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Is this a big step in our understanding of dark matter?
I also may be a bit biased for at least two reasons. First, this article is essentially a reprint of a press release put out by the researchers and institutions being lauded. This is one step farther down the science news cycle than I prefer to go. In addition, the press release discusses work that has not yet been written up (let alone published), but is currently being presented at a conference, about the lowest bar I can imagine. The two papers that this group has released so far (arXiv:1110.4913 and arXiv:1111.4434) don't strike me as groundbreaking (again, possibly because this isn't my field).
Because I'm so suspicious of press releases, especially without a paper to consult directly, I'm not inclined to interpret this one charitably. For example, I read the sentence, "This is the first direct glimpse at dark matter on large scales showing the cosmic web in all directions" (emphasis added), to imply that others have already done much the same thing either indirectly, or on smaller scales, or in limited directions (or some combination thereof).
Granted, this press release was associated with an actual press conference organized by the American Astronomical Society (AAS). This impressed me until I noticed that the AAS is holding three press conferences on each of three days of their current meeting. Apparently this is a standard piece of their promotional work, and suggests that the work being promoted is just one noteworthy result among many.
Second (that was all reason one), I am an expert in computational physics, so I'm a bit more familiar with the numerical work that the press release mentions: "The team's result has been suspected for a long time from studies based on computer simulations, but was difficult to verify". There is actually a good article on this in the current issue of American Scientist that you might find interesting. My perspective makes me less excited by this work than perhaps I should be, since I have the impression that results of this sort were predicted years ago, based on what we then understood of dark matter and cosmology.
I really need to get back and study more the classical physics before I try to move to things on the frontiers of physics, but it is so exciting. And likely that dark matter and energy will have so much involved in them, as our baryonic matter - from molecules to quarks.
Thanks again. I will comment on the topic for simultaneity when I have a chance to get back on the material.
The main advance here seems to be one of scale; in a sense this result is "more of the same", and the point is how much more it is (I don't think it's all that much). That said, the two papers I linked above are on techniques to improve the quality of these methods, so I suspect that such technical improvements are actually the focus of this group's work. Checking the press release again, I see that they are briefly mentioned ("This result has been achieved through advances in our analysis techniques"), but apparently this didn't make the cut for the ScienceDaily article.