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

Eloi Lecerf
Agosto 5, 2017

The Dark Energy Survey collaboration releases the largest and most accurate measure of dark matter.

From this, they were able to create the largest and most detailed map to date showing the distribution of dark matter.

"The DES measurements, when compared with the Planck map, support the simplest version of the dark matter/dark energy theory", said Joe Zuntz, of the University of Edinburgh, who worked on the analysis. The data were taken with the DECam, a 570-megapixel camera attached to the 4-meter Victor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Since then, the gravity of dark matter has pulled mass together and made the universe clumpier over time.

Today we can use the fact that mass changes space to "see" dark matter by measuring how light behind it distorts as it passes by, giving us a way to measure the amount and distribution of both kinds of matter across a portion of the Universe.

That's Amazing, But What Does It Mean?

The new DES result is close to predictions made from the Planck measurements of the distant past, allowing scientists to see the current structure of the Universe as clearly as they can see its infancy, and understand more about the ways the Universe has evolved over its 14 billion years. Its data are processed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign.

Astrophysicists have a fairly accurate understanding of how the universe ages: That's the conclusion of new results from the DES, a large worldwide science collaboration, including researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, that put models of cosmic structure formation and evolution to the most precise test yet.

"While Planck looked at the structure of the very early universe, DES has measured structures that evolved much later". It provided just such a snapshot in the form of the Cosmic Microwave Background - a map of the radiation still humming through the Universe as an echo of its earliest days.

DES is a collaboration of more than 400 scientists from 26 institutions in seven countries.

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For a better visual, consider the CMB model as a photo of a toddler and the DES model as a picture of the same child at 8 years old.

"It is truly wonderful that you have a model that describes the universe at 400,000 years old, and now we have a similarly precise measurement of the universe at 13 billion years [old] that agrees with the model", said JPL's Tim Eifler, who led the Dark Energy Survey analysis team to develop the science software for the interpretation of the results.

In addition to Gruen, who led the weak lensing working group, and Wechsler, whose group provided realistic simulations of the survey critical to testing several aspects of the cosmological analysis, a large number of KIPAC scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and alumni have made crucial contributions to DES - from building the instrument to developing theory and simulations and analyzing the data. Red regions have more dark matter than average, blue regions less dark matter.

Both are invisible and virtually undetectable, but scientists believe that the universe is filled with them, so they had to use other means to try and pinpoint its existence throughout the universe.

To rectify this, researchers with the Dark Energy Survey embarked on a five-year quest, looking at light from 26 million galaxies to see how they have changed over the last seven billion years (half the universe's age).

The photo below is one of the stunning results of their efforts.

The new results released on Thursday draw from data collected only during the survey's first year, which covers 1/30th of the sky.

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