Featured Image: On the Cosmic Web and Slime Mold

The image above and its zoomed-in insets show a reconstruction of the cosmic web — a vast network of filamentary structures of matter spanning the universe. Simulations indicate that the universe’s matter should be organized into these complex threads, but this model has proven difficult to test observationally; most of the material is invisible dark matter, and the remainder is diffuse and distant, making it challenging to detect. A team of scientists led by Joseph Burchett (UC Santa Cruz) has now taken an unusual approach to modeling the cosmic web: they use the growth patterns of slime mold as a foundation. Slime mold has been shown to be very efficient when forming networks between sources of food — and when Burchett and collaborators model slime-mold-like networks forming between a sample of nearly 38,000 galaxies (the “food”) observed with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the model produces a web of filaments that well matches simulations of the cosmic web. The team further tests their model against Hubble observations of intergalactic medium (IGM) density, finding that the bulk of the IGM is, indeed, concentrated along cosmic web filaments traced by the slime mold model. To read more about this unusual study, check out the article below.


“Revealing the Dark Threads of the Cosmic Web,” Joseph N. Burchett et al 2020 ApJL 891 L35. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/ab700c