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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unusual Dark Matter in NASA's Amazing 3D Map

March 26, 2010 -- Dark matter makes up the majority of mass in our universe. However, we cannot directly measure the stuff as it doesn't interact with electromagnetic radiation (i.e. it doesn't emit or reflect any light), but we can indirectly observe its presence.

In this beautiful multicolored Hubble Space Telescope image, the distribution of mostly dark matter has been calculated and mapped. Basically, the location and density of anything with mass has been plotted in a 3D representation of the cosmos.

But if the majority of matter (i.e. dark matter) cannot be seen, how did Hubble work out its location?

SLIDE SHOW: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has snapped images from the far corners of the known universe. Take a look at our favorite Hubble images of 2009.

Hubble is making use of a characteristic of space-time as predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. Matter bends space-time -- much like a bowling ball will warp a suspended rubber sheet because it's heavy -- and as light travels through this bent space-time, the light's path will be deflected. This deflection can be directly observed.

For example, if a distant galaxy emits light in our direction, it may be diverted slightly in its otherwise straight path. Like a glass lens being placed in front of a lightbulb, the galactic light will distort from our viewpoint -- the heavier the mass, the greater the distortion.

This distortion is known as "gravitational lensing" and it can be used as a tool to detect things like galaxies, black holes and, you guessed it, dark matter.

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