Found: 90% of the distant Universe

By Phil Plait | March 24, 2010 12:01 pm

This is fascinating news: 90% of the distant Universe was thought to be missing, but it was recently found. And what’s weird is, it was found to be in the red. Quite literally.

[Note: before you ask, this has nothing to do with dark matter. See below!]

GOODS_deepfield

First, a bit of background. Galaxies are filled with hydrogen gas, and that gas is a major component of the clouds that collapse to form stars. When that happens, the hot stars ionize the gas: the flood of ultraviolet light strips the electron away from the proton, freeing both. If the electron gets near the proton again, they can recombine. Because of quantum mechanics, the electron can only exists in certain energy states, which are a bit like steps in a staircase. You can jump from the third step down to the second, but there is no second-and-a-halfth step.

So it is with electrons. It used to be taught that this levels were like orbits, but that’s not a great analogy; the staircase is better. So if the electron is on the second level and drops to the first, it gives off energy in the form of light (just like when you step down you lose a bit of energy too, and it takes energy to go up a step). For the 2 to 1 step in hydrogen, the photon emitted is in the ultraviolet, and has a special name: Lyman alpha.

Ionized hydrogen gas clouds tend to blast out lots of Lyman alpha. This makes it a good way to search for distant star forming regions; just look for that wonderful wavelength of light associated with the 2 – 1 transition of hydrogen.

As it happens, we know that when the Universe was young, about a quarter the age it is now, star formation was going on at a much higher rate on average than it does now. So astronomers figured, hey, why not do searches for distant galaxies using Lyman alpha? They should pump it out, and make them easy to see.

So they looked. And to their surprise, they only found about 10% of the galaxies they predicted they should!

Uh oh.

This has been a problem for some time. But it’s not anymore: a recent experiment by astronomers shows that the galaxies are there, but they’re hidden!

What they did is look in one part of the sky, using the GOODS South field (part of which is pictured above), trying to find Lyman alpha emitting galaxies. Then they looked at the same region, but looked instead for H alpha, the line emitted when an electron jumps down from the third energy level to the second. And guess what they found: tons of galaxies!

The problem, they surmised, is that the galaxies are actually there and emitting Lyman alpha. But before that ultraviolet light can get out of one of those galaxies, it gets reabsorbed by gas inside the galaxy itself. We never see it.

But H alpha can more easily escape the galaxies once it’s produced. For one thing, it’s red light, and that can penetrate the gas and dust better than the ultraviolet Lyman alpha light can. There are other more complicated reasons as well, but the point is, the galaxies were simply hidden from us before, but not anymore. By extrapolating their results, it looks like they found 90% of the distant Universe!

I’ll note: this has nothing to do with dark matter. As it happens, 90% of the matter in the Universe is in a form that emits no light, but affects other matter through gravity. We know it exists, and you can find out why here. We know it exists locally, in nearby galaxies and clusters of galaxies, too. This new result doesn’t affect that, since the now un-hidden galaxies are very far away, like many billions of light years away. They can’t possibly affect nearby galaxies, so they don’t account for dark matter.

I love this study. It’s a great application of simple logic, though it wasn’t so simple to do: they had to use a lot of time on a monster 8 meter telescope to do it! But they were able to answer a question that has been around for some time, and it really does look like they’ve solved it.

And, as always, it makes me wonder what else is lurking out there in space, hidden but for a leap of logic and technology that will allow us to unveil it. Science is all about thinking around problems, and peeking into dusty corners. Sometimes the most interesting things are found there… including, in this case, the vast majority of the Universe!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (107)

  1. Jamey

    I’d love to see a picture of the same patch of sky in *EVERY* wavelength we’ve got instruments for – all the way from gamma to radio – and not just two or three wavelengths, but dozens. It’d be a really nice project for a coordinated effort, so that all of the images are of the same period of time.

  2. MoonShark

    Haha, I was really scratching my head when I saw the headline. Great inspirational concluding remarks as always :D This is so cool.

    Also the ESO has been impressing the pants off of me. Seems like a lot of my favorite images on BA lately have been from them.

  3. SAL

    THE Universe? What’s that mean? And of course, what is “beyond” it? The concept of universe is itself flawed, because it by definition refers to the One — the All of Being. But, as soon as you posit an All — i.e. by drawing a boundary, or by bracketing, as in set-theory, — you have already acknowledged something Other… which of course ruins the concept of Universe. So, the only possible solution is that there isn’t a One, or, rather, that the One is not.

    Multiverse, yes, that’s something else. But even that’s wrong, because there can’t be One Multiverse. There can be something like multi-versitude. Multiples of multiples of multiples… etc.

    So, obviously, when you, or whoever — scientists are always doing this — say Universe, it’s not really what you mean, is it? So, what do you mean? Scientists probably need new names.

    It’s impossible to know 90% of the universe because there isn’t a 100%.

  4. sam

    Heeey my last name is Lyman

  5. It’s always in the last place you look.

  6. Matt Hayes

    Blogged about by the Bad Astronomer! Fantastic. :)
    Thanks tremendously for putting it in words that I never seem to be able to find.

  7. OtherRob

    I knew I left them lying around somewhere.

  8. Danno

    @ jtradke

    Well, of course it is. Don’t you usually stop looking when you’ve found it?

    I’ve never really understood that phrase.

  9. amphiox

    Wait a minute. . . .

    Are you saying that not only does all the stuff that we can/have seen make up only 10% of the universe, but that before this, of all that stuff that we can actually see, we had up to now only seen 10% of even that?!

    This universe can be a humbling place, sometimes. . . .

  10. Patricia

    Oh, for a minute there, I was afraid you were going to start talking about Star Trek red matter. Whew!

  11. I’m always finding things I lost when I check under the cushion in my couch too.

  12. Excellent and inspirational last paragraph! I’m gonna nick it and use it when it when I teach!

  13. jcm

    Because of quantum mechanics, the electron can only exists in certain energy states, which are a bit like steps in a staircase. You can jump from the third step down to the second, but there is no second-and-a-halfth step.

    So if the electron is on the second level and drops to the first, it gives off energy in the form of light (just like when you step down you lose a bit of energy too, and it takes energy to go up a step).

    Is this the so called quantum leap?

  14. John Paradox

    Lyman Alpha sounds like some kind of exotic mixed drink.
    (Lime and Alpha)

    J/P=?

  15. Good to know that even the distant universe has a red light district.

  16. Brian Davis

    Hmm. This bring up the question of why these older galaxies are different than the 10% we previously could see. Is it a question of why 90% of galaxies are so H-rich that that self-absorb all their own Lyman alpha? Or something else?

  17. Reverend J

    Very interesting, a bit confused why it took so long for people to look at the 2nd excited state and not the 3rd? Also it sounds a lot like the effect that chemist call “luminescence quenching” that’s going on in the clouds. The light gets emitted by the hydrogen then reabsorbed by other hydrogen and there is energy loss through different modes so there is no emission of a photon.

    Either way, very cool result, can’t wait to see more data.

  18. Matt Hayes

    Hi Brian Davis,

    That’s pretty much the size of it. All galaxies that are forming new stars produce Lyman-alpha, but at least at this epoch in the history of the universe, only about 10% of those galaxies have an interstellar medium that permits the escape of this radiation. Broadly speaking, about 95% of the Lyman-alpha radiation that is produced is absorbed by dust in these galaxies, but that dust absorption is horribly exacerbated by their neutral hydrogen contents.

  19. Matt Hayes

    @MoonShark

    >Also the ESO has been impressing the pants off of me.
    > Seems like a lot of my favorite images on BA lately have
    > been from them.

    ESO is a huge organisation of 12 member countries and entry is extraordinarily expensive. One thing that they have really pumped a lot of effort into is public outreach. Their education/press/outreach department is really very big, and they do a lot of good work there. Basically you can make very nice images with many many telescopes, but if you look at the outreach done by other large ground-based telescopes they don’t compare. With orbital telescopes like Hubble or Chandra, it is a different matter…

  20. @Danno – Congratulations. You got the joke.

  21. Bruce

    Pardon me for what is probably an amateur and uninformed question, and perhaps a bit off topic, but your statement about now “finding the vast majority of the Universe” got me to wondering about something. On one hand, you’ve got accelerating cosmic expansion, and some speculation I’ve seen recently (even from you I believe) that suggests the recent various articles on “dark flow” of gravity observed tugging on galaxy clusters might be attributed to the gravitational pull of other galactic clusters (or whatever) that have already accelerated away from us faster than our local ability to observe light coming from them. (Hope I got that right).

    So here’s what I’m wondering. First, has the accelerating cosmic expansion rate been sufficiently quantified such that we might reasonably calculate at what historical point in time the “first/oldest” galaxies accelerated away beyond our local ability to ever detect their light again? Second, using the current observable distribution of matter in the universe, could we then produce a reasonable estimate of how much matter/universe has already accelerated away beyond our local ability to detect light coming from it?

    I’m just wondering if we have any understanding/estimate of how much of the “vast majority of the Universe” we may actually never be able to detect (at least, so long as detection is based on our local ability to capture light).

    Anyway, love the article (as always).

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Lost and found: 90 % of everything.

    @ jcm:

    Is this the so called quantum leap?

    Yes and no; I believe the term was originally intended to describe tunneling, which is the same state-to-state process (in the basic case) but through what would be classically a forbiddingly high intermediate potential.

    It is IMHO not only a superfluous term but ludicrous one since there isn’t any resemblance to a leap as envisioned in scifi media. The processes aren’t instantaneous but takes time, they aren’t necessarily spontaneous but takes (or gives) energy, et cetera.

    @ Reverend J:

    Wouldn’t that be a combination of the lower state being more intense (more often populated and depopulated) and (hence having) a historical data base of those lines that takes known cosmological redshift into account? I’m guessing wildly here, of course.

  23. Charlie Young

    I know this is a 25 year old recollection of Chem 160, but don’t electrons exist in certain orbital shapes based on charge and quantum mechanics. Namely, isn’t there a region where the electron is more likely to exist around an atomic nucleus than other regions? I seem to remember being taught orbital shapes.

  24. Monkey

    Re: Orbital shapes

    …still being taught. The main compnent of grade 9 and 10 basic science, and grade 11 chemistry in Canadian Public Schools.

    I think there are aleternatives being taught quite frequently, most noteably the GIEP of Elemental Understanding; God Invented Everything Principle…a lot of catholic (publically funded Catholic) schools adhere to that teaching practice.

    Seriously though, the CDN system still 100% teaches orbitals. Bohr. FYI.

  25. brian leahy

    Question! Do we know that galaxies go so far and then nothing [ie the edge of visible matter] or do we not know how far or much visible matter goes?

  26. Sons of Nova

    i like the “I invented everything principle. “

  27. Bemopolis

    @Reverend J et al.

    I too wonder why no one had seriously looked at the Balmer alpha line (3-2) instead of the Lyman alpha line (2-1). Granted, as BA noted it is expected that most of the hydrogen is ionized; but the recombination that produces the lines in the first place leads very quickly to hydrogen in the ground state. The neutral hydrogen will easily scatter or absorb Lyman line radiation; since the fraction of neutral hydrogen in the first excited state is much smaller, the neutral gas is more transparent to Balmer radiation.

    I suppose they may have expected that the hydrogen was low density, in which case every recombination produces a Lyman line that escapes. Instead, the hydrogen appears to be high density, in which case about half (IIRC) of all recombinations produce a Balmer photon and a Lyman alpha photon, which is repeatedly scattered and likely converted into heat or two photons before it can escape.

  28. Astrofys

    Hey, the last coauthor wrote his master thesis at the same time as I did, in a room at OSO, well done Jens!

  29. Thanks for this article, Phil. I like it!

    Also, re: quantum leaps: the distances within an atom are incredibly small (as is anything quantum). However, the term “quantum leap” is commonly used by people to mean the opposite: a very large jump. James Randi often wonders as to how this came about.

  30. TMB

    To everyone who’s asking “why didn’t they look at this before?” – it’s a lot harder. In the rest frame, Lyman-alpha is in the far-UV and H-alpha (what physicists call Balmer-alpha) is in the optical. But out at these redshifts, Lyman-alpha is redshifted into the optical (which is easy to observe) and H-alpha is redshifted out into the infrared (which is harder to observe).

    [TMB]

  31. SplendidMonkey

    Those galaxies are entirely made of socks.

  32. Buzz Parsec

    There’s no 2nd and a half step? Next you’ll be telling us there’s no platform 8 and 3/4s!

    More seriously, does this mean they’ve found the missing 90% of the non-missing 10% of the Universe? In other words the 90% that’s dark matter is still undetected, this is just the missing 90% of ordinary matter, or 9% of the total matter?

  33. Procyan

    Does this mean there is now sufficient matter to stop and reverse universal expansion?

  34. Gary Ansorge

    32. and 33.

    No and maybe No.

    For the first case, we had estimates of total universal mass, based on average perceived matter distribution. That produced the number we express as “5 % of the mass of the universe is visible” and star velocity around galaxies suggested there was another 20% of the universes mass that was “dark”. Unfortunately, when we looked back in time(far, far away) we only detected in the Alpha line 10 % of what we expected there. This post explains that oversight.

    As to the second, we still don’t have enough data.

    Gary 7

  35. Tanner

    So what percentage of the total visible matter is this supposed to represent?

  36. Weke

    SplendidMonkey @ 31: Those socks lost while washing them, I presume?

  37. A great astronomer with an even greater name, Halton C. Arp, said something like: “It’s my feeling that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but it is stranger than we can imagine.”

  38. Dwight Bartholomew

    I’m sure it’s easy to make a narrow bandpass filter for the H-alpha line but did the researchers have to expand the filter pass to take into account “red shifting” of the H-alpha line?

  39. Ben

    To jamey: (first comment)

    you asked to see the universe in different wavelengths:

    http://www.chromoscope.net/

  40. R-man

    Kersudge it. Looks like I need to re-tune the cloaking device again. Stupid 13 billion year warranty…it breaks down right after the expiry date.

    Seriously, this is exactly why I find space so fascinating – it’s all already out there, waiting to be discovered – it’s the hill over the horizon so to speak. Great post Phil.

    @Kris #38 – Think the name you’re after there is Carl Sagan. I prefer this one of his: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. “

  41. mfumbesi

    Thank you for the explanation.

  42. Jens M.

    A very nice read!

    @Dwight Bartholomew – The narrow-band H-alpha filter was tailor-made to match the redshifted H-alpha line. The shape (or profile) of this filter was modeled after the exact shape of the Lyman-alpha filter and then shifted to the wavelength of the redshifted H-alpha line (which at the redshift considered is ~2100 nm, in the near infrared part of the spectrum). So the filter was not “extended” (that would make it very problematic to compare the H-alpha and Ly-alpha observations), but rather shifted.

    @astrofys – Thanks.

  43. fred edison

    @38 Kris & @40 R-man
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/J._B._S._Haldane
    I suppose.

    Fortunately, this didn’t involve finding a lone sock or it would still be a mystery. I’d bet whoever found 90% of the missing universe collected an astronomical finder’s fee. Ba-da-ba-boom! I’m outta here before the fruit flies.

  44. gridlock

    In real-time 3D space the visual image of the universe we currently have is WRONG.
    One object a light-year away is in a different real-time location than what we see.
    One object a 100 light-years away is in a different real-time location that the 100 year old image we see in space.
    Even though we see the same space objects at the same time, one is 1 year off in a different location and the other is 100 years off in another location. What we see at this instant is many years wrong from the real-time locations of those visual objects.

    The farther out we see, the more the object we are seeing is no longer anywhere near that location in real-time 3D space.

  45. tahlmorra

    I did not see anyone address it so, late as it is, I will..

    #3 – Sal

    >THE Universe? What’s that mean? And of course, what is “beyond” it? The concept of universe >is itself flawed, because it by definition refers to the One — the All of Being.

    Yes and no.. “universe” by definition means “one whole” It is singular and stands alone. There is, again by definition, nothing beyond it.

    > But, as soon as you posit an All — i.e. by drawing a boundary, or by bracketing, as in set-theory, >— you have already acknowledged something Other…

    No. Assuming I have the only sheet of paper in existence, I can say my sheet of paper is a set unto itself and their is no possible “other” outside it. It is an existence unto itself and is equally “all” the paper there is.

    >which of course ruins the concept of Universe. So, the only possible solution is that there isn’t a >One, or, rather, that the One is not.

    No, again. See above..

    >Multiverse, yes, that’s something else. But even that’s wrong, because there can’t be One >Multiverse. There can be something like multi-versitude. Multiples of multiples of multiples… etc.

    Can’t be one “multiverse”..? What part of “multi” are you missing? If there can be the possibility of a multiverse, at all, we’re already talking in plurals..

    >So, obviously, when you, or whoever — scientists are always doing this — say Universe, it’s not >really what you mean, is it? So, what do you mean? Scientists probably need new names.

    Alright, you’re not even trying to make sense, now..

    >It’s impossible to know 90% of the universe because there isn’t a 100%.

    And it’s equally not possible to know 100% of the food that was on your dinner plate, tonight..or 100% of the words in the last book you read..or 100% of the shirt you put on this morning..? Because there’s just not 100% of anything..? Is that really what you’re saying..?

    I hope you’re trolling, because the only other option has me weeping for our future..

  46. Matt Hayes

    @Bemopolis,

    With regard to the H-alpha line, it is used seriously and has been for several decades. It is an excellent tracer of star-forming galaxies, but only in the nearby universe. However, in the distant universe, the expansion of the universe redshifts the line to wavelengths where it can’t easily be observed. Beyond about 10 or 11 billion light-years, it is effectively impossible because the atmosphere glows so bright in the infrared. That is why Lyman-alpha is so important for cosmology and the extremely distant universe: it’s shorter wavelength means it will be available to ground-based telescopes at much earlier cosmic times. That, we argue, is why this study is important.

    There is only a relatively narrow distance window in cosmic evolution where Lyman-alpha and H-alpha can be simultaneously observed by large telescopes.

    With regard to Ly-alpha scattering: we don’t ever really expect the interstellar medium of galaxies to be transparent to Ly-alpha photons. Most likely the cause for the low escape probability is that these photons scatter so many times that the chances of them being absorbed by grains of dust becomes much larger in comparison to radiation that doesn’t scatter. Schematically, the prevailing model for how Ly-alpha escapes at all is one in which large scale velocity shifts in hydrogen clouds Doppler-shift the photons, and from that point on (since they have a slightly different wavelength) they are free(ish) to escape.

  47. Mau

    Nice explanation Phil!

  48. Phew! For a moment there I thought my dryer was hiding that other 90%. Good to know! :D

  49. Michael N.

    Why doesn’t scanning for the hydrogen line work? Or does it?

  50. Jamey

    @40 Ben – HEY! That’s pretty flippin’ cool! I need to wait for all of the imagery to load, but that’s … totally AWESOME! Thanks a lot!

  51. This is weird, I still don’t get the “90%” part, if you talk about percentage, you need to know what is “all” I mean… maths are maths… so… if you know what is “all” what’s unknown?, I think we always know 100%, and when you can see more, or farther, or whatever, the only thing you do is to re-define what used to be your 100%

  52. DCTele

    Okay, I’m only half kidding here. Is there a Venn-diagram or some sort of visualization that can show me how much of space we think is out there we know of right now? This is super fascinating, but I think I’m lost. :D

  53. Westil

    To continue with tahlmorra @ sal

    Sal, you should really read Stephen Hawking’s “Brief History of Time” as it covers some of these questions as well as many other fascinating concepts in great detail. Also, I hope I’m getting my science right here and that someone will correct me if I am wrong.

    It is as easy to imagine “outside” of the Universe as it is to imagine “outside” of your computer screen, but the Universe is far stranger than the objects we are familiar with in our daily lives. We know that space has a shape which is a function of matter. All of the matter in the Universe gives it its shape, which is one involving space that curves back on itself. You know that there is “outside” of your computer because you can wave your hands around in that space, but there is no space outside of the Universe that it is expanding into. The expanding Universe extends the existent curved space as it expands. This is very difficult to picture because we don’t encounter anything like this on earth where space is curved so little that it is not noticeable to our senses. Scientists speak of “multiverses” rather than just “more stuff within this Universe” because there is no space, no time, and nothing outside of a Universe – not even empty space.

    Now I’m wondering if space and time being a function of matter also answers the question of “what was it like before the Universe?” Just as there is no space outside of the Universe, isn’t it the case that our concept of time is meaningless before the Universe? In other words, there is no “before the Universe” just as there is no “outside of the universe.”

    Cool story, I love astronomy.

  54. Mike From Tribeca

    Absolutely amazing!

  55. Michael Wood-Vasey

    “Found: 90% of the galaxies in the Universe” would have been a far, far better title.

    It’s far too easy to read 90% of the Universe and immediately think of dark energy and dark matter, which together represent 95% of the energy density of the Universe. Indeed a number of posters so far have done exactly that.

  56. Pranab

    Any info on those newly found galaxies having a doppler shift ?

    I had doubts on the big bang theory and with this it seems universe is a boundary less space and galaxies mover with respect to each other rather that originate from a single event. It is already being shown that the galaxy formation and the movement/velocity of the stars has a direct correlation with the size of the super massive black hole at its centre. I would hope some day it will be established that same super massive black holes are responsible for the galactic motion.

  57. Fake Ryan

    This is all a hoax, FAKE!!! Turns out they didn’t clean the lens and thought all the dust particles we’re new galaxies.

  58. Westil

    @Sal
    Oh yeah, nearly forgot this:

    “But, as soon as you posit an All — i.e. by drawing a boundary, or by bracketing, as in set-theory, — you have already acknowledged something Other… which of course ruins the concept of Universe. So, the only possible solution is that there isn’t a One, or, rather, that the One is not.”

    The way you are speaking here:

    ‘The One’ = ‘All’
    you use these interchangeably – and from this quite simply:
    ‘the One is not’ = ‘All is not’
    thus,
    A and Not A, A&~A, a contradiction.

    You should revisit what you are saying

  59. Ryan

    So they are now saying there are 10 to 100 trillion galaxies in the visible universe?

  60. Andrew

    Phil,

    Is this a fair summary: “Local” observations of galaxies produce an estimate of the density of “normal” (baryonic) matter in the universe, and based on these observations, there were two anomalies – 1) that the dynamics of galaxies and clusters of galaxies indicated that what were were seeing is only 5% (or so) of what is really there (if our understanding of gravity is right), and 2) that the density of normal matter in the distant universe was way less than the density locally. The new observations solve the second problem, but not the first (we now have a universe with a consistent density of normal matter throughout, but that density is still way less than the density required to produce the observed dynamics), and the first problem is the one that leads to hypotheses about dark matter.

  61. Vince

    So when they say, there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth, did that only apply to what was previously visible? This is blowing my mind!

  62. NixDude

    If they found 90% more galaxies, w0uld I not see 9 red objects in the enlarged image for every 1 blue object I see (assuming these are all galaxies). If that is the correct assumption then this does not appear to be the case, but then I suppose the image provided might be a good overall indicator.

  63. NONE

    Wow. There go half the theories we had about why the matter was missing.

  64. Matt Hayes

    @ NxGTR

    The press-release doesn’t convey sufficient detail. We use the H-alpha survey to look for star-forming galaxies in the area of space that we survey. We then do a Lyman-alpha survey over exactly the same area, but we find only 10% of those H-alpha selected galaxies. That’s where the 90% comes from: the Ly-selection method fails to pick out 90% of the star-forming galaxies.

    The H-alpha selection does not find 100% of the galaxies in the area either: there will be more, passive galaxies not forming stars, or without strong black-hole related activity. However, for this study we don’t care about those.

  65. Matt Hayes

    @DCTele : I *have* actually seen a Venn diagram of how different selection methods find different galaxies and describes the overarching galaxy population in the distant universe. However, it’s only been presented at conferences, as far as I know. If you are genuinely interested I can find it again, but I don’t know how much clearer it will make things…

  66. Matt Hayes

    @Pranab :

    > Any info on those newly found galaxies having a doppler shift ?

    Depending on exactly what you mean by Doppler shift, the answer is either “yes, all of them” or “observations aren’t clever enough to know”…

  67. bliprob

    @Matt Hayes: congratulations on the fine work. You get bonus points for hanging out here and answering questions.

  68. Ace

    This might go a long ways to explaining one of the oldest paradoxes in astronomy. The question being, that if the universe is infinite, shouldn’t the sky be completely white, as anywhere you could look, there would be light shining from it? (no matter how far away it still shines). If the light is re-absorbed just after leaving the source though…., It can never arrive! Thus, beautiful night skies! (Ignoring the obvious electromagnetic pollution we generate on Earth of course) hehe. Stupid humans.l

  69. DallasNE

    So, does this bring us any closer to knowing how far away the outer reaches of the universe is and both confirm the “big bang” theory and how long ago the big bang happened? Would this also establish the relative position of our solar system within the universe? My guess is not likely as that remains unknowable.

  70. Gary Ansorge

    72. Ace

    The steady state universe was assumed to have existed forever, which was logically impossible, for the very reason you mention (no dark sky) however, that was posited before we discovered the universe was expanding. With the inflationary hypothesis, we calculate our local universe expanded faster than light could be propagated thru space, so even if there was actually an infinite universe “beyond” this locality, we’d never know it(ok, we’d never SEE it).

    This universe may be what we get inside a black hole, matter compressed into the false vacuum, then boom, the creation of a new space/time for it all to condense into as matter/energy. A simple phase change.

    This is, of course, merely a hypothesis.

    GAry 7

  71. Stephanie Lynn

    Is it true that Discovery is doing a “Nature” series w/ Sarah Palin?

  72. Damon

    Intriguing. I like thinking of electrons as people on a staircase.

  73. Unknown

    So, we wasted time on finding dark matter and energy and such?

  74. Wesley Parish

    staircases and quantum states: I’m wondering if the harmonic partials (such as you get in musical instruments like the trumpet and trombone) might be a more accurate analogy? any thoughts?

  75. Lawrencerj

    Plagerized from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address “The world will little note or long remember what we SAY here, but it can never forget what they DID here.” Note I had to qualify by mentioning Lincoln because the actual Gettysburg Address was not given by Lincoln, but was rather a longer than one hour oration given by a paid orator whose name I have forgotten and who said to Lincoln whose “speech” followed his,”You have said more in two minutes than I have said in two hours.” The Irony is that due to great parallel structure of Lincoln’s short speech many children have been required to memorize it and, thus, most of DO remember what Lincoln said that day in Gettysburg and probably know very little of what the fighting men did there (other than die in a war that should never have occured.) In tbe case of these post, there is no irony, in my plagerized quote. I doubt anyone will actually read this post I am writing here but me. I am surprised that I actually read the entire 66 post that came before me (I need to get a life.) If someone does read my post they may say the bulk of it is Off Topic, but my rebuttle would be that it no more so than the floxynoxynilhilpilofacations of those who probe mystery of the words “all” and “universe” or the idea that the socks swalled by a dryer might actually explain dark matter. By the way it is my belief that dark matter-energy is a huge fudge factor that appears to exist only because a grossly flawed theory of gravitation. Since, nobody will read this far, I will not say more. A wink’s as good’s a nod to a blind horse. (Another famous quotation of Abe Lincoln.) -RJL Retired Physics Teacher, Cape Coral, FL

  76. Jason

    This could turn out to be just a small sampling of some really exciting discoveries to come, once Hubble’s successor, the infrared-observing James Webb Space Telescope, starts its mission.

    Slightly off-topic, here’s hoping we get off our collective butts and implement some proper funding & resources for NEO identification & tracking. It would be nice if the species could survive long enough so that one day in the far future, we can make some slightly-more practical usage of our knowledge of deep space.

  77. Even for a press release, there had to be a better way to sell this (quite significant) result. It’s been known since the 1980s, from local galaxies, that Lyman-alpha can be resonantly trapped in most gas-rich galaxies, and that seeing strong Lyman-alpha emission from outside takes rather special conditions (such as a starburst wind, particular distributions of dust, or very low dust content). Color selection of galaxies at, say z>3 likewise showed many that did not have escaping Lyman alpha. What’s new is the technological capability to chase H-alpha significantly into the IR with high sensitivity and detect it from the fraction of galaxies (already known to be large) which eat their own Lyman alpha.

  78. Gerard

    hmmm. I never trusted the ‘we only have 5% of the required mass to halt expansion’ bs. 5% plus/minus a ridiculously large number. it was always a suspect argument. my problem now is that I think the climate scientist )who can’t predict next weeks rainfaill) have also have similar 100x standard deviations in the answers on climate change. and don’t calll me a denier. im a cautious, concerned skeptic. I

  79. Josh Dalton

    Would it be more accurate to say you’ve identified an additional 9 times the number of known galaxies, or is there some indication that this accounts for all of the galaxies there should be completely?

    In other words, are there possibilities that some small percent of galaxies are not identifiable using this new method either? If so are there other ways of finding them?

    Either way, good work.

  80. Dran

    @DallasNE and others, including @SAL -

    One thing to keep in mind here is that often the word “Universe” is used meaning “Visible Universe”. There is no reason (as far as my understanding goes) to believe there aren’t more galaxies beyond the edge of the visible universe; but the terminology is difficult because what we see further away is also further back in time, so the edge of the visible universe is a time as well as a place, and clearly there are no galaxies beyond the time-edge since there are no galaxies before the big bang.

    But if we try and imagine just the universe as it is “right now”, there probably are galaxies further away than the most distant visible ones, and they’re beyond the edge of the visible universe in a sense. However, there is not really a solid definition of “right now” to work with because of relativity. In any case, as time goes on more light reaches us and we can see further.

    Now specifically @DallasNE, our solar system is in the center of the visible universe of course, but we don’t know what the “whole” universe is shaped like to think about where we are on it. No proposal I know of puts us anywhere special – or anything else; the universe is pretty uniform anyway.

  81. Gary Ansorge

    80. Lawrencerj:

    “(I need to get a life.)

    Yeah, you and me both, Bro. Though that is some interesting data, stuff I never heard about when I was in school.

    (Damn it Jim, I’m an engineer, not a historian).

    85. Gerard:

    Last time I heard(about two days ago) we had a 95 % certainty from climatologists that AGW was accurate. That still leaves a 5 % uncertainty for climate skeptics to play with. It appears both AGW deniers and God proponents are really getting squeezed by the narrowing gap of uncertainty.
    On the other hand, if that Icelandic volcano goes bang, you’ll get your mini ice age real quick.

    86. Josh Dalton:

    “In other words, are there possibilities that some small percent of galaxies are not identifiable using this new method either? If so are there other ways of finding them?

    Yes! We’re working on that as fast as we can(Ah, the young. SO impatient.)

    GARY 7

  82. john

    So Rene Descartes notion of planets,suns and such bobbing about on ether is near fetched. So much for Newton and the Royal Academy.

  83. Phil E. Drifter

    Arguing on the internet is like running in the Special Olympics.

  84. mparker

    So much has been accomplished and discovered in recent years. For a curious human being, this is a wonderful time to be alive.

  85. VFRMark

    FACINATING!
    ASTOUNDING!!
    MIND BOGGLING!!!
    But what really excites me is what this will do for the Drake Equation!!!!

    46. tahlmorra Says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 3:15 am
    ‘I hope you’re trolling, because the only other option has me weeping for our future..’

    I have’nt laughed this hard for 13 billion years!
    In fact I think I awoke my neighbours….

  86. MARGEE

    AND THANK GOD FOR THE MOST COMPLICATED PERFECTLY PLACED GALAXIES THAT NO ONE CAN EVEN EXPLAIN BUT GOD

  87. On The Road To Infinity

    Why is everyone ALWAYS so surprised when they find out that the scientist/people (because scientist are people too) made a mistake about something ? People used to think that the earth was flat and then they realized it’s not and then they thought it was the center of the solar system and then they realized it’s not etc. etc. on and on . So basically the more we learn the more we realize how much we actually don’t know and this learning cycle continues on and on in all directions to infinity . Conculsion : the amount of knowledge to be gained about the universe is infinite so no matter how much we’ve learned about it there will ALWAYS be more to learn about it and there will ALWAYS be more mistakes made along the way to infinity …….. !! …… So , good luck with that ! :)

  88. X Marks The Missing Spots

    AWESOME … Now We Can Move The Terror Alert Back To Green ! :-)

  89. Timothy Mooney

    My Astronomy Professor here at WSCC will love this! As a retired (4 times!) quantum physicist/cum/community college teacher, this may aid him in explaining some of the things most of my classmates find all too difficult to understand. And I especially appreciate the “jumping the stairs” metaphor. Several students just could not get a grasp of that concept. Thank you!

  90. That is actually quite amazing! All we need to do now is to get our thinking caps on about how else we can determine if there is life on other galaxies other than looking for H2O

  91. If ever there was a read that got my head in a spin this is it. Absolutely amazing!

  92. Im with Jamey… “I’d love to see a picture of the same patch of sky in *EVERY* wavelength we’ve got instruments for – all the way from gamma to radio – and not just two or three wavelengths, but dozens. It’d be a really nice project for a coordinated effort, so that all of the images are of the same period of time.”

    Any thoughts on getting this done?

  93. “90% of the distant Universe” is a big percentage…
    It’s amazing and also a great reminder of how many things are yet to be discovered !

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