New 3-D Map Shows Large Scale Structures in the Universe 9 Billion Years Ago

Article written: 8 Aug , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

I remember seeing the Hubble 3-D IMAX movie in 2010 and literally gasping when the view pulled back from zooming into distant stars and galaxies to show clusters and superclusters of galaxies interwoven like a web, creating the large scale structure of the Universe. In 3-D, the structure looks much like the DNA double helix or a backbone.

Now, a new project that aims to map the Universe’s structure has looked back in time to create a 3-D map showing a portion of the Universe as it looked nine billion years ago. It shows numerous galaxies and interestingly, already-developed large-scale structure of filaments and voids made from galaxy groups.

The map was created by the FastSound project, which is surveying galaxies in the Universe using the Subaru Telescope’s new Fiber Multi-Object Spectrograph (FMOS). The team doing the work is from Kyoto University, the University of Tokyo and the University of Oxford.

The team said that although they can see that the clustering of galaxies is not as strong back when the Universe was 4.7 billion years old as it is in the present-day Universe, gravitational interaction will eventually result in clustering that grows to the current level.

The new map spans 600 million light years along the angular direction and two billion light years in the radial direction. The team will eventually survey a region totaling about 30 square degrees in the sky and then measure precise distances to about 5,000 galaxies that are more than ten billion light years away.

This is not the first 3-D map of the Universe: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey created one in 2006 with coverage up to five billion light years away, and it was updated just last year, and a video flythough was created, which you can watch above. Also, earlier this year the University of Hawaii created a 3-D video map showing large scale cosmic structure out to 300 million light years.

But the FastSound project hopes to create a 3-D map of the very distant Universe by covering the volume of the Universe farther than ten billion light years away. FMOS is a wide-field spectroscopy system that enables near-infrared spectroscopy of over 100 objects at a time, with an exceptionally wide field of view when combined with the light collecting power of the 8.2 meter primary mirror of the telescope.

The map released today is just the first from FastSound. The final 3-D map of the distant Universe will precisely measure the motion of galaxies and then measure the rate of growth of the large-scale structure as a test of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Although scientists know that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, they do not know why – whether it is from dark energy or whether gravity on cosmological scales may differ from that of general relativity, this mystery is one of the biggest questions in contemporary physics and astronomy. A comparison of the 3D map of the young Universe with the predictions of general relativity could eventually reveal the mechanism for the mysterious acceleration of the Universe.

The team said their 3-D map shown in this release uses a measure of “comoving” distance rather than light travel distance. They explained:

Light travel distance refers to the time that has elapsed from the epoch of the observed distant galaxy to the present, multiplied by the speed of light. Since the speed of light is always constant for any observer, it describes the distance of the path that a photon has traveled. However, the expansion of the Universe increases the length of the path that the photon traveled in the past. Comoving distance, the geometrical distance in the current Universe, takes this effect into account. Therefore, comoving distance is always larger than the corresponding light travel distance.

In the lead image above from FastSound, the colors of the galaxies indicate their star formation rate, i.e., the total mass of stars produced in a galaxy every year. The gradation in background color represents the number density of galaxies; the underlying mass distribution (which is dominated by invisible dark matter that accounts for about 30% of the total energy in the Universe) and how it would look like this if we could see it. The lower part of the figure shows the relative locations of the FastSound and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) regions, indicating that the FastSound project is mapping a more distant Universe than SDSS’s 3D map of the nearby Universe.

Find out more about FastSound here.

Source: Subaru Telescope

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14 Responses

  1. Paul Masters says

    Thanks for this Nancy. Love hearing about the large scale structure of our universe. I wondered if this latest map sheds any more light on the work of Michael Longo and Lior Shamir. Both of whom are using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to determine wether there is a chiral bias to the distribution of galaxies.
    Paul Masters
    Space fan

  2. Patreon
    Aqua4U says

    Traveling at millions if not billions of light years per hour~ What would it be like? How could we experience this other than through our imaginations? This video!

    • pollydextrous says

      Imagine the deflector array your ship would need to travel safely at those speeds. 🙂

      • Patreon
        Aqua4U says

        It may well be that FTL travel is easily accomplished by highly evolved beings. Apparently the folks at SDSS, U of Hawaii, NAOJ, CFHT and HST are likewise inclined! Remember, that which can be imagined is the first step to that which can be created! And so it is…

  3. bugzzz says

    Amazing. It’s impossible to imagine just how packed the universe was before it exploded outward. I sometimes think about the fact that the Earth still spins because of the outward energy of that original blast. If one were designing a universe, this model has great merit since it allows for so many chances at life-bearing systems. And also in that it keeps these systems far enough from each other that should they destroy themselves others are unaffected. Very clever.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      The universe has never exploded. It has however, as the article says, always expanded – space begets more space, at a rate of ~ 10^-10 ly^3/(ly^3*y) (IIRC).

      The “outward energy” in cosmology is that of a throw, and is balanced by potential energy. That is why vacuum energy, which puts more energy into the system as the universe expands, now accelerate the expansion, again as the article says. (Even though, against the article, there is nothing mysterious about that it must result in an acceleration in such a case.)

      It is a fact that Earth’s spin, as well as all stars and their planets, are initially a result of the random turbulence of the gas clouds that contracts into protoplanetary systems. If you look up known rotation axes of stars and now orbit axes of planets, they are random throughout the Milky Way. If the axes were somehow correlated with the expansion, they wouldn’t be. Instead the spin is consistent with what is expected from the clouds behavior.

      Why would a continuous impulse momentum (that “still spins” and will do so indefinitely as already Newton described) be a feature of an expanding universe precisely? As far as we know, it is a rotation symmetry that pertains to all cosmologies we can make (so called FRW universes), because it is a property of the homogeneous, isotropic spacetime they must have.

      There is nothing “clever” in an expanding universe that expands but not too fast (which happens to be our type of flat universe). Without that feature we wouldn’t be here, so our existence may be a “dumb” selection effect.

      • bugzzz says

        I’m no scientist but I think you’re over-scrutinizing my shorthand. The extreme heat of the plasma from the birth of the universe and the fact the matter was highly compressed implies some form of explosion, no?

        The earth gets its spin from the gas cloud, which got its motion from the Big Bang. So the earth inadvertently gets its motion from that original blast.

      • pollydextrous says

        Our gas cloud (and subsequently the Earth) got its spin by collapsing in on itself, not from motions resulting from a Big Bang. Maybe you’re applying too much classical physics to your notion of a Big Bang. The Big Bang wasn’t a terrific gush of matter from a central location like you see in explosions in the movies. When BB happened, space and time were created in a bubble filled with energy. Matter condensed homogeneously from that energy throughout the universe so there were no shock fronts to create billows and turbulence.

      • Lorin Ionita says

        Wow. Great explanation. Never could get my head wrapped around it until now. Thank you for this.

      • Olaf2 says

        No, the big bang was not an explosion.
        The name is poorly chosen.

  4. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Although scientists know that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, they do not know why – whether it is from dark energy or whether gravity on cosmological scales may differ from that of general relativity, this mystery is one of the biggest questions in contemporary physics and astronomy.

    I haven’t heard that alternate gravity would still be a question within cosmology. Instead, I think FastSound describes it well, up to a point:

    “The Bigbang theory of cosmology is based on General Relativity, which is the standard theory of gravity established by A. Einstein. It is surprizingly successful to quantitatively explain a lot of observations, and is now widely accepted as the basic framework of scientific cosmology. However, there are still several problems that must be answered, and a variety of scientific efforts are being made by scientists all over the world. Among them, the most significant mystery concerning our current picture of the Universe is the accelerating nature of the cosmic expansion.”

    They go on to claim there is no physical basis for vacuum energy, but of course we can’t think of a quantum vacuum without zero point energies of the various fields.

    Indeed, both experiments refers to dark energy of the vacuum rather than general relativity testing:

    “The Name Stands for…

    FAST = FMOS Ankoku Sekai Tansa (??????, meaning “dark universe survey” in Japanese), or FMOS Acceleration Samping Test

    SOUND = Subaru Observation Understanding Nature of Dark energy”

    • lcrowell says

      Dark energy is due to a constant energy density in the universe. It is fairly evident that this is due to the quantum vacuum. However, if you sum up all the zero point energy contributions of a quantum field you get a sum E = (?/2)sum_n?_n that is usually cut off at ? as some renormalization cut off. This cut off is usually the Planck energy. This ZPE is huge. Supersymmetry indicates that every boson field has a corresponding fermion field which has an opposite ZPE E = -(?/2)sum_n?_n. The two cancel and the net contribution to the cosmological constant would then be zero. However, we know it is not zero. Further supersymmetry is in a state of broken symmetry with massive particles that predict a large ZPE. The detailed balance of this is not well understood.


  5. Prism2Spectrum says

    “[L]arge scale structure” apparent in “galaxy redshift survey cosmology” map, once again revealed: Great Voids, encompassed by mega galaxy-cluster Webs. More astounding, Universe-Space of super-Filaments is expanding at an accelerated rate. Is the cause, yet unmasked, a mystery of “Energy”, or missing knowledge, “Dark” in Theory? Perhaps a Force invisible, beyond detection clear? – but in affect, influence appears real. No wonder screen, in recent debut, the virtual theme. Not so illogical, as first perceived. If, through great instruments employed, intelligent men and women were not decoding the grand Enigma of Design, who would believe such an impossible Complex of outline! Galaxy-formed communities, strung together like coast-lining strip-cities. Assembled pathways interconnected (like flashing neuron networks?), the fearful darkness illuminated, by radiant lamps thermonuclear.

    Rotating gaseous spheres of light, circled by solidified worlds finite: Populations Spiraled in mass, crowds dense in Elliptical class – “Island Universes” clustered fast!

    From “where” this Cosmic Realm of wonder unfolded, wrought and built? The forge of matter, housed in crucible of time, from firing flash? From whence, fine-tuned settings perfect, 4-configured dimensions for Life-World balance ? Why does the heart stir before a night’s passing radiance, how does symmetry detailing existence impress the mind? Have heard tell, though Greek to me, the mathematics sings with uncanny harmony. Have read, this temporal Cosmic moment, discloses remarkable synchrony?

    Composed orchestration in play, as for grand celestial ballet? Tale of life-World symphony, beautifully choreographed with harmony?

    From chance eruption, THE Time-Universe (the only one materially evident) – framed by law, fused in matter, ordered in structure – into existence, suddenly arose? Lacework patterns of “Grand Design” (book title), nothing more than convergent-coincidence in energy-mass Spacetime – the Great Cosmic Web’s woven-structure explain and define?

    Gravity may have been shaping tool, but inflated matrix also suggests, methodical pattern of rule: Virtual vision of Space, or real construction in Time?

    Networks almost display (here observed), in rectangular scan, the Life-Molecule DNA. Or, by projected-pattern upended, a living tree (even-spaced, roughly circular branch-spreads, arisen from past “growth” of planted seed). Viewed like clouds drifting high, just a play of mind, or discernment of actual “design”?

    Somehow, in way more profound, and awesome, than any cold-space formation theory could ever hope to frame, EARTH appears profoundly tied to the Galaxy-Universe Domain!

  6. Enoch John Haga says

    Somewhere in the dim past I read in a book of Hindu religion/philosophy that some of the ancient sages likened the behavior of the Universe to human breathing — that is, inhaling in and out. The terminology I recall from memory, maybe faulty, is that the Universe breathes in and out — that is, accelerates and expands from an explosive contraction. The contraction is to a point so tight that it explodes and begins a new acceleration. In other words, the Universe breathes in and out. The Sanskrit terms I believe are bindu and sindhu..

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