Contour diagram depicting a dark matter filament that connects two galaxy clusters.
Courtesy Jörg Dietrich, U-M Department of Physics Contour diagram depicting a dark matter filament that connects two galaxy clusters.

One of the most provocative outcomes of the recent confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson particle is the related detection of dark matter. Although dark matter had been long predicted because of its notable gravitational pull on visible matter, the invisible substance could not be "seen" by any known technology—until recently. Using a technique called gravitational lensing, scientists at the University of Michigan discovered a filament of dark matter that connects two galaxies, and which gives evidence to the previously undetectable skeleton that imparts structure to the universe.

"We found the dark matter filaments. For the first time, we can see them," said University of Michigan physicist Jörg Dietrich. "This result is a verification that for many years was thought to be impossible."

The use of advanced technologies to detect that which lies beyond our own physical senses enables us to probe ever-deeper secrets of science. The fact that dark matter—something that has no discernible presence or physicality to us—is theorized to compose over 80 percent of all matter is truly astounding. One is reminded of Plato's allegory of the cave, in which a mythical group of prisoners perceive reality only through shadows projected onto the back wall of a cave; they are never able to view the sources of the shadows directly. In this example, of course, we are the prisoners, limited by our own sensory capacities.

As scientists probe the extent and qualities of dark matter further, though, I look forward to the development of visualization methods that will allow us to explore this inscrutable substance as if it were physically present and knowable. Perhaps then we will gain a completely new understanding of matter as a whole.