Solar Sails and the Search for Dark Matter
Solar-photon sails have been proposed for decades-duration missions to the heliopause (~200 AU) and the Sun’s inner gravitational focus (~550 AU). A more advanced goal for space-manufactured sails capable of ~500 km/s interstellar cruise velocities is a search for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS), a suggested form of dark matter, within the solar vicinity. Newton’s Shell Theorem is applied, in which WIMPS within the sphere defined by the solar distance are treated as at the Sun’s center; those outside this sphere are ignored. A spherically symmetric near-Sun WIMP cloud will produce an anomalous spacecraft acceleration towards the Sun. Consideration of the Pioneer Anomaly demonstrated to be caused by differential spacecraft thermal emissions, reveals that WIMP mass within ~60 AU is <0.2 Earth masses. Increasing the published accuracy of Pioneer 10/11 acceleration measurements by a factor of 10X allows probe trajectory measurements at ~10,000 AU to confirm or falsify the existence of a ~3X star mass WIMP cloud in the Sun’s galactic vicinity. Various sail configurations, sail/space-environment interactions, and mission planning are discussed.
KeywordsDark Matter Solar Sail Acceleration Measurement Dark Matter Mass Oort Cloud
Dark-matter caused anomalous spacecraft acceleration, m/s2
Radius of Sun-centered sphere, AU
Universal gravitational constant, 6.67 × 10−11 Nm2/kg2
Dark-matter mass/stellar mass
Dark matter mass, kg
WIMP density, kg/m3
Sun centered sphere volume, m3
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