The composite image, which combines a number of individual images, confirms predictions that galaxies across the universe are tied together through a cosmic web connected by dark matter that has until now remained unobservable.
Dark matter, a mysterious substance that comprises around 25 per cent of the universe, does not shine, absorb or reflect light, which has traditionally made it largely undetectable, except through gravity.
"For decades, researchers have been predicting the existence of dark-matter filaments between galaxies that act like a web-like superstructure connecting galaxies together," said Mike Hudson, a professor of astronomy at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
"This image moves us beyond predictions to something we can see and measure," said Hudson.
Hudson and Seth Epps, researcher at the University of Waterloo, used a technique called weak gravitational lensing, an effect that causes the images of distant galaxies to warp slightly under the influence of an unseen mass such as a planet, a black hole, or in this case, dark matter.
The effect was measured in images from a multi-year sky survey at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.
Results show the dark matter filament bridge is strongest between systems less than 40 million light years apart.
"By using this technique, we're not only able to see that these dark matter filaments in the universe exist, we're able to see the extent to which these filaments connect galaxies together," said Epps.
The research was published in the journal Royal Astronomical Society.
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