Dark Matter Cookbook: Freeze-In

In my previous post, we discussed the features of dark matter freeze-out. The freeze-out scenario is the standard production mechanism for dark matter. There is another closely related mechanism though, the freeze-in scenario. This mechanism achieves the same results as freeze-out, but in a different way. Here are the ingredients we need, and the steps to make dark matter according to the freeze-in recipe [1].


  • Standard Model particles that will serve as a thermal bath, we will call these “bath particles.”
  • Dark matter (DM).
  • A bath-DM coupling term in your Lagrangian.


  1. Pre-heat your early universe to temperature T. This temperature should be much greater than the dark matter mass.
  2. Add in your bath particles and allow them to reach thermal equilibrium. This will ensure that the bath has enough energy to produce DM once we begin the next step.
  3. Starting at zero, increase the bath-DM coupling such that DM production is very slow. The goal is to produce the correct amount of dark matter after letting the universe cool. If the coupling is too small, we won’t produce enough. If the coupling is too high, we will end up making too much dark matter. We want to make just enough to match the observed amount today.
  4. Slowly decrease the temperature of the universe while monitoring the DM production rate. This step is analogous to allowing the universe to expand. At temperatures lower than the dark matter mass, the bath no longer has enough energy to produce dark matter. At this point, the amount of dark matter has “frozen-in,” there are no other ways to produce more dark matter.
  5. Allow your universe to cool to 3 Kelvin and enjoy. If all went well, we should have a universe at the present-day temperature, 3 Kelvin, with the correct density of dark matter, (0.2-0.6) GeV/cm^3 [2].

This process is schematically outlined in the figure below, adapted from [1].

Schematic comparison of the freeze-in (dashed) and freeze-out (solid) scenarios.

On the horizontal axis we have the ratio of dark matter mass to temperature. Earlier times are to the left and later times are to the right. On the vertical axis is the dark matter number-density per entropy-density. This quantity automatically scales the number-density to account for cooling effects as the universe expands. The solid black line is the amount of dark matter that remains in thermal equilibrium with the bath. For the freeze-out recipe, the universe started out with a large population of dark matter that was in thermal equilibrium with the bath. In the freeze-in recipe, the universe starts with little to no dark matter and it never reaches thermal equilibrium with the bath. The dashed (solid) colored lines are dark matter abundances in the freeze-in (out) scenarios. Observe that in the freeze-in scenario, the amount of dark matter increases as temperature decreases. In the freeze-out scenario, the amount of dark matter decreases as temperature decreases. Finally, the arrows indicate the effect of increasing the X-bath coupling. For freeze in, increasing this interaction leads to more dark matter but in freeze-out, increasing this coupling leads to less dark matter.


[1] – Freeze-In Production of FIMP Dark Matter. This is the paper outlining the freeze-in mechanism.

[2] – Using Gaia DR2 to Constrain Local Dark Matter Density and Thin Dark Disk. This is the most recent measurement of the local dark matter density according to the Particle Data Group.

[3] – Dark Matter. This is the Particle Data Group review of dark matter.

[A] – Cake Recipe in strange science units. This SixtySymbols video provided the inspiration for the format of this post.

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Adam Green

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