The missing links between galaxies have finally been found. This is the first detection of the roughly half of the normal matter in our universe – protons, neutrons and electrons – unaccounted for by previous observations of stars, galaxies and other bright objects in space.
You have probably heard about the hunt for dark matter, a mysterious substance thought to permeate the universe, the effects of which we can see through its gravitational pull. But our models of the universe also say there should be about twice as much ordinary matter out there, compared with what we have observed so far.
Two separate teams found the missing matter – made of particles called baryons rather than dark matter – linking galaxies together through filaments of hot, diffuse gas.
“The missing baryon problem is solved,” says Hideki Tanimura at the Institute of Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, leader of one of the groups. The other team was led by Anna de Graaff at the University of Edinburgh, UK.
Because the gas is so tenuous and not quite hot enough for X-ray telescopes to pick up, nobody had been able to see it before.
“There’s no sweet spot – no sweet instrument that we’ve invented yet that can directly observe this gas,” says Richard Ellis at University College London. “It’s been purely speculation until now.”
So the two groups had to find another way to definitively show that these threads of gas are really there.
Both teams took advantage of a phenomenon called the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect that occurs when light left over from the big bang passes through hot gas. As the light travels, some of it scatters off the electrons in the gas, leaving a dim patch in the cosmic microwave background – our snapshot of the remnants from the birth of the cosmos.
Read More: New Scientist