We try our best to bring you the latest news at Geeks Are Sexy, but unfortunately the image above is a little out of date. To be specific, it’s somewhere between 10 and 12 billion years out of date.
The image is a two-dimensional close-up section of what is being billed as the largest three-dimensional map of the universe ever created. It’s the work of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a telescope that includes a tool known as the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey.
The tool, known also as BOSS, specializes in the light from quasars, which are distant galaxies that are particularly bright thanks to the heat of a black hole consuming matter.
The big gain for astronomers is that the light from quasars is affected by hydrogen clouds on its journey to earth. Each beam of light gives us a record of the hydrogen density along a straight line: combine the data from enough beams and you can build up a three-dimensional picture that lets you figure out the density of the matter around us.
The astronomers have so far analyzed 14,000 quasars, which is enough to make a rough outline and confirm that the process works. They say they won’t be releasing a three-dimensional image for public display until they’ve analyzed between 50,000 and 60,000 quasars, around a third of the known total.
This isn’t the first time the technique has been used for three-dimensional mapping, but it’s the first time it’s been used for such distant material. The image below shows the previous work on tracking galaxies, and a snapshot of the BOSS analysis. In both images, the blue patches represent areas of little gas, while the red patches represent the densest gas clouds.