A cosmic web woven in the depths of the universe

More than 10 billion years have passed, and the universe, still young, began to revitalize: since this distant time, an unprecedented image of the network of filaments of gas from which galaxies were born has descended to us, shedding new light on their history. .

Similar to the giant spider web, this “cosmic web” was long predicted by the Big Bang model that created the universe about 13.8 billion years ago. It’s a reservoir of gas – hydrogen – that supplies the fuel needed to make the stars that, together, form galaxies. So it is an essential element to reconstruct its development. But it is very difficult to detect due to its distance – 10 to 12 billion light years from Earth – and low light.

The MUSE instrument, a set of 24 spectrometers mounted on the ESO Very Large Telescope in Chile, achieved this after an extraordinary observing campaign, the results of which appeared in the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics Thursday. The MUSE international team pointed to a single region of the sky, located in the Southern Hemisphere Constellation Oven, for more than 140 hours. After a year of analyzing the data, the scientists captured a hologram that reveals the glow of several scattered hydrogen filaments over a large portion of the sky. The images of this network “abandoned” the images of the Hubble Telescope, which holds so far the “deepest image of the universe ever obtained,” taken in the same constellation, confirming the National Center for Scientific Research in a press release.

Similar to the giant spider web, the “cosmic web” is a reservoir of gas – hydrogen – that provides the fuel needed to make the stars that, by aggregate, form galaxies. Direct observation of the filament’s glow is the holy grail of cosmology, because the further away the galaxy is from Earth, the closer it gets to the beginning of the universe in the time scale. Jeremy Blizzott / The Sphinx Project / CRAL / AFP

By digging deeply into this, MUSE acted as a machine for exploring the past, because the further away the galaxy was from Earth, the closer it got to the beginning of the universe in the time scale. Thus the filaments of gas appeared because they were “only” 1 to 2 billion years after the Big Bang, a stage that is considered a preliminary stage in the evolution of the universe. “After a very early dark age, the universe has returned to light and is starting to make a lot of stars,” says Roland Bacon, a CNRS researcher at the Lyon Center for Astrophysics Research, who led the work. “One of the big questions is what brought to an end the Dark Ages,” the researcher continues, “and that led to this abundant sequence, called reionization.”

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Hence, direct observation of the filament’s glow was the holy grail of cosmology. Because in the end, this gas, which is a remnant of the Big Bang, “is the fuel, the accelerator that will make galaxies build and grow into what they are today,” according to Roland Bacon. Emmanuel Daddy, researcher at CEA (Commissariat √† l’√©nergie atomique) commented: “The result of this study is fundamental, we have never seen an emission of this gas of this magnitude, which is necessary to understand the process of galaxy formation”, did not participate in the study. Our Milky Way, as well as most “nearby” galaxies, cannot provide such information, because it is very old and less productive in the stars than the young universe was, and this confirms the astrophysicist.

By combining the 3D image and simulation, the study authors concluded that the gas glow came from a hitherto unpredictable group of billions of dwarf galaxies (millions of times smaller than those found today). The hypothesis put forward is that they would have formed an enormous amount of young stars whose energy would “illuminate the rest of the universe,” as Roland Bacon decodes. These dwarf galaxies are too bright to be detected individually by current observational means, but their potential connection to the cosmic network should have important consequences for understanding the beginnings of reionization.

Juliette Cullen / Agence France-Presse

More than 10 billion years have passed, and the universe, still young, began to revitalize: since this distant time, an unprecedented image of the network of filaments of gas from which galaxies were born has descended to us, shedding new light on their history. .
Similar to a gigantic spiderweb, this “cosmic web” has been predicted since …

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