How U of U Astrophysicists helped create 3D map of the universe and fill in an 11 billion-year gap

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Scientist and supercomputers at the University of Utah have been hot on the trail of mapping our universe, not just the galaxy, but the entire universe! It’s taken over 20 years, and the chase happened all over the world. More than 100 scientists coordinated to make sure they had the information as correct as possible.

Here’s the new 3D map of the universe, if you have a 3D viewer, you can call this video up on your phone, connect it to your viewer and watch in 3D. The flight through the universe is a lot of fun!

The New 3d map of our universe

Monday, scientists at the University of Utah put a capstone on that project by realizing the largest volume 3D resolution map of the universe ever created, and they filled in a missing 11 billion years of universal expansion as an extra measure.

So what happened with this detective story played out on a Universal scale?

Information sent to ABC4 News from the University of Utah said:

At the heart of the new results are detailed measurements of more than two million galaxies and quasars covering 11 billion years of cosmic time.

Remember when we look into the stars and galaxies from planet earth, we are not just seeing stars and galaxies, but the light that has sometimes taken billions of light years to get here. No matter what, we are always looking at space and time. That gives scientists a chance to study the universe as it unfolded, and not limited to the universe as it stands today.

It is also the key to figuring out the 11 billion year universe expansion problem.

eBoss is one of three projects withing the umbrella of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). eBoss is the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBoss). Lead by the University of Utah principal investigator; professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Kyle Dawson. Part of a group of scientists working all over the world.

Mapping Our Milky way is only a parrallell part of what U of U scientists helped find(Alyssa Goodman/WorldWide Telescope via AP)

“We know both the ancient history of the universe and its recent expansion history fairly well, but there’s been a troublesome gap in the middle 11 billion years,” said cosmologist Kyle Dawson of the University of Utah, announcing the results. “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.”

The release of information from the University of Utah stated scientists know what the universe looked like in its infancy, thousands of scientists have measured elements created soon after the Big Bang, and have also studied the Cosmic Microwave Background. They also knew how things have expanded the last few billion years from the previous work of the SDSS.

The new analysis makes a much clearer picture.

“The analyses have also provided measurements on how the diverse structures in the universe grow over time,” says Zheng Zheng, professor of physics and astronomy at the U. “The story underneath the structure growth is amazingly consistent with what we learn from the expansion history.”

Click for full resolution The new map of the universe released July 20, 2020

According to the U of U: Six billion years ago, the expansion of the universe began to accelerate, and has continued to get faster and faster ever since. This accelerated expansion seems to be due to a mysterious invisible component of the universe called “dark energy,” consistent with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, but extremely difficult to reconcile with our current understanding of particle physics.

The conflict was an apparent collision between Einstein’s theory and what scientists know now about particle physics.

So, they kept at it.

How scientists addressed the problem:

Combining observations from eBOSS with studies of the universe in its infancy revealed cracks in this picture of the universe. In particular, the eBOSS team’s measurement of the current rate of expansion of the universe (the “Hubble Constant”) was about 10% lower than the value found from distances to nearby galaxies. The high precision of the eBOSS data means that it is highly unlikely that this mismatch was due to chance, and the rich variety of eBOSS data gave us multiple independent ways to draw the same conclusion.

“Imprinted in the galaxy or quasar distribution is a particular pattern that serves as a ruler,” said Zheng. “With eBOSS maps, such a ruler has achieved its best-ever performance and enabled us to measure distances with unprecedented precision, which makes it possible to most clearly reveal the mismatch in the Hubble Constant.”

The Hubble Constant is the unit of measurement used to describe the expansion of the universe today. 

There is no broadly accepted explanation for this discrepancy in measured expansion rates, but one exciting possibility is that a previously-unknown form of matter or energy from the early universe might have left a trace on our history.

The eBOSS team made the results from more than 20 scientific papers public on July 20, 2020. Those papers describe, in more than 500 pages, the team’s analyses of the latest eBOSS data, marking the completion of the key goals of the survey.

“The SDSS data allow unique insights into the evolutionary history of our universe” said Dawson. “Using these data, along with data from the Cosmic Microwave Background and supernovae, we have made the largest advances of any experiment in the last decade to determine the intrinsic curvature of space. We have explored the energy contents of the universe, the laws of gravity, and the physics of some of the smallest particles, the neutrinos, and now have a model for these components that allows us to estimate the local expansion rate to 1% precision.”

The University of Utah has been a key contributor to SDSS over the last decade.  The massive samples of spectroscopic data that went into the final eBOSS cosmological result were processed and located at the U, within the Science Archive Server hosted by the U’s Center for High-Performance Computing.

Meanwhile, the SDSS is nowhere near done with its mission to understand the Universe. Gail Zasowski, the spokesperson for the next generation of SDSS, described her excitement for the next steps. 

“We’re upgrading the hardware and instruments needed to keep the tremendous impact of SDSS going into the 2020s. We’ll be focusing on the history of our own Milky Way Galaxy, the architecture of multi-star and planetary systems, how galaxies make their stars, and how black holes grow over the lifetime of the universe. These are some of the most exciting questions in astrophysics, and we’re looking forward to the next decades of discovery!”

Professor Dawson’s enthusiasm for his work is astonishing, he changed his scientific discipline over a decade ago to study the entire universe, and through the work, his eye is set firmly on the future, he told us, “I really like doing cosmology, because the data is extremely rich, there is a lot of different science our work can inform.”

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Tracy Smith
Tracy T. Smith is an award winning content producer/storyteller. He has a passionate interest in all things narrative and loves writing, photography, cinematography and visual storytelling.

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