New Map Of The Universe Probes The Enduring Mystery Of Dark Matter

One of science’s most enduring mysteries was the subject of a new map of the universe that was released earlier this week.

The product of over five years of intense study by the Dark Energy Survey (DES), the map is the most accurate yet of the substance. In order to produce the map, researchers collected light from 26 million galaxies and studied how the light from them has changed over the course of the preceding 7 billion years. Observing the shapes of these galaxies enabled them to map patterns of dark matter, making it possible to compile a map showing its distribution across the known galaxy.

Mapping the entire universe is no mean feat, necessitating a tremendous amount of manpower and a good deal of innovation. Four hundred scientists from seven countries were involved in the project, collaborating to build a 570-megapixel camera for use at the four-meter Victor M. Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Most of the Universe is Dark

According to the data collected, dark matter accounts for 26 percent of the Universe’s contents, with dark energy providing 70 percent and ordinary matter making up the remaining four percent. This is in-line with findings conducted to this point, and it reinforces the ΛCDM (Lambda cold dark matter) model, also known as the “standard” model, of cosmology that gained wide acceptance within the scientific community in the mid-1990s.

Chair of the DES Advisory Board, Professor Ofer Lahav of University College London (UCL), is optimistic that the data collected and the findings made as a result of this project will lead to significant leaps in achieving a more complete theory of physics.

“Once we have the full survey, 300 million galaxies and a thousand supernovae, we may be providing input for a new Einstein to tell us what does it all mean — why is the Universe made the way it is?”

Dark Matter Long Assumed, Little Understood

Though postulated as far back as 1884 by Lord Kelvin (for whom the kelvin temperature scale is named), dark matter remained an elusive subject for study until the 1930s. Continued studies by Vera Rubin and Kent Ford in the 1960s and 1970s led to conclusions that most galaxies likely contained around six times more dark mass as they do visible mass.

Radio telescope observations in the 1980s lent further credence to the idea, with studies of the phenomena undertaken using gravitational lensing, velocity dispersion, and the cosmic microwave background.

[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]