Matter that emits little or no detectable radiation. Gravitational forces observed on many astronomical objects suggest the significant presence of such matter in the universe, accounting for approximately 23 percent of the total mass and energy of the universe. Its exact nature is not well understood, but it may be largely composed of varieties of subatomic particles that have not yet been discovered, as well as the mass of black holes and of stars too dim to observe. Also called missing mass.A Closer Look
What is the universe made of? We know that galaxies consist of planets, stars, and huge gas and dust clouds—all of these objects are observable by the radiation they give off, such as radio, infrared, optical, ultraviolet, x-ray, or gamma-ray radiation, and all can be observed using various kinds of telescopes. But there are reasons to suspect the existence of far more matter than this, matter that is not directly observable. Evidence for such dark matter
comes from observations of certain gravitational effects. For example, astronomers have found that galaxies rotate much faster than they would be expected to rotate based solely on their observable mass—in fact, they should be flying apart. One explanation for this apparent anomaly is to assume that the galaxies have much more mass than we can see, and this invisible mass holds them together gravitationally. Various theories of the composition of this invisible dark matter have been proposed, from exotic yet-to-be discovered particles to planet-sized objects made of ordinary matter that are too small or far away to be detected by present-day instruments. But none of these theories are entirely satisfactory, and the fundamental question of what makes up most of the universe remains unanswered.