Modern biogeography—the study of the distribution of species—still relies heavily on the above map, despite the fact that it was drawn by the field’s founder, Alfred Russel Wallace, in 1876. The map indicates regions of historical species mixing, pointing out, for instance, that a mouse in North Africa is more likely and able to mix with its European brethren than its South African cousins. This week researchers have revealed a new and improved biogeographical map, published in Science, which they hope will become the new baseline for ecological and evolutionary studies as well as conservation efforts.
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.