Aussie student cracks universe's 'missing mass' puzzle

Aussie student cracks universe's 'missing mass' puzzle

Mission accomplished

Physicists knew that universe contained more mass than was visible in planets, stars and other objects — but didn’t know where to find it or how to prove it. They estimated that about half the mass required to keep the universe functioning as it does was “missing”.

Now, 22-year-old Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, an aerospace engineering student at Monash University, has discovered the missing material after spending a holiday internship with a team of researchers at the varsity’s School of Physics.

The student conducted a targeted X-ray search of vast structures known as “filaments of galaxies”, which stretch across the vast expanse of space. Examining data the research team had already gathered, her analysis of material confirmed that mass was present in the filaments.

“If we’re looking very, very long distances from Earth we’re detecting mass, but if we’re looking closer to Earth we only see about half the mass that we’re expecting to see. This is what is called the missing mass problem. People have theorised that this mass has settled in filaments that extend between clusters of galaxies, so we tested and confirmed this prediction by detecting it in the filaments,” the Australian media quoted Amelia as saying.

Monash astrophysicist Dr Kevin Pimbblet explained that scientists had previously detected matter that had been present in the early history of the universe but now that could not be located. He added that physicists had known about the missing mass for the past two decades, but the technology needed to pinpoint its location was only made available in recent years.

“We don’t know where it went. Now we do know where it went because that’s what Amelia found,” he said, adding that the discovery could drive the construction of new telescopes designed to specifically study the mass.

The findings have been published in ‘Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society’.