How the Latest 3D Technology Improves Our Understanding of the Universe

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey released a three-dimensional (3D) image of the universe. This is the largest 3D map of galaxies and black holes in space. Data Release 9 comes after a series of data released since 2001. It includes data that came from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), which measures millions of galaxies and thousands of quasars from billions of years in the past.

With the release of the 3D map, scientist, scientists may find out more about dark energy and other mysteries of the universe.

Sloan Digital Sky Survey

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey is among the biggest astronomical surveys that are mainly funded by a non-profit scientific research organization, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The survey uses a 2.5-m wide-angle optical telescope located at New Mexico’s Apache Point Observatory. It started collecting data in 2000 and its latest data release covered more than 35 percent of the sky.

Formation of the Galaxies

One question the 3D images of the universe will answer is how the galaxies formed. Before the release of the image, scientists theorized the actual shape of the galaxies basing on two-dimensional images. The theoretical shapes of galaxies included an elongated shape similar to a football, a pancake shape, and even the shape of a sea urchin.

With the 3D image, scientists can have an idea about the origin of galaxies or how they formed. For instance, when galaxies collide with each other, it points to spherical shapes. However, the theory of a flat structure comes out when scientists observe gas falling into a galaxy and create a new set of stars.

The 3D image provides more information about galaxies and gives scientists a new angle where they can look into how galaxies form. It’s theorized that galaxies form when gravity pulls together huge clouds of matter. When these clouds of matter collapse, it increases the galaxy’s spin. This is similar to the faster speed of spinning figure skaters when their hands are closer to the body compared to when they’re extending them.


The data from the 3D map showed measurements from millions of quasars and galaxies. These measurements provide scientists an idea about the expansion of the universe. Scientists already have information about the recent expansion of the universe and its ancient history. The 3D map may fill in the gaps between these two periods.

The information offered by the map showed the structure of the universe when it was only around 300,000 years old. This provides scientists with the opportunity to measure the patterns affecting the position of different galaxies.

The map also shows that there was an increase in the rate of expansion at some point in history. This increase in speed has continued ever since and dark energy may be behind it. This unseen energy appears seems consistent with the general theory of relativity of Albert Einstein, which describes the movement of large objects and is related to the laws of gravity.

Dark Energy

dark energy concept
image from EarthSky

Dark energy is a phenomenon that opposes gravity and is believed to be the cause of the expansion of the universe. Even though dark energy makes up the majority of the cosmos, scientists have yet to understand its true nature.

The discovery of dark energy traces its roots to the time when Edwin Hubble noticed in 1929 that the universe is expanding. And in the 1990s, two independent teams discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

While the understanding of dark energy is limited, scientists used what they know about the phenomenon to create models that explain everything about the universe. Some models show that dark energy will destroy everything billions of years from now. But the most popular model is that it is pent-up energy associated with the fabric of time and space.

Another model shows that dark energy is a fifth fundamental force, and it joins the four fundamental forces of weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. But its real nature remains a mystery to scientists even up to now.


Even as scientists try to answer the questions they have been asking for a long time, ordinary people are more interested in checking the 3D map themselves. While they can access it online, they can have a more immersive experience by checking out one of the planetariums built by companies such as COSM in different parts of the world.

For aspiring scientists, they can go through the different online papers published by scientists about their discoveries using the 3D map of the universe. They will get a better understanding of the mysteries held by the deep recesses of space.

Scientists are hoping that the latest 3D technology can help uncover these mysteries and allow them to increase their understanding of the universe.

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