A New 3D Map of the Universe Covers More Than 100 Million Light-Years

The map makes infinity seem comprehensible by depicting the structures of galaxy clusters, dark matter and open patches of lonely space

Hélène Courtois, Daniel Pomarède, R. Brent Tully, Yehuda Hoffman, and Denis Courtois

“It is no exaggeration to say that almost everything we know about the universe today has grown out of the effort to see past the flat, 2-D appearance of the sky and discern the true depths behind it,” Discover News writes. In the 1920s, maps helped Edwin Hubble discern that the universe is expanding; they clued Fritz Zwicky in on the presence of dark matter in the 1930s; and they helped tease out details supporting the Big Bang Theory in the 1990s.

Now, a new map captures not only the 3D structure of the universe, but the positioning and movement of invisible dark matter, too. The University of Hawaii describes the significance:

The video captures with precision not only the distribution of visible matter concentrated in galaxies, but also the invisible components, the voids and the dark matter. Dark matter constitutes 80 percent of the total matter of our universe and is the main cause of the motions of galaxies with respect to each other. This precision 3-D cartography of all matter (luminous and dark) is a substantial advance.

The correspondence between wells of dark matter and the positions of galaxies (luminous matter) is clearly established, providing a confirmation of the standard cosmological model. Through zooms and displacements of the viewing position, this video follows structures in three dimensions and helps the viewer grasp relations between features on different scales, while retaining a sense of orientation.

To celebrate astronomer Brent Tully’s 70th birthday, Discover writes, he and his friends hosted a conference at which they revealed this and one other new map of the universe that the group created together.

One is the color coded one, above, which depicts the exact location of every galaxy out to a distance of 300 million light-years. But the even more amazing one–the one that truly made my head spin, as I hope it will do to yours–is the 3D video, which shows not only all the visible structures but also the unseen dark matter, and illustrates the dynamic behavior of the whole thing.

The video maps 100 million light-years, or, as Discover rephrases, 6,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. It shows the structures of galaxy clusters, thread-like dark matter and open patches of lonely space.

This is the structure and evolution of the cosmos laid bare, covering distances and times and velocities that are, in a fundamental way, beyond human comprehension. And yet they are not truly beyond the reach of the intellect, because Tully has brought it all into view, with a little help from his friends. Give him 17 minutes and he will give you the universe. Happy birthday to you, and to all of us.

Here, you can take that journey with Tully and the birthday crew:

More from Smithsonian.com:

A Guided Tour of the Universe 
A 3D Map of the Universe, No Glasses Required 

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