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What is the universe made of?

Matter and energy are the two basic components of the entire Universe. An enormous challenge for scientists is that most of the matter in the Universe is invisible and the source of most of the energy is not understood. How can we study the Universe if we can’t see most of it?

Our Work

The percentage of matter and energy in the Universe that is currently unobservable

As our tools for observation grow more sophisticated, scientists at Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian will continue to be at the forefront of dark matter and dark energy research.

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and optical telescopes help map the distribution of dark matter in colliding galaxy clusters, like the Bullet Cluster. X-ray observations show a heated shock front where the gas from the clusters collided and slowed down, but gravitational lensing measurements show that dark matter was unaffected by the collision and separate from the normal matter.

It is theorized that when some dark matter particles collide, they annihilate and disappear in a flash of high-energy radiation. The Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) in Arizona, which can detect gamma-ray radiation, is looking for the signature of dark matter annihilation.

The South Pole Telescope in Antarctica and Chandra are placing limits on dark energy by looking for its effects on galaxy cluster evolution throughout the history of the Universe. By comparing observations of galaxy clusters with experimental models, researchers are studying how dark energy competed with gravity throughout the history of the Universe.

Scientists at CfA have led the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), analyzing millions of galaxies and charting their distribution in the Universe. The distribution has been shown to trace sound waves from the early Universe, like ripples in a pond, where some regions have higher numbers of galaxies, and others have less. Looking at these distributions, we can more accurately measure the distance to galaxies and map the effects of dark energy.

On the horizon, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) will create a 3D map of the Universe, containing millions of galaxies out to 10 billion light years. This map will measure dark energy’s effect on the expansion of the Universe. And the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will observe billions of galaxies and discover unprecedented numbers of supernovae, constraining the properties of dark matter and dark energy.