Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

chandra xray missing matter whim 1
An illustration of the Millennium simulation, which uses supercomputers to formulate how the key components of the Universe would have evolved over cosmic time. Illustration: Springel et al. (2005); Spectrum: NASA/CXC/CfA/Kovács et al.

There’s a puzzle that has been taxing astronomers for many years: Where is all of the matter in the universe? You might think that it would be hard to miss, but observations of the universe have turned up only around two thirds of the regular matter that is known to exist due to mathematical models. So where is the other third?

The matter in question is normal matter, referring to elements like hydrogen and helium which were created in the first few minutes following the Big Bang. Over the first one billion years of the history of the universe, this matter was spread out and gradually became cosmic dust, gas, stars, and planets. Scientists have calculated how much of this matter must have existed immediately after the Big Bang and found that about a third of it cannot be accounted for in current models of the universe. This is a separate issue from the question of dark matter, which is a different type of matter that effects the movements of galaxies.

Astronomers believe the missing normal matter could have formed into huge strands of hot gas out in the reaches of space, which would be invisible to most telescopes but could be detected using ultraviolet light. These gas strands are known as the “warm-hot intergalactic medium” or WHIM. Now researchers using data from NASA’s Chandra telescope believe that they have found evidence of the WHIM.

Chandra was used to search for filaments of warm gas near to a quasar, which produces X-rays from its supermassive black hole. The scientists were able to see that some of the X-rays were absorbed by the hot gas, which allowed them to find a “signature” of hot gas as the X-rays traveled 3.5 billion light-years to us. Because the universe is expanding, X-rays are stretched as they travel, meaning that the rays absorbed by matter are shifted towards the red end of the spectrum. The researchers calculated how much shift should have occurred in the distance between them and the quasar, and this information told them where in the spectrum to look for absorption by the WHIM.

“We were thrilled that we were able to track down some of this missing matter,” co-author of the paper Randall Smith of the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, said in a statement. “In the future we can apply this same method to other quasar data to confirm that this long-standing mystery has at last been cracked.”

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Emerging Tech

Cosmic dust bunnies: Scientists find unexpected ring around Mercury

A pair of scientists searching for a dust-free region near the Sun have made an unexpected discovery: a vast cosmic dust ring millions of miles wide around the tiny planet Mercury.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Emerging Tech

Super telescope captures supermassive black holes forming billions of years ago

The Subaru Telescope in Hawaii has captured evidence of supermassive black holes forming in the ancient universe. Astronomers discovered 83 quasars powered by supermassive black holes from billions of years ago.

Latest Skype preview now lets you chat with up to 50 people on a video call

The latest beta version of Skype is introducing an ability to enter a video call with up to 50 people, a change from the current public version which has a maximum limit of 25 participants.
Emerging Tech

Opportunity’s final image is a haunting panorama of the Martian surface

The Opportunity mission to Mars may be no more, but the rover's legacy lives on. Now NASA has released the final image captured by Opportunity, and it's a stunning panorama of the Martian surface.
Emerging Tech

A lunar time capsule: 50-year-old moon rock samples to be opened for study

Nearly 50 years after the Apollo missions to the Moon, NASA is breaking open samples of Moon rock for the first time. Samples collected from Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 have been preserved and never before exposed to Earth's atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous image of the Cosmic Bat nebula leaves us starry-eyed

The "Cosmic Bat" nebula has been captured in beautiful detail by the European Southern Observatory. Formally known as NGC 1788, the nebula is two thousand light-years away in a dark corner of the Orion constellation.
Emerging Tech

Mind-bending model shows Venus isn’t our nearest neighbor — it’s Mercury

Every textbook and table on the internet agrees -- the closest planet to Earth is Venus. But a new mathematical model shows that this is wrong. In fact, the planet closest to us on average is Mercury.
Emerging Tech

Desk lamps take on a new task by converting their light to power

What if we could charge devices using light from indoor sources like desk lamps? A group of scientists working on a technology called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) aim to do just that.
Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Emerging Tech

New Hubble image displays dazzling Messier 28 globular cluster

Messier 28 is a group of stars in the constellation of Sagittarius, located 18,000 light-years from our planet. Thousands of stars are packed tightly together in this sparkling image.
Emerging Tech

Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

The European Southern Observatory has released the first image collected by their new SPECULOOS instrument, and it's a stunning portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a swirling cloud of dust and gas where new stars are born.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.