Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hubble Survey Finds Missing Matter, Probes Intergalactic Web

21.05.2008
In the May 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, Charles Danforth and Mike Shull (University of Colorado, Boulder) report on Hubble STIS and FUSE observations taken along sight-lines to 28 quasars.

Their analysis represents the most detailed look to-date at the intergalactic medium within about four billion light-years of Earth. The astronomers say they have definitively found about half of the missing normal matter, called baryons, in the space between the galaxies.

Although the universe contains billions of galaxies, only a small amount of its matter is locked up in these behemoths. Most of the universe's matter that was created during and just after the Big Bang must be found elsewhere.

Now, in an extensive search of the local universe, astronomers say they have definitively found about half of the missing normal matter, called baryons, in the spaces between the galaxies. This important component of the universe is known as the "intergalactic medium," or IGM, and it extends essentially throughout all of space, from just outside our Milky Way galaxy to the most distant regions of space observed by astronomers.

The questions "where have the local baryons gone, and what are their properties?" are being answered with greater certainty than ever before.

"We think we are seeing the strands of a web-like structure that forms the backbone of the universe," Mike Shull of the University of Colorado explained. "What we are confirming in detail is that intergalactic space, which intuitively might seem to be empty, is in fact the reservoir for most of the normal, baryonic matter in the universe."

Hubble observations made nearly a decade ago by Todd Tripp and colleagues first reported finding the hottest portion of this missing matter in the local universe. That study utilized spectroscopic observations of one quasar to look for absorbing intergalactic gas along the path to the quasar.

In the May 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, Charles Danforth and Shull report on observations taken along sight-lines to 28 quasars. Their analysis represents the most detailed observations to date of how the IGM looks within about four billion light-years of Earth.

Baryons are protons, neutrons, and other subatomic particles that make up ordinary matter such as hydrogen, helium, and heavier elements. Baryonic matter forms stars, planets, moons, and even the interstellar gas and dust from which new stars are born.

Astronomers caution that the missing baryonic matter is not to be confused with "dark matter," a mysterious and exotic form of matter that is only detected via its gravitational pull.

Danforth and Shull, of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder, looked for the missing baryonic matter by using the light from distant quasars (the bright cores of galaxies with active black holes) to probe spider-web-like structure that permeates the seemingly invisible space between galaxies, like shining a flashlight through fog.

Using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE), the astronomers found hot gas, mostly oxygen and hydrogen, which provide a three-dimensional probe of intergalactic space. STIS and FUSE found the spectral "fingerprints" of intervening oxygen and hydrogen superimposed on the quasars' light.

The bright quasar light was measured to penetrate more than 650 filaments of hydrogen in the cosmic web. Eighty-three filaments were found laced with highly ionized oxygen in which five electrons have been stripped away.

The presence of highly ionized oxygen (and other elements) between the galaxies is believed to trace large quantities of invisible hot, ionized hydrogen in the universe. These vast reservoirs of hydrogen have largely escaped detection because they are too hot to be seen in visible light, yet too cool to be seen in X-rays.

The oxygen "tracer" was probably created when exploding stars in galaxies spewed the oxygen back into intergalactic space where it mixed with the pre-existing hydrogen via a shockwave which heated the oxygen to very high temperatures.

The team also found that about 20 percent of the baryons reside in the voids between the web-like filaments. Within these voids could be faint dwarf galaxies or wisps of matter that could turn into stars and galaxies in billions of years.

Probing this vast cosmic web will be a key goal for the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), a new science instrument that astronauts plan to install on Hubble during Servicing Mission 4 later this year.

"COS will allow us to make more robust and more detailed core samples of the cosmic web," Shull said. "We predict that COS will find considerably more of the missing baryonic matter."

"Our goal is to confirm the existence of the cosmic web by mapping its structure, measuring the amount of heavy metals found in it, and measuring its temperature. Studying the cosmic web gives us information on how galaxies built up over time."

The COS team hopes to observe 100 additional quasars and build up a survey of more than 10,000 hydrogen filaments in the cosmic web, many laced with heavy elements from early stars.

For images and more information, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2008/20

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., Washington, D.C.

Donna Weaver | newswise
Further information:
http://www.stsci.edu
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New NASA study improves search for habitable worlds
20.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>