When youre looking for a place on a map, its quite easy to end up studying something else--an interesting landmark, a road or, in my case, finding out where the River Thames ends up inland by scrolling through Google Maps (Answer: it starts its life as a stream in Kemble). But if you simply enjoy getting lost in a map, how about a map of the entire universe?

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) made a 3D map, that details every known galaxy and black hole, and pinpoints a variety of notable locations. If you can imagine how many millions of galaxies there are out there, youll understand how the map that "covers a total volume equivalent to that of a cube four billion light-years on a side," according to its creators.

The map uses the publicly available Data Release 9 (DR9) project to deliver all the images and dimensions. The survey project has so far released the data for first two years of the six-year project. Two years' worth of data was enough to provide the map with images of 200 million galaxies and the spectra (this measures galaxy distances for the 3D element) of 1.35 million galaxies.

The map also uses data from SDSS-IIIs Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), which measures the position of galaxies up to six billion light years away and quasars (the hungry type of black hole that eats up stars and gas) up to 12 billion light years away. BOSS targets the bigger, brighter galaxies in the hope of finding slightly smaller ones nearby.

While the map itself is impressive from a technical standpoint, it serves a greater educational purpose. Not only will it provide an enormous catalog of the galaxy for public use, but it could help us trace the history of the universe so we can understand more about dark matter and dark energy.

You can check out the DR9 data for the mapping, and get more map stills and video previews, on the SDSS-III website.

[SDSS-III and Harvard]

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