Halo Microlensing and Dark Baryons

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Session 103 -- Pierce Prize Lecture
Invited presentation, Saturday, January 15, 8:30-9:20, Salons III/IV Room (Crystal Gateway)

[103.01] Halo Microlensing and Dark Baryons

A.P.S. Crotts (Columbia University)

(While Pierce lectures review past accomplishments, customarily, this talk concerns efforts which we have pursued for some years and which are now reaching fruition. We present elsewhere at this meeting results from research cited for the Prize.)

Dark matter exists in the halos of spiral galaxies, and the least radical alternative for its identity is normal matter produced by primordial nucleosynthesis. This matter could easily be hidden in large, condensed objects. Paczynski pointed out in 1986 that if condensations of Galactic halo matter are sufficiently massive, they will produce detectable amplification of background starlight by gravitational lensing. Several groups recently reported possible detections of this effect after surveying large numbers of stars in the Galactic Bulge and LMC. The connection between these events and massive, dark halos is unclear and likely to remain so for some time, given the rate at which they are detected.

Following Paczynski's realization, we stressed that a much higher event rate, a statistical control sample, sensitivity to a much broader mass range, and modulation of the predicted lensing rate with galactocentric distance can all be realized by a different experiment: observing the halo of M31 (and the Galaxy) using stars in M31. In some ways, M31 is a more difficult target than the LMC or the Bulge, given the faintness of its stars, but our observations in 1991 and 1993 indicate that these problems have been surmounted. We can detect stellar variability even under extremely crowded conditions like those in M31's inner disk, and can monitor a sufficient number of stars to study halo lensing. We present results from our initial survey which indicates that the required sensitivity can be reached to confirm or reject the hypothesis that sub-solar masses like those detected in our Galaxy make up the missing spiral galaxy mass. It is possible that we may use the data already obtained (and still being analyzed) to place interesting limits on the number density of objects in mass ranges inaccessible to Bulge and LMC studies.

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