Dark matter existed in the universe even before the Big Bang, new research suggests

The study also proposes a test for the origin of dark matter by looking at the distribution of matter in the universe.


Science, math, and physics experts have been on the hunt for answers to questions about dark matter forever! Yet, the frustrating quest only seems to get more mysterious with time. A new mathematics study suggests that dark matter has been in the universe before the Big Bang.

The Big Bang theory is the widely-accepted theory about how the known universe formed. It states there was an explosion some 13.8 billion years ago when a single point in space and time expanded rapidly to form everything we see in our gradually-expanding universe today. If dark matter came first, it also means that scientists will have to dramatically alter how they hunt for the substance in the universe.

Dark matter existed in the universe even before the Big Bang, new research suggests

The universe is expanding over time and under the influence of gravity, will create a cosmic web of structures like these. The web contains both dark and normal matter. Image: Western Washington University

The study, published 7 August in Physical Review Letters, reveals a new idea about the birth of dark matter and how it could be identified in astronomy research. The study proposes an interesting connection between particle physics and astronomy, according to Tommi Tenkanen, author of the study and physicist at Johns Hopkins University.

"If dark matter consists of new particles that were born before the Big Bang, they affect the way galaxies are distributed in the sky in a unique way," Tenkanen said in a statement. "This connection may be used to reveal their identity and make conclusions about the times before the Big Bang, too."

Using a simple mathematical framework, researchers have shown that dark matter could have been produced well before the Big Bang, during a phase known as the "cosmic inflation". This is when space was expanding – expanding very rapidly. This led to a certain type of particle, known as scalars, to be produced at a large scale, as per the study. The Higgs boson is the only known scalar that has been discovered in existence to date.

A galaxy cluster called Abell S1063 was observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope a few years ago. The huge mass of the cluster — containing both baryonic matter and dark matter — acts as cosmic magnification glass and deforms objects behind it. In the past astronomers used this gravitational lensing effect to calculate the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters. A more accurate and faster way, however, is to study the intracluster light (visible in blue), which follows the distribution of dark matter. Image: ESA

A galaxy cluster called Abell S1063 was observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope a few years ago. The huge mass of the cluster — containing both baryonic matter and dark matter — acts as cosmic magnification glass and deforms objects behind it. In the past astronomers used this gravitational lensing effect to calculate the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters. A more accurate and faster way, however, is to study the intracluster light (visible in blue), which follows the distribution of dark matter. Image: ESA

So far, researchers have been searching for dark matter under the assumption that it is a leftover substance from when the Big Bang took place. This has underlined much of the research into dark matter, but no experiment has managed to capture direct proof that dark matter exists in space.

The origins of dark matter have been shrouded in mystery, but astronomers have shown that it has an important part to play in the making of galaxies and galaxy clusters. The effects of dark matter are (indirectly) visible in the gravitational effect it has on visible objects in the universe, how they move and their distributions in space.

(Also read: Scientists may have found the elusive 'missing matter' in the universe)

To the delight of dark matter enthusiasts, the study also proposes a way to test the origin of dark matter by observing signatures or imprints of dark matter in the distribution of celestial bodies in the universe.