Stephen Hawking Plans To Map Universe: Supercomputer Will Plot Position Of Galaxies

Stephen Hawking is already a luminary in the field of astrophysics. His accomplishments has feted him as one of the most respected and instantly recognizable figures in modern science.

Decades since his work on black holes, Hawking is set to announce a new project: he wants to map the entire known universe in 3D. He will do so with the help of a supercomputer named Cosmos, which is located at Cambridge University.

Mapping The Known Universe

According to a report by The Sunday Times, Hawking will detail his plans during the Starmus science conference, wherein some of the world's most well-known scientists have gathered. The conference began on June 27 in Tenerife, Spain.

Cosmology Professor Paul Shellard, the director of the Cosmos supercomputer center, said the project will use images of the radiation from the Big Bang — all of which were captured by the Planck satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA) — to draw up a map of the early known universe.

The radiation images will be enlarged and augmented by data from the Dark Energy Survey (DES) — an optical/near-infrared survey with a 13-foot (approximately 3.9 meters) diameter telescope in Chile — to plot the position of hundreds of millions of galaxies.

"Planck gives us an amazing picture of the early distribution of matter and how that led to the structure of the modern universe," says Shellard.

He says the maps will be improved when the ESA's Euclid probe is sent to space in 2020.

What Scientists Know About Dark Energy

Aside from mapping out the known universe, the radiation images from the Cosmos project will also reveal the true nature of dark energy, which is theorized to be speeding up the universe's expansion.

Indeed, scientists believe that the vast space outside the confines of our own is still expanding at a rate faster than what was originally known.

A team of astrophysicists from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and from the John Hopkins University in Maryland revealed in June that the known universe is growing about 5 to 9 percent faster than initial calculations.

Current estimates by the Hubble Space Telescope reveal a constant of 45.5 miles per second per megaparsec, and scientists say this is much higher than earlier Hubble constant figures.

The discrepancy in readings could be caused by two possible factors: first, that dark energy is powering the rapid expansion of the universe; and second, that the discrepancy could be affected by dark radiation. Findings are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Meanwhile, further details will be announced about Hawking's new project.

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr

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