How dark matter came to matter

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 06 March 2017


The history of the dark matter problem can be traced back to at least the 1930s, but it was not until the early 1970s that the issue of ‘missing matter’ was widely recognized as problematic. In the latter period, previously separate issues involving missing mass were brought together in a single anomaly. We argue that reference to a straightforward accumulation of evidence alone is inadequate to comprehend this episode. Rather, the rise of cosmological research, the accompanying renewed interest in the theory of relativity and changes in the manpower division of astronomy in the 1960s are key to understanding how dark matter came to matter. At the same time, this story may also enlighten us on the methodological dimensions of past practices of physics and cosmology.

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Figure 1: Indications of flat rotation curves in the early 1970s.
Figure 2: The rise in astronomy personnel during the 1960s.
Figure 3: The growth in cosmology papers.
Figure 4: Peebles, Abell, Longair and Einasto.


Figure 5: Two 1974 diagrams that plot the relation between the mass and the radius of galactic systems.


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The transcripts of the interviews are archived at the Niels Bohr Library & Archive, American Institute of Physics. We warmly thank V. Trimble for her elaborate comments and suggestions, and all interviewees for their interest and cooperation. The interviews in this article have been made possible by a grant-in-aid from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, and the kind support of the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University. This work is partly financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO; project number SPI 63-260). G.B. acknowledges support from the European Research Council through the ERC starting grant WIMPs Kairos.

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J.G.d.S. conducted the historical research and interviews, and prepared the manuscript. G.B. and J.v.D. defined the project, supervised the research, gave technical and conceptual advice, and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to J. G. de Swart.

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de Swart, J., Bertone, G. & van Dongen, J. How dark matter came to matter. Nat Astron 1, 0059 (2017).

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