Discovering the Universe’s Hidden Cosmic Matter

The Universe is vast and endless. It has no bounds and no specific direction. It spreads out to infinity as far as the eye can see. There are almost 200 billion galaxies. Around 10 million black holes exist in the Milky Way alone. Our galaxy alone might contain 300 billion stars. These stars may contain planetary systems, satellites, comets, quasars and a lot more. And this is just the observable universe. Who knows what lies beyond what we can observe?

We discovered all these objects and celestial bodies in our observable universe. But is that all there is? Did we find everything? The answer to that is a clear ‘No’. We barely scratched the surface. The universe has mysteries we can never even imagine. There is a hidden world out there that we are yet to uncover. Some hide in plain sight while others require some deep digging. 

A team of researchers claim that they discovered a huge amount missing cosmic matter.

The Cosmic Web

cosmic web
Galaxy filaments, walls and voids form web-like structures. By Andrew Pontzen and Fabio Governato, Wikipedia

When we look at renders of the universe, we see a pattern of stars, dust and gases spread like a spider’s web. There are definite paths like space portals that connect different galaxies and clusters. Outside this path, we see nothing. Beyond the boundaries of the paths, there lies only the endless void of space. This network connecting galaxies and clusters are what astronomers call ‘The Cosmic Web’.

The distribution of galaxies around the universe follows a pattern of interconnected nodes. These nodes connect via filaments of gas and dust. Beyond these filaments exists the void of space. This makes up the Cosmic Web.

We assume that the filaments contain almost all normal (baryonic matter) of the cosmos. This matter exists in the form of diffuse, hot gas. 40% of this ordinary matter makes up the stars, planets, and galaxies.

Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash
Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash

We know that every object in the universe emits some form of radiation signals. It can be infrared, X-Ray, microwave and any other form of signal. We detect these signals using high power radio telescopes spread across the planet. Similarly, the filaments also emit such signals. What’s interesting is that these signals are so weak that we do not detect almost 40-50% of the baryons. In a way, they are hiding in plain sight. 

For over 20 years, astronomers collected data without detecting any of this matter. But things are about to change as a group of astronomers are uncovering this missing Cosmic data. 

Discovering the hidden Cosmic Matter

2MASS XSC infrared sky map.
By IPAC/Caltech, by Thomas Jarrett, Wikipedia
2MASS XSC infrared sky map. By IPAC/Caltech, by Thomas Jarrett, Wikipedia

Researchers Nabila Aghanim and Hideki Tanimura of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (CNRS/Université Paris-Saclay) are attempting to detect this missing matter. The findings are published in Astronomy & Astrophysics on November 6.

The study funding comes from the ERC ByoPiC project. In the study, they are presenting a new analysis revealing the X-Ray emissions from hot baryons in the web. Findings come from the innovative analysis of 20-year-old data from the ROSAT2 Survey.

The ROSAT2 Survey data is a stacked X-Ray signal from over 15,000 large filaments from the SDSS3 galaxy. They used the relation between the position and the X-ray emissions of the filaments. This provides evidence of hot gas present in the cosmic web. And for the first time, they were able to measure the gas’s temperature. 

What does this mean for future research?

This discovery is a confirmation of previous researches by the same team. They detected hot gas in the cosmic web through the effects of it in the Cosmic Microwave Background. 

This discovery could pave the way for more detailed studies of the origins of the universe. Using the data, scientists can research more on the network structure of the cosmic web. 

Read more on Has the hidden matter of the universe been discovered?

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