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Red Dwarfs Ruled Out in 'Mystery of Missing Mass'

November 16, 1994|Reuters

WASHINGTON — Overturning decades of conjecture over what the universe is made of, NASA said Tuesday that it has ruled out the possibility that red dwarf stars make up the dark matter that accounts for most of the universe's mass.

With the aid of the Hubble Space Telescope and a team of astronomers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said it has concluded that dim, small stars called red dwarfs do not account for more than 90% of the universe as initially thought.

In fact, red dwarf stars, thought to be abundant, are actually sparse in the Earth's galaxy. NASA, along with the European Space Agency, determined that the faint red stars rarely form and that there is a cutoff point below which nature does not make this type of dim, low-mass star.

"Our results increase the mystery of the missing mass. They rule out a popular but conservative interpretation of dark matter," John Bahcall, a natural science professor and leader of one of the teams, said.

Explanations centering on the birth of the universe, including the big-bang theory, show that less than 5% of the universe is made up of "normal stuff" like neutrons and protons.

This means that most of the universe is composed of unknown material that does not emit any radiation that can be detected by current technology.

Possible explanations for dark matter include black holes, neutron stars and a variety of exotic particles.

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