What Lurks in the Dark? An Exploration of Dark Matter

October 2017

Briefing date: October 5, 2017 (3:30pm)


Dr. Emma Marcucci (STScI)


  • Prof. Simona Murgia (University of California, Irvine)

  • Dr. Will Dawson (Lawrence Livermore National Lab)

  • Carolyn Slivinski (Space Telescope Science Institute)

Slide presentation:

Transcript and audio recording:

Additional resources:

  • NASA Wavelength resources* (PDF file) 293 KB
    *Due to changes in the NASA Wavelength resource database, please use the attached resource PDF in lieu of nasawavelength.org URLs listed in slides. Original activity URLs should operate as normal.



In the early and mid-20th century, astronomers studying the motions of galaxies in giant galaxy clusters and the motions of stars moving inside galaxies suggested that there must be an immense amount of unseen mass. This invisible matter, termed dark matter, was providing a gravitational boost to the galaxies and stars. Evidence for dark matter has grown as observational technologies have advanced. However, dark matter remains an intriguing mystery in the study of the universe. Making up about 85% of the mass of the universe, dark matter has remained invisible to current methods of detection. Instead, its presence is inferred through observations of its gravitational effects. Because it has not been observed directly, there is no consensus on the nature of dark matter. Astronomers and particle physicists are searching for various candidates, including hard-to-detect ‘normal’ matter and undiscovered exotic matter. The exploration of the nature of dark matter is fundamentally about understanding how the universe works. Dark matter is a key area of study for NASA’s Astrophysics division, and several NASA missions have made strides to determine the nature of dark matter.

October 31, 2017 is Dark Matter Day, put on by Interactions Collaboration (a group of particle physics communicators). In recognition of Dark Matter Day, this science briefing will review the history, possible nature, and current/future studies of dark matter, including activities to support understanding this ‘hidden’ material.


Prof. Simona Murgia is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California at Irvine. Her previous positions were as a Research Associate, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; she performed dark matter searches with gamma rays at KIPAC; she was a member of the Fermi LAT Collaboration; and she was a Research Associate at Stanford University, working in neutrino physics as a member of the MINOS Collaboration. Prof. Murgia received a BSc, Universita' degli Studi di Cagliari, Italy, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Michigan State University.

Dr. Will Dawson is a Research Scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California Davis, and his B.Sc. in Maritime Systems Engineering from Texas A&M University Galveston. He is a founding member of the Merging Cluster Collaboration that is using merging galaxy clusters as astrophysical laboratories to constrain the self-interacting properties of dark matter, evolution of galaxies, and particle physics associated with plasma shocks. He is also involved in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the NASA Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, with a focus on identifying intermediate mass black holes in the Milky Way through gravitational microlensing. Before obtaining his Ph.D. from UC Davis, Will worked as a structural engineer for five years at Technip, an offshore oil engineering company based in Houston, TX.

Carolyn Slivinski is a Community Engagement Specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, where she works to connect the informal education community with a wide range of NASA resources.  Carolyn first discovered informal education working for a science museum, after beginning her career as an engineer performing spacecraft analyses for a leading satellite manufacturer.   She has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Rutgers University.