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An analysis of 12 years’ worth of telescope data has found a signal that some physicists think could be the first detection of dark matter1.

Astronomers have found variations in the stream of X-rays seen by a European Space Agency observatory that matches what would be expected if axions — a hypothetical dark-matter particle — were interacting with Earth’s magnetic field.

Dark matter is the name given to the substance thought to make up some 85% of all the matter in the Universe. It is ‘dark’ because its presence can be inferred from the pull it exerts on stars in the Universe, but it has evaded all attempts so far to detect it convincingly.

If confirmed, the axion finding would be a huge discovery. The study leader, astronomer George Fraser of the University of Leicester, UK, died just two days after he and his co-authors submitted the paper for publication. The study was Fraser’s “most astonishing swan song”, wrote Andy Lawrence, an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy in Edinburgh, UK, in his blog the e-Astronomer.

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