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Rapidly spinning stars explain dark matter signal from galactic center

The excess of gamma rays from the center of the Milky Way probably originates from rapidly rotating neutron stars and not from dark matter annihilation as previously claimed.
Gamma ray picture of the Milky Way, as seen by the NASA Fermi satellite.
Gamma ray picture of the Milky Way, as seen by the NASA Fermi satellite. Inserts: two independent statistical analyses showed that the distribution of photons is clumpy rather than smooth, indicating that the excess gamma rays from the center of our galaxy are unlikely to be caused by dark matter annihilation.
Image courtesy of Christoph Weniger, UvA , © UvA/Princeton
The puzzling excess of gamma rays from the center of the Milky Way probably originates from rapidly rotating neutron stars, or millisecond pulsars, and not from dark matter annihilation, as previously claimed. This is the conclusion of new data analyses by two independent research teams from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Netherlands, and Princeton University/Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In 2009, observations with the Fermi Large Area Telescope revealed an excess of high-energy photons, or gamma rays, at the center of our galaxy. It was long speculated that this gamma ray excess could be a signal of dark matter annihilation. If true, it would constitute a breakthrough in fundamental physics and a major step forward in our understanding of the matter constituents of the universe.

However, many other hypotheses have emerged in recent years, suggesting the gamma ray excess in the center of our galaxy might have a more ordinary astrophysical cause. Possible origins for the observed gamma ray excess range from the activity of the supermassive black hole in the center of our Milky Way and star formation in the central molecular zone to the combined emission of a new dim source population in the galactic bulge.

Millisecond pulsars
New statistical analyses of the Fermi data by Christoph Weniger from UvA and a research group from Princeton/MIT now strongly suggest that the excess emission does indeed originate from unresolved point sources. The best candidates are millisecond pulsars, the researchers conclude.

Millisecond pulsars, or rapidly rotating neutron stars, were often formed billions of years ago. They are among the most extreme objects in the galaxy. A population of hundreds or thousands of these millisecond pulsars must be lurking in the galactic center, hidden from detection due to present day instrument sensitivity. Future radio surveys with existing and upcoming telescopes — e.g., Green Bank Telescope, Square Kilometre Array — will be able to further test this hypothesis in the coming years.

Win-win situation
In their analyses, the UvA and Princeton/MIT researchers each used a different statistical technique, “non-Poissonian noise” and “wavelet transformation,” to analyze the Fermi data. What they found was that the distribution of photons was clumpy rather than smooth, indicating that the gamma rays were unlikely to be caused by dark matter particle collisions.

According to Weniger, this is a win-win situation: “Either we find hundreds or thousands of millisecond pulsars in the upcoming decade, shedding light on the history of the Milky Way, or we find nothing. In the latter case, a dark matter explanation for the gamma ray excess will become much more obvious.”

Mariangela Lisanti from Princeton University said: “The results of our analysis probably mean that what we are seeing is evidence for a new population of astrophysical sources in the center of the galaxy. That in itself is something new and surprising.”
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