Stephen Hawking intends to map the known universe

June 30, 2016 by Matt Williams, Universe Today
In honor of Dr. Stephen Hawking, the COSMOS center will be creating the most detailed 3D mapping effort of the Universe to date. Credit: BBC, Illus.: T.Reyes

Back in 1997, a team of leading scientists and cosmologists came together to establish the COSMOS supercomputing center at Cambridge University. Under the auspices of famed physicist Stephen Hawking, this facility and its supercomputer are dedicated to the research of cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics – ultimately, for the purpose of unlocking the deeper mysteries of the universe.

Yesterday, in what was themed as a "tribute to Stephen Hawking", the COSMOS center announced that it will be embarking on what is perhaps the boldest experiment in cosmological mapping. Essentially, they intend to create the most detailed 3D map of the early to date, plotting the position of billions of cosmic structures including supernovas, black holes, and galaxies.

This map will be created using the facility's supercomputer, located in Cambridge's Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. Currently, it is the largest shared-memory computer in Europe, boasting 1,856 Intel Xeon E5 processor cores, 31 Intel Many Integrated Core (MIC) co-processors, and 14.5 terabytes of globally shared memory.

The 3D will also rely on data obtained by two previous surveys – the ESA's Planck satellite and the Dark Energy Survey. From the former, the COSMOS team will use the detailed images of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) – the radiation leftover by the Big Ban – that were released in 2013. These images of the oldest light in the cosmos allowed physicists to refine their estimates for the age of the universe (13.82 billion years) and its rate of expansion.

Stephen Hawking intends to map the known universe
The COSMOS IX supercomputer. Credit: cosmos.damtp.cam.ac.uk

This information will be combined with data from the Dark Energy Survey which shows the expansion of the universe over the course of the last 10 billion years. From all of this, the COSMOS team will compare the early distribution of matter in the universe with its subsequent expansion to see how the two link up.

While cosmological simulations that looked at the evolution and large-scale structure of the universe have been performed in the past – such as the Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments (EAGLE) project and the survey performed by the Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the universe at Tokyo University – this will be the first time where scientists compare data the early universe to its evolution since.

The project is also expected to receive a boost from the deployment of the ESA's Euclid probe, which is scheduled for launch in 2020. This mission will measure the shapes and redshifts of galaxies (looking 10 billion years into the past), thereby helping scientists to understand the geometry of the "dark universe" – i.e. how dark matter and influence it as a whole.

The plans for the COSMOS center's 3D map are will be unveiled at the Starmus science conference, which will be taking place from July 2nd to 27th, 2016, in Tenerife – the largest of the Canary Islands, located off the coast of Spain. At this conference, Hawking will be discussing the details of the COSMOS project.

Stephen Hawking intends to map the known universe
Artist impression of the Euclid probe, which is set to launch in 2020. Credit: ESA

In addition to being the man who brought the COSMOS team together, the theme of the project – "Beyond the Horizon – Tribute to Stephen Hawking" – was selected because of Hawking's long-standing commitment to physics and cosmology. "Hawking is a great theorist but he always wants to test his theories against observations," said Prof. Shellard in a Cambridge press release. "What will emerge is a 3D map of the universe with the positions of billions of galaxies."

Hawking will also present the first-ever Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication, an award established by Hawking that will be bestowed on those who help promote science to the public through media – i.e. cinema, music, writing and art. Other speakers who will attending the event include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chris Hadfield, Martin Rees, Adam Riess, Rusty Schweickart, Eric Betzig, Neil Turok, and Kip Thorne.

Naturally, it is hoped that the creation of this 3D map will confirm current cosmological theories, which include the current age of the universe and whether or not the Standard Model of cosmology – aka. the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (CDM) model – is in fact the correct one. As Hawking is surely hoping, this could bring us one step closer to a Theory of Everything!

Explore further: Computer models predict how the first clumps of matter formed – and what our universe's future holds

Related Stories

Hawking launches supercomputer

July 23, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Professor Stephen Hawking has launched the most powerful shared-memory supercomputer in Europe.  Professor Hawking anticipates that the COSMOS supercomputer, manufactured by SGI and the first system of ...

Black holes banish matter into cosmic voids

February 24, 2016

We live in a universe dominated by unseen matter, and on the largest scales, galaxies and everything they contain are concentrated into filaments that stretch around the edge of enormous voids. Thought to be almost empty ...

Recommended for you

Rosetta witnesses birth of baby bow shock around comet

December 12, 2018

A new study reveals that, contrary to first impressions, Rosetta did detect signs of an infant bow shock at the comet it explored for two years – the first ever seen forming anywhere in the solar system.

Periodic radio signal detected from the blazar J1043+2408

December 12, 2018

Using Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), astronomers have detected a periodic signal in the radio light curve of the blazar J1043+2408, which could be helpful in improving our understanding about the nature of blazars ...

The epoch of planet formation, times twenty

December 12, 2018

Astronomers have cataloged nearly 4,000 exoplanets in orbit around distant stars. Though the discovery of these newfound worlds has taught us much, there is still a great deal we do not know about the birth of planets and ...

Juno mission halfway to Jupiter science

December 12, 2018

On Dec. 21, at 8:49:48 a.m. PST (11:49:48 a.m. EST) NASA's Juno spacecraft will be 3,140 miles (5,053 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops and hurtling by at a healthy clip of 128,802 mph (207,287 kilometers per hour). ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

classicplastic
3 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2016
If we can can map the universe, why oh why can't we get a solid scientific handle on our one-and-only planet's life support system?
RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2016
...he has far too much fun for a person in his physical condition....
Otto_Szucks
1 / 5 (4) Jul 01, 2016
He has survived for 50 years when others with the same affliction have died early. Which means that survival is mostly controlled by the "mind".
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 01, 2016
If we can can map the universe, why oh why can't we get a solid scientific handle on our one-and-only planet's life support system?

You might have heard that one: "The map is not the territory"

Mapping is easy*. Understanding is hard.

* for a given value of 'easy'. Mapping something as large as the universe isn't exactly what a kid would call 'easy'. But it's still way easier than understanding it all.
24volts
1 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2016
I would really like to see Google get involved with this and use the data created to add to the space map you can look at. Add the information known currently for each star and it would make a fantastic database to use.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.