Two Virginia Tech Department of Physics researchers recently won a Buchalter Cosmology Prize from the American Astronomical Society for a new paper that tackles the puzzles of dark matter and dark energy, the two mysterious components of the universe that respectively comprise about 26 percent and 69 percent of the content of the universe.

Physics Professor Djordje Minic and Associate Professor Tatsu Takeuchi, both in the Virginia Tech College of Science, won second place for their paper, “Modified Dark Matter: Relating Dark Energy, Dark Matter and Baryonic Matter.” It introduces a new model called modified dark matter, which postulates that the ratio of ordinary matter to dark matter is governed by dark energy.

(That remaining 5 percent of the universe’s makeup? That’s everything we can see.)

“The hypothesized dark matter is completely shrouded in mystery,” Minic said. “Dark matter cannot be observed electromagnetically and hence the term ‘dark’ as opposed to the familiar visible matter, also known as baryonic matter,” he added. “However, dark matter makes its presence known unambiguously via gravitational effects at different length scales.

“Suggestions that the abundances of baryonic and dark matter at the galactic scale may be related via an acceleration scale set by dark energy has been made previously. What is new in our model is that we are extending that premise to all scales, to the scale of galaxy clusters, and even to the cosmological scale,” Minic said. “And we are supporting this hypothesis with a careful analysis of astronomical data.”

The judging committee recognized the publication as “an imaginative and courageous paper that proposes new ideas to address long unresolved fundamental questions” in the study of the universe’s origin.

The five-member team behind the paper has more Hokie connections than Minic and Takeuchi, with Doug Edmonds, a Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Physics, and former Virginia Tech faculty member Duncan Farrah – now at the University of Hawaii. Rounding out the team is Jack Ng, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a regular collaborator of the Virginia Tech group.

“We’re seeking an understanding of dark matter that goes beyond the current view of dark matter as some unknown particle,” Minic said. “I also expect that our research will one day provide a better understanding of quantum gravity – a unification of quantum theory and Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity. We also hope to see our work on modified dark matter more closely related to many new and detailed astronomical observations.”

Takeuchi added, “In five years, we not only will have more astronomical data in addition to the already vast database of existing data, but also a better idea of how to process that data in order to extract more information about the properties of dark matter. Whether our findings are surprising or mundane, we expect to gain a deeper understanding of what kind of dark matter is really out there.”

The prize was announced at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), a major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The award is named for astrophysicist-turned-businessman Ari Buchalter, who founded the information technology firm Intersection Co. It honors “new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe beyond current standard cosmological models,” according to the AAS.