Most detailed map of universe unveiled

May 27, 2011 at 3:18 PM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 27 (UPI) -- U.S. and British astronomers say a recently unveiled 3-D map of the local universe out to 380 million light years is the most complete ever created.

The 2MASS Redshift Survey, more than 10 years in preparation, is also significant for extending closer to the Galactic plane -- -- a region that's generally obscured by dust -- than previous surveys, reported Friday.

Karen Masters of Britain's University of Portsmouth presented the new map Wednesday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

"The 2MASS Redshift Survey is a wonderfully complete new look at the local universe -- particularly near the Galactic plane," Masters said. "We're also honoring the legacy of the late John Huchra, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who was a guiding force behind this and earlier galaxy redshift surveys."

The light from a galaxy, as observed from the Earth, is shifted or stretched to longer wavelengths of the spectrum -- towards red -- by the expansion of the universe.

The farther the galaxy, the greater the measured redshift, so analyzing its shift yields galaxy distances, providing the necessary third dimension to create a 3-D map.

Huchra started making redshifts observations in the late 1990s using telescopes at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, AZ, and one at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

The 2MASS Redshift observers completed the last observations on those telescopes shortly after Huchra's death in October 2010.

"John was instrumental in setting up the 2MASS telescope at Mount Hopkins, seeing the infrared side of the project through, and making a much more complete survey of the local universe," Robert Kirshner, Huchra's colleague at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said.

"It's a wonderful tribute to John that his colleagues have finished the infrared-selected galaxy redshift survey that John started."

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