It took 10 years to map our local universe out to 380 million light years, but the resulting image is amazing.
NASA's shuttle program may be winding down, but that doesn't mean there isn't a whole universe left to explore—and a whole new generation of astronomers and astronauts to get excited about life beyond our chunk of rock. Now, thanks to 10 years of work on the part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, budding scientists will now have a better picture, literally, of what's out there than we've ever had. The image above is the result of the 2MASS Redshift Survey (2MRS) and is "the most complete 3-D map of the local universe (out to a distance of 380 million light-years) ever created."
Not only is the map gorgeous (click here for a hi-res version) and destined to make teaching the specifics of the universe a whole lot easier, the technology behind it is also pretty sweet. The survey "scanned the entire sky in three near-infrared wavelength bands," because "near-infrared light penetrates intervening dust better than visible light, allowing astronomers to see more of the sky." They then "redshifted" a galaxy's light by stretching it, which allows them to see (and map) the third dimension.
Maybe one day, along with a map of the United States and globes or maps of the earth, we'll also see maps of the universe in every classroom.