A team of astronomers has unveiled a three-dimensional map that sheds light on the mysterious "dark matter" that makes up a quarter of the universe.
The map shows that the dark matter forms a filamentous 'skeleton' upon which visible matter congregates, eventually producing stars, Nature magazine reports.
The composition of the dark matter is unclear but without it the universe could not exist. The dark matter is thought to act as a glue holding galaxies together.
"This is the first time that such a large-scale three-dimensional picture of dark matter has been produced, and it will allow cosmologists to probe deeper into the nature of this elusive matter," the report says.
The map also has a few puzzles within it. Some areas show clumps of dark matter that aren't accompanied by the bright features associated with conventional, visible material (made of baryonic matter), and vice versa.
"On the large scale the general picture is as expected, but there are some small-scale discrepancies," Richard Massey at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, and one of the team members who pieced together the map from hundreds of slightly overlapping images from the Hubble Space Telescope's Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS) was quoted as saying.
"The existence of large clumps of isolated dark matter and visible matter flies in the face of everything we know," says cosmologist Carlos Frenk of the University of Durham, UK.
The discrepancies, Nature says, could be a simple error resulting from the way the observations were made. But if they are real, says Massey, they will bring a huge shock.