Supercomputers Pitch in to Search for Missing Matter

Article written: 6 Dec , 2007
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015

I know, I know, you’re probably getting sick of hearing this. Astronomers have no idea what 95% of the Universe is; 70% is dark energy, and 25% is dark matter, leaving a mere 5% normal matter. But it gets worse. Astronomers can only actually account for about 60% of that regular matter (hydrogen, helium and heavier elements) – almost half of the regular matter is missing too!

I’ll repeat that, just so it’s clear. Of the 5% of the Universe that we can even understand, almost half of it is missing too.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have used a powerful supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputing Center to try and figure out where this missing mass could be hiding, and they think they’ve got a good place to look.

They built up a simulation of a huge chunk of Universe, 1.5 billion light-years on a side. Within this simulated Universe, they saw that much of the gas in the Universe forms into a tangled web of filaments that stretch for hundreds of million of light-years. In between these filaments are vast spherical voids without any matter.

The simulation works by modeling how material came together through gravity after the Big Bang. The simulation predicts that this missing material is hiding within gas clouds called the Warm-Hot Intergalactic Medium.

If their predictions are correct, the next generation of telescopes should be able to detect this missing mass in these hidden filaments. Some of these telescopes include the 10-metre South Pole Telescope in Antarctica and the 25-metre Cornell-Caltech Atacama Telescope (CCAT).

The South Pole Telescope will look at how the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is heated up as it passes through clouds of this gas. CCAT will be able to look back to periods just after the Big Bang, and see how the first large scale structures started to come together.

At least then, we’ll probably know where all that 5% of regular mass is. Dark matter and dark energy? Still a mystery.

Original Source: CU-Boulder News Release

27 Responses

  1. Mags says

    I think the universe is smaller. Any matter we perceive as missing is caused by some type of reflection. You might say it’s all smoke and mirrors.

  2. John Mendenhall says

    Unfortunately, the universe is topologically flat as far as we can tell, out to 14 billion light years or so.. The data doesn’t support a closed or reflective universe. I don’t like dark matter or dark energy, either, but it’s the best explanation so far. Mags, you might look at the recent (last month) theory of everything progress.

  3. Rick Eyerdam says

    by rick eyerdam

    The unlit light up on my ceiling says
    It’s nine o’clock (from where I sit)
    if the lamp that’s lit is the sun.
    And, unearthing this timeless orientation,
    I declare all clocks cuckoo.
    As Einstein told the time
    (and I’m as farsighted as he)
    I ride the back of a pachyderm
    beneath a bowl beneath the primal sea.
    Compacted now on an untracked train
    I stop at top speed, freed of form,
    to see where I am bound by the very speed
    Of what I’ve been.

    Think deeply why pi is infinite and why all motion in the natural universe attempts to form a circle but cannot.

  4. Hans Bausewein says

    Dark matter and dark energy are more an observation than an explanation.

  5. Mark says

    I was just wondering maybe the reason we can’t detect dark matter is because it is smaller than nuetrons, protons and electrons. Even if it is extremely small, all matter/energy has to have mass. But I do love that we keep thinking that we know how the universe works, when we have suck a small limited view of it. I would love to be around long enough to find out what is really going on in the universe.

  6. Eric says

    I agree with Mark on this matter and think thats closer to whats going on right now. And also would like to be around when we do find out more about dark matter.

  7. Dirk says

    Well someday we stop seeking matter for the wrong reasons. This matter simulation shows that matter is perfectly distributed in this area so no Big Bang has ever happened here in this neighbourhood…

  8. Bill says

    There really is no such thing as “dark matter”, “dark energy” or “dark anything”. As a matter of fact, it’s all dark.

  9. Paul says

    Could dark matter really just be loads of dust? Could accelerated expansion of the universe be a result of it’s “rotation”?
    comments please.

  10. Invisible Girl 0 says

    To the other enquiring minds: as for the unusual number called “pi” I believe it is reponsible for life. Mathematics is the language of the universe. Everything is represented by a number, an equation, or a group of numbers. Pi is the unending number (as far as we know). Life has the same distinction, it is the continuing (reproduction) part of the universe. How it works is for an accomplished mathmetician to figure out. It is something that I have pondered since I was a child (I dedicated my life to science when I was 4 and have never regreted it) and first heard of pi………….

  11. mountainman says

    If i consider matter as ( x ) then it can be looked at more objectively. The other elements 95% is ( u ). seaching for a way to determine what u is becomes more evident

  12. Astrofiend says

    *:- “Could dark matter really just be loads of dust?”

    Nope. Dust emits, reflects and blocks radiation like all ‘ordinary’ matter. This would render it visible to modern telescopic observation, at least in the quantities required to account for so-called missing mass.

    *:- “Could accelerated expansion of the universe be a result of it’s “rotation”?”

    Rotation of the universe is invoked in some cosmological theories as a theoretical possibility. I’m not aware of it having ever being offered as an explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe but I may be wrong…

    *:- “Pi is the unending number…”

    Pi is one unending number. There are quite a few well known numbers (e, sqrt(2), etc.) for which it has been proven can only be represented by an infinite and seemingly random decimal expansion… Such numbers are called irrational, and in fact, there are infinitely many of them. As for it being responsible for life? Hmmm… The proof would be one hell of a mathematical feat!

  13. Usman says

    To me it seems, something is really wrong with our cosmological models. May there is new Copernicus waiting in the wings.

  14. peter says

    I just keep thinking that if so much the of the universe is unaccounted for under the current models, wouldn’t that suggest that our models are wrong? I wonder if maybe dark matter and dark energy don’t actually exist–maybe they’re just the result of a fundamental misunderstanding somewhere…

  15. Jerry says

    I would be much more impressed with the prediction if it were not well known that much of the matter we do know about is arranged in a rather string-like fashion.

  16. Richard Dowd says

    Have you guys ever considered the idea that the univere might be creating space as it burns matter? For me, this is probably the unifing concept

  17. mountainman says

    i agree with our current understanding of what kind of model to use. a spectrograph shows a spectrum. what is the type of method for detecting cosmic data? obviously our current methods are inept!!!!!

  18. Invisible Girl 0 says

    Richard Dowd: Hawking radiation converts matter to energy via a black hole. Perhaps this is the “burning matter” you spoke of?

    Astrofiend: I cannot think of ANYTHING more irrational than humans! My theory still stands. 🙂

  19. parascience says

    I would just like to clarify the falacy of what some of you have been saying. pi is NOT infinite. It is very finite. It is between 3 and 4. 4 is very far from infinite. It’s just the /representation of pi/ in our decimal numbering system extends the fractional portion to infinite places. This in a way gives it a fractal property, saying it contains an unending stream of information/refinement. But the number itself is not infinite.

  20. Henryarv says

    I have sometimes wondered why water vapor in the sky gathers in formations called clouds instead of being more evenly distributed throughout the sky. Maybe the missing real matter is present in rather thin (dilute) invisible gas formations like clouds which do not emit any light or radiation that we can see. That is just a hypothesis; I don’t really know.

  21. Henryarv says

    Maybe these dilute gas clouds consist of cold helium in interstellar space, with all the cold atoms being in the ground state energetically. Helium is monoatomic and forms no bonds, and so atoms in the ground have practically no energy to emit any form of light or radiation. The helium gas would be so dilute that any absorption of light by the individual atoms in far-away outer space is not detected by any instruments on earth. Trying to excite these distant atoms from the earth would not result in any effect detectable on earth. The helium that has been detected in stars has been hot excited helium that could emit light when its excited electron(s) go to a lower energy state. Since helium forms no bonds, there are no vibrational energy levels to emit or absorb radiation. Since helium is monoatomic, transitions in rotational energy levels are negligible and undetectable.

  22. phillipeb says

    Perhaps we are just seeing heavier normal matter reacting quantumly. If quantum matter shifts between the implicate and explicate order (i.e. in and out of view) then perhaps these bits of normal matter are being forced to do the same based on interaction with surrounding phenomenon.

    I also quite like the idea of a reflective space. That the gaps in matter are nothing more than the reflective aspect of viewing a larger order of things. If something can be changed by simply looking at it then can it not be reasoned that something can be created because we are looking for it?

  23. James M. Essig says

    It is interesting to note that cosmologists believe that 70 percent of the mattergy of the universe is dark energy, 25 percent of the mattergy is dark matter, and only 5 percent of the mattergy is normal baryonic matter. I have often wondered if even within the known 4-D general relativistic space time contimuum, there might be some exotic form of mass that does not interact with the remaining portions of dark energy, dark matter, and baryonic matter even through the force of gravitation.

    This shadow matter would be bazaar indeed and might not even be expressible in the relativistic mass energy equivalence as E = M[C EXP 2]. Perhaps a “kilogram” of this matter would be much more energy dense than normal mass and could be used for utterly outstanding fuel to power a manned interstellar or intergalactic space craft if some way could be realized to permit the energy derivable from this would be exotic fuel to interact with the space craft and/or the surrounding interstellar medium.

    Note that the concept I am conjecturing about is not identical with that of socalled imaginary mass (in the imaginary or complex number sense) nor negative mass as distinct from antimatter which has the same inertial mass as normal matter, but rather something alltogether different. Nor am I proposing a form of normal mattergy occupying higher dimensional space such as the proposed higher dimensions of string theory, supersymmetry, or P-brane theory nor occupying parallel space time dimensions such as those conjectured about in the “Many Worlds Interpretation’ of quantum theory, but something even more bazaar: existent matter that interacts with normal matter and/or known or predicted yet to be discovered spacetime dimensionality through some completely unknown, yet to be discovered or yet to be mathematically formulated force(s).

    Perhaps such exotic mattergy would violate the thermodynamic principle of conservation of energy, but then again, it appears that the entire universe or what ever came before it (if the phrase came before it has any meaning) is the ultimate free lunch.

    That’s all for now.


  24. Burney says

    The universe in my opinion is of a Klien bottle construction, this explains for expansion (as it is into itself) and the seemingly infinite nature of it. Viewed from a 3 dimensional point of view it is flat i.e the mobius strip and that explains the the universe is topologically flat nature that is present. On expansion and acceleration I agree with with the rotation explanation with it simply rotating into itself showing what to us looks like expansion and acceleration. Still unsure about the big bang though?

  25. RUF says

    Pi isn’t infinite when expessed as a fraction as well. Been awile since I was in a Math class, but I believe it was 11/3 or something like that.

  26. Invisible Girl 0 says

    At least Astrofiend understood what concept I was getting at. It seems that ordinary mathmaticians are too caught up in arguing over small points to see that I was trying (in my own illiterate way) to express a CONCEPT that I have wondered about. I STILL wonder if unending numbers are responsible for life. Life reproduces by itself, a fact that I find remarkable to have evolved from inanimate matter. Perhaps one day a gifted biologist/mathmatician can get to looking at the concept without prejudice? I await that day with much interest. If something can be imagined, math can describe it (in my opinion). I even see human relationships as basically mathematical (would take too long to explain here). If the idea is wrong, then I’d like to see that proof also as I am a lifelong scientist and only seek the truth.

  27. Yor A. EdaIt says

    Missing matter, dark matter, dark energy, extra dimensions, strings, unparticles, backward gravity, various types of “gravitrons”… what pure BS…gotta wonder what you guys were smokin’ in grad school.

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