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.
Source: Subaru Telescope
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.