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How to make the cosmic web give up the matter it’s hiding

Half the universe's ordinary matter is missing. This new technique might have found it.

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7:00am, October 11, 2017
computer simulation of the universe

A TANGLED SKEIN  This computer simulation of the universe highlights its structure: long filaments of dark matter (blue) with galaxies strung along them like beads (pink). Most of the regular matter is probably stored in gas (orange).

Evidence is piling up that much of the universe’s missing matter is lurking along the strands of a vast cosmic web.

A pair of papers report some of the best signs yet of hot gas in the spaces between galaxy clusters, possibly enough to represent the half of all ordinary matter previously unaccounted for. Previous studies have hinted at this missing matter, but a new search technique is helping to fill in the gaps in the cosmic census where other efforts fell short. The papers were published online at arXiv.org on September 15 and September 29.

Two independent teams stacked images of hundreds of thousands of galaxies on top of one another to reveal diffuse filaments of gas connecting pairs of galaxies across millions of light-years. Measuring how the gas distorted the background light of the universe let the researchers determine the mass of ordinary matter, or baryons,

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