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Record Breaking “Dark Matter Web” Structures Observed Spanning 270 Million Light Years Across

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016

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It is well documented that dark matter makes up the majority of the mass in our universe. The big problem comes when trying to prove dark matter really is out there. It is dark, and therefore cannot be seen. Dark matter may come in many shapes and sizes (from the massive black hole, to the tiny neutrino), but regardless of size, no light is emitted and therefore it cannot be observed directly. Astronomers have many tricks up their sleeves and are now able to indirectly observe massive black holes (by observing the gravitational, or lensing, effect on light passing by). Now, large-scale structures have been observed by analyzing how light from distant galaxies changes as it passes through the cosmic web of dark matter hundreds of millions of light years across…

Dark matter is believed to hold over 80% of the Universe’s total mass, leaving the remaining 20% for “normal” matter we know, understand and observe. Although we can observe billions of stars throughout space, this is only the tip of the iceberg for the total cosmic mass.

Using the influence of gravity on space-time as a tool, astronomers have observed halos of distant stars and galaxies, as their light is bent around invisible, but massive objects (such as black holes) between us and the distant light sources. Gravitational lensing has most famously been observed in the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) images where arcs of light from young and distant galaxies are warped around older galaxies in the foreground. This technique now has a use when indirectly observing the large-scale structure of dark matter intertwining its way between galaxies and clusters.

Astronomers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada have observed the largest structures ever seen of a web of dark matter stretching 270 million light years across, or 2000 times the size of the Milky Way. If we could see the web in the night sky, it would be eight times the area of the Moons disk.

This impressive observation was made possible by using dark matter gravity to signal its presence. Like the HST gravitational lensing, a similar method is employed. Called “weak gravitational lensing”, the method takes a portion of the sky and plots the distortion of the observed light from each distant galaxy. The results are then mapped to build a picture of the dark matter structure between us and the galaxies.

The team uses the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT) for the observations and their technique has been developed over the last few years. The CFHT is a non-profit project that runs a 3.6 meter telescope on top of Mauna Kia in Hawaii.

Understanding the structure of dark matter as it stretches across the cosmos is essential for us to understand how the Universe was formed, how dark matter influences stars and galaxies, and will help us determine how the Universe will develop in the future.

This new knowledge is crucial for us to understand the history and evolution of the cosmos […] Such a tool will also enable us to glimpse a little more of the nature of dark matter.” – Ludovic Van Waerbeke, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, UBC

Source: UBC Press Release


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ranjea
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ranjea
February 25, 2008 5:07 AM

I think the picture in this article has been published here before, and has nothing to do with the actual study at hand, does it.

Jovica Aleksik
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Jovica Aleksik
February 25, 2008 6:38 AM

dark matter is not believed to hold 80% of the universes mass, and also neutrinos and black holes have nothing to do with dark matter. They are both made of ordinary elemntary particles included in the estimated 5% of ordinary matter that fills the universe.
Afaik, the current estimation is that the universe is filled with
5% ordinary matter (stars, planets, gases, nebulae, black holes, neutrinos, anything you can imagine)
25% dark matter (some weird other stuff you can’t imagine, or at least not detect atm)
70% dark energy (supposedly the force that drives the universe apart between any two given points, expanding our spatial dimensions, something like anti-gravity smile )

W. Scott
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W. Scott
February 25, 2008 7:15 AM
This article seems to have been written by someone who neither understood the nature of the (still theorhetical) dark matter, nor even the distinction between dark matter and dark energy. The first line: “It is well documented that dark matter makes up the majority of the mass in our universe.” Contains two factual errors. 1.) Dark matter makes up perhaps 25% of the universe, and 2.) it is widely hypothesized, but hardly well documented. In fact, there is no direct evidence of the existence of dark matter to date. We infer the existence of dark matter and dark energy by observing effects for which we can see no cause, and deducing that something (dark matter/dark energy) must be… Read more »
soul
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soul
February 25, 2008 8:02 AM

Wow.. nice peter pan.. Maybe we should head over to your favorite boards and label you…

Anyway… Just a thought.. upon collapse there is not enough matter in a molecular cloud and it collapses to a dark solar system. IE no sun just planets. We could not see or detect them however a solar systems gravitational influence would be enormous.

CrackPot Prof
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CrackPot Prof
February 25, 2008 8:05 AM

Geez, how I love the funny papers this site publishes. Hole lotta theory here, but, pardon the pun, not much substance. When oh when will there be a new theory that doesn’t depend on “dark” this and that.

Timber
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Timber
February 25, 2008 8:07 AM

What in the world has set Peter Pan’s teeth on edge? I think the article, even with it’s “errors” and the comments by Scott and Aleksik are all interesting, thanks to all of you. I’m glad there are people who will share their knowledge and ideas.

W. Scott
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W. Scott
February 25, 2008 8:22 AM
Hi CrackPot Prof, There is such a theory, and at present, it holds solid speculative answers to ALL of the most nagging questions of cosmology–including the question “what happened prior to the Big Bang.” It’s M-Theory, and it’s stunningly elegant from a mathematical perspective. The problem is, M-Theory allows that most of what’s going on in the universe is happening in dimensions that we can’t even perceive. This makes it very difficult to gather experimental evidence for M-Theory… until we can develop measuring devices that can operate beyond 4-D spacetime. Some of the more profound correlative math for M-Theory (which is a convergence of all viable String Theories combined with Supergravity Theory) suggests that gravitation is not a… Read more »
Truey
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Truey
February 25, 2008 8:27 AM

Very well said W. Scott and LMAO at the dark matter coming out of you nose…that was funny !

There are so many issues with STNG that it makes me laugh too, and ultimately you are correct, the dark matter/energy issue is all theoretical at this point. I do suspect that the limitations of 3D has something to do with the mystery, but I could be wrong.

I guess we just need to keep working on advancing the technology to better test what’s out there.

W. Scott
Guest
W. Scott
February 25, 2008 9:57 AM
Dark Matter and Dark Energy are different from Anti-Matter and Negative Energy (characterized by negative values.) The “Dark” stuff isn’t just “non-luminous,” it would have to be perfectly transparent, but with a great deal of mass. So that when a star passes behind a clump of Dark Matter, the Dark matter itself does not eclipse the observable star, but it’s gravitation is such that it can bend the star’s light to create a lensing effect. From the observation, all we can really say is, “because of THIS movement, we deduce that there must be something OVER THERE exerting a gravitational force.” But when we look there, all we can see is empty space, and the stars and galaxies… Read more »
Terragen
Member
Terragen
February 25, 2008 10:09 AM

Great replies W. Scott. I also had problems with the article. Isn’t Dark Matter a completely invisible, unobservable and exotic form of matter; whereas these maps can be made by objects lensed by more standard matter that is just invisible to us because it is not emitting enough light to be observed? Why should they automatically assume its “Dark matter”?

I also firmly believe that the answers lie in understanding higher dimensions and how they interact in the observable 3d world we live in. M-Theory seems to be leading the way.

John Mendenhall
Member
John Mendenhall
February 25, 2008 11:11 AM

There is zero evidence of multiple dimensions. Mathematically they are wonderful fun; in the real world there is no evidence for anything beyond 3 spatial and 1 time dimension. See the Wiki article.

But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying all the science fiction that uses multiple dimensions, including this article.

Marapito
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Marapito
February 25, 2008 11:24 AM

The distribution of dark matter obtained from a large numerical simulation at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics bears an curious similarity to nuerological structure.

Kevin
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Kevin
February 25, 2008 12:25 PM

Maybe I am missing something, but how can we infer how light from beyond this supposed giant mass of dark matter is being affected by the dark matter itself?

Is the cloud moving in such a way that we can see it pass in front of a section of space that had earlier observed? If not what are the changes we are observing in the light from objects beyond the dark matter? I am confused….

W. Scott
Guest
W. Scott
February 25, 2008 12:45 PM
Dear John Mendenhall, I submit that quantum entanglement and quantum tunnelling are evidence supporting multiple dimensions. Spontaneous quantum eruptions of paired particles in empty space is supporting evidence of multiple dimensions. String Theory’s consistent Quantum Theory of Gravity works where the standard model never has. Supersymmetry eliminates Quantum Theory’s open-door-policy on spectacularly absurd particles like Tachyons. A multidimensional universe, like dark matter, is still one hypothesis, unproven, but also like dark matter, has a statistically non-random positive distribution of supporting evidence, and an absence of directly conflicting evidence. Just because one scientist uses a telescope, and another uses mathematics doesn’t mean either has the superior approach to the truth. Mathematically, cosmological theories including multiple dimensions are not simply… Read more »
Jovica Aleksik
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Jovica Aleksik
February 25, 2008 1:24 PM

I just deleted hundrets and thousands of words I had typed in here, and don’t really want to post anything more on the topic.
However, whoever is REALLY interested into the science, theory and practical research of dark matter and dark energy should look out for a series of lectures published on DVD by The Teaching Company, and lectured by Sean Carroll. It’s called “Dark Matter, Dark Energy – The Dark Side of the Universe” (TTC Video) and I can only recommend it, it’s not too cheap, but as always you can try torrents wink It’s 24x 30min, and after following these courses for one or two times, you will certainly be better off

Jovica Aleksik
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Jovica Aleksik
February 25, 2008 1:40 PM

@Kevin: The effect you described is caused by any massive object in the universe, and so it is by our own sun as well. During a solar eclipse it is dark enough to observe it: You can actually see stars and galaxies, that you shouldn’t be able to see, because they are right behind the sun. The sun is in the line of sight, and should be blocking the light coming in. But the gravitational field of the sun bends the incoming light around it, and we can see an object that is behind the sun as appearing next to it.
check out wikipedia for gravitational lensing, there even is an animation wink
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_lensing

Jovica Aleksik
Guest
Jovica Aleksik
February 25, 2008 2:03 PM
heh, just looked it up… It was Sir Arthur Eddington who launched an expedition during a total eclipse of the sun in 1919, measuring the positions of distant objects in a certain part of the sky just normally, without the sun in the way, and also during the eclipse, with the sun in fromt of the objects. They could prove that the observable postions of the objects had been shifted by the sun due to the gravitational lensing it produced by comparing the images and positions with and without the sun inbetween. Einstein himself was the one who had predicted such an effect already in 1915. Luckily, shortly after this WW1 was over, and Eddington had the possibility,… Read more »
Kevin
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Kevin
February 25, 2008 4:07 PM

I understand what gravitational lensing is. Is this cloud of dark matter actually dense enough to act as a gravitational lens. I guess that wasn’t discussed in the article.

W. Scott
Guest
W. Scott
February 25, 2008 4:57 PM
Hi Kevin, The Canadian researchers looked at images of an apparently empty patch of sky as stars and galaxies passed behind it. They observed consistent lensing (by comparing the stars and galaxies to where they SHOULD be seen at any given time, or observing dual-images of the observed objects) caused, presumably, by gravitation that had no observable source. And that’s the crux of the issue. Dark Matter cannot be a cloud in space. It allows light to pass through, and does not obstruct the passage of light in and of itself. A better name for it would be “invisible mass,” but the acronym “IM” was already taken. However, the idea is that this “exotic” mass is massive enough… Read more »
W. Scott
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W. Scott
February 25, 2008 5:04 PM

Jovica Aleksik,

I’m too old and too broke to buy a series of discs that would cost more than auditing the best class in the field at Syracuse University.

But if you have studied the subject, do please give us an elegant and precise comparison of the implications of M-Theory and the problem of Dark matter. Oh Please!

I’d do it, but I once dropped-out of a calculus class, and my future as a cosmologist has gone downhill ever since.

wpDiscuz