New research has been published using supermassive black holes to probe the nature of Dark Matter. Dark Matter is the stuff used to explain observations that stars in the outer bits of the discs of galaxies (and in clusters in the halos) corotate with the inner bit, rather than spinning more slowly due to the extra velocity required to keep up. Our best model of dark matter is that it is cold – ie low energy – particles called WIMPs – weakly interacting massive particles – that interact with other matter through gravity, but not very much in any other way.
Black holes are sources of intense gravitational fields. Bodies compressed to such high densities that their surface fields have escape velocities beyond the speed of light. As black holes accrete mass through gravitational attraction, it stands to reason that they absorb dark matter as well as ordinary matter. This is being used as a way of differentiating between different dark matter scenarios – how much dark matter can a black hole absorb? The answer is anything up to seven solar masses per cubic light year. If there’s more than this in the area of a black hole, it has a runaway growth spurt that affects how the entire galaxy is shaped. As we don’t see this, there is an upper limit in the density of dark matter that can gather in the middle of a galaxy.
Meanwhile, on the subject of Dark Energy, there is a five page website on the Smithsonian with a bit of an explanation of what it is and how it is also being characterised.