Talk about a giant data set! Scientists at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) have published the largest three-dimensional map of the universe ever created.
Scientists at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) have published the largest three-dimensional map of the universe ever created.
Using data collected by a 2.5-metre wide-angle optical telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, the team were able to pinpoint the locations and distances of 1.35 million galaxies.
"We want to map the largest volume of the universe yet, and to use that map to understand how the expansion of the universe is accelerating," said Daniel Eisenstein, director of SDSS-III, in a statement.
"Our ultimate goal is to survey a quarter of the entire sky, and we are only about a third of the way done."
Using the map, Eisenstein and colleagues "are hoping to understand better the nature of dark energy"—the unexplained force that's causing the universe to expand at an ever quickening speed.
By plotting galaxies in 3-D, we should be better able to understand how the effects of dark energy "may have changed over the history of the universe," he said.
Unfortunately, you can't go to the SDSS-III's website and see a Google Street View-type map of the universe. The information isn't presented that way – at least not yet.
But Miguel A. Aragon-Calvo, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, said he's working on it. After a previous release of data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Aragon-Calvo created a short film (above) that lets viewers fly through a mostly accurate 3D model of the universe. While the 400,000 galaxies you virtually swoop past in the film are in the right spots based on the data available at the time, Aragon-Calvo had to magnify the galaxies so that you can actually see them.
Aragon-Calvo said that there may be a Google Street Map-type version of the new data released this week coming in the next few months. In the meantime, armchair astronomers might check out Microsoft Research's World Wide Telescope.