Astronomy

Cosmic 'web' seen for the very first time

The hidden tendrils of dark matter that can unlock hidden secrets of the universe may have been traced for the very first time.

The Cosmology theory predicts that every galaxy is embedded in a cosmic web is “stuff”. Most of which, scientists believe is dark matter.

Astronomers obtained these first direct images by using the fact that a luminous object called a quasar can act as a “cosmic flashlight”

Details of the Astronomers work will appear in the science journal, Nature. This particular quasar illuminates a gas cloud nearby, spanning 2 million light years across.

Scientists were lucky that the quasar was pointing towards the nebula to make the gas ‘glow’. This glowing gas appears to trace out filaments and nodules of underlying dark matter.

The quasar lies 10 billion light years away and has become a huge advancement in many years of research. For several years they have been running computer simulations of the structure of the universe in an effort to build the ‘standard model of cosmology’.

To do this, scientists use the cosmic microwave background radiation to correspond to observations of the very earliest universe, first recorded by the Planck Space Observatory.

Calculations suggest that as the universe grows and forms matter becomes clustered into filaments under the force of gravity, similar to a giant cosmic web.

The cosmic web suggested by this model is made up of dark matter, which is still predominantly a mystery for scientists. Although the thing we do know is that dark matter exerts some gravitational forces on visible light and ordinary matter nearby.

‘Clumps’ of dark matter bend light as it passes close, this is a process called gravitational lensing. These allow far more precise measurements and observations around the distribution of the matter. This technique also makes it difficult to see very difficult to see very distant dark matter and also cold, ordinary matter also makes it hard to see as well,

Gravity acting across vast distances simply doesn’t explain what the Astronomers have seen. Galaxies for example should fly apart, but don’t so there must be another mass holding them together so Astrophysicists have put forward the idea of dark matter, invisible to us but clearly acting on galactic scales. The current theory suggests that the universe holds 68% dark energy 27% dark matter and only 5% the kind of matter we know about.

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