Spooky cobwebbed Hubble image helps investigate dark matter

With Halloween coming up tomorrow, the Hubble Space Telescope team is celebrating by releasing a recent Hubble image showing the dark cobwebs of galaxy cluster Abell 611. Positioned an incredible 3.2 billion light-years away, this view shows lots of of galaxies which can be certain together by gravity into one enormous structure.

Taken using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 instruments, the image combines each visible light and infrared observations.

In celebration of Halloween, Hubble brings you this inky image of the galaxy cluster Abell 611, situated roughly 3.2 billion light-years from Earth. ESA/Hubble, NASA, P. Kelly, M. Postman, J. Richard, S. Allen

This particular cluster is a favourite goal for astronomers of their search to grasp a spooky substance: dark matter. An enormous query in cosmology is why large structures like Abell 611 don’t fly apart, as they don’t appear to contain enough mass to carry themselves along with gravity. The leading explanation is that they do in reality contain far more mass than we will see, and this hypothetical unseen mass is known as dark matter.

Nevertheless, looking for dark matter has proven extremely difficult. Dark matter doesn’t interact with light, making it invisible, and it has never been directly detected. Cosmologists aren’t even sure what form dark matter might take, though many consider it is probably going a particle of some kind. Regardless that we will’t see it directly, its effects on the universe are clear. In addition to in places like Abell 611, we see similar effects on a big cosmic scale, wherein more mass is required to clarify the behavior of galaxies than we will observe.

Abell 611 is especially useful for studying dark matter, since it has so many massive galaxies appearing close together that it demonstrates many examples of a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. That is where one massive object sits in front of one other from our standpoint, and the gravity of that intermediate object is so great that it bends spacetime, changing the looks of the sunshine coming from the background object. This is helpful, because the intermediate object can act like a magnifying glass, bending the sunshine from the further away galaxy and letting us see extremely distant objects.

You possibly can see an example of this gravitational lensing in the midst of the image, where light from the galaxy to the left of the middle has been smeared out into an arc shape by the mass of the galaxy cluster. In addition to helping us see distant objects, the degree of lensing will also be used to work out the mass of the objects involved. When calculated this manner, the mass of the cluster is way higher than the observed mass would suggest, supporting the concept that there have to be another unseen material, similar to dark matter, filling up the cluster.

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