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A Vacuum in Space

Dark matter is a mystery, but some things about it are known. It?s an invisible form of matter whose total mass in the universe is more than five times that of "normal" matter (atoms). Astronomers think that our universe is made up of around 70% dark energy or dark matter, so it's important to understand it.

A lot of new information about dark energy has come from NASA?s Hubble telescope. An international team of astronomers has created the first three-dimensional map of the distribution of dark matter in the universe. But they still don?t know exactly what it is.

Dark matter has never been seen directly, but its presence is inferred from the gravitational effect it has had on the structure in the universe. This new map provides evidence that normal matter, in the form of galaxies, accumulates along the densest concentrations of dark matter. Astronomer Richard Massey calls dark matter the "scaffolding" inside of which stars and galaxies have been assembled over billions of years.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen's Dark Cosmology Center have studied dark matter by observing distant supernovae (exploding stars), some of which emitted the light we now see more than half the age of the universe ago. At the end of last century astronomers discovered the startling fact that the expansion of our universe is not slowing down, as all our previous understanding of gravity had predicted. Rather the expansion is speeding up. Nothing in conventional physics can explain why this is happening.

The Danish researchers are trying to measure what they call dark energy, which is what must be causing the acceleration of the universe. They think it may be what quantum physicists call the "energy of the vacuum," which is the energy of empty space. In other words, there is nothing there.

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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