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Scientists have released the largest three-dimensional map of the Universe ever created that explains the most significant gaps in its history.
“We know both the ancient history of the Universe and its recent expansion history fairly well, but there’s a troublesome gap in the middle 11 billion years,” said cosmologist Kyle Dawson of the University of Utah, who leads the map's team.
He explains that “for five years, we have worked to fill in that gap, and we are using that information to provide some of the most substantial advances in cosmology in the last decade.”
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The map is called the extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS) and it is six years in the making. It saw over 100 astrophysicists collaborate to provide detailed measurements of more than two million galaxies and quasars covering 11 billion years of cosmic time. It is a project developed by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).
Up to now, we had information on what the Universe looked like in its infancy and on its expansion history over the last few billion years. What was missing was in the in-between.
The map now reveals the filaments and voids that define the structure in the Universe, going all the way back to when it was only about 300,000 years old. As such, the project allows researchers to measure patterns in the distribution of galaxies.
The map also indicates that about six billion years ago the expansion of the Universe began to accelerate. This accelerated expansion seems to be due to “dark energy," a concept we have yet to fully grasp.
The project is the result of a combined effort of more than 20 years of mapping the Universe using the Sloan Foundation telescope. But it's not nearly done.
“The Sloan Foundation Telescope and its near-twin at Las Campanas Observatory will continue to make astronomical discoveries mapping millions of stars and black holes as they change and evolve over cosmic time," said Karen Masters of Haverford College, spokesperson for the current phase of SDSS.