Space & Astronomy
Scientists solve 'missing matter' mystery
By T.K. Randall
May 28, 2020 · 8 comments
The missing matter was hiding in plain sight all along. Image Credit: CC BY 4.0 ESO / S. Brunier
New light has been shone on the whereabouts of a large percentage of the universe's missing baryonic matter.
Most of the universe is thought to be made up of dark matter - a mysterious unseen form of matter that cannot be directly observed because it does not absorb, emit or reflect any electromagnetic radiation.
The rest, meanwhile, is comprised of baryonic matter - the normal type of matter that makes up stars, planets, asteroids, nebulae and anything else that we can see or hold in our hands.
Not all the baryonic matter in the universe is accounted for however - a large percentage of it has remained frustratingly elusive, leading scientists on a hunt that has lasted for decades.
Now though, the whereabouts of this missing matter has finally been determined thanks to another recently discovered phenomenon - fast radio bursts - powerful bursts of radio waves originating from deep space that, despite lasting mere milliseconds, generate as much energy as the Sun does in an entire day.
By analyzing how these bursts are dispersed and slowed while traveling across the cosmos, scientists have determined that the missing matter is situated in the cold void of space between galaxies.
"Intergalactic space is very sparse," said Associate Professor Jean-Pierre Macquart, from the Curtin University node of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research.
"The missing matter was equivalent to only one or two atoms in a room the size of an average office."
"I like a mysterious universe. It means there is much more to be understood. The thing that we've discovered is the atmosphere of the universe. It's the ecosystem in which galaxies live."
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