Astronomy fans can suddenly get a look at the solar system as it existed 11 billion years ago, thanks to the largest 3D map of the universe ever created.
Scientists at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey were able to assemble the three-dimensional map by tracking the light of the cosmos’ brightest objects, including 14,000 quasars, and their interaction with hydrogen gas clouds. By observing these dazzling natural beacons of light, and the degree to which hydrogen clouds absorbed illumination at different wavelengths, researchers were able to construct a working model.
“Usually, we make our maps of the universe by looking at galaxies, which emit light,” said Anze Slosar, a physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, who spearheaded the study. “But here, we are looking at intergalactic hydrogen gas, which blocks light. It’s like looking at the moon through clouds: You can see the shapes of the clouds by the moonlight that they block.”
Using these techniques, which involve the aid of computers, it’s possible to gain insight into the history of the universe, and how galaxies first formed. Results shed insight into the origins of stars, planets and, potentially, so-called life as we know it.