Map of Universe accurate to 1% offers insight into dark energy and the curvature of spacetime

Map uses 'cosmic ripples' created by the formation of the Universe to create a 'standard ruler' to measure distances between 1.2 million galaxies

Astronomers have completed a new survey of the Universe, calculating the distances between galaxies to an “unprecedented accuracy” of just one per cent.

The ultraprecise measurements will provide astronomers with the most important map of the universe to date and it is hoped they will shed light on dark energy – the mysterious force that is thought to comprise nearly three quarters of the universe.

The locations of 1.2 million galaxies were mapped over distances of more than 6 billion light-years as part of project BOSS (the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey), the largest of four cosmological surveys currently underway on the Sloan Foundation Telescope in the US.

"There are not many things in our daily lives that we know to one-per cent accuracy," said David Schlegel, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the principal investigator of BOSS. "I now know the size of the Universe better than I know the size of my house."

Previous maps accurate to one per cent (this means that if you measured a distance of 100 miles you would be accurate to within a single mile) have only managed to pinpoint the location of the few hundred stars closest to Earth, all of which are contained within our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

"Determining distance is a fundamental challenge of astronomy," said Daniel Eisenstein, director of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-111), an international collaboration of four surveys including BOSS.

"You see something in the sky — how far away is it? Once you know how far away it is, learning everything else about it is suddenly much easier."

The SDSS telescope in New Mexcio. Image credit: Johns Hopkins University.

The BOSS map use new techniques to reach out to distances many million times greater than previously possible, measuring the phenomenon known as “baryon acoustic oscillations” or BAOs - subtle ripples in the distribution of galaxies throughout the Universe.

These ripples were created during the formation of the early universe as particles of light (photons) and protons and neutrons (collectively known as baryons) created mammoth pressure waves pulsing through the cosmos.

"With these galaxy measurements, nature has given us a beautiful ruler," said Ashley Ross, an astronomer from the University of Portsmouth. "The ruler happens to be half a billion light years long, so we can use it to measure distances precisely, even from very far away."

The new results were presented by Schlegel and his team at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society and have also provided one of the best indications to date that the universe is “flat".

A flat universe is one in which can be described using conventional Eculidean geometry. This means that certain rules - such as 'straight lines are parallel' or 'the interior angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees' - hold true. A universe might not be flat if dark energy was distributed unevenly throughout it, warping the curvature of spacetime.

Schlegel also notes that the idea of a flat universe has implcications as to whether or not the universe is infinite:

"While we can't say with certainty that it will never come to an end it's likely the universe extends forever in space and will go on forever in time. Our results are consistent with an infinite universe."

A closer look at the 'galactic ruler' created by BAOs.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive - Manchester City Centre

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency wo...

Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

£7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor