The universe gives up its deepest secret

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This has to be the biggest piece of news in 2007 I reckon.

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Source: The Independent

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It is the invisible material that makes up most of the cosmos. Now, scientists have created the first image of dark matter

One of the greatest mysteries of the universe is about to be unravelled with the first detailed, three-dimensional map of dark matter - the invisible material that makes up most of the cosmos.

Astronomers announced yesterday that they have achieved the apparently impossible task of creating a picture of something that has defied every attempt to detect it since its existence was first postulated in 1933.

Scientists have known for many years that there is more to the universe than can be seen or detected through their telescopes but it is only now that they have been able to capture the first significant 3D-image of this otherwise invisible material.

Unlike the ordinary matter of the planets, stars and galaxies, which can be seen through telescopes or detected by scientific instruments, nobody has seen dark matter or knows what it is made of, though calculations suggest that it is at least six times bigger than the rest of the visible universe combined.

A team of 70 astronomers from Europe, America and Japan used the Hubble space telescope to build up a picture of dark matter in a vast region of space where some of the galaxies date back to half the age of the universe - nearly 7 billion years.

They used a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, first predicted by Albert Einstein, to investigate an area of the sky nine times the size of a full moon. Gravitational lensing occurs when light from distant galaxies is bent by the gravitational influence of any matter that it passes on its journey through space.

The scientists were able to exploit the technique by collecting the distorted light from half a million faraway galaxies to reconstruct some of the missing mass of the universe which is otherwise invisible to conventional telescopes.

"We have, for the first time, mapped the large-scale distribution of dark matter in the universe," said Richard Massey of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, one of the lead scientists in the team. "Dark matter is a mysterious and invisible form of matter, about which we know very little, yet it dominates the mass of the universe."

One of the most important discoveries to emerge from the study is that dark matter appears to form an invisible scaffold or skeleton around which the visible universe has formed.

Although cosmologists have theorised that this would be the case, the findings are dramatic proof that their calculations are correct and that, without dark matter, the known universe that we can see would not be able to exist.

"A filamentary web of dark matter is threaded through the entire universe, and acts as scaffolding within which the ordinary matter - including stars, galaxies and planets - can later be built," Dr Massey said. "The most surprising aspect of our map is how unsurprising it is. Overall, we seem to understand really well what happens during the formation of structure and the evolution of the universe," he said.

The three-dimensional map of dark matter was built up by taking slices through different regions of space much like a medical CT scanner build a 3-D image of the body by taking different X-ray "slices" in two dimensions.

Data from the Hubble telescope was supplemented by measurements from telescopes on the ground, such as the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile and the Japanese Subaru telescope in Hawaii.

Details of the dark matter map were released yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle and published online by the journal Nature. The map stretches half way back to the beginning of the universe and shows that dark matter has formed into "clumps" as it collapsed under gravity. Other matter then grouped around these clumps to form the visible stars, galaxies and planets.

"The 3-D information is vital to studying the evolution of the structures over cosmic time," said Jason Rhodes of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Astronomers have compared the task of detecting dark matter to the difficulty of photographing a city at night from the air when only street lights are visible.

Scientists said the new images were equivalent to seeing a city, its suburbs and country roads in daylight for the first time. Major arteries and intersections become evident and a variety of neighbourhoods are revealed.

"Now that we have begun to map out where dark matter is, the next challenge is to determine what it is, and specifically its relationship to normal matter," Dr Massey said. "We have answered the first question about where the dark matter it, but the ultimate goal will be to determine what it is."

Various experiments on Earth are under way to try to find out what dark matter is made of. One theory is that it is composed of mysterious sub-atomic particles that are difficult to detect because they do not interact with ordinary matter and so cannot be picked up and identified by conventional scientific instruments. Comparing the maps of visible matter and dark matter have already pointed to anomalies that could prove critical to the understanding of what constitutes dark matter
 

niky

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Strange, that it's only now, after the existence of dark matter has become generally accepted, that they actually thought to do this.

Scientists have suspected dark matter for years, and this type of observation would have been the easiest way to find it.
 

Touring Mars

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"The most surprising aspect of our map is how unsurprising it is. Overall, we seem to understand really well what happens during the formation of structure and the evolution of the universe,"
That's an interesting quote, but I can see where they're coming from. Now that they have the tools (such as the Hubble telescope) and have devised methods capable of actually detecting this stuff, it's not surprising that their observations fit well with what they had expected from theoretical considerations. I agree with niky that it seems a bit odd that it's taken this long to do, however, since mapping 'invisible' objects (such as black holes) by gravitational lensing has been done long before now, however it's still a remarkable vindication for the theorists who have had to fight long and hard to convince the scientific community that dark matter even exists...
 

Dave A

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It still creates quite a stir with the "everythings a solid, liquid or gas" approach me and I'm sure a lot of other people were taught in school since dark matter has no atomic structure it re-defines a lot of things.
 

niky

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Heck, what do the rest of us care? We still learn Newtonian Physics in High School, and barely any of us actually understands Einstein's Theory of Relativity in any but the most basic sense...

Not to mention quantum physics... which is so whacked (we're actually... vibrations? strings? figments of the Spaghetti Monster's imagination?) that many scientists themselves don't like to think about it.

I think many of us are so completely weirded out by the nature of the universe that when we learn that we didn't know anything at all, it doesn't come as much of a surprise... :lol:

Still... it's very cool that we can now actually see the universe as a whole, instead of just the "visible" universe.
 

Omnis

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Now we just need to condense it into space fuel.
 

Sureboss

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Wouldn't the universes biggest secret be whether there are other life forms?
 
It still creates quite a stir with the "everythings a solid, liquid or gas" approach me and I'm sure a lot of other people were taught in school since dark matter has no atomic structure it re-defines a lot of things.

You can take entire courses in university that are solely about things that defy all sorts of chemical and physical properties. They're really rediculous and require a tremendous amount of effort to not blow off and get ploughed at the pub instead of go to classes. :P

But I doubt this is close to the biggest news of 2007. This hardly changes anyones lives at all, and the bottom line is that this is just confirming a suspicion scientists have had for almost 75 years.
 

guska

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So there really IS something inside my head after all!
 

Philly

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That is pretty cool. I find the universe really quite fascinating. My brain can really have a field day thinking about it. Now that we know what it is, we can explore it, I guess. We now have seen what vegans are made of!:lol:

About the article. Do some people have no concept of the Paragraph? I was taught a paragraph had at least 4 sentences. Those are all one sentence.
 
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"Japanese Subaru telescope in Hawaii." talk about a contrast, lol.

anyways, this is an awesome find. I love learning about this kind of stuff.

in one of my classes we listened to a book (on tape) by the guy who wrote the da vinci code. anyways, in it a swedsih scientist smashed two particles together using a prticle accelerator and out of that created antimatter. an interesting point is that there is an enormous particle accelerator being created in europe (the united states was supposed to many years ago but the goverment is always to chicken:censored: to do anything cool) does anyone else think this could be an actual possibility. from what they said in the book it makes sense for example. everything was created with an opposite- good and evil, etc... so if there is matter there is antimatter. only problem is antimatter cannot touch matter or else it will instantly explode. only problem with it exloding is that a visible sample ( about the size of a grain of sand ) has so much energy its explosion is about a mile in diameter.

About the article. Do some people have no concept of the Paragraph? I was taught a paragraph had at least 4 sentences. Those are all one sentence.
but we are not in english class are we, lol. I would do the same thing. i mostly split up my paragraphs on here from one subject (or part of a subject) to another. it helps keep the readers eyes on the words ( big paragraphs can hurt your eyes or make you lose your place alot) and usually most people dont want to read an ultra enormous paragraph.
 

Wolfe

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Interesting. I can't help but get a bit of that "yeah, right" feeling you get when reading an obvious April Fool's article...but this isn't April. :lol:

It's not that I doubted the existence of dark matter -- it's that I've always sorta figured that no one would have the balls to say they've "found" or observed it.

About the article. Do some people have no concept of the Paragraph? I was taught a paragraph had at least 4 sentences. Those are all one sentence.

That "rule" doesn't apply to news/magazine articles, where a visually-appealing and easier-to-digest format is preferred.

You mean you've never noticed that most articles have one- or two-sentence paragraphs?
 

Event

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Finally... I didn't think we could get a picture of it.

My radical guess about dark matter is it is normal matter, just in a different universe, parallel to ours. The only way it interacts with our universe is via gravity. Crazy guess...

I can't wait until scientists discover the Higgs Boson. Hopefully it will be at Fermilab, not that crappy CERN :grumpy:
 

Philly

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That "rule" doesn't apply to news/magazine articles, where a visually-appealing and easier-to-digest format is preferred.

You mean you've never noticed that most articles have one- or two-sentence paragraphs?

No, It first caught my attention in AP Euro with the Chartists' charter or whatever that was called. It just made me wonder a bit, as I saw it a few times, then came up again here. The rule not applying in the press does make sense.
 

niky

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Dark matter is dark matter. It doesn't touch us and we can't touch it, irradiate it, zap it, taste it, or see it. It's dark in the sense that it's completely invisible and intangible.

The only interaction between dark matter and the rest of the known universe is through gravity... which is why it's important to us.

Of course, it would be kind of fun to imagine dark matter being a sort of anti-universe... with dark galaxies, dark stars, dark planets and dark people... who're all sitting at their telescopes wondering where the heck that missing matter went to... and are waiting to discover light matter... :lol:
 

FoolKiller

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No, It first caught my attention in AP Euro with the Chartists' charter or whatever that was called. It just made me wonder a bit, as I saw it a few times, then came up again here. The rule not applying in the press does make sense.
There is actually an official AP Writing Style, which is taught to journalism students. You can even go out and buy the AP Stylebook.

My writing tends to go in and out of AP Style because I studied telecommunications and work in media research. My office keeps a copy of the AP Stylebook on hand.


Now on topic: is dark matter supposed to be anti-matter or something else completely?