A team of astronomers working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) created the largest ever three-dimensional map of the universe.
Released along with an accompanying study, the astronomers say the new map is the first to exclusively use the positions of quasars to chart the significant structures of the Universe.
“Because quasars are so bright, we can see them all the way across the Universe,” said study co-leader Ashley Ross, from Ohio State University in a press release. “That makes them the ideal objects to use to make the biggest map yet,” he added.
Quasars are large compacted masses surrounding enormous black holes at the center of distant galaxies. They discharge an incredible amount of energy in the form of visible light or infrared radiation.
Quasars go through periods of extreme brightness which can last anywhere from 10 to 100 million years.
These distant dazzling objects are generated when vast amounts of matter and energy fall into the giant black hole. Material from the surrounding accretion disk is pulled in so eagerly by the black hole’s gravity that it reaches incredibly high temperatures, which in turn produces a bright glow.
The study’s other co-leader, Gongbo Zhao, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences says the quasars are so distant that their light was first generated between three to seven billion years after the big bang (13.8 billion years ago) a long time before Earth was formed (about 4.5 billion years ago).
Scientists with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s Extended Baryon Oscilliation Survey (Eboss), used the Sloan Foundation’s main 2.5 meter telescope, located at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, to observe and measure the 3D positions of a large amount of quasars.
The survey measured more than 147,000 quasars in just the first two years of the project.
These observations provided the team with information of the quasars’ distances, which was used to mark their positions on the three-dimensional map of the universe.
“Our results are consistent with Einstein’s theory of General Relativity” said Hector Gil-Marin, a researcher from the Laboratory of Nuclear Physics and High Energies in Paris who took on important segments of the analysis.