Hard Science

ESO Dark Matter Discovery Redefines Our Theoretical Models of the Universe

What we know about dark matter might have just changed — again.

Dom GaleonDecember 7th 2016

A Closer Look

Dark matter and dark energy are arguably the most elusive components of the universe. Dark matter in particular has remained undetected. Its existence is observed only through the gravitational effects it’s thought to produce — which exist, basically, to render the theories about it somewhat manageable. But, despite the numerous studies, we remain largely in the dark about dark matter.

Perhaps because of it being mysterious and all, astronomers like Hendrik Hildebrandt from the Argelander-Institut für Astronomie in Bonn, Germany and Massimo Viola from the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, continue to study dark matter and ways to find it. Hildebrandt and Viola, together with a team from several international institutions, believe that dark matter may not be as clustered as previously thought. It’s very possible that dark matter is more evenly spread out in space.

According to the study published by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the astronomers studied images from the Kilo Degree Survey (KiDS), taken by ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) in Chile, of an area of the sky covering a size about 2,200 times that of the full moon, and encompassing more than 15 million galaxies.

Refining Our Understanding

Using an innovative computer to analyze the images, the team was able to study a phenomenon known as cosmic shear — when light from distant galaxies is slightly warped by the gravitational effects of large amounts of matter, usually large-scale structures in the universe or the hidden dark matter. It’s a more subtle variant of weak gravitational lensing.

“This latest result indicates that dark matter in the cosmic web, which accounts for about one-quarter of the content of the Universe, is less clumpy than we previously believed,” Viola explained. This, however, runs contrary to the results of deductions using the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Planck satellite.

The disagreements between the two sets of data are not really that surprising. In fact, they’re quite expected given how newer technology enables us to refine our understanding of things — and there isn’t a thing bigger than the universe, our understanding of which needs considerable improvement.

“Our findings will help to refine our theoretical models of how the universe has grown from its inception up to the present day,” said Hildebrandt.

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