Hubble's Search for Faint Field Stars in Galactic Halo
A NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a randomly selected area of sky taken to search for faint red stars that might constitute dark matter in our Milky Way Galaxy. (Dark matter is material of an unknown type that makes up most of the mass of our galaxy). If the dark matter in our Galaxy was made of faint red stars - as many scientists have previously conjectured - then about 38 such stars should have been visible in this HST image. The simulated stars (diamond-shaped symbols), based on theoretical calculations, illustrate what scientists would have seen if the dark matter were locked-up in faint red stars. These surprising results rule out dim stars as an explanation for dark matter in our Galaxy.
The unmodified HST image shows the region is actually so devoid of stars that far more distant background galaxies can easily be seen. The field is in the constellation Eridanus, far outside the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. This region was chosen to highlight stars in the galactic halo, where dark matter exists, and to avoid the contribution of faint stars in the plane of the Galaxy.
The image was constructed from seven exposures totaling almost three hours of searching by HST. The field shown is about 1.5 arc-minutes across. The image was taken in near-infrared light (814 nm) with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, on Feb 8, 1994. This observation is part of the HST parallel observing program.
Credit: J Bahcall, Institute for Advance Study, Princeton and NASA