Watch This: Soar Through A 3D Map of the Universe

By Sophie Bushwick | August 9, 2012 2:06 pm

Note: You may want to click the full-screen button down there and watch this in its full hi-def glory.


Ever wished you could float through space, drifting past stars and cosmic dust clouds? The largest-ever 3D map of the universe, shown in the video above, gives you a sense of what that might be like, though the bright dots surrounding you are not stars, but whole galaxies, and you’re not quite drifting, but ripping along at a quadrillion times the speed of light.

To get a sense of the speed, just look at those galaxies and remind yourself that each is home to hundreds of billions of stars like our own. And you can even see, as the video progresses, the distinctive soap-bubble arrangement of the universe’s galaxies, arrayed in closely packed groups around vast tracts of empty space.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey produced the 3D map from newly released data collected during two years of a six-year project. Knowing the locations of over a million galaxies will help astronomers find out how dark matter and dark energy are affecting the visible universe.

In the meantime, we’ll just watch this video again. And again. And again.

  • Chris

    Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.
    – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    This is a very cool, mind boggling video.

    It always boggles my mind when I consider just how large, and how many stars there are in all the many galaxies.

    I think my mind tends to always go ‘Clunk’ when I start thinking about the size of the universe. I’ve never really read anything that satisfies me to just how big the universe is, and probably never will be satisfied.

    Am I correct in understanding that the universe expanded at faster then the speed of light during the earliest years? And how would the extreme speed effect any matter traveling at those super speeds? Would it be different because they were going faster than light, or would it not matter because space was expanding with the matter at the speed they traveled?

    What happens to the light that is being outpaced by the matter? Does that mean that light only traveled towards the center of the universe, or at an angle, but never outwards because matter was outpacing light on its furthest boundary? So we can never see this early light? Or did light create another boundary beyond the boundary of matter as light traveled at light speed in comparison the the already moving boundary of matter traveling at or faster then the speed of light?

    Big questions for my little broken brain.

  • Jordan

    That made me feel incredibly calm – look at how big the universe is! And we’re so integral yet so tiny in comparison – I feel so blessed to be alive (whatever that means) on this little rock spinning through all that grandeur.
    It’s an incredible, heady thing to think of how much we humans have learned – even more awe-inspiring to attempt to conceive of all that we still do not know. It’s so exciting to be alive, and this is such a great time to be living! We’re discovering so much and the internet is a truly remarkable entity – to think we can contain the universe on a computer screen….
    Thank you for creating that video – every single person that helped make that happen! Keep up the great work and I can’t wait to see another “faster than light” sweep through the cosmos!

  • Mac Buddha

    I’d love to have that as an animated screensaver. Perhaps slow it down, and play some appropriate classical music over it.

  • Scott Bodenheimer

    The galaxies look like plankton floating in a black ocean…

  • PSP

    This terrific video zooms around the various galaxies with specific shapes – elliptical, barred spiral, etc. Is this part of the real data accumulated by Sloan? or were the shapes just sort of randomly assigned? I’m assuming it’s the relative positions of the galaxies that are relevant here…

  • John Lerch

    I think the quadrillion times the speed of light is still way too slow. Either that or we see only a tiny chunk of the visible universe. A quadrillion = 10^15
    a year ~pi*10^7 second so a quadrillion times c =
    1/pi *10^8 or ~30 million light years a second. multiply by ~100 sec = 3 billion light years.

  • Mars Water

    JimmyDean, use a sheet of paper (or folded cloth) to represent space, coins to represent matter, and an ant to represent light. If you have a coin and ant on a sheet of paper and slide the paper across the desk the coin and ant are not affected relative to one another.

    Then put another coin on a separate sheet of paper and slide the two sheets apart with each hand. Even though the two coins are moving apart at greater than ant speed, the ant is not being “outpaced” by the nearby coin, and the ant is not going in some odd trajectory off the paper. New paper (or the folded cloth) appears between the two sheets moving apart.

    The expanding universe is not an explosion of matter. The universe is an explosion of space with matter and light being carried along.

  • http://n/a Rosemary Turpin

    Re letter #4 — I was wondering why there was no music too, but as I understand it, there is no sound in space …

  • Brian Too

    It’s like being in a blizzard. A blizzard of galaxies.

  • Pete1215

    I also thought of a blizzard.

  • steve e.

    Boring. the universe is a crashing bore. Nothing but gas , dust and rocks.

  • Bob

    In the world of Star Trek, this must be a Warp Factor of about 10 to the 14 power ……

  • DeWitt

    I want that on the insides of my eyelids.

  • Seattle Bill

    Loved the video and thought Chris’s quote from Hitchhiker’s Guide was a perfect commentary. Looking at the sheer number of galaxies in the video is awe inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dan

    Boring video… where are the girls in bathing suits?? just kidding… absolutely awesome! Especially when you consider that we are only seeing a fragment of the universe…

  • Chris

    JimmyDean, I’m pretty sure that one of the things that physicists are most certain about, is that nothing travels faster than light, ever. Crazy stuff happened at the beginning of the universe, and so many things about the universe are beyond my (anybody’s?) conception that ‘clunk’ is probably the only rational response to them, but I don’t think you have to worry about things moving faster than light.

  • Jazz58

    It strikes me that these galaxies’ placement resembles nothing quite so much as a neural network from a earthling brain…..


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