Durham University helps create most detailed 3D map of the Universe ever

MAYALL Star Trails
Star trails over the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope on Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, AZ. Credit: KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld

The most detailed 3-D map of the universe that has ever been created has been designed with the help of Durham University in the hope of finding out if we could face a reverse Big Bang in the future.

Researchers at the university helped design and build a new telescope instrument, used for three-dimensional galaxy surveys.

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has been running the survey for seven months but is only about ten per cent through its five-year mission.

Once completed, its phenomenally detailed 3-D map will give scientists a better understanding of dark energy, the mysterious substance that accounts for 70 per cent of the content in the universe and is speeding up its expansion.

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

A new quasar discovered using DESI gives a glimpse of the universe as it was nearly 13 billion years ago. Credit: Jinyi Yang, Steward Observatory/University of Arizona

DESI features new optics that increase the telescope’s field of view and include 5,000 robotically controlled optical fibres.

Led by Durham, the fibre-optic system will split light from objects in space such as galaxies, quasars and stars into narrow bands of colour and reveal the chemical make-up of objects as well as information about how far away they are and how fast they are travelling.

"What I think is so incredible about this is that DESI has only been 'on sky' for seven months and we have already observed more objects than any previous survey has," says Durham University PHD student Victoria Fawcett

"It should be really incredible over the next five years, just because of the amount of data we're going to get and the amount of science we can do with that."

DESI is installed at the Nicholas U Mayall four metre telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, USA. Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

Durham University scientists hope to reveal the secrets of quasars, a particularly bright variety of galaxies that are among the most powerful and distant objects known.

The instrument’s data will go 11 billion years back in time, revealing clues about the evolution of quasars and their connection to the formation of galaxies.

What is a quasar?

A quasar is an extremely bright and distant point-like source visible to radio telescopes.

Durham University PHD student Victoria Fawcett said : "It's one of the brightest objects in the universe and because they're so bright they're really important in a lot of areas of astronomy.

"You can see them at such great distances so we can use them to see how the universe went from the Big Bang to what we see today."