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  • The universe is interconnected.

  • All the galaxies are literally linked by an unimaginably huge but almost invisible structure

  • called the cosmic web.

  • Scientists are trying to map the shape of the largest thing in the universe, and as

  • you might expect, it's proved challenging.

  • So to speed up the process, some researchers wondered what would happen if they imagined

  • the cosmic web was made by slime mold.

  • Now, I realize that for some of you the existence of the cosmic web is news, and you may be

  • wondering why it exists at all.

  • A concept I'm sure you're familiar with (because we have mentioned it once or twice

  • before) is dark matter.

  • Dark matter accounts for around 85% of the mass of the universe, yet, because it doesn't

  • interact with regular matter in any other way we know of, it's impossible to detect

  • at this time.

  • We know it's there, though, because its gravitational pull must be what's holding

  • galaxies together.

  • Dark matter can be thought of as a kind of scaffolding.

  • Where its own gravitational pull causes it to coalesce,

  • it will also draw in gas and dust.

  • Draw enough of it in and you can form stars.

  • Draw enough stars together and you can form galaxies.

  • And up and up it goes.

  • Galaxies can be organized into clusters, and those clusters can group into super clusters.

  • Zoom out far enough, and the shape dark matter congealed in looks like a road map of the

  • universe, with large groupings of stars concentrated where the most dark matter is, and thin filaments

  • stretching between them connecting them all.

  • Of course, finding exactly where those filaments are isn't easy.

  • They're made of dark matter, which as we already covered is currently impossible to

  • spot, and the gas these filaments attract doesn't have the mass to form stars; instead

  • it only has a faint signature as it absorbs and re-emits light from other sources.

  • So, even though we've known about the cosmic web since 2008, we only first saw more than

  • a single filament of its structure as recently as 2019.

  • To make finding the filaments easier, scientists at UC Santa Cruz (go banana slugs)

  • decided to think outside the box and test how slime mold would behave if its goal was to connect

  • all the galaxies in the universe.

  • I know it sounds bizarre, but this actually isn't the first time this particular species

  • of slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, has been used to create maps of existing structures.

  • Researchers published a study where they had laid out oats on a map of several countries.

  • Each pile of food was placed on a major population center.

  • They then allowed the slime mold to grow on its own.

  • As a colony of single-celled organisms, slime mold relies on each other to share nutrients,

  • so setting up optimal paths between food sources is key to their survival.

  • In this experiment, they spread out across the map and when they found a pile of food,

  • they created routes to transport nutrients that were remarkably similar to the existing

  • highways we humans have built.

  • So, if it worked for replicating how humans connected cities, why not try it for connecting

  • the stars?

  • Of course, stars are arranged in three-dimensional space, so a petri dish of agar and some oats

  • isn't going to do it.

  • Instead, the scientists used an algorithm that mimics how slime mold grows, and they

  • arranged thefoodin three dimensions on where we know galaxies are.

  • When they ran the algorithm, it came back with a complex map of where it thought slime

  • mold would create networks.

  • That's all well and good, but the question is, does this method really work?

  • Will this tell us where to look for filaments of dark matter and gas?

  • To check their results, the researchers went back and compared their mold map

  • with data from Hubble.

  • And sure enough, wherever their model predicted there would be dark matter,

  • they saw a gas signature.

  • The researchers got their idea of using this slime mold algorithm after seeing the work

  • of an artist who used the same algorithm to make dazzling 3D images.

  • It's pretty incredible that two very unrelated fields came together to produce these results.

  • I told you the universe was interconnected.

  • Is slime mold... growin' on ya?

  • Maren has another video on the topic here.

  • Let us know if you like this video in the comments below, and subscribe to Seeker for

  • your slime mold news.

  • Thanks for watching and I'll see you next time.

The universe is interconnected.

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How Slime Mold Is Helping Us Map the Universe’s Dark Matter

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    Summer posted on 2020/04/26
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