Scientists know a certain amount about the universe. They know that planets form solar systems around stars, which then form networks with other stars within galaxies. The universe is therefore a collection of billions of galaxies, all loosely connected by gravity in a kind of web.
What they don't know, however, is what exactly that web – and, therefore, the general blueprint of the universe – looks like.
Now, though, researchers at the Centre for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University have had a pretty good stab at it. Using modelling techniques and data on 24,000 galaxies, they tried out three different methods to map the connections between them. One was based the gravity connections on the distance between galaxies; one on their size; and one connected each galaxy to its nearest neighbour.
The results are up on the lab's website, in the form of mind-boggling interactive visualisations which allow you to zoom and scroll through thousands of galaxies. Here's a shot of the first model, where lines represent gravitational links linking galaxies based on their distance:
The second, which gets even more complicated by linking large galaxies, even if they're further away:
And the third:
When the researchers compared the models to known location data about nearby galaxies, they found that the third model was the best fit. This implies that galaxies which are gravitationally connected to their closest neighbours may make up the bulk of the universe’s architecture.