Our planet may be surrounded by filaments of dark matter stretching away from its surface, according to a new study published by NASA researchers.
In a new paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, a team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has used computer simulations to establish how dark matter -- the mysterious stuff that is reckoned to account for as much as 27 per cent of all matter and energy in the universe -- gathers around planet Earth.
In calculations that date back to the 1990s, researchers have suggested that long, fine streams of dark matter criss-cross the Universe. Now, calculations performed by Gary Prézeau look in to what happens when one of those streams approaches a planet like ours.
His findings suggest that the streams -- which can in theory sometimes be very wide, perhaps even wider than out entire Solar System -- narrow and focus into an ultra-dense filament, that Prézeau refers to as "hairs." In fact, the computational results suggests that there may be many of those hairs around Earth.
These hairs of dark matter can pass straight through the planet, and they appear to be their most dense -- about 1 billion times more than their average -- at distance of around 965,606km from the planet's surface. Prézeau refers to this as the 'root' of the hair, and when the streams pass through larger planets, the density would be even greater.
In fact, it's that results which is perhaps most exciting. The researchers hope that the finding could help direct probes to areas where dark matter is theoretically at its most dense. "If we could pinpoint the location of the root of these hairs, we could potentially send a probe there and get a bonanza of data about dark matter," Prézeau explains in a press release. A hairy mission, if ever there was one.