The Chandra X-ray telescope reveals the missing material of the universe


It is missing about a third of the "normal" matter of our universe. And NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory has just found it.

Scientists have calculated with confidence how much normal matter – hydrogen, helium and other elements – existed just after the Big Bang.

But when astronomers add up the mass of all normal matter in the current universe, one-third of it remains untraceable.

"If we can find this missing mass, we will be able to solve one of the biggest riddles of astrophysics," said co-author of the study, Orsolya Kovacs, of the Center for Astrophysics. Astrophysicist Harvard-Smithsonian (CfA), in a statement.

"Where did the Universe hide so much matter that makes things like stars, planets and ourselves?" She wondered.

One possibility is that the AWOL mass has accumulated in giant strands of hot gas (temperature below 100 000 Kelvin) and hot (temperature above 100 000 Kelvin) in an intergalactic space. Known as "warm-hot intergalactic medium" or WHIM, these filaments are invisible to optical light telescopes.

Part of the hot gas, however, was detected in ultraviolet light.

Researchers took advantage of this gap to find evidence of the warm component of WHIM, based on data from Chandra and other telescopes.

Kovacs & Co. studied hot gas filaments along the path leading to a quasar, an X-ray light source powered by a rapidly growing supermassive black hole, about 3.5 billion light years away from the Earth.

If the WHIM hot gas component is associated with these filaments, some of the quasar X-rays would be absorbed by this hot gas, according to NASA.

Supercomputers formulate how key components of the universe, including the WHIM, would have evolved over cosmic time (via Springel et al./NASA)

The team focused their research on certain parts of the X-ray spectrum, identifying 17 possible filaments between the quasar and us.

"Our technique is similar in principle to how to conduct an efficient search of animals in the vast plains of Africa," said co-author of the study, Akos Bogdan, also of the CfA. "We know that animals need to drink, so it makes sense to start by looking for water points."

After crossing the last hurdle of too weak X – ray absorption, analysts detected oxygen in a hot gas, displaying a temperature of about 1 million degrees Kelvin. From there, they were able to follow the cosmic map until the MIA material, while hiding in the HMIS.

"We were delighted to be able to find some of this missing question," said co-author Randall Smith of the CfA. "In the future, we will be able to apply this same method to other quasar-related data to confirm that this long-standing mystery has finally been solved."

The full results were published last week in The astrophysical journal.

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