Durham University fibre-optics help largest 3D map of Universe

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Durham University fibre-optics help largest 3D map of Universe
Kitt Peak National Observatory, near Tucson, ArizonaImage source, Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab
Image caption,
DESI is installed at the Nicholas U Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, USA

An international team of scientists has produced the most detailed three-dimensional map of the Universe yet.

Within seven months, their Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has broken all 3D galaxy survey records.

A component built by Durham University increases the telescope's field of view using 5,000 optical fibres.

Prof Carlos Frenk from its Institute for Computational Cosmology said DESI's data would "help uncover some of the most intimate secrets of the cosmos".

He said: "This will help us to search for clues about the nature of dark energy.

"We will also learn more about the dark matter and the role it plays in how galaxies like the Milky Way form and how the universe is evolving."

Star trails over the Nicholas U Mayall 4-meter Telescope on Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, ArizonaImage source, KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P.Marenfeld
Image caption,
Star trails over the Nicholas U Mayall 4-meter Telescope on Kitt Peak National Observatory

The fibre-optic system splits light from galaxies, stars and a bright variety of galaxy known as quasars into narrow bands of colour.

This reveals their chemical make-up, how far away they are and how fast they are travelling, allowing researchers to gauge how much and how fast the universe has expanded.

The final 3D map will give scientists a better understanding of dark energy, which accounts for 70% of the universe and drives expansion.

DESI is producing data relating to 11 billion years ago which can shed light on the early universe.

Victoria Fawcett, a PhD researcher at Durham University's Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, said DESI was obtaining much fainter and redder objects than previously discovered.

"We're finding quite a lot of exotic systems including large samples of rare objects that we just haven't been able to study in detail before," she said

A slice through the 3-D map of galaxies from the first few months of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic InstrumentImage source, D.Schlegel/Berkeley Lab
Image caption,
This map of galaxies made using DESI data shows the earth at the centre with each point representing one of 400,000 of the 35 million galaxies that will be in the final map

Scientists are also using the data to understand the behaviour of medium-sized black holes in small galaxies.

DESI has already catalogued more than 7.5 million galaxies and is expected to have added another 27.5 million by the end of its run in 2026.

The collaboration is managed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA.

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