The universe on a carpet (live from the SDSS-III meeting)

Greetings from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III meeting in Princeton! Today is the third and final day of the meeting, where we are planning the next year of operations for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III). The original SDSS, of course, provided all the beautiful galaxy pictures that you see in Galaxy Zoo; SDSS-III is an extension of that survey that extend the mission – and keep me quite busy! – until 2015.

The meeting is in the Astronomy Department in Peyton Hall at Princeton University. This is the first time I’ve been here since coming with the Brown University Band in 1996, and I had forgotten what a nice campus this is. And they’ve made an addition to the astronomy building that is the coolest thing ever – see this photo:

A map of the universe on a carpet

A map of the universe on a carpet

It’s not the greatest photo, since the only picture-taking device I had was my Mac. But I hope you can see what it is – it’s a map of the universe on a carpet! One of the main goals of the original SDSS was to make a map of the universe. The map that the SDSS produced was fascinating, but it can all seem a bit abstract without referencing our place in the universe. The map is essentially missing the “YOU ARE HERE” label.

That new style of map was created by Princeton astronomer Richard Gott and his colleagues; the full story is told on their Logarithmic Maps of the Universe website. On their site, you can download the map. The map was also the basis for a very popular xkcd comic.

Think about this map for a moment. Twenty years ago, we didn’t know many of these objects even existed, and we didn’t really know how they all fit together. For example, we didn’t know whether the walls of galaxies we had just started seeing at the time were really the largest structures in the universe, and we didn’t know how they related to the microwave background radiation. Twenty years ago, we hadn’t discovered even one extrasolar planet. Today, we know all these things so well that we can make them all fit on a carpet! But science is never finished, so we can only imagine what kinds of fascinating new discoveries we’ll be putting on our carpets in 2029.

Today, Wednesday the 29th, is the day with the most representation by Galaxy Zoo. We’ll be live-broadcasting two sessions today. At 9:00 AM ET (2:00 PM GMT), I’ll be giving a 15-minute introduction to the education and public outreach plans of the SDSS-III. At 11:00 AM ET (4:00 PM GMT), I’ll be broadcasting “machine gun science,” an event we feature at every SDSS meeting. Because there are so many research projects that involve SDSS data, we set aside a time for very short talks on a wide variety of topics. Today’s talks will be 3 minutes each, with a maximum of 3 slides. I’ll be giving one on my study of who volunteers with Galaxy Zoo (that is, you!), and Bob will be giving one on red spiral galaxies found through Galaxy Zoo.

The broadcasts will be on our UStream channel:

As always, someone will be available on chat during the talks to answer questions. Hope to see you tomorrow!

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7 responses to “The universe on a carpet (live from the SDSS-III meeting)”

  1. Mark O'Connell says :

    I got to comment on that carpet.. Some put a green pea on it.

  2. Mark O'Connell says :

    Then if someone steps on it you could say it’s merging. 😀

  3. Alice says :

    Where can we buy one of those carpets and how much are they?!

  4. Jo says :

    I enjoyed reading your blog. Hope the talks went well, sorry i didn’t manage to catch the broadcast.

  5. Jordan says :

    Thanks, everyone! We had some technical problems with the broadcast, but I’m glad that some of you were able to watch.

    Mark, next time I’m at Princeton, I’ll bring a pea and put it on the appropriate place on the map. What is the average redshift of the peas?

    Alice, the carpet was a one-time creation for Princeton, and it’s not for sale. But I’d be interested in seeing where it came from, and what the history of making it was. Let me ask some of my colleagues at Princeton.

  6. zeus2007 says :


  7. Maria Hill says :

    Wow, I like this carpet. I am also interested in your post, really amazing… The pic of the carpet is also great and awesome. Thank you..

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