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Cosmic scaffolding uncovered? Scientists find thread of dark matter.

Scientists have long thought that threads of dark matter provide the underlying architecture upon which galaxies in the universe are distributed. A new study now verifies that theory.

A July 2012 study of the galaxy clusters Abell 222 and Abell 223 found they are connected by a dark matter filament, shown here. The blue shading and the yellow contours indicate the density of matter. The image on the sky is about twice as big as the full moon.

Jörg Dietrich, University of Michigan/University Observatory Munich.

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A team of astronomers says it has detected one of the threads of dark matter that scientists have long believed serve as the scaffolding for the cosmos.  

Three-dimensional astronomical maps developed since the late 1980s show that the vast majority of the universe's galaxies are distributed as threads and sheets that span the universe, with galaxy clusters as well as superclusters of thousands of galaxies appearing where threads and sheets intersect. These structures were thought to have formed on a framework of dark matter, the unseen form of matter that scientists believe binds galaxies together.

The results announced Thursday mark "the first time we have observationally verified this very important theoretical prediction" of a dark-matter backbone, says Jörg Dietrich, an astronomer at the University of Munich Observatory in Germany who led the team.

The researchers say they expect their discovery to allow them to explore other aspects this underlying cosmic architecture, which could shed light on how the universe is ordered and how it is evolving. 

For example, astronomers have found that galaxies at the intersections of the threads tend to be big elliptical galaxies where star formation for the most part has long since ended. By contrast, galaxies along the threads tend to be spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, and are still forming lots of stars.

In addition, the galaxies along the threads appear to be moving toward the intersections, suggesting that, over time, the threads themselves may vanish, leaving cluster and supercluster "megacities" without any cosmic superhighways connecting them.


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