The most detailed map of the universe: Fate questioned

Groundbreaking new data suggests the mysterious force has changed over time

4 mins read
The most detailed map of the universe: Fate questioned
DESI has created the largest 3D map of our universe to date. Earth is at the center of this thin slice of the entire map. In the enlarged cross-section, the structure of the matter underlying our universe is easily visible (Claire Lamman/DESI collaboration; cmastro's special color map package)

Scientists who have created the most detailed 3D map of our universe say that dark energy may be “evolving”.

Scientists say new data confirms that the universe is accelerating at an ever-increasing rate. But this contradicts our current understanding of the cosmos, suggesting that the dark energy driving this process is changing over time.

The map is the result of the work of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), which can see light that began its journey towards Earth 11 billion years ago, allowing scientists to create a map of more than 6 million galaxies. This allows scientists to see the universe as it was when it was relatively young.

Using this massive amount of data, scientists hope to map the effects of dark energy and thus better understand the mysterious force thought to be driving the universe to expand faster.

For the first time, researchers have studied the early universe with a precision of better than 1 percent, providing the best picture to date of the evolution of the cosmos.

These data largely agree with our best model of the cosmos. But the researchers say there are “differences that are likely to be interesting, which may indicate that dark energy evolves over time” and that further study could reveal more about the cosmos.

The research was produced by the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, a telescope made up of 5,000 tiny robots looking into the far reaches of space.

Our best model of the universe is known as Lambda CDM, so called because it combines cold dark matter, known as CDSM, with dark energy, known as Lambda. Together, the two shape how the universe is expanding: Matter slows it down, while dark energy speeds it up.

Researchers are still not sure exactly how the two interact and how they have changed the evolution of our universe. But findings from the first year of the DESI project suggest that this is mostly true, with some intriguing differences.

DESI’s study will last for 5 years, and the researchers say it could reveal that differences are not as important as they seem. But it could also show that we need to update our model of the universe, the researchers say.

“Our results, which show some interesting deviations from the standard model of the universe, may indicate that dark energy evolves over time,” says Mustapha Ishak-Boushaki, professor of physics at the University of Texas at Dallas and a member of this collaboration.

The more data we collect, the better equipped we are to determine whether this finding is valid.

With more data, we may be able to identify or confirm different explanations for the result we observe. If it holds, such a result would be a huge step forward in understanding the evolution of our universe by shedding some light on what causes cosmic acceleration.

The scientists published a series of papers on the first year of DESI data on the open-access research website arXiv. They also presented their work at the American Physical Society meeting in the US and at the Rencontres de Moriond in Italy.


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