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IN THE DARK: Astronomers wonder what happened to 80 percent of the light in the universe

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
7/11/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

An enormous deficit of ultraviolet light has turned up missing

The universe has gotten a lot darker. Astronomers have discovered an enormous deficit of ultraviolet light in the known universe and are at a loss as to why that is.

A $70 million instrument, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, designed by the University of Colorado Boulder and installed on the Hubble Space Telescope was used in the research.

A $70 million instrument, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, designed by the University of Colorado Boulder and installed on the Hubble Space Telescope was used in the research.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
7/11/2014 (3 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Ultraviolet light, universe, disparity


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - They are forthright in saying that there is "something is amiss in the universe." It's estimated that 80 percent of the light is missing.

A research team, including Benjamin Oppenheimer and Charles Danforth of CU-Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy have analyzed the tendrils of hydrogen which bridge the vast reaches of empty space between galaxies.

It is better to light one tiny candle than to curse the darkness --

When hydrogen atoms are struck by highly energetic ultraviolet light, they are transformed from electrically neutral atoms and into charged ions.

A $70 million instrument, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, designed by the University of Colorado Boulder and installed on the Hubble Space Telescope was used in the research.

The astronomers were surprised when they found far more hydrogen ions than could be explained with the known ultraviolet light in the universe, which comes primarily from quasars.

"It's as if you're in a big, brightly lit room, but you look around and see only a few 40-watt light bulbs," the Carnegie Institution for Science's Juna Kollmeier says. Kollmeier is the lead author of the study recently published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"Where is all that light coming from? It's missing from our census."

The difference between ultraviolet then and now is a stunning 400 percent. Oddly, this mismatch only appears in the nearby, relatively well-studied cosmos.

However, when telescopes focus on galaxies billions of light years away, which shows astronomers what was happening when the universe was young, everything seems to add up.

The fact that the accounting of light needed to ionize hydrogen works in the early universe but falls apart locally has scientists puzzled.

This mismatch emerged from comparing supercomputer simulations of intergalactic gas to the most recent analysis of observations from the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.

"The simulations fit the data beautifully in the early universe, and they fit the local data beautifully if we're allowed to assume that this extra light is really there," CU-Boulder's Oppenheimer said.

"It's possible the simulations do not reflect reality, which by itself would be a surprise, because intergalactic hydrogen is the component of the universe that we think we understand the best."

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