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Mapping the Universe

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Mapping the Universe

In the late twentieth century, mankind made quantum leaps in its knowledge of the universe. Progress is underway to map the entire universe—with new insights into the vast unknown.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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In 1986, a significant leap in the science of astronomy and astrophysics occurred, introducing a new frontier: Positions of galaxy clusters were represented on a computer model. Although dozens of surveys had already been conducted to chart the distribution of galaxies in particular segments of the universe, none attempted to cover so broad an expanse.

For the very first time, scientists were able to obtain a visual concept of what the universe looks like. According to the Big Bang Theory, accepted by the majority in the scientific community, a vast explosion supposedly propelled matter hurling in all directions away from this creative nucleus. As this theory would have it, the larger structures such as galaxies and galaxy clusters would necessarily be distributed in random fashion.

What did this new vista of the broad expanse of the universe reveal? Anything but random fashion!

Upon confirming the shape these galaxies and galaxy clusters formed, the scientific world was shocked! This new panorama revealed a particular structure consisting of over 1,000 galaxies, reflecting the shape of a man. Not only was the theory of random distribution discredited, but to add insult to injury, the evolutionary-minded scientists beheld that the galaxies in the universe formed in the shape of a man!

Of course, none of the scientists attached any significance to the shape of this structure. However, it prompted some scientists to seriously question the Big Bang Theory, which was put firmly on the defensive by this new evidence.

Visualizing the Grand Scale

Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts had innovated this new technique of visualizing data and reducing it in scope to a computer model. Yet the representation was relatively accurate, given such vast distances!

For the first time, man was able to visualize structures of the universe spanning a spectrum of 500 million light years. He was able to view on the largest scale, structures in the universe consisting of great wall-like formations of galaxies surrounded by voids or areas of empty space. The very first formation discovered in the near universe was an image resembling a human. Because of its long torso, scientists named this grand figure “the stick man.” It was grand not only in dimension, but also in the sense that it literally changed man’s understanding of the universe.

Some scientists reluctantly acknowledged that the Big Bang Theory had lost some credibility and possibly needed serious revision. However, most were not yet ready to loosen their embrace on what was fashionable to believe—although their faith in the Big Bang came to be, admittedly, somewhat in disarray.

Smithsonian astronomer Dr. Margaret Geller acknowledged that the stick man “constituted compelling evidence that galaxies were congregating on two-dimensional structures, as though they had condensed out of cosmic nothingness on the surfaces of invisible bubbles. Indeed, when Geller later wrote up the results of the CFA [Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics] galaxy survey, she described the distribution of galaxies in the universe as looking like a slice through suds in the kitchen sink. Her metaphor implied that astronomers were mightily confused about how the universe had formed” (“Beyond the Soapsuds Universe,” Gary Taubes, Discover, emphasis ours).

Terms used in Geller’s frank admission pertaining to these galaxy structures appearing to have “condensed out of cosmic nothingness” sound as if scientific evidence is giving more weight to creation as research advances.

A fascinating pattern: This artist’s rendering of galaxy distribution throughout the universe serves to illustrate what appears to be the “condensation” of galaxies in repeating circular patterns upon a two-dimensional plane. The metaphor used in describing this phenomenon has been compared to that of “slicing through soapsuds in the kitchen sink.” The distinguishing factor of this depiction of the survey of the northern sky is the human form at the center of the two-dimensional plane, highlighted in yellow for purposes of illustration. This is the image found in the computer model from the galaxy distribution patterns in the near universe (less than one billion light years from earth). The spheres below the slice of the two-dimensional plane have been illustrated to coincide with the universal circular pattern of galaxy distribution.

A few facts about the stick man stand out as unusually fascinating. Some of its 1,000-plus galaxies are as near as 30 million light years, while others are as far away as 650 million light years. The survey that contained the stick man covered the northern sky as viewed from earth. The torso of the stick man is in the center and closely aligned with true north—in line with the axis of the earth’s rotation.

A commonly held observation among various open-minded astronomers and cosmologists was well expressed by Dr. Craig Tyler, at Fort Lewis College in Colorado: “The ‘stick man’ – this first survey result made it look like there was a message here for us, galaxies arranged in the shape of a human. But other slices of the sky have no such feature, and different scale plots of the same slice show no such feature. These features are interesting, because they seem to suggest that we occupy a central position in the cosmos.”

Pertaining to the distortions of this image that led Geller’s team to label it the “stick man,” Dr. Tyler continued, “In fact, the linear arrangements of galaxies appear to be artificial—based on our flawed way of computing their distances. This effect would make the stick man’s torso look taller than it really is, and it would exaggerate the walls that appear to surround us” (

Understand that we are not endorsing this discovery as a “divine message” for all mankind. But it is interesting that it is causing some few scientists and evolutionists to re-examine their preconceived ideas. It is fascinating that the Creator has left a trail throughout the heavens for those who will look. After all, the Bible says that only “the fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psa. 53:1).

Redshifts and the Far Universe

The distance of specific galaxies from our location in the universe can be precisely determined by measuring the degree of “redshift” in the light spectrum. Once the optical light from given galaxies are run through a spectrograph (the instrument used to separate light into its component colors), the bright and dark lines of these separated colors are the signatures of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium, sodium and the other elements. Analysis using spectroscopy can easily identify all the elements and resulting compounds involved, whether in the turbulent state of combustion or quiet equilibrium.

In analyzing the spectra of galaxies, the patterns of the colors are stretched to longer wavelengths. The stretching is simply called redshift. The further away the galaxies, the greater the redshift. Thus the redshift represents a relatively accurate measure of the distance of any galaxy from our vantage point.

With technology to instantly evaluate redshifts, efforts to explore beyond the near universe become greatly accelerated. When Geller and her colleagues mapped the universe (a few hundred million light years away) and discovered the stick man, they were only able to view in the range of a single galaxy in every square degree of the sky. (A square degree is about 5 times the area of the moon.)

Shifting the focus 5 billion light years out into the universe, you will see more than 1,000 galaxies in that same square degree of sky. This demonstrates how vast the universe actually is!

Greatly improved instrumentation has made it possible to simultaneously plot hundreds of these galaxies. Using newly developed multiplexing instruments, astronomers are now well along in their goal of mapping all the known galaxies in the universe, including, as much as possible, the far universe. Even with this instrumentation, it is expected to take about a century to complete this ambitious project.

Incredible as it sounds, man is now well along in his quest to understand the geometry of the universe. With each passing decade, the process of mapping the universe is improved by quantum leaps—literally. The three-dimensional pattern of the universe is analogous to bubbles or foam, as mentioned earlier. Galaxies collect in a two-dimensional pattern near the rim of these bubble-structures in repeating patterns.

Spotting and recording the billions of galaxies in the universe is greatly expedited by use of the Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT) at Mt. Hopkins, Arizona. This telescope covers a relatively large portion of the sky. The new instrumentation greatly accelerates the recording process, mapping (using fiber optics technology) many millions of distant galaxies well beyond the near universe.

Milestones in Understanding the Universe 

Consider how far science has progressed in the past century. It was 1929 when Edwin Hubble demonstrated the extent of our expanding universe. He was able to prove that galaxies were moving away from us and that their relative speed increased in proportion to their distance. Hubble’s findings fully agreed with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that took into account the vast space separating the galaxies.

In the 1960s, Fritz Zwicky and his colleagues plotted many hundreds of sky survey plates, which identified over 30,000 galaxies. Our understanding of the universe continued to expand.

We now understand that the galaxies plotted by Zwicky and others were within a billion light years of our sun—our own neighborhood in the near universe. We also understand that this known universe extends about 15 billion light years in all directions.

By the 1970s, the Zwicky catalog of galaxy surveys was looked upon as the pioneering project deserving much credit. But one major drawback was that it was merely two-dimensional—containing latitude and longitude, but lacking depth. The missing quality was provided by the measurement of redshift in the light upon its passing through a spectrograph, as discussed earlier. Redshift supplied this missing third dimension. Although redshift was understood during the time of Hubble (about 1929), it was a long and tedious task to analyze and measure this phenomenon. Today, that process is automatic and far more accurate.

Made in the 1980s, the first three-dimensional visualization of the near universe was chosen from the northern sky. Although that survey covered a spectrum of over 500 million light years, Geller likened this panorama to trying to visualize the structure of the continents and oceans of the earth by examining a map the size of Rhode Island—hardly enough area to make generalizations of the overview. Yet, there is reason to believe that this first slice of the universe was typical of the universe observed to a far greater depth into space more recently.

By 1989, the view was over four times deeper than the initial survey in 1986. Astronomers Geller and Huchra were able to map the Great Wall spanning the northern sky over a stretch of 800 million light years. By other mappings throughout the 1990s, it is understood that such structures are a common feature of the universe.

Note some of the amazing capabilities that now exist: “Teams of scientists based in Australia and in the United States have undertaken ambitious mapping projects that rely on the new technology. The Australian project goes by the name of the instrument that enables it, the 2DF, for a 2-degree field. The 2DF on the 4-meter Anglo-Australian telescope returns nearly 400 redshifts [terms used for distant galaxies with distinct redshift characteristics] at a time for galaxies distributed across a 2-square degree region of the sky…The patterns in these impressive maps are similar to the ones we [Geller and colleagues] discovered. Because the maps are more extensive than ours, they contain many dark voids, along with a multitude of thin walls and filamentary structures where galaxies are.”

The publication continues, “A consortium of universities in the United States has undertaken an even more audacious project; they plan to image a quarter of the sky digitally and to acquire spectra for one million galaxies. The first slices of these large surveys give the same message as the ones before them: Dark voids, thin walls, and filaments define the bubble- or sponge-like tapestry of our neighborhood in the universe” (“Beyond Earth,” National Geographic, p. 180).

Dark Matter

Enough evidence has surfaced to better understand the general nature and distribution of matter in the universe. The observations noted thus far pertain to matter that emits light. This summary of man’s quest to understand the universe would be incomplete without noting the mysterious element of dark matter. As interesting as the visible universe of light-emitting galaxies has become, this visible matter comprises only 10 percent of the universe. More than 90 percent of the universe is composed of dark matter!

Exactly what is dark matter? Dr. Geller’s answer gives the best assessment of our understanding of that issue: “This conundrum [puzzling, unknown] has been with us, unresolved, for nearly 70 years. Knowing the nature of the dark matter is crucial for a complete understanding of the formation of galaxies. The cosmic microwave background radiation… that pervades the universe carries our earliest glimpse of the clumping of matter in the universe…In remarkable agreement with the analysis of redshift surveys, study of the miniscule fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation tells us that only about 10 percent of the matter in the universe is the normal baryonic stuff that makes up the objects we observe: stars, planets, and human beings. The other 90 percent is something still mysterious and dark” (Ibid., pp. 180-181).

The Continuing Quest

Man’s desire to better understand the universe continues. In the year 2009, the ability to see farther and deeper into space will be realized by the launch of the Next Generation Space Telescope. By the year 2100, scientists plan for the entire known universe to be digitally mapped. The detailed geometry of the universe is expected to be understood by that time.

Man’s achievement of simulated computer models of the visual structures of the universe may be accurate to the degree that a map represents a territory. But Dr. Geller expresses the inadequacy of such simulations as true representations of what they picture: “From an aesthetic point of view, for me, at least, there is exquisite beauty in the natural world that simulations cannot match” (Ibid., p. 184).

The beauty of the heavens is greatly magnified by the powerful telescopes far beyond what the naked eye can fathom. The wider and deeper the field of vision, the more breathtaking this creation appears. In the physical universe, we find convincing proof that only a Supreme Creator could have fashioned it all together in such a wondrously unified whole. This is precisely why most senior astronomers such as Dr. James Van Allen have rejected evolutionary philosophy (ingrained into them in their youth), to become creationists.

We challenge you to prove this for yourself as well. Our free booklet Does God Exist? provides ample proof of the existence of a Creator God.

One of the foremost scientists of the first half of the twentieth century—Albert Einstein—made this keen observation about the order, laws and forethought that God put into His creation. Einstein expressed the following (condensed and paraphrased here): He was fully confident of the existence of a superior intelligence that he perceived to be at work in the universe. He expressed belief in a God who revealed Himself in the orderly harmony of what existed. His perception of religion as a scientist took on a “rapturous amazement” at the harmony of natural laws, which revealed an intelligence of such superiority that all the collective systematic thinking of human beings was an utterly insignificant reflection (Out of My Later Years).

It would be interesting if we were to someday find that God has left many messages within the universe, leaving mankind utterly without excuse in rejecting the existence of God.

From the forces that bind atomic nuclei to the principles that run these great galaxies, we find the signature of the same Creator. From the existence of law to the law of existence, from the fullness of the earth to the vastness of space, that Creator is known by His handiwork. From the breathtaking beauty of the creation to a mind that can comprehend it—all these things testify to the majesty of a supreme, all-wise Creator God and His boundless creative forethought!

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