New Video Map Shows Large-Scale Cosmic Structure out to 300 million Light Years

by Nancy Atkinson on June 12, 2013

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Researchers with the Cosmic Flows project have been working to map both visible and dark matter densities around our Milky Way galaxy up to a distance of 300 million light-years, and they’ve now released this new video map which shows the motions of structures of the nearby Universe in greater detail than ever before.

“The complexity of what we are seeing is almost overwhelming,” says researcher Hélène Courtois, associate professor at the University of Lyon, France, and associate researcher at the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa. Courtois narrates the video.

The video zooms into our local area of the Universe — our Milky Way galaxy lies in a supercluster of 100,000 galaxies — and then slowly draws back to show the cosmography of the Universe out to 300 million light years.

Map showing all galaxies in the local universe color-coded by their distance to us: blue galaxies are the closest, and red are farther, up to 300 million light-years away. Credit: University of Hawaii.

Map showing all galaxies in the local universe color-coded by their distance to us: blue galaxies are the closest, and red are farther, up to 300 million light-years away. Credit: University of Hawaii.

The map shows how the large-scale structure of the Universe is a complex web of clusters, filaments, and voids. Large voids are bounded by filaments that form superclusters of galaxies. These are the largest structures in the universe.

The team explains:

The movements of the galaxies reveal information about the main constituents of the Universe: dark energy and dark matter. Dark matter is unseen matter whose presence can be deduced only by its effect on the motions of galaxies and stars because it does not give off or reflect light. Dark energy is the mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.

Read more about this video here, and read the team’s paper here.

Cosmography of the Local Universe from Daniel Pomarède on Vimeo.


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Chris Devriese June 12, 2013 at 10:40 PM

Truly incredible scientific work. Thanks for sharing!

Aqua4U June 12, 2013 at 11:38 PM

WOW! Now THAT is an incredible video! I’d like to see the individual galaxies animated as far as possible to show estimated apparent motions in future and past…true time travel? or as close as we’ve got today? Watching this video gives me a new appreciation for dark energy – that special something that moves even the super clusters?

Tom Watson June 13, 2013 at 3:13 AM

that was beautiful and so relaxing.

Planemo June 13, 2013 at 7:36 AM

INCREDIBLE video! Thank you Danial. This video is one of the best explained visual video’s I’ve seen for a while. You can actually see where we are in this vast cosmos. To pin point our Milky Way in our neighborhood and beyond is so amazing. The vastness of the cosmos is more than incredible. It is “epic” and beyond descriptive words to me. Who created this cosmos? How was it created? Something from nothing expanded to what it is now from one incredible tiny singularity point? From matter-anti matter, dark energy, to dark matter. Whats next we cannot see nor sense?
This cosmos/universe is just too “epic” to comprehend. Watching the video made me feel smaller than a insignificant singularity point.

I have seen video’s and read books saying space-time is a fabric. Maybe dimensions lurk within it? We nor our instruments have the ability to sense within space-time. Who knows what surprises await the human race in the many years ahead. Wish I could live to see and experience it all.

Torbjörn Larsson June 13, 2013 at 8:14 PM

Who created this cosmos?” Really, magical thinking on a science site? Don’t you have crackpot sites for that?

WMAP and then Planck showed us in the last few months that the universe is inflationary. (Arguably if you want primordial gravitational waves, but not arguable as an observation of the deviance from scale invariance.) Meaning the universe is nearly perfectly flat and kinetic energy and potential energy sums to zero, so it must be a result of a spontaneous process.

And so the resulting generic inflation model tells us, the inflaton potential is very flat so quantum fluctuations decide when the big bang happened.

“Something from nothing expanded to what it is now from one incredible tiny singularity point?”

Not necessarily. As blueshift going back tells us, inflation is past timelike incomplete. It could be a vast multiverse out there, as well as the particle physicsist wet dream of a single quantum fluctuation.

But both are, again, consistent with zero energy spontaneous processes. Magical ideas were demolished beyond reasonable doubt, if ideas of invisible magic was ever alluring.

In retrospect, not only is it that flat zero energy universes makes structures. But only spacetime (so causal physics) and homogeneous (so long lived enough) universes makes sensible (FRW) cosmologies. Then it isn’t only telling that magical thinking was demolished.

It was also always the worst possible idea ever invented. Because it is now clear you have to choose: either physics and a universe, or magic and nothing.

That magic stops people doing science, because it predicts everything (so predicts nothing), is now only the second worst aspect.

Planemo June 13, 2013 at 8:57 PM

Your not even worth a reply. Your getting “OLD” with your same old BS. Look at all sides instead of your one way BS.

Planemo June 14, 2013 at 4:18 PM

You cannot even admit to other possibilities. Although I agree with ‘some’ of what you explained. A mustard seed is planted. It expands and grows into a tree which bares fruits. The tiny seed singularity was planted, it expanded into a cosmos The fruits of this cosmos are stars, black-holes, planets, etc… . Isn’t that a possibility? You fail miserably with no open mind at all. Some one, thing, mind, consciousness, etc’s…created this cosmos. Expand your rather intelligent mind. Stop being a one way dumbass.

Planemo June 14, 2013 at 11:15 PM

I must admit. You are one intelligent man who knows the mathematics of this cosmos. I get lost within those figures. Although, after a long while I can figure them out. Too long for my liking. Take then moon for instance. How did it get there? Was the moon formed when a mercury size planet slammed into earth? Then did the many fragments coalesce into our moon? Maybe. Maybe not. It is one theory of many “other possibilities”. IMO the moon was traveling slow enough and on a somewhat even trajectory with earth. Earths gravity then captured the moon so perfectly for the capture. I was not there. You were not there. It sounds good to me! :-). I know there are other possibilities. I do not go around saying “its magic” or a “fairy tale”. Please open and expand your mind to the many other possibilities, theories, and concepts of how this cosmos was formed/made/etc.. . Respect others!

ChubbyBubba June 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM

“Magical ideas were demolished beyond reasonable doubt…”

Oh? By whom? Are you telling me that you can logically prove a negative? Try this one: There has never existed a purple elephant. Next, using strictly logical terms, prove the non-existence of God. Have fun.

“Because it is now clear you have to choose: either physics and a universe, or magic and nothing.”

To whom is this clear? Certainly not the majority of people. Is it just to those elite, self-chosen like you? You know not even all physicists agree with you.

“But both are, again, consistent with the end result zero energy
spontaneous process. Magical ideas were demolished beyond reasonable doubt, if ideas of invisible magic was ever alluring.”

Despite your vague and difficult-to-follow language, your ideas are still easy to refute. And your insistence on using the term “magical thinking” indicates the animus you hold towards believers and tends to show that your conclusions are based more on this animus than on logic. “[I]f ideas of invisible magic was [sic] ever alluring.” Perhaps you should ask the billions of people on earth today who disagree with you. And perhaps you should try to come to terms with the fact that there are things that exist that cannot be observed or measured or proven to exist. Do you have family? A wife, children, parents, etc? Do you love them? How much does your love weigh? How can you prove beyond a scientific doubt, to someone who does not share your human biases about love, that your love exists? The answer, obviously, is that you cannot prove it exists, and you cannot measure or otherwise observe it conclusively. Yet, unless you are a very damaged person, you must agree that love does exist.

Ergo, there are things that you believe exist, based on observations of internal states as well as external observations, of whose existence you cannot rigorously convince another. This is exactly analogous to the belief in God. I am a chemist with 25 years in the field. Five years ago, I felt and observed things that lead me to believe in God. I would not be a scientist if I rejected these observations. But that does not mean that MY observations will convince you, any more than you can weigh your love, or tell me what color it is, or how wide it is.

You argue against a caricature of belief, a straw man that doesn’t exist, so of course you consider your arguments very successful. But when you say things like, “['magic'] predicts everything” you are dead wrong. Belief may say that God created, but it leaves a lot of detail out for us to figure out. Nowhere in Scripture is expansionism discussed for instance, nor quarks, nor fusion…

You would do well also to realize that you have raised up a number of hypotheses to the status of beliefs. Expansion is an untestable hypothesis. Dark energy is stated by the authors above to be “the mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.” No such thing is known. This again is an untestable hypothesis, a fudge factor thrown in by physicists to account for something they cannot explain. Einstein used something similar and said it was the worst thing he’d ever done.

Make no mistake: you hate God, but you cannot help raising up your own magical thinking in His place. You hold tight to your hypotheses as if they were solid ground, when in fact they are vapor in the wind. Your world would be much less complex, and much saner, if you would simply stop hating God. He gave you your intellect to use just as you are using it. You need give up nothing but your animus.

By the way – Don’t make me mad. You wouldn’t LIKE me, when I’m mad. Plus, my wardrobe budget is low.

Jeffrey Scott Boerst June 24, 2013 at 3:57 PM

“Make no mistake: you hate God” Tell me how one can hate something that one doesn’t even believe in? Does he hate Santa too? And Yeti? You’re silly…

Richard_Kirk June 13, 2013 at 8:26 AM

Hmm. It can’t be easy to present such data as black-and-white images in a conventional journal. I guess we will still have conventional papers. In general, science is well served with dull black-and-white diagrams and graphs, so we are convinced by the arguments and not taken in by the cool graphics. This seems to strike a very happy mean: we see the structure of the data, but what we see is explained too (I am bit worried about the Wiener filter bit, but it does make the flow field look coherent).

Perhaps we should have more papers with links to videos on the web. But without the Casio piano, maybe? Thanks.

newSteveZodiac June 13, 2013 at 8:42 AM

Positively the best visualisation of the universe yet! The man hours of work involved must be nearly as epic as the scale of distances

Alfredo Balreira June 13, 2013 at 9:06 AM

It’s a pitty narrative is done by a french lady, speaking english. I found it hard to understand.

jeffos June 13, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Is it a “pity” for her or for you. The irony being that the topic shows how unimaginably insignificant any one person is yet in your pitifully self-serving mind it is still all about you.

jeffos June 13, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Not picking on just you Alferdo, We are all guilty of this to some extent. Probably remnant survival instinct. So hard to overcome our primitive intellects.

rdbrewer June 17, 2013 at 10:36 AM

Jesus. If you’re criticism is negative, you’re being selfish. I’ll have to remember that.

Jeffrey Scott Boerst June 24, 2013 at 3:50 PM

Actually, he was suggesting that it should not be considered a ‘pity’ that the narrator had a French accent, but that Alfredo found fault with that being that he couldn’t understand it rather than the fault being with him that his ear is deaf to French accentuation of English words. The fault is in his ear and not her mouth or the decision to use her for the voice over.

Aqua4U June 13, 2013 at 3:19 PM

Yes, I found the accent a bit difficult too, but since I just love that ‘french’ inflection…nottah problemo. Oui?

Olaf2 June 13, 2013 at 5:12 PM

If you learn French then you might understand it better. ;-)

Sam June 13, 2013 at 1:11 PM

Wonderfully done. I would like to see the same style of presentation done on stars in our region of the Milky Way. Maybe there’s a ‘Great Attractor’ out there that we don’t know about….

R. E. Hunter June 13, 2013 at 3:37 PM

One thing always bothers me about these graphs of galaxy positions: although astronomers know that the farther away they look, the farther back in time they’re seeing, as far as I know, they make no effort to correct for this. To get a better picture of the current layout, they would need to take the measured velocity of each galaxy and project that forward in time to get an estimated current position (and velocity, using a simulation of the gravitational interactions).

I realize that there would be even more uncertainty in the resulting values than there is in the current measurements, but at least the results would be meaningful. When you think about the fact that the measurements are at all different times, comparing and graphing them is really meaningless. Imagine a city map showing vehicle movements (with few enough vehicles to be able to see patterns in the movements). But instead of the current position and velocity of each vehicle, the further away the vehicle is from the city center, the further back in time you show the position and velocity. The result would bear no resemblance to the current reality.

Torbjörn Larsson June 13, 2013 at 7:54 PM

If they didn’t do so before, I think most of us would demand that astronomers use a local reference frame. After all, relativity tells us it will be the most meaningful, everything else alike. Meaning the local, relativity, perspective is “the current reality”. And yes, with the least inherent errors.

In this case we are looking at a teeny weeny part of the universe, much less than where cosmological effects becomes important and some projections where the scale factor is used becomes illustrative.

The Latinist June 15, 2013 at 6:12 PM

I’m curious: is the distance to the Centaurus cluster small enough that the local group is likely to remain gravitationally bound (and eventually merge with) that cluster? I am not clear whether the velocities diagrammed here account for cosmological expansion or not.

lcrowell June 14, 2013 at 12:06 PM

The coordinates used involved km/sec which is the distance d = Hv for H the Hubble constant and v the velocity outwards.


The Latinist June 15, 2013 at 5:57 PM

Does this mean these are comoving distances?

lcrowell June 16, 2013 at 4:41 PM

The velocity in d = Hv is the velocity of a frame relative to our frame. What is “our frame” is the frame of any observer. This velocity is a comoving velocity, and thus so is the distance.


Ignoramus1 June 13, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Truly excellent video work but difficult-to-understand voice-over and irritating background music. I agree with Alfredo. Nothing “self-serving” in his comment IMO!

Paul Gracey June 13, 2013 at 6:01 PM

Fascinating imagery. To think we mere mortals can through diligence, technology and intelligence derive this knowledge from just our tiny spot within our rather modest galaxy and within the time bounds of just a century or so of observations . By watching I could deduce that we are mostly blind to what exists beyond the bright band of our galaxy’s center. Think how much more and better knowledge could be gained if we could combine this view with a similar one from a civilization on the far side of just our galaxy. The improved parallax alone would gain us quite a bit.

Jihm June 13, 2013 at 6:06 PM

I’m just sure that a French audience would not mind at all if this video were narrated in French with a heavy English accent. (Not!)

Jeffrey Scott Boerst June 24, 2013 at 3:58 PM

Are you an expert in French attitudes and aptitudes toward English/American accents? Do you know many French people or have you spent time in France?

Planemo June 13, 2013 at 6:41 PM

Her accent was definitely there. Just a few words I had a bit of trouble understanding. But the video was demonstrating what she was explaining most of the time. I enjoyed it. A classy well done video.

bugzzz June 13, 2013 at 7:09 PM

super impressive and interesting!

Bunnyman09 June 13, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Simply mind-blowing. This is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Accent aside, the fact that we can even garner such information and put it in an understandable, visually rich format is a huge accomplishment. Huge, huge credit and appreciation to the Cosmic Flows Project.

Ralph du Plessis June 14, 2013 at 9:17 AM

I found her very easy to understand and actually quite soothing.

The Latinist June 15, 2013 at 6:07 PM

This video, especially the part from 8:32 on, has given me a much better understanding of dynamics in our local universe. A few things are not clear to me, however: these proper velocities diagrammed here and showing what looks like a great localized flow toward the Centaurus cluster and the great attractor: are they showing motion toward where that cluster currently is, or where it was 250 mya? Does it account for cosmologic expansion? If we were to animate these motions going forward, would we find that our motion toward Centaurus will slow as that cluster recedes? Will the Great Attractor leave us behind as space expands, or are we destined to merge into it in the future?

rdbrewer June 17, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Nice video, nice data, but the heavy accent made it a bit of a slog.

Jeffrey Scott Boerst June 24, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Reading all the comments and seeing how much of them are dedicated to nit-picking about language inflections (mine as well) I posit that Monty Python was right: “People aren’t wearing enough hats”…

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