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International conference

Lightening the darkness

München, 10/02/2017

What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? Researchers at LMU and the universities in Heidelberg and Bonn would dearly love to know the answers. An upcoming conference at LMU will review the state of play.

A map of the distribution of dark matter covering approximately one-thirtieth of the heavens. In the areas shown in red, the density of dark matter is higher than average; in the blue areas the density is lower than the mean. Source: Chihway Chang, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago, and the DES Collaboration.

Ordinary matter as we know it – the stuff of our everyday lives – comprises only a small fraction of the matter in the Universe. We now know that matter made up of the known elementary particles – which physicists refer to as ‘baryonic’ matter – accounts for only about 5% of the energy content of the Universe. As to the rest, we remain, quite literally, in the dark: It is invisible to us. We do however know that some 27% of the total energy of the cosmos consists of dark matter, while some 68% takes the form of dark energy. Each of these constituents has had an immense impact on the overall form of the Universe: Localized halos of dark matter “catalyze” the formation of large-scale structures such as galaxies, while the uniformly distributed dark energy is responsible for the ongoing acceleration of the rate of expansion of the Universe. However, the nature and composition of these enigmatic ingredients of the world we live in remain among the most fundamental riddles in modern physics.

Since 2006, researchers based at LMU and the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn have worked in one of the Transregio (TR) Collaborative Research Centers (SFB) financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) to find the answers to these riddles. TR33 also involves scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), and thus brings together theoreticians and observational astronomers in the quest to understand the nature of the Dark Universe. The project is scheduled to end in 2018, and the participants will use the last of their annual conferences to take stock of what they have learned over the past 12 years. The conference will be held at LMU on October 9-13, 2017. The organizers have invited speakers from all over the world, and well over 100 scientists are expected to attend.

“The entire field has made tremendous progress since the establishment of the SFB, particularly in terms of the capacity to observe, mathematically model and simulate the relevant phenomena, even though the fundamental question cannot yet be unequivocally answered,” says Jochen Weller, Professor of Physical Cosmology at LMU, and the Chairman of the conference’s Organizing Committee. Among the highlights of the conference, Weller mentions presentations relating to the theory and quantification of dark matter, the results of the Dark Energy Survey (which is using the so-called gravitational lensing effect to map the overall amount of dark matter and its distribution in the Universe) and theoretical considerations concerning the nature of dark energy.