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Mass Map

Scientists offer a mesmerizing visual of the matter that makes up, well, everything

For the last 12 years, astronomers have been using a dedicated telescope in New Mexico to make the most detailed map of our universe as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Last week, at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting, the scientists presented a mesmerizing visual of the matter that makes up, well, everything.

Don’t worry if the 3D animation is confusing; it’s not so much a Thomas Guide (Take the 405 to the Pegasus Galaxy) as a statistical representation of how mass is distributed through the universe. It’s the clumps and lack of clumps that are important. Astronomers took measurements of nearly a million galaxies, and by graphing them out are able to learn about the structure of the universe, including how it evolved over time, back to the inflationary epoch — the moment just after the Big Bang when the universe rapidly expanded. In the animation, each green dot represents one galaxy. The image covers a redshift range from 0.25 to 0.75, reaching back to six billion years ago.

The measurements are ongoing, and will eventually include around 1.5 million galaxies, which the researchers hope to be finished with sometime this year. They’re already making interesting finds: Their data shows that dark matter makes up 73% of the density of the universe.

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