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“A lot of beauty to it”

Physicists have created what has been called the largest and most detailed map of the universe ever - and it's not even close to being finished yet.

The Map of the Universe was created by the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), managed by the US Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab at the University of California.

DESI works by looking out into space to measure the radiation emitted by distant objects. It contains thousands of fiber optic cables, each positioned to collect light from individual galaxies.

These fibers extend down to 30 detectors, which then receive the light sent to them and convert it into data that scientists can observe.

Specifically, scientists are looking to see how much light from these galaxies has been redshifted - stretched out so that it looks red - by the expansion of the universe in the billions of years it has taken for light to reach Earth.

By measuring this phenomenon, scientists can see how far away galaxies are, create a 3D map of the universe and start mapping patterns like galaxy clusters or large cavities where there are none.

These patterns are like "echoes" of the early universe, and scientists can trace them back in time to understand the history of space expansion, according to a press release from the Berkeley Lab.

"There's a lot of beauty in it," said Berkeley Lab researcher Julien Guy, who describes the 3D map that DESI has created so far in the press release. "In the distribution of the galaxies on the 3D map, there are huge clusters, filaments and cavities. They are the largest structures in the universe. But in them you will find an imprint of the very early universe and the history of its expansion since then."

Scientists hope to use DESI and the universe's historical expansion data to better understand dark energy - the mysterious force that is constantly making the universe bigger and bigger.

By gaining a better understanding of dark energy, physicists will be able to predict how the universe will end. Will it keep expanding forever? Will it slow down and collapse into itself like a reverse Big Bang? Will it keep expanding faster and faster until everything breaks down? It's still uncertain.

DESI's universe map is only 10 percent complete. It started its study in May 2021.

Meanwhile, other scientists are using their data to analyze black holes and find out whether small ones live in the centers of small galaxies, in the same way that large ones are known to inhabit the centers of large galaxies.

The DESI survey has already cataloged more than 7.5 million galaxies and is expected to have logged more than 35 million by the end of the study in 2026.

"All this data is just there and they are just waiting to be analyzed," Ragadeepika Pucha, a graduate student in astronomy at the University of Arizona working at DESI, said in a press release. "And then we'll find so many amazing things about galaxies. For me, it's exciting."

The map can be viewed on Berkeley Lab's website here.

This is not the first time that physicists have made maps of the universe. Astronomers have previously made an X-ray map of the cosmos that contains more than a million objects.

An illustration of a galaxy. Scientists have created part of a 3D universe map using the DESI study. alex-mit / Getty

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