Observations of how mass clumps in space suggest that about 86 per cent of all matter is invisible dark matter, which interacts with ordinary matter mainly through gravity.
The most popular theory is that dark matter is made of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS). However, years of searches for WIMPs have been coming up empty, New Scientist reported.
"So far nothing is found, and I feel like it's time to broaden the scope of our search. What we propose is to look for some other signatures," said Maxim Pospelov of the University of Victoria in Canada.
Pospelov and colleagues have been examining a theory that at least some of the universe's dark matter is tied up in structures called domain walls, akin to the boundaries between tightly packed bubbles.
The idea is that the hot early universe was full of an exotic force field that varied randomly. As the universe expanded and cooled, the field froze, leaving a patchwork of domains, each with its own distinct value for the field.
Having different fields sit next to each other requires energy to be stored within the domain walls. Mass and energy are interchangeable, so on a large scale a network of domain walls can look like concentrations of mass - that is, like dark matter, said Pospelov.
If the grid of domain walls is packed tightly enough ? say, if the width of the domains is several hundred times the distance between Earth and the Sun ? Earth should pass through a domain wall once every few years.
"As a human, you wouldn't feel a thing. You will go through the wall without noticing," he said.
But magnetometers devices that measure magnetic fields could detect the walls, said Pospelov and colleagues in a new study.
Although the field inside a domain would not affect a magnetometer, the device would sense the change when Earth passes through a domain wall.
Dark matter walls have not been detected yet because anyone using a single magnetometer would find the readings swamped by noise, Pospelov said.
Finding the walls will require a network of at least five detectors spread around the world, Pospelov said.
His colleagues in Poland and California have already built one magnetometer each and have shown that they are sensitive enough for the scheme to work.
Domain walls wouldn't account for all the dark matter in the universe, but they could explain why finding particles of the stuff have been such a challenge, Pospelov said.