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Scientists create largest and most detailed 3D map of universe

"There is a lot of beauty to it."

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Kitt Peak National Observatory, near Tucson, Arizona. (SWNS)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

The largest and most detailed 3D map of the universe has been created by scientists.

A super telescope called DESI has catalogued over 7.5 million galaxies - and is adding more at a rate of over a million a month.

Just seven months into a five-year mission, it will eventually capture more than 35 million.

The aim of the project is to shed light on Dark Energy - the mysterious force thought to accelerate the universe's expansion.

Project scientist Dr Julien Guy, of the University of California, Berkeley, said: "There is a lot of beauty to it.

"In the distribution of the galaxies in the 3D map, there are huge clusters, filaments, and voids. They are the biggest structures in the universe.

"But within them, you find an imprint of the very early universe, and the history of its expansion since then."

DESI (Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument) will shed fresh light on the past and future of the cosmos.

It will help determine if the universe will expand forever, collapse in on itself in a 'reverse Big Bang' - or rip itself apart.

Professor Carlos Frenk, of Durham University, said: "Although in the relatively early stages, DESI is already breaking new ground in producing this map of the universe which is the most detailed we've ever seen.

"This will help us to search for clues about the nature of dark energy, but we will also learn more about dark matter and the role it plays in how galaxies like the Milky Way form and how the universe is evolving.

"We look forward with huge anticipation to the treasure trove of data that DESI will collect over the next few years.

"They will help uncover some of the most intimate secrets of the cosmos."

The Big Bang theory originally suggested the universe would stop spreading out - and eventually contract.

In 1998, astronomers were shocked to discover its growth was not only continuing - but speeding up.

Astronomers believe Dark Energy - which comprises 70 percent of the universe - is counteracting the pull of gravity.

DESI contains 5,000 robotically-controlled mini-telescopes - each of which can image a galaxy every 20 minutes.

It can survey more galaxies in a year than all the other telescopes in the world combined.

A state of the art fibre optic system splits light from objects in space such as galaxies, quasars and stars into narrow bands of colour.

They reveal the chemical make-up as well as information about how far away they are and how fast they are travelling.

The map will give new insights on dark matter - the invisible glue that holds the universe together.

Quasars, a type of supermassive black hole, are the brightest objects in space.

DESI's data will go 11 billion years back in time - revealing clues about their evolution.

Victoria Fawcett, a PhD student at Durham, said: "I like to think of quasars as lampposts, looking back in time into the history of the universe.

"DESI is really great because it is picking up much fainter and redder objects than previously discovered."

She added: "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."

Scientists are also using DESI to understand the behaviour of intermediate-mass black holes in small galaxies.

Enormous black holes are thought to inhabit the cores of nearly every large galaxy - like the Milky Way.

But whether small galaxies always contain their own, smaller black holes is still not known.

DESI is installed at the Nicholas U Mayall four-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.

The early results were presented during a virtual conference hosted by the University of California, Berkeley.

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