WATERLOO -- A researcher at the University of Waterloo is one of the minds behind a new map that shows 11 billion years of astronomical history.

William Percival, an astrophysics professor, helped build the world's largest 3D map of the universe, the most detailed cosmic map known to mankind.

"We're really pushing the boundaries of physics," Percival said.

It includes more than 2 million galaxies, dating back to when the universe was 300,000 years old.

"We have our own galaxy. The Milky Way Galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies out there in the universe," Percival said. "We recorded the three-dimensional positions of 2 million of these galaxies."

The 3D picture is called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

"We see the universe as it was 300,000 years after the Big Bang," Percival said. "The universe is now 13.7 billion years old, and our map is covering 11 billion years of that time."

Percival, a professor at the University of Waterloo and associate faculty at the Perimeter Institute, has been working on the map for the last 15 years. He's led a team of 100 astronomers from across the globe to create it.

"We took a spectrum of the light from the galaxies and then we were able to work out how fast these galaxies were moving away from us," he explained. "Then, because of expansion, the speed with which the galaxies are moving away from us tells us the distance in them, where we were able to make this map three dimensional."

By making the map 3D, Percival said they were able to discover a new type of energy. It's called dark energy and it's expanding the universe at a fast rate.

"We see this accelerated expansion and we don't know why," he said.

"It sounds like something from Star Wars," sad Dan Raskin, a science contributor for CTV News. "But, it's basically just energy that's dark in the sense that we have no idea what it is. According to this study, something like 70 per cent of all the energy in the universe is this mysterious dark energy."

Percival said his next step is understanding this new form of energy.

"This accelerated expansion is new physics," he said. "It means we need new rules, it means we need to understand something else in the universe."


This is a corrected story. A previous version misquoted William Percival as saying that the universe was 30.7 billion years old. In fact, he said the universe is 13.7 billion years old.