What is the nature of dark matter and cosmic accleration?

Research Areas:  A  |  B  |  C  |  D  |  E  |  F  |  G

Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 in the Fornax galaxy cluster, taken from the "Dark Energy Camera". The galaxy cluster is 60 million light years away from Earth. (© Dark Energy Survey Collaboration)

Scientists in Research Area E investigate the composition of dark matter and dark energy by observing the distribution of galaxies and galaxy clusters in the Universe. 

If one looks at a certain region in outer space from a great distance, one sees a  meshed structure, where regions with a high density of galaxies and apparently empty areas alternate with each other. It is fascinating that the large spatial distribution of matter was predetermined from the start because immediately after the ‘Big Bang’ there were tiny differences in energy density, referred to as quantum fluctuations in technical terminology.  As the Universe quickly expanded during inflation, these fluctuations became the ‘template’ for the uneven distribution of matter in the (now much larger) cosmos. 

However, a more precise study of the magnitudes of these structural differences also presents some puzzles to scientists because only about 4.9% of components in the cosmos consist of matter that is familiar to us, from which all stars, planets and even we humans are made. The considerable remainder consists of 26.8% dark matter and 68.3% dark energy (according to the results of the Planck mission). These dark components have significant effects on the Universe; firstly, on the speed with which space expands and secondly, on how rapidly structures like galaxies and galaxy clusters grow.

In their search for dark matter, scientists also utilize a special effect. In outer space, matter deflects light rays in a particular way – a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. This method allows scientists to locate unevenly distributed dark matter in outer space. The researchers also study cosmological test objects such as distant supernovae, and attempt to trace the decay products of dark matter. 

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