Feeds

Engineering student cracks major riddle of the universe

Aussie undergrad, 22, finds the 'missing mass'

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

An engineering undergraduate in Australia has made a major step forward in solving one of the greatest riddles of the universe: that is, where most of it is.

Boffins know from observing the universe that it must have a certain amount of mass, otherwise it would have failed to hold itself together as well as it has. Argument continues as to just how well it has or is doing so, but in general astrophysicists are agreed that all the mass we can see – observed galaxies of stars, dust, gas etc – is not enough to account for what's going on. There must be a whole lot more mass out there in some form or another.

It is this "missing mass" – or anyway a good chunk of it – that 22-year-old undergraduate student Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, studying Aerospace Engineering at Melbourne's Monash uni, has tracked down.

"It was thought from a theoretical viewpoint that there should be about double the amount of matter in the local Universe compared to what was observed," says Dr Kevin Pimbblet, a Monash astrophysicist.

Over the decades, various theories have been offered to account for the mass that must be there but which we can't see: brown dwarfs, cosmic strings, wandering sunless interstellar planets, various kinds of hard-to-spot particles including neutrinos, wimps, winos etc. But the theory that Pimbblet and his colleagues decided to look into was that of "filaments", enormous cosmic structures extending from galaxies which would account for a lot of mass – even though there would be very little to them.

Theory indicated that the filaments ought to exist at extremely high temperatures if they were there, which offered the prospect that they would emit X-rays and thus that they could be detected. Ms Fraser-McKelvie joined the X-ray filament hunting team on a summer scholarship.

At first the X-ray data appeared to show no sign of any filaments, but then X-ray expert Dr Jasmina Lazendic-Galloway uncovered traces of the "missing mass".

"Using her expert knowledge in the X-ray astronomy field, Jasmina reanalysed our results to find that we had in fact detected the filaments in our data, where previously we believed we had not," says Fraser-McKelvie.

The young intern's contributions to the project were nonetheless deemed so valuable that she was named lead author on the study paper, whose importance to the missing-matter debate is such that it has been accepted for publication in prestigious astroboffinry journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Having a paper published in such a hefty periodical so early in her academic career is a major score for Fraser-McKelvie.

"She has managed to get a refereed publication accepted by one of the highest ranking astronomy journals in the world as a result of her endeavours. I cannot underscore enough what a terrific achievement this is," enthuses Pimbblet.

It's "very exciting for me", adds Fraser-McKelvie, taking care to add her thanks to co-authors Pimbblet and Lazendic-Galloway.

The paper An estimate of the electron density in filaments of galaxies at z~0.1 can be read in advance of publication here, and there's a Monash uni statement here. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.