A Detailed Simulation of the Universe Creates Structures Very Similar to the Milky Way and its Surroundings

Simulation of dark matter and gas. Credit: Illustris Collaboration (CC BY-SA 4.0)

In their pursuit of understanding cosmic evolution, scientists rely on a two-pronged approach. Using advanced instruments, astronomical surveys attempt to look farther and farther into space (and back in time) to study the earliest periods of the Universe. At the same time, scientists create simulations that attempt to model how the Universe has evolved based on our understanding of physics. When the two match, astrophysicists and cosmologists know they are on the right track!

In recent years, increasingly-detailed simulations have been made using increasingly sophisticated supercomputers, which have yielded increasingly accurate results. Recently, an international team of researchers led by the University of Helsinki conducted the most accurate simulations to date. Known as SIBELIUS-DARK, these simulations accurately predicted the evolution of our corner of the cosmos from the Big Bang to the present day.

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Missing Mass? Not on our Watch—Dr. Paul Sutter Explains Dark Matter

Credit: ArsTechnica

Do you have a few minutes to spare and a thirst for knowledge about one of the greater mysteries of the Universe? Then head on over to ArsTechnica and check out the new series they’re releasing titled Edge of Knowledge, starring none other than Dr. Paul Sutter. In what promises to be an enlightening journey, Dr. Sutter will guide viewers through an eight-episode miniseries that explores the mysteries of the cosmos, such as black holes, the future of climate change, the origins of life, and (for their premiere episode) Dark Matter!

As far as astrophysicists and cosmologists are concerned, Dark Matter is one of the most enduring, frustrating, and confusing mysteries ever! Then, one must wonder why scientists are working so tirelessly to track it down? The short answer is: the most widely accepted theories of the Universe don’t make sense without out. The long answer is… it’s both complicated and long! Luckily, Dr. Sutter manages to sum it all up in less than 15 minutes. As an accomplished physicist, he also explains why it is so important that we track Dark Matter down!

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Small Amounts of Dark Matter are Creating Much Stronger Gravitational Distortions than Anyone Expected to See

A mosaic of telescopic images showing the galaxies of the Virgo Supercluster. Credit: NASA/Rogelio Bernal Andreo

Dark matter is difficult for astronomers to study, but that doesn’t keep them from trying. And with skill and determination, they continue to find exciting things about the invisible stuff.

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Hubble Finds Teeny Tiny Clumps of Dark Matter

Using the gravitational lensing technique, a team was able to examine how light from distant quasar was affected by intervening small clumps of dark matter. Credit: NASA/ESA/D. Player (STScI)

To put it simply, Dark Matter is not only believed to make up the bulk of the Universe’s mass but also acts as the scaffolding on which galaxies are built. But to find evidence of this mysterious, invisible mass, scientists are forced to rely on indirect methods similar to the ones used to study black holes. Essentially, they measure how the presence of Dark Matter affects stars and galaxies in its vicinity.

To date, astronomers have managed to find evidence of dark matter clumps around medium and large galaxies. Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and a new observing technique, a team of astronomers from UCLA and NASA JPL found that dark matter can form much smaller clumps than previously thought. These findings were presented this week at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

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Maybe Dark Matter is Warm, Not Cold

The early universe. Credit: Tom Abel & Ralf Kaehler (KIPACSLAC)/ AMNH/NASA

Since the “Golden Age of General Relativity” in the 1960s, scientists have held that much of the Universe consists of a mysterious invisible mass known as “Dark Matter“. Since then, scientists have attempted to resolve this mystery with a double-pronged approach. On the one hand, astrophysicists have attempted to find a candidate particle that could account for this mass.

On the other, astrophysicists have tried to find a theoretical basis that could explain Dark Matter’s behavior. So far, the debate has centered on the question of whether it is “hot” or “cold”, with cold enjoying an edge because of its relative simplicity. However, a new study conducted led by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) revits the idea that Dark Matter might actually be “warm”.

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