James Webb discovers first evidence of ‘dark stars’

Scientists have spent 15 years searching for evidence of dark stars, a theoretical type of star powered not by atomic fusion but by mysterious dark matter. Thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope’s capabilities, potential dark stars have been identified. Initially thought to be early galaxies, these objects might actually be colossal dark stars.

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Dark matter, an invisible material known mainly for its gravitational effects on a galactic scale, plays a crucial role in dark stars. These stars are composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, the elements present during the universe’s infancy, with 0.1% of their mass attributed to dark matter. The driving force behind dark stars is self-annihilating dark matter.

Dark matter remains invisible to us as it doesn’t produce or interact with light. It constitutes approximately 85% of the universe’s matter, while normal matter, including stars, planets, gas, dust, and everyday objects like pizza and people, makes up the remaining 15%.

Dark stars possess a mass at least a million times greater than the sun and a luminosity at least a billion times brighter, with a diameter roughly ten times the distance between Earth and the sun. Katherine Freese, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin and senior author of the research, describes them as “big puffy beasts,” fueled by the small amount of dark matter within them.

Unlike ordinary stars, dark stars can accumulate gas from space, continually growing in mass and potentially reaching supermassive status, in contrast to the universe’s first-generation stars, whose nuclear fusion produced heavier elements than hydrogen and helium.

The three candidate objects for dark stars date back to the early universe, ranging from 330 million to 400 million years after the Big Bang event that initiated the cosmos 13.8 billion years ago. Based on the data from the Webb telescope, researchers are uncertain if these objects are early galaxies or dark stars, with one supermassive dark star being as bright as an entire galaxy.

Though the current data is insufficient for a definitive conclusion about these objects, more information from other similarly primordial objects could provide conclusive evidence of dark stars.

The early universe’s conditions may have been conducive to the formation of dark stars due to high dark matter densities near clouds of hydrogen and helium where stars formed, although such conditions are now highly improbable.

The concept of dark stars was first proposed in 2008 by Freese and two colleagues, with the name inspired by the 1960s Grateful Dead song “Dark Star.”

The discovery of dark stars with a unique heat source would be exceptionally thrilling, potentially leading to the detection of the first dark matter particles. By studying various dark stars with different masses, researchers can learn more about the properties of dark matter particles.