As the universe evolves, scientists expect large cosmic structures to grow at a certain rate: dense regions such as galaxy clusters would grow denser, while the void of space would grow emptier.

But University of Michigan researchers have discovered that the rate at which these large structures grow is slower than predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

They also showed that as dark energy accelerates the universe’s global expansion, the suppression of the cosmic structure growth that the researchers see in their data is even more prominent than what the theory predicts. Their results are published in Physical Review Letters.

Galaxies are threaded throughout our universe like a giant cosmic spider web. Their distribution is not random. Instead, they tend to cluster together. In fact, the whole cosmic web started out as tiny clumps of matter in the early universe, which gradually grew into individual galaxies, and eventually galaxy clusters and filaments.

“Throughout the cosmic time, an initially small clump of mass attracts and accumulates more and more matter from its local region through gravitational interaction. As the region becomes denser and denser, it eventually collapses under its own gravity,” said Minh Nguyen, lead author of the study and postdoctoral research fellow in the U-M Department of Physics.

“So as they collapse, the clumps grow denser. That is what we mean by growth. It’s like a fabric loom where one-, two- and three-dimensional collapses look like a sheet, a filament, and a node. The reality is a mixture of all three cases, and you have galaxies living along the filaments while galaxy clusters—groups of thousands of galaxies, the most massive objects in our universe bounded by gravity—sit at the nodes.”

The universe is not only made of matter. It also likely contains a mysterious component called dark energy. Dark energy accelerates the expansion of the universe on a global scale. As dark energy accelerates the expansion of the universe, it has the opposite effect on large structures.

“If gravity acts like an amplifier enhancing matter perturbations to grow into large-scale structure, then dark energy acts like an attenuator damping these perturbations and slowing the growth of structure,” Nguyen said. “By examining how cosmic structure has been clustering and growing, we can try to understand the nature of gravity and dark energy.”

Nguyen, U-M physics professor Dragan Huterer, and U-M graduate student Yuewei Wen examined the temporal growth of large-scale structure throughout cosmic time using several cosmological probes.

First, the team used what’s called the cosmic microwave background. The cosmic microwave background, or CMB, is composed of photons emitted just after the Big Bang. These photons provide a snapshot of the very early universe. As the photons travel to our telescopes, their path can become distorted, or gravitationally lensed, by large-scale structure along the way. Examining them, the researchers can infer how structure and matter between us and the cosmic microwave background are distributed.

Please read the rest of the story on the Michigan News website.

More Information:
Minh Nguyen
Dragan Huterer
Yuewei Wen
Study: Evidence for Suppression of Structure Growth in the Concordance Cosmological Model

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