Scientists have released one of the most accurate maps of the universe’s matter ever created, featuring precise measurements of its distribution throughout the cosmos.
One surprising revelation from the map is that matter isn’t as “clumpy” as our current best model of the universe suggests it should be, meaning something could be missing from our standard cosmological model.
By helping to reveal how matter in the very early cosmos was flung outward before it formed galaxies, stars and planets, the new map could give scientists a better understanding of how the universe evolved.
Related: Beautiful interactive map of the universe lets you journey through space-time almost to the Big Bang
Following the creation of matter and the rapid expansion during the Big Bang around 13.8 billion years ago, the universe expanded and that matter spread outward. As this matter, mostly in the form of hydrogen and helium, cooled, it led to the formation of the first stars, which then synthesized heavier elements.
By tracking the path of this primordial matter as it spread outward and looking at how it is distributed today, scientists can rewind time and recreate that early epoch of the universe. Doing this, however, requires a huge amount of astronomical data.
For the new map, the team used data collected by the Dark Energy Survey in Chile and the South Pole Telescope. This combination of observational methods helped the team ensure that an error in one set of measurements wouldn’t undermine the overall results.
“It functions like a cross-check, so it becomes a much more robust measurement than if you just used one or the other,” Chihway Chang, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and co-lead author of the research, said in a statement.
Dark matter, too
Both the Dark Energy Survey, which surveyed the sky between 2013 and 2019, and the South Pole Telescope use a technique called gravitational lensing. Because mass causes space-time to warp, when light travels from a background object past a massive foreground object, it bends the path of this light. In some cases, this results in the foreground object acting as a natural lens, amplifying the light from the background object. The bigger the mass, the greater the curve in space-time and the more extreme the effect on light, meaning massive galaxies in our line of sight make brilliant gravitational lenses.
While gravitational lensing is good for tracking the normal, everyday matter that makes up stars and planets,…
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