Home Features Best of 2012 Best of 2012 // #95: A 3D Map of the Universe

Best of 2012 // #95: A 3D Map of the Universe

Best of 2012 // #95: A 3D Map of the Universe
This enormous image shows Hubble’s view of massive galaxy cluster MACS J0717.5+3745. The large field of view is a combination of 18 separate Hubble images. Studying the distorting effects of gravity on light from background galaxies, a team of astronomers has uncovered the presence of a filament of dark matter extending from the core of the cluster.  The location of the dark matter is revealed in a map of the mass in the cluster and surrounding region, shown here in blue. The filament visibly extends out and to the left of the cluster core. Using additional observations from ground-based telescopes, the team was able to map the filament’s structure in three dimensions, the first time this has ever been done. The filament was discovered to extend back from the cluster core, meaning we are looking along it.
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In October of 2012, Mathilde Jauzac led a small team at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France to a singular goal:  to create a three-dimensional representation of the structure of our universe.  That means stars, galaxies, and the huge filament network of dark matter, a mysterious and invisible force that fills the universe, holds it together, and is possibly expanding it.

The team assembled a model almost 60 million light-years in length, which composites all kinds of matter from space into a giant cluster called MACS J0717.5+3745.  The team created the structure based on measurements of how gravity distorts passing light; an effect that should show where the unseen dark matter lies and how it interacts with the more visible parts of our universe.

To aid in their research, the team used data from another project that only wrapped up three months before theirs began.  A huge cosmic cartography project knowns as Sloan Digital Sky Survey III had unveiled their findings as a three-dimensional map, which held the locations and velocities of over 500,000 galaxies and thousands of black holes.

All this new data will allow researchers to studying the history of our universe in greater depth and begin to unravel the mystery of dark matter, as well as it’s inflationary brother, dark energy.  The Sloan survey team is already working to release updated and more detailed maps this year and the year after.


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