Changing Planet

Astronomers Get First Glimpse of Cosmic Web

Computer simulations suggest that matter in the universe is distributed in a “cosmic web” of filaments, as seen in the image above from a large-scale dark-matter simulation. The inset is a zoomed-in, high-resolution image of a smaller part of the cosmic web, 10 million light-years across, from a simulation that includes gas as well as dark matter. The intense radiation from a quasar can, like a flashlight, illuminate part of the surrounding cosmic web (highlighted in the image) and make a filament of gas glow, as was observed in the case of quasar UM287. Credit: Anatoly Klypin and Joel Primack, S. Cantalupo

Astronomers have for the first time captured a glimpse of the vast, web-like network of diffuse gas that links all of the galaxies in the cosmos.

Leading cosmological theories suggest that galaxies are cocooned within gigantic, wispy filaments of gas. This “cosmic web” of gas-filled nebulas stretches between large, spacious voids that are tens of millions of light years wide.  Like spiders, galaxies mostly appear to lie within the intersections of the long-sought webs.

In observations spied through one of the most powerful telescopes in the world, the 33-foot (10-meter) Keck I Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers led by Sebastiano Cantalupo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, now report that they have detected a very large, luminous filament of gas extending about 2 million light-years across intergalactic space, exactly as predicted by theory.

Essentially, the filament reported in the January 19 Nature represents one of the strands of the cosmic web that holds together the galaxy-rich universe. Astronomers hope to understand both the structure of the universe and the development of galaxies such as our own Milky Way by unraveling the secrets of the cosmic web.

This deep image shows the Nebula (cyan) with a size of 2 million light-years discovered around the quasar UM287 (at the centre of the image). The energetic radiation of the quasar makes the surrounding intergalactic gas glow revealing the morphology and physical properties of a "Cosmic Web" filament. Credit: S. Cantalupo
This deep image shows the Nebula (cyan) with a size of 2 million light-years discovered around the quasar UM287 (at center) . The energetic radiation of the quasar makes the surrounding intergalactic gas glow revealing the morphology and physical properties of a “Cosmic Web” filament. Credit: S. Cantalupo

The discovery came thanks to intense radiation bellowing out of a quasar (a hyper-active galaxy) dubbed UM287, 10 billion light years from Earth. The quasar illuminated the neighboring gas filament, revealing its presence with a glow that resembled a cosmic florescent sign.

“This is a very exceptional object: it’s huge, at least twice as large as any nebula detected before, and it extends well beyond the galactic environment of the quasar,” said Cantalupo, in a statement.

“The light from the quasar is like a flashlight beam, and in this case we were lucky that the flashlight is pointing toward the nebula and making the gas glow. We think this is part of a filament that may be even more extended than this, but we only see the part of the filament that is illuminated by the beamed emission from the quasar.”


Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Wow – this is amazing.

  • Janet Deshon

    The universe is filled with exploding cells strung like pearls on the tissue of dark matter.

  • Ima Ryma

    The Cosmic Web, it’s strands stretch ‘tween
    The universe voids, light years wide.
    Earth astronomers now have seen
    Glimpse of the Web and verified
    Gigantic filaments of gas,
    Holding cocooned the galaxies,
    Strung about the cosmos in mass,
    Like spiders spinning mysteries.
    The more we see, the more we know
    The wonders of the universe.
    Searching the Cosmic Web, we go
    To connect for better or worse.

    The Web, through telescopes we look,
    Searching for Twitter and Facebook.

  • Dr V V Kuchroo

    A great break-through indeed. This will open new door for exploration from which world will be benefitted.

  • Leslie Ganick-Wilson

    Everything is connected! No surprise, just excitement.

  • Tony Green

    Looks like the Neural Networks of a Brain!

  • chinenye

    That’s amazing

  • Ronnie Murphy

    These strands are like the Microcrondia of the cosmos, and may nurture it in some way!!!

  • Reid Barnes

    This article reports: “Leading cosmological theories suggest that galaxies are cocooned within gigantic, wispy filaments of gas. This ‘cosmic web’ of gas-filled nebulas stretches between large, spacious voids that are tens of millions of light years wide.” Is it accurate or correct terminology for a scientist to call matter that is in a filament “tens of millions of light years wide” or in a plasma state a “gas”? A gas is composed of stable atoms; plasma consists of parts of atoms in an ionized state, and its behavior is fundamentally different from that of a gas. The theory to which they are clinging is based on self-contradicting non-Euclidean geometry, and it gives this nonsense result: that the universe is expanding, that is, the outer galaxies are receding at a speed in excess of the speed of light and accelerating. The theory to which they are clinging is the general theory of relativity. See the Facebook Note, Are We Ready For A Galaxy Formation Paradigm Shift?:

  • Carl

    Everything is intimately and inextricably interconnected and interdependent. There are countless ways this is made evident. Why do so many remain oblivious to this? As well as being oblivious to the immediate, practical ramifications of this? We are all in this together, and it would behoove us to act accordingly.

  • Prem singh sanga

    Amazing once Vivekanad rightly says,the aim of science and
    Meditation is same.Both are trying to explore the truth.

  • A Person

    YES! String theory says everything in the universe is a connected 11-dimensional membrane, so this should be no surprise.

  • Rita Mehta

    Indra’s net!

  • Tuk Lal Adhikari

    Are these web cocoons of gases similar to gluons that binds quarks ?

  • Rayanne

    Que descoberta maravilhosa!

  • Wille Valentin

    Wenn ich diese Fotos sehe, liegt die Vermutung nahe, dass das Universum ein Lebewesen ist, weil die Struktur einem Gewebe ähnelt.

  • pete jussel

    The universe is getting up close & personal.

  • Dalton Garis

    Does anyone else think the simulation of these vast filiments in the universe look exactly like images neurons in the human brain? Say: (qul:) “Increase my astonishment at Thee, O Lord!”

  • Yuri Santos

    (455.5) 41:1.1 The spiral and other nebulae, the mother wheels of the spheres of space, are initiated by Paradise force organizers; and following nebular evolution of gravity response, they are superseded in superuniverse function by the power centers and physical controllers, who thereupon assume full responsibility for directing the physical evolution of the ensuing generations of stellar and planetary offspring. This physical supervision of the Nebadon preuniverse was, upon the arrival of our Creator Son, immediately co-ordinated with his plan for universe organization. Within the domain of this Paradise Son of God, the Supreme Power Centers and the Master Physical Controllers collaborated with the later appearing Morontia Power Supervisors and others to produce that vast complex of communication lines, energy circuits, and power lanes which firmly bind the manifold space bodies of Nebadon into one integrated administrative unit.*

    (456.1) 41:1.2 One hundred Supreme Power Centers of the fourth order are permanently assigned to our local universe. These beings receive the incoming lines of power from the third-order centers of Uversa and relay the down-stepped and modified circuits to the power centers of our constellations and systems. These power centers, in association, function to produce the living system of control and equalization which operates to maintain the balance and distribution of otherwise fluctuating and variable energies. Power centers are not, however, concerned with transient and local energy upheavals, such as sun spots and system electric disturbances; light and electricity are not the basic energies of space; they are secondary and subsidiary manifestations.

  • Reynardine

    The Universe lies,
    Its head on its paws
    With starry ticks in its titanic ear-

    Vladimir Mayakovsky
    “The Cloud in Trousers”

  • jemall

    Universe? What is that?

  • orvette

    this is like traveling the stars and beyond…and never leaving home! exciting and fun.keep up the wonderful photos!

  • Paulo Almeida

    It’s really amazing! We are connected with the hole universe!

  • frankeejav

    Looks like the neural network of the brain., Coincidence I think not!

  • Janet Allen

    In 1995, I began to meditate and intuited that the stars are the nervous system of a cosmic being, a being that we both mirror and reflect. In 2011, I published a book based on the uncanny level of synchronicity I experienced in those meditations. This discovery and others are in line with my findings. The book is called: Creating Evolution: Black Holes in a Personal Universe. I’m sure it’s not all correct, but I won’t be surprised if it could lead us naturally to the next discovery!

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