Is the Universe Connected By a Cosmic Web?

Posted January 26th, 2017 at 4:02 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Some people think that the universe is just a hodge-podge of various celestial objects, such as planets, stars and galaxies.

But over the years, scientists have found more evidence that the universe may be anything but random, and is actually more organized and interconnected—like an enormous spider web.

Our place in the web

A simulated view of the entire observable universe, approximately 93 billion light years or 28 billion parsecs in diameter. (Azcolvin429 via Creative Commons)

A simulated view of the entire observable universe, approximately 93 billion light years or 28 billion parsecs in diameter. (Azcolvin429 via Creative Commons)

Let’s start with our home planet.

Earth is part of a solar system, and our solar system is one of many planetary systems and stars that make up the Milky Way galaxy.

The Milky Way galaxy, its numerous satellite galaxies as well as other galaxies such as the Andromeda Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy and all of their satellites belong to a collection of galaxies called the Local Galactic Group.

The Local Galactic Group is part of the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies, which scientists say is one of about 10 million such galactic superclusters.

Research conducted by an international team of astronomers in 2014 suggest that this Virgo supercluster is a part of an even larger collection of some 100,000 galaxies called the Laniakea Supercluster.

The website atlaoftheuniverse.com puts the number of these superclusters in the known universe at 10 million.

According to an April 2016 article in Scientific American, all of the galaxies (groups, clusters and superclusters) in the universe form an immense network called the cosmic web.

Measuring the web’s threads

Hector Rodriguez, senior mechanical technician, works on the Keck Cosmic Web Imager in a clean room at Caltech. (Caltech)

Hector Rodriguez, senior mechanical technician, works on the Keck Cosmic Web Imager in a clean room at Caltech. (Caltech)

Research suggests that galaxies are connected to one another with streams of hot thin ionized gas (mostly hydrogen) called the intergalactic medium or IGM.

The W. M. Keck Observatory (Keck Observatory) in Hawaii says in a press release that they have received a new device, they call the world’s most sensitive instrument for measuring these gas filaments of the IGM.

Called the Keck Cosmic Web Imager (KCWI), this device will help scientists study the cosmic web in extraordinary detail, learn about the life-cycle of galaxies, and investigate some of the mysteries of our universe.

Keck says the KCWI is a spectrograph that weights around 5 tons and is the size of an “ice cream truck”.

The device is set to be connected to one of the twin 10-meter telescopes at the Keck Observatory, which they say are the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world.

The telescopes located on Hawaii’s 4,207-meter-high dormant volcano, Mauna Kea, which is said to provide the most perfect astronomical viewing conditions in the world.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) physics professor, Christopher Martin, and his team in cooperation with the Keck Observatory, University of California Santa Cruz and industrial partners, designed and built the KCWI.

Along with investigating the cosmic web, the device will also allow astronomers to study other very faint objects in the universe.

Earth's Place in the Universe (Andrew Z. Colvin via Wikimedia Commons)

Earth’s Place in the Universe (Andrew Z. Colvin via Wikimedia Commons)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

One response to “Is the Universe Connected By a Cosmic Web?”

  1. Donald Fraser Miles says:

    We know of motion from one cosmic point to another by matter or light and we measure the time to travel over a distance of matter and light. It has been my opinion that if the cosmos is connected itself to itself in space that the concept of elapsed time for matter or light to travel a distance does not apply to the motion of cosmically connected force. If the cosmos is connected as a form of matter energy for example the effect of movement in one region of the cosmos of this connectivity force may be the same as being interconnected like a cylindrical pole or other type stick or stiff string that has an immediate effect in another distant region of the cosmos. A stiff pole has an immediate effect at the end and along the pole when one end of the pole moves. The motion doesn’t travel out from one end over time to the other end but has an instantaneous motion effect at the distant end of the pole. It would be intelligent to determine the application of this concept to cosmos study to determine where such rigid pole energies exist that bypass the traditional concepts of the time necessary for an event of motion or energy transfer to be affected over a distance from one point to another. This might through understanding what forms of energy behave as rigid poles enable a new type of radio transmission for example that can communicate radio waves at virtually instantaneous time elapses over a great distance rather than through standard elapsed time periods as current radio waves travel. The discovery of such pole energy phenomena might involve the combining of different forms of energy such as light and nuclear radiation or light and radio or tv wave energy and therefore be the result of a chemistry like combinational reaction of energy.