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Dark Matter and the Phantom Filaments

Sounds like a good band name, eh?

Simulations of how we think the universe is organized, astrophysically speaking, show patterns resembling nodes of clustered galaxies connected by filaments of dense matter. We’ve found plenty of the galaxy clusters, but the filaments have been harder to actually observe. That’s because they are likely made of dark matter, which neither emits or absorbs light (and is therefore invisible to we mere humans).

But scientists may have witnessed the effect of one of these filaments recently, marking the first time that dark matter has been observed connecting galaxy clusters. As Matthew Francis reports:

The researchers used archival data from the 8.2 meter Subaru telescope in Hawaii, which includes visible and infrared observations of the supercluster. These were scanned to look for subtle changes in the light from objects behind the clusters. These can be signs of weak gravitational lensing, which would reveal the distribution of dark matter near the clusters.

Gravitational lensing basically means that something invisible with mass, like dark matter, is bending the light from the cluster of galaxies. So although we can’t see the dark matter, we can see it affecting the light’s path and take a pretty good guess it is there.

I bet these guys wish they hadn’t announced this in the same week as the Higgs boson, but hey … can’t win ‘em all. It gives support to the idea that our universe could be built on enormous webs of dark matter, and where these filaments and strands intersect, there is where gravity pulls galaxies together to form the clusters of stars and visible matter that we see every time we look up at night.

( Ars Technica)

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