Cosmologists at the Universities of Portsmouth and Rome, argue that the latest astronomical data favours a dark energy that grows as it interacts with dark matter, and this appears to be slowing the growth of structure in the cosmos.

"If the dark energy is growing and dark matter is evaporating we will end up with a big, empty, boring universe with almost nothing in it," said Professor David Wands, Director of Portsmouth's Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation.

"Dark matter provides a framework for structures to grow in the Universe. The galaxies we see are built on that scaffolding and what we are seeing here, in these findings, suggests that dark matter is evaporating, slowing that growth of structure," said Wands.

Cosmology underwent a paradigm shift in 1998 when researchers announced that the rate at which the universe was expanding was accelerating, researchers said.

The idea of a constant dark energy throughout space-time (the "cosmological constant") became the standard model of cosmology, but now the Portsmouth and Rome researchers believe they have found a better description, including energy transfer between dark energy and dark matter.

Research students Valentina Salvatelli and Najla, working with Dr Marco Bruni, Wands and Professor Alessandro Melchiorri, examined data from a number of astronomical surveys and used the growth of structure revealed by these surveys to test different models of dark energy.

"Much more data is available now than was available in 1998 and it appears that the standard   model is no longer sufficient to describe all of the data. We think we've found a better model of dark energy," Wands said.

 "Since the late 1990s astronomers have been convinced  that something is causing the expansion of our universe to accelerate. The simplest explanation was that empty space the vacuum had an energy density that was a cosmological constant.

"However there is growing evidence that this simple model cannot explain the full range of astronomical data researchers now have access to; in particular the growth of cosmic structure, galaxies and clusters of galaxies, seems to be slower than expected," Wands added. The findings appear in the journal Physical Review Letters, published by the American Physical Society.

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