The largest ever map of dark matter has been created by scientists

28 May 2021

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A new study has given scientists a better understanding of how the universe has changed from its infancy up to today.

An international team of scientists has created the largest ever map of dark matter, giving us the most precise look at the universe’s evolution to date.

Dark matter makes up around 25pc of the universe, with a gravitational influence that binds galaxies together. It is something that remains largely a mystery to scientists, but this new research looked at how it has shaped the large-scale structure of the universe over time.

More than 400 scientists from 25 institutions in seven countries collaborated on the Dark Energy Survey.

Over the course of six years, almost one-eighth of the total night sky visible from Earth was surveyed, cataloguing hundreds of millions of objects. The results announced this week draw on data from the first three years of the survey.

Astronomers were able to map the existence of dark matter because it distorts light travelling through space from distant galaxies.

By studying how the apparent shapes of distant galaxies are aligned with each other and with the positions of nearby galaxies, scientists were able to work out the spatial distribution, or ‘clumpiness’, of the dark matter in the universe.

The night sky was photographed using one of the most powerful digital cameras in the world on the Victor M Blanco telescope in Chile. Artificial intelligence and high-performance computing were then used to analyse images of more than 100m galaxies.

This data was used create the largest and most precise maps yet of the distribution of galaxies in the universe.

“It’s exciting to have precise measurements of what’s out there and a better understanding of how the universe has changed from its infancy through to today,” said Brian Yanny, a Fermilab scientist who coordinated data processing for the survey.

The team will now analyse the complete set of data from the six-year study. The final analysis is expected to paint an even more precise picture of the dark matter and dark energy of the universe.

Researchers have also developed new methods during this study that could pave the way for future sky surveys that will probe the mysteries of the cosmos.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic