Among the scientific community, it’s widely believed that so far humans have only discovered about 5% of the universe.
Yet, as Visual Capitalist's Carmen Ang details below, despite knowing about just a fraction of what’s out there, we’ve still managed to discover galaxies billions of light-years away from Earth.
For a full-size option or to inquire about posters, please visit Pablo Carlos Budassi’s website.
How Does the Map Work?
Before diving in, it’s worth touching on a few key details about the map.
First off, it’s important to note that the celestial objects shown on this map are not shown to scale. If it was made to scale with sizes relative to how we see them from Earth, nearly all of the objects would be miniscule dots (except the Moon, the Sun, and some nebulae and galaxies).
Secondly, each object’s distance from the Earth is measured on a logarithmic scale, which increases exponentially, in order to fit in all the data.
Within our Solar System, the map’s scale spans astronomical units (AU), roughly the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Beyond, it grows to measure millions of parsecs, with each one of those equal to 3.26 light-years, or 206,000 AU.
Exploring the Map
The map highlights a number of different celestial objects, including:
The Solar System
Comets and asteroids
Star systems and clusters
Galaxies, including the Milky Way
Cosmic microwave background—radiation leftover from the Big Bang
Featured are some recently discovered objects, such as the most distant known galaxy to date, HD1. Scientists believe this newly-discovered galaxy was formed just 330 million years after the Big Bang, or roughly 8.4 billion years before Earth.
It also highlights some newly deployed spacecraft, including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is NASA’s latest infrared telescope, and the Tiangong Space Station, which was made by China and launched in April 2021.
Why is it called the “Observable” Universe?
Humanity has been interested in space for thousands of years, and many scientists and researchers have dedicated their lives to furthering our collective knowledge about space and the universe.
Most people are familiar with Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity, which became a cornerstone of both physics and astronomy. Another well-known scientist was Edwin Hubble, whose findings of galaxies moving away from Earth is considered to be the first observation of the universe expanding.
But the massive logarithmic map above, and any observations from Earth or probes in space, are limited in nature. The universe is currently dated to be around 13.8 billion years old, and nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light.
When accounting for the expansion of the universe and observed objects moving away from us, that means that the farthest we can “see” is currently calculated at around 47.7 billion light-years. And since light takes time to travel, much of what we’re observing actually happened many millions of years ago.
But our understanding of the universe is evolving constantly with new discoveries. What will we discover next?