"Nova" viewers will have an opportunity to fly through supercluster galaxies in an animated documentary conceived by University of Hawaii astronomer R. Brent Tully.
Viewers can take an
with UH astronomers
By Helen Altonn
"Runaway Universe" will be shown at 9 p.m. tonight on KHET/PBS.
Tully was principal investigator on a proposal funded by the National Science Foundation to launch the project. It was sold to "Nova" by Thomas Lucas Productions in New York.
"My great interest was in being able to bring to the public a display of the large-scale structure of the universe -- something unfamiliar to almost everybody," Tully said in an interview.
"It turns out the universe is constructed of great filaments of walls and sheets of galaxies."
These superclusters of galaxies interconnected with big voids appear like veins on a leaf wrapping around big empty areas, Tully said.
It's believed now that these structures "are seeds out of the Big Bang that gave birth to the universe," he said.
"And indeed, this is a way of looking back at this because almost everything else that we look at ... erodes and changes and is nothing like how it started."
These structures are so big and so slow-moving that "they actually bear the imprint of the original seeds," the UH astronomer said.
He was involved with astronomers in seeing these structures for the first time in the early 1980s.
The documentary will include animation of his data. Three-dimensional maps and simulations were done by computer artists from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications who worked on the IMAX film "Cosmic Voyage."
"Through wonders of animation we can make it look like a real trip through real data," Tully said. The flight starts, he said, by looking out of a telescope in Arizona and takes off through our galaxy, to the Virgo cluster and beyond.
Tully was adviser for the "Nova" program, which took a different twist from his original idea -- becoming a story of how the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating.
Scientists suspected the universe was expanding for a long time but thought it was probably slowing down because of all the gravity, he said. However, strong evidence in recent years indicates the expansion is speeding rather than slowing, he said.
"This raises the possibility then that there is a different kind of energy that we are unfamiliar with in our normal experience which causes space to expand, so it works in an opposite sense from gravity."
The most exciting aspect, Tully said, is "we actually imagine now that something similar happened when the universe was born."
The idea -- called inflation -- is that the same kind of energy caused rapid expansion of space in a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, he said.
The show focuses on the fate of the universe as it accelerates faster and faster, Tully said.
Rival teams featured in discovery of the accelerated expansion were led by Saul Perimutter of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California and Brian Schmidt of Mount Stromio and Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.
Their discovery suggests the universe will go on expanding forever, with galaxies drifting farther and farther apart until they are virtually alone in a limitless sea of space.
UH Institute for Astronomy