Image of the Day: The Coma Cluster – 10,000 Galaxies and 1.4 Billion Light Years in Length


The small slice at the top of this image shows the Sloan Great Wall, and beneath it the CfA2 Great Wall: The Coma cluster is at the centre. The Coma cluster is one of the largest observed structures in the Universe, containing over 10,000 galaxies and extending more than 1.37 billion light years in length. 

Pictured here are two superimposed images of the Coma Cluster of galaxies. The red areas are X-ray light seen by the Einstein satellite; the blue is visible light from a Palomar Sky Survey optical image (made with ground-based telescopes at Caltech). Scientists have used these observations and others to determine the amount of gravity required to hold together all the mass detected in the image. Surprisingly, there is not nearly enough mass observed to explain the inferred gravity – somehow, there is undetected "missing mass." What could this "missing mass" be?

The kinds of materials that we experience every day are made of atoms, which are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. We refer to this type of matter as "baryonic". Is the dark matter in the Universe made of the same stuff that we are familiar with, i.e., is it baryonic? Or is it something strange … some kind of exotic new material, which we could call non-baryonic?

Coma-cluster-large It looks like there are both baryonic and non-baryonic types of dark matter. Some dark matter may be composed of regular matter (ie., baryonic), but simply not give off much light. Things like brown dwarf stars would be in this catagory. Other non-baryonic dark matter may be tiny, sub-atomic particles which aren't a part of "normal" matter at all. If these tiny particles have mass and are numerous, they could make up a large part of the dark matter we think exists. If true, then it's possible that most of the matter in the Universe is of some mysterious form that we cannot yet even identify.

Credit: Springel et al., 2006.

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