Scientists Have Captured the First-Ever “Image” of a Dark Matter Web

Seeing the Unseeable

The theory that birthed the concept of dark matter came to be out of necessity. Based on the matter we can see, our universe shouldn’t be able to exist and operate as it does — this visible matter can’t generate the gravity necessary to keep our galaxies held together. Dark matter is a way for scientists to account for this discrepancy. They posit that our universe must contain a kind matter that we cannot see, a kind that doesn’t absorb, reflect, or emit light — a truly dark matter.

For our scientific models to hold true, dark matter must make up more than a quarter of all the matter in the universe. Still, what dark matter is actually made of remains a mystery, and finding evidence of something that cannot be seen is a daunting task. Previously, the gravitational effects of dark matter are the closest thing to proof that scientists have, but now, researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, have something even better: a composite picture that proves that galaxies are indeed connected by dark matter.

Credit: S. Epps & M. Hudson / University of Waterloo
Credit: S. Epps & M. Hudson / University of Waterloo

Using a technique known as weak gravitational lensing, the researchers combined images taken over the course of years to show the presence of dark matter. The composite was created using images from more than 23,000 galaxy pairs situated 4.5 billion light-years away.

The Missing Universe

We may not have greater insight as to exactly what this matter is composed of, but at least we now have a physical representation of its existence between galaxies.

What Is Dark Matter?
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“For decades, researchers have been predicting the existence of dark-matter filaments between galaxies that act like a web-like superstructure connecting galaxies together,” explained Mike Hudson, a professor of astronomy at Waterloo, in a press release from the Royal Astronomical Society. “This image moves us beyond predictions to something we can see and measure.”

Indeed, the image is an important step toward legitimizing dark matter and dark energy at a time when other scientists are proposing models that would do away with the need for dark matter to exist entirely. It brings us closer to understanding dark matter and the role it plays in binding the universe together. Existence is an infinitely large puzzle comprising innumerable pieces. Any time we can find a way to connect those pieces we bring the big picture into greater focus and move one step closer to truly understanding the world in which we live.

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When You Play Mass Effect, You’re Playing With Dark Matter

Whether you’ve played it or not, you might have heard of the Mass Effect series. The series features a space odyssey through which users can play as characters who can control mass effect fields, giving them some extraordinary powers.

Taking a deeper look at these powers, it’s interesting to note that they may be derived from dark matter, something that makes up 23% of the universe. It’s theorized that dark matter is invisible because it doesn’t interact with the electromagnetic spectrum. And although the LHC has yet to conclusively detect dark matter, we know that dark matter exists because the spins of galaxies are affected by something much stronger than visible matter.

In the Mass Effect series, some lifeforms have biotic abilities, meaning they can manifest mass effect fields and manipulate their environment. Characters can warp, pull, slam, lift, and charge, among other abilities. As shown in the Nerdist video, each ability involves a precise manipulation of dark matter while falling within the limitations of physics.

What Is Dark Matter?
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While there is no real evidence that we may one day be able to shape our environment with the help of dark matter, it is interesting to note that one of the largest science fiction video game franchises may not be too far off in their premise.

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New Research Shows “68% of the Universe May Not Exist at All”

Dark Matter, Dark Energy

Dark energy” is believed to comprise 68 percent of the universe, but a Hungarian-American research team thinks it may not exist at all. The researchers believe that the concept of dark energy is merely filling in the gaps left by existing models of the universe, which fail to account for its changing structure. Once the model is corrected, the gaps disappear, and so does the need for dark energy within the model.

What Is Dark Matter?
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Our universe has been expanding ever since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Hubble’s law provides the key piece of evidence supporting this expansion. The law states that, on average, the distance between us and a given galaxy and its recessional velocity — the speed with which it moves away from us — are proportional. Astronomers observe the lines in a galaxy’s spectrum to measure the recessional velocity. The faster the galaxy moves away from us, the more the lines shift toward red. All of this led scientists to think that the entire universe is constantly expanding and that it must have begun as a vanishingly minuscule point.

Later, astronomers noticed that they needed something more to explain the motion of stars within galaxies and that brought upon the potential of unseen “dark matter.” Finally, after astronomers observed Type Ia supernovae, white dwarf stars exploding in binary systems, in the 1990s, they concluded that 68 percent of the cosmos is comprised of dark energy, which, along with about 5 percent ordinary matter and 27 percent dark matter, drives the expansion of the universe.

The new work, led by Eötvös Loránd University Phd student Gábor Rácz, suggests an alternative explanation for the expansion of the universe. The team argues that conventional cosmological models ignore the structure of the universe and rely on approximations. This leads to inevitable gaps in models, and that’s what dark energy has been sloppily used to fix.

Reframing the Debate

The team reconstructed the evolution of the universe using a computer simulation to model the ways that gravity affects the distribution of millions of dark matter particles. The reconstruction includes the formation of large scale structures and the early clumping of matter. Taking these structures into account produced a different simulation than conventional models, which show the universe expanding smoothly. This new simulation is consistent with previous models in that it shows an acceleration overall, but in it the expansion of the universe is uneven, with different regions within the cosmos expanding at different rates.

The research team argues that their work is based less on guesswork and more on sound modeling. Dr. László Dobos, co-author of the paper, explained the team’s approach to the Royal Astronomical Society:

We do not question [the validity of theory of general relativity]; we question the validity of the approximate solutions. Our findings rely on a mathematical conjecture which permits the differential expansion of space, consistent with general relativity, and they show how the formation of complex structures of matter affects the expansion. These issues were previously swept under the rug but taking them into account can explain the acceleration without the need for dark energy.

If upheld, this work could impact future physics research and models of the universe significantly. For two decades, theoretical physicists and astronomers have speculated about the unsolved mystery of the nature of dark energy. With this revised model, an interesting new debate can begin.

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Scientists Think Dark Energy Might Be Just an Illusion

Dark Energy: Captivating and Confusing

Dark energy and matter, two hot-button subjects of physics that have captivated and stumped enthusiasts and experts alike. Since its discovery in 1998, dark energy has been a subject of extensive study and confusion. Theoretically comprising approximately 68% of the known universe, this mysterious form of energy is said to be accelerating the expansion of the Universe. However, despite these past conclusions, new simulations suggest that dark energy might not actually exist at all.

What Is Dark Matter?
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Physicists hailing from Loránd University in Hungary and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii mathematically modeled the effect of gravity on “dark matter” (they used millions of particles to represent dark matter). This model showed how matter would have gathered and resembled large scale galaxy structures (or “bubbles” of space and their surrounding galaxies) in the early Universe. And, much like the actual Universe, their model expanded. However, averaging out how these different “bubbles” expanded, the researchers found an overall acceleration.

What Is the Universe Made Of?

Now, this might not seem like a huge deal, but when you think about this study in terms of dark energy, what they really found was an explanation for how the formation of large and complex structures in the universe affects its expansion. And, according to László Dobos from Eötvös Loránd University, “These issues were previously swept under the rug but taking them into account can explain the acceleration without the need for dark energy.”

Their calculations showed that dark energy could have really just been a tool to explain the expansion of the Universe. Dark energy could really just be an illusion of energy that comes from changing structures in the Universe. So…what does this mean? Well, for starters it means that there is both more and less mystery in our Universe. We might be a step closer to better understanding the expansion of the Universe, but this new possibility opens up a lot of new doors and introduces a lot of new questions.

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