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NASA finds mysterious signal that baffles astronomers

NASA finds mysterious signal that baffles astronomers

NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory has found a mysterious X-ray signal that astronomers are speculating could signal the presence of dark matter some 240 million light years away from Earth.

A leading theory, NASA reports, is that the X-rays are a result of decaying "sterile neutrinos," which are particles that could potentially produce dark matter. Astronomers believe dark matter accounts for 85 percent of all matter in the universe, but dark matter does not emit or absorb light as does the "normal" matter in planets, stars, and galaxies, so its detection is much more difficult.

NASA notes that normal matter may also have created the emission line, which appeared in the Perseus galaxy cluster, but astronomers are excited at the prospect that the sterile neutrinos may be at play. The scientists' next step will be combining the data with results from other missions to see if the same X-ray signal appears in other galaxy clusters. Thus far, the line has also been found in 73 other galaxy clusters using NASA's XMM-Newton.

"We know that the dark matter explanation is a long shot, but the pay-off would be huge if we're right," Esra Bulbul, leader of the study and a fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told NASA. "We're going to keep testing this interpretation and see where it takes us."

Astronomers have yet to determine what caused the emission, but for now, check out an image of the signal below. --Meghan DeMaria