Do fabled 'dark stars' actually exist? James Webb Space Telescope spots 3 candidates

three blurry images of stars with horizontal lines in between
The James Webb Space Telescope spotted three objects that may be formed from dark matter particles annihilating one another. (Image credit: NASA/ESA)

NASA's powerful new eye on the universe may have caught sight of dark matter.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) spotted three candidate "dark stars" that may be powered by particles of annihilating dark matter, according to new peer-reviewed research.

"Discovering a new type of star is pretty interesting all by itself, but discovering it's dark matter that’s powering this — that would be huge," study co-author Katherine Freese, director of the Weinberg Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Texas, Austin, said in a statement.

Dark matter is believed to constitute most of the material universe, but it cannot be seen by conventional telescopes. We can chart its presence through gravitational effects, such as when a massive galaxy passes in front of a distant star and magnifies the light. Dark stars may be fueled by particles of dark matter, just as "normal" stars like our sun are powered by "normal" matter.

Related: James Webb Space Telescope celebrates 1st year of science with jaw-dropping view of cosmic nursery (photo)

Dark stars, if they do indeed exist, may be key to helping us understand how the universe first got light. For about 15 years, scientists have speculated that "dark stars" were among the first our universe ever produced, when it was just 700 million years old.

Their interesting moniker comes from the song "Dark Star," first played in 1967 by The Grateful Dead, the research team that first predicted dark stars told in 2009. (Another inspiration was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's 1977 song, also called "Dark Star.")

JWST's observations suggest that the three distant objects, which all are from early in the universe's history, meet the key characteristics of dark stars: they are luminous, but too cool for fusion to be happening, the July 11 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated.

"There are a set of undetermined parameters that control the formation and evolution of a dark star, and ultimately, its observable properties," the authors cautioned in the study. But they stressed that they had used "plausible values" for the energy of particles of dark matter in building the models for these theoretical objects.

The three candidate dark stars (known as JADES-GS-z13-0, JADES-GS-z12-0, and JADES-GS-z11-0) may be the target of future JWST observations, to look for "dips or excess of light intensity in certain frequency bands" that may match other predictions for the energy of dark stars.

JWST has already thrown other strange puzzles at researchers, such as demonstrating the number of galaxies created in the universe's early history appear to be too high to match standard models of the history of the cosmos.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon:

  • rod
    More on dark stars :) The paper very interesting.

    Supermassive Dark Star candidates seen by JWST,, 11-July-2023. "Significance In 2007, we proposed the idea of Dark Stars. The first phase of stellar evolution in the history of the universe may be Dark Stars (DS), powered by dark matter (DM) heating rather than by nuclear fusion. Although made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium from the Big Bang, they form at the centers of protogalaxies where there is a sufficient abundance of DM to serve as their heat source. They are very bright diffuse puffy objects and grow to be very massive. In fact, they can grow up to ten million solar masses with up to ten billion solar luminosities. In this paper, we show that the James Webb Space Telescope may have already discovered these objects. Abstract The first generation of stars in the universe is yet to be observed. There are two leading theories for those objects that mark the beginning of the cosmic dawn: hydrogen burning Population III stars and Dark Stars, made of hydrogen and helium but powered by dark matter heating. The latter can grow to become supermassive (M⋆ ∼ 10^6M⊙) and extremely bright (L ∼ 10^9L⊙). We show that each of the following three objects—JADES-GS-z13-0, JADES-GS-z12-0, and JADES-GS-z11-0 (at redshifts z ∈ )—are consistent with a Supermassive Dark Star interpretation, thus identifying the first Dark Star candidates."

    The paper goes on reporting, "Prior to JWST, we had very limited data on the cosmic dawn era, i.e., the period when the first stars and galaxies form. As such, numerical simulations were the primary tool to describe the properties of the first stars (e.g., refs. 7–13), and galaxies (e.g., refs. 14–19) in the universe. In the standard picture of the first (Population III a.k.a. Pop III) stars, they formed roughly 100–400 Myrs after the Big Bang (z∼20–10) as a consequence of the gravitational collapse of pristine, zero metallicity, molecular hydrogen clouds at the center of 10^6–10^8M⊙ minihaloes. Pop III stars grow via accretion, reaching masses of (at most) 10^3M⊙ (e.g., ref. 20), and populate the first galaxies. We previously proposed, however, a different type of first star: Dark Stars (21–23), early stars powered by DM heating rather than by fusion."

    Some discussion on dark atoms and dark stars on the forums too, Dark matter atoms may form shadowy galaxies with rapid star formation,
    So far, the pristine, metal free gas created by BBN remains unverified too.
  • Atlan0001
    A star so bright, so luminous, as to go dark, to be dark?!