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Astrophysicists build 3-D map of the universe

"It has peaks and valleys much like a mountain range," said lead researcher Mike Hudson.

By Brooks Hays

WATERLOO, Ontario, April 28 (UPI) -- Newsflash: the universe is huge. Comprehending its sheer size is difficult enough, but understanding what exactly it looks like (holistically speaking) is near impossible.

But researchers at the University of Waterloo have done just that, mapping the galaxy clusters, near and far, that make up the entirety of the cosmos.

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The spherical map features a comprehensive arrangement of galaxy superclusters, each galaxy and galactic cluster plotted and positioned based on the current understanding of the universe and its ongoing expansion. The map represents a space that stretches 200 million light years across. As researchers point out, there is organizing principle or pattern.

"It has peaks and valleys much like a mountain range," lead researcher Mike Hudson, associate dean of science and computing at Waterloo, explained in a press release. "This is what we expect if the large-scale structure originates from quantum fluctuations in the early universe."

Models of the universe have been previously constructed. But researchers point out that early attempts have failed to properly account for the fact that different galaxies are expanding at different paces. The expansion of the universe is not uniform, in other words. Different portions are accelerating at varying rates.

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Hudson and his colleagues say their efforts offer an improved understanding of how mass is distributed throughout the universe. This knowledge will enable more informed inquiries into the effects of dark energy on the universe.

"A better understanding of dark matter is central to understanding the formation of galaxies and the structures they live in, such as galaxy clusters, superclusters and voids," said Hudson.

The new map is published online in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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