Thursday, November 11, 2010
Shedding 'Bent' Light on Dark Matter
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of a giant cosmic magnifying glass to create one of the sharpest and most detailed maps of dark matter in the universe. Dark matter is an invisible and unknown substance that makes up the bulk of the universe's mass. Astronomer Dan Coe led the research while working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; he is currently with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.
The astronomers used Hubble to chart the invisible matter in the massive galaxy cluster Abell 1689, located 2.2 billion light-years away. The cluster's gravity, the majority of which comes from dark matter, acts like a cosmic magnifying glass, bending and amplifying the light from distant galaxies behind it. This effect, called gravitational lensing, produces multiple, warped, and greatly magnified images of those galaxies, like the view in a funhouse mirror. By studying the distorted images, astronomers estimated the amount of dark matter within the cluster.
The new dark matter observations may yield new insights into the role of dark energy in the universe's early formative years. A mysterious property of space, dark energy fights against the gravitational pull of dark matter. The new results suggest that galaxy clusters may have formed earlier than expected, before the push of dark energy inhibited their growth. Dark energy pushes galaxies apart from one another by stretching the space between them, suppressing the formation of giant structures called galaxy clusters. One way astronomers can probe this primeval tug-of-war is by mapping the distribution of dark matter in clusters.
Read the full story at http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2010/37/full/ .
The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.