Moulded Galaxies

Across dank, shaded

habitats of cosmic intent

specks of light flicker

into life.

Emerging from chaos,

filaments of matter

weave their nets;

unclassifiable structures

that stretch

across the emptiness

as ethereal webs that

glisten in the dewy dawn.

 

Barely trodden paths

glow faintly in the dark;

celestial causeways that

trace the congruence of

our galactic ancestry.

Their hidden alleyways

conspicuous by the

mass of what we

cannot see;

the weight of their

neglect

calling to us

from across the void.

 

Blindly, we turn our

eyes to the sky,

searching for breadcrumbs

between the pathways,

oblivious to knowledge

that has always been with us:

the map of our universe

embraced within a single cell.

The slime mould physarum polycephalum plasmodium (Image Credit: frankenstoen).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has harnessed the problem-solving capabilities of a simple slime mould to trace the large-scale structure of the universe.

A slime mould consists of a single cell containing millions of nuclei, which form a network of tubes that move toward its food source along the shortest possible path. Since the challenge of finding the shortest path between two points is a much studied problem in computing, slime mould behaviour has been used to model complex computer algorithms, ranging from solving mazes to developing efficient railway networks.

In this new study, researchers have used slime mould to help them build a map of the vast network of structures that connect galaxies together across the universe, and which are known colloquially as the ‘cosmic web’. The researchers in this study designed a computer algorithm, inspired by slime-mould behaviour, and then applied this slime mould algorithm to data containing the locations of 37,000 galaxies. The resulting algorithm produced a three-dimensional map of the underlying cosmic web structure, enabling the researchers to visualise and trace the patterns that connect the galaxies throughout the local universe.

An audio version of this poem can be found here:

 

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