When it comes to understanding exactly how much matter makes up our universe, scientists have long had to overestimate the total based on what they’ve found with existing calculations. This is because, for decades, it’s been believed that as much as a third of the universe’s matter hasn’t yet been accounted for. This could soon change, however, as astronomers working together from Harvard and Hungary’s Eötvös University have found a new technique for identifying missing matter.
Scientists have calculated how much normal matter, or luminous matter, should exist since the Big Bang based on what’s been formed in the present-day, including planets, stars, gas, and cosmic dust. The ongoing problem has been that when all of that mass is added up, a third remains unaccounted for. This missing matter differs from the little-understood dark matter, which is an invisible substance that still makes up a significant portion of the universe.
According to their new research, the team of astronomers were able to find previously unknown masses of oxygen within clouds of space gas near a black hole. They used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to find this unaccounted for matter, and based on the number of similar gas clusters that have been found, they believe they account all of the missing matter in the discrepancy between calculations and what has been observed in the universe.
More research is need to confirm that the researchers’ discovery accurately adds up and can be extrapolated to apply to all the known missing matter, but in the meantime it’s a solution to one of the universe’s biggest mysteries.
“If we find this missing mass, we can solve one of the biggest conundrums in astrophysics… Where did the universe stash so much of its matter that makes up stuff like stars and planets and us?” said Orsolya Kovacs of the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.