Scientists finally measure cosmic ‘dark matter’

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, July 5, 2012 10:16 EDT
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A time lapse photo of the night sky. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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While the rest of the world was celebrating the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, researchers at the University Observatory Munich and the University of Michigan were fastidiously working on yet another major discovery that will likely also lead to fundamental changes in humanity’s understanding of the universe.

Specifically, scientists announced in a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature that they have, for the first time ever, been able to measure dark matter “filament” in a galactic supercluster.

And if that made absolutely no sense to you, you’re not alone.

Dark matter is the second most prevalent substance that comprises our existence, but we hardly know anything about it. NASA explains dark matter makes up about 25 percent of the universe, whereas roughly 70 percent is the as-yet-unknown “dark energy.” Only about 5 percent of the universe is normal matter, like gas, dust and even whole planets, and scientists believe that normal matter forms where filaments of dark matter intersect throughout the cosmos.

Dark matter, though still deeply mysterious to scientists, can be detected in the cosmos by searching for “gravitational lensing” that bends light from distant galaxies. That’s how scientists in Michigan and Munich found this one, too: By examining more than 40,000 galaxies and measuring the distortion caused by dark matter’s lensing effect, they were actually able to measure it for the first time ever.

Their results will help scientists create more refined methods of searching out and probing dark matter in the universe through the use of specialized x-ray space telescopes, the first of which is due to be launched by Japan in 2014.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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