The graphic below depicts the entire Universe’s contents, with dark energy and dark matter accounting for the majority of the composition and the rest accounting for only 5%.
All scientists agree that the universe is made up of three distinct components: matter that can be seen or quantified, dark matter, and dark energy.
These final two are theoretical because they have yet to be directly measured – yet even without a complete grasp of these enigmatic pieces of the puzzle, scientists can infer that the universe’s makeup is as follows:
Let’s take a closer look at each component.
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Theoretically, dark energy is a substance that works against gravity to accelerate the expansion of the universe. It makes up the majority of the universe’s composition, influencing every aspect of the cosmos’ behaviour and how it will eventually end.
On the other hand, dark matter has a restraining force that interacts closely with gravity. It serves as the “cosmic cement” that holds the universe together. Scientists think it makes up the second largest part of the universe, despite avoiding direct measurement and remaining a mystery.
Free Hydrogen and Helium
Helium and free hydrogen are elements that are free to float in outer space. Despite being the universe’s lightest and most abundant elements, they only make up around 4% of its overall makeup.
Stars, Neutrinos, and Heavy Elements
The only types of hydrogen and helium that are not free-floating in space are found in stars.
When we look up in the night sky, stars are one of the most abundant things we can see, although they only make up around 0.5% of the entire universe.
Similar to electrons in structure, neutrinos are subatomic particles; however, they are almost completely electrically neutral and have no mass. Despite the fact that they result from every chemical reaction, they only make up about 0.3% of the universe.
All elements other than hydrogen and helium are considered heavy elements.
Nucleosynthesis, which occurs inside stars during their lives and after their explosive deaths, is the process by which elements are created. These heavy elements make up nearly everything in our material universe, although they only make up a tiny 0.03% of the entire universe.
How Do We Measure the Universe?
A space observatory called Planck was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2009 to study the characteristics of the whole universe.
Its main goal was to gauge the afterglow of the explosive Big Bang, which created the universe 13.8 billion years ago. The radiation that makes up this afterglow is known as cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR).
Scientists can learn a lot about what exists in space by measuring temperature. Researchers search for fluctuations (known as anisotropy) in the temperature of CMBR when studying the “microwave sky.” Planck and other instruments like it help us understand the various elements that make up the universe and reveal the level of temperature abnormalities in the CMBR.
Below you can see how several space missions and more advanced instruments have affected the clarity of CMBR throughout time.
What Else is Out There?
Understanding the properties of dark matter and dark energy is still a work in progress.
The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, an infrared telescope that will perhaps assist us in measuring the effects of dark energy and dark matter for the first time, is currently scheduled for launch by NASA in 2027.
What lies beyond the cosmos, then? Scientists aren’t sure.
There are theories that suggest either that we are a part of a bigger “super universe” or that we are isolated from other island multiverses in our own “island” universe. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet developed the technology to measure that far. At least for the time being, understanding the deep cosmos’ mysteries is a local endeavor.