by Andrew Fazekas in StarStruck January 19, 2014
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.