposed.
Turritopsis
1 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2011
@Silverhill

Please read things a few times over before responding. You're lacking comprehension skills and you're making it difficult for me to formulate a response. This is why I've left your questions unanswered in the past.

1. My theory.
2. Opposite charges attract. This is magnetism. At nuclear distances gluon interaction begins (this is Strong Force).
3. This would be the Casimir effect. Higgs field deviations - virtual particles.
4. Atoms are composite particles. The negative and positive charged particles that make up atoms create photons.
5. It is also supposed that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.
Turritopsis
1 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2011
@Silverhill

You're not extrapolating what I'm conveying. I can't be sure that I'm correct but I'm sure that you're not understanding what I'm stating.
Silverhill
5 / 5 (1) Jul 08, 2011
"Please read things a few times over before responding."
---I do, rest assured. But when you display a lack of communication skills, and then have the temerity to accuse me of "lacking comprehension skills", *you're* the one who does not come across too well.

"I can't be sure that I'm correct"
---It's good that you exhibit this doubt; that's properly scientific.

"but I'm sure that you're not understanding what I'm stating."
---Then you need to express it more clearly, and with a better understanding of the basic forces. (See below.)
Silverhill
5 / 5 (1) Jul 08, 2011
(Dark-matter = quarks of equal charges)
1. My theory.
---You should have said this at first. Support your claim.

"2. Opposite charges attract. This is magnetism."
No, this is Coulomb interaction. Repeat: magnetism does not require a charge differential.

"At nuclear distances gluon interaction begins (this is Strong Force)."
---As I said already.

---Two electrically neutral pieces of iron (no differing charge) can easily demonstrate magnetism.
"3. This would be the Casimir effect. Higgs field deviations - virtual particles."
---No, magnetism is *not* the Casimir effect. Try again.

"4. The negative and positive charged particles that make up atoms create photons."
---They can store (and emit) photons, you mean.

"5. It is also supposed that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate."
---That's supposed to be the realm of dark energy, not dark matter, since dark matter causes attraction, not repulsion.

Try again, but be more careful this time!

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