Researching Space Voids Is Helping Scientists Understand the Universe's Expansion

The big pockets of nothingness in space are helping us understand how the universe works.

Space may seem like a whole bunch of nothingness, but there's actually a lot of stuff out there. What is that stuff? Matter like stars, black holes, particles from old planets, gases, everything! 

However, in-between that stuff? There appears to be a massive amount of nothingness.

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These pockets of nothingness occur between galaxies and are often referred to as space voids. Scientists also believe that they might be crucial to our ability to measure the expansion of the Universe.

The Study of Space Voids

Researchers have started using a newly developed method to measure how light passes through these voids, specifically measuring the Doppler shifts on the voids. 

Measuring these Doppler Shifts, or the changes in the shape of how light passes through these voids, can teach scientists the properties of dark energy and matter. While much of the universe appears to be made up of "nothing", it's estimated that roughly 95% of the entire mass and energy in the universe is missing, that is, it hasn't been discovered yet. This missing mass is known as dark matter and the missing energy is known as dark energy.

Researching Space Voids Is Helping Scientists Understand the Universe's Expansion
"The change in the average shape of voids caused by Doppler distortions and the effects of dark energy and curvature" Source: University of Portsmouth

Dark mass and dark energy are thought to play a major role in keeping matter together, binding galaxies, and in accelerating the velocity at which the universe is expanding.

Researchers use the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey, or BOSS, to measure the scale of the Universe. All of this groundbreaking new research is compiled in a study published in Physics Review D

New Discoveries

The lead author for the study, a fellow at the University of Portsmouth Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, Dr. Seshadri Nadathursaid: 

"This measurement tremendously upgrades the previous best results from BOSS – the precision is equivalent to getting data from a hypothetical survey four times as large as BOSS, completely for free. It really helps pin down the properties of dark energy.”

The understanding of dark energy could unlock secrets to the universe that we don't even have the faintest idea of. Nadathur went on to say,

“These results also mean that the expected science results from facilities such as the European Space Agency’s Euclid satellite mission and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument – in which the astronomy community have invested a lot of resources – can be even better than previously thought.”

This new study on space voids relies on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey or SDSS. As they studied the voids cataloged in this survey, researchers cataloged all of their shapes and alignments to determine an average void shape.

They then measured the variations in the voids compared to the determined average to gather new understanding about the structure and expansion of our universe.

This new experimental approach to understanding and viewing our universe is a significant upgrade compared to the old BAO method or baryon acoustic oscillation. 

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It's important to note that the researchers at the University of Portsmouth aren't done evaluating their new approach and are still working on perfecting it. It will likely be improved upon as better telescope technology is developed. Speaking in regards to the results directly, Dr. Nadathur said:

"These results also mean that the expected science results from facilities such as the European Space Agency's Euclid satellite mission and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument – in which the astronomy community have invested a lot of resources – can be even better than previously thought."

Overall, these new discoveries and analytical methods used for studying the expansion of the universe will help scientists better utilize modern research technology as well as help them grasp key data about the universe much faster. Next time you look up at space, just remember that the empty spaces might prove to be the most important parts of space. These voids have the potential to unlock important new discoveries about how our universe works.

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