Scientists eager to create a three-dimensional map of the universe are embarking on a $14 million telescope project aimed at exploring the origins of galaxies.
The search of the skies is expected to produce the most detailed charts of the universe to date, according to members of the Astrophysical Research Consortium, a group composed of several universities and the Princeton N.J.-based Institute for Advanced Study.Scientists said they hope to produce a three-dimensional layout of 1 million galaxies, 100,000 quasars and numerous intergalactic gas clouds.
A two-dimensional color version of 100 million galaxies also is planned.
The survey "is the cosmic equivalent of a U.S. Geological Survey map," said Richard Kron, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago.
"It will show the details of galaxy and quasar distribution as well as the large-scale `geography' of the universe," Kron said.
Quasars are starlike, celestial objects that produce immense quantities of light or powerful radio waves, or both.
The University of Chicago is a member of the consortium that includes the Institute for Advanced Study, New Mexico State University, Princeton University, the University of Washington and Washington State University.
The consortium voted Nov. 20 to move ahead with the project, which is scheduled to begin in 1995. The University of Chicago, Princeton and the Institute for Advanced Study will split the costs.
Jim Gunn of Princeton designed the telescope with digital and robotic technology to map the universe quickly, enabling astronomers to complete the mapping in five to seven years. The telescope will be placed on Apache Point in New Mexico's Sacramento Mountains.
The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., is expected to provide the computer equipment needed to store and analyze the survey's estimated 10 million megabytes of information - roughly enough data to fill a telephone directory for 250 billion people, officials said.