Scientists map frontiers of dark matter

University astronomers have helped to map dark matter on the largest scale ever observed.

Their findings reveal the Universe as an intricate web of dark matter and galaxies spanning more than one billion light years.

An international team of researchers studied images of about 10 million galaxies in four different regions of the sky.

They studied the distortion of the light emitted from these galaxies, which is bent as it passes massive clumps of dark matter during its journey to Earth.

International team

By analysing light from the distant Universe, we can learn about what it has travelled through on its journey to reach us.

Dr Catherine HeymansSchool of Physics and Astronomy

The project was led by Dr Catherine Heymans of the University of Edinburgh with Professor Ludovic Van Waerbeke of the University of British Columbia.

The results were presented at an annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas.

Their project, known as the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Lensing Survey (CFHTLenS), uses data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey.

This accumulated images over five years using a wide field imaging camera, MegaCam, in Hawaii.

Billions of years

Galaxies included in the survey are typically six billion light years away.

The light captured by the images used in the study was emitted when the Universe was six billion years old - roughly half the age it is today.

The team’s result has been suspected for a long time from studies based on computer simulations, but was difficult to verify owing to the invisible nature of dark matter.

This is the first direct glimpse at dark matter on large scales showing the cosmic web in all directions.

We hope that by mapping more dark matter than has been studied before, we are a step closer to understanding this material and its relationship with the galaxies in our Universe.

Dr Catherine HeymansSchool of Physics and Astronomy