When Eleanor saw this video, she commented that the galaxies looked like snowflakes. There is indeed more than a passing resemblance between the billions of galaxies in our universe and the plate-like snowflakes that come in such delicate crystalline shapes. For one thing, both exist in nature as absolute individuals, with no two alike, as far as we know. The video, below, though, doesn’t show snowflakes. It’s an animation of galaxies in our universe as derived from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III).
Each galaxy in the animation is placed at the location mapped by SDSS and is represented by the zoomed-in template image that matches the actual shape of the galaxy.
There are close to 400,000 galaxies in the animation, with images of the actual galaxies in these positions (or in some cases their near cousins in type) derived from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 7. Vast as this slice of the universe seems, its most distant reach is to redshift 0.1, corresponding to roughly 1.3 billion light-years from Earth. Our whole universe, meanwhile, is thought to extend more like 15 billion light-years.
Miguel Aragon of Johns Hopkins University – with Mark Subbarao of the Adler Planetarium, Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins and Yushu Yao of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and NERSC – created this animation of nearby galaxies in our universe with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It’s nice, guys.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.