There are few forces in the world more humbling than the intelligence of your average astrophysicist—not to mention the ebbs and flows of the cosmic web, energy and matter moving at scales that exceed all human comprehension.
Luckily for all of us, Johns Hopkins physicist Miguel A. Aragon-Calvo spends much of his time producing spectacular views of the universe that make both things accessible. His latest award-winning visualization, produced with the help of Julieta Aguilera and Mark SubbaRao of the Adler Planetarium, renders the "history of matter"—focusing especially on the role of dark matter.
While we can’t see dark matter, we believe that its presence, outweighing visible matter by 6:1, gives rise to gravity. "It actually gives us a lot of freedom because nobody has seen dark matter, velocity fields, or the network of voids," Aragon-Calvo tells Co.Design.
What you’re actually looking at is the same 240 million light years of space (top to bottom) from five different perspectives (left to right). The progression is one of theory to observation, from the fast and the hot to the cool and the slow, from the Big Bang to what we see today.
But the more you actually study the graphic, the more you’ll realize (and be confounded by) the richness of what you’re seeing. It’s not a simple progression of time as much as it is a mixture of movement and scale. The first few frames are really capturing the velocity of matter across the universe at varying scales. Then we see how matter produces bubbly voids.
In frame seven, labeled "Matter Trails," there’s a marked shift, as we’re actually looking at the movement of single particles of matter progressing from the Big Bang to today (Aragon-Calvo says to imagine it as a sequential shot of a BMX stunt).
Then finally, in the last two panels, we make our way to the easiest concepts to grasp: massive vines of glowing dark matter and a telescope-style view of the visible galaxies they’re holding together. "As you can see, the galaxies are just the tip of the iceberg," writes Aragon-Calvo. "Underneath them there is a vast network of dark matter permeating all space and connecting every element of the Cosmic Web."
How lucky we all are to catch this glimpse.
[Hat tip: Wired]