"What really makes me proud of this survey is our commitment to creating a legacy for the future," said Michael Blanton, a professor at New York University who led the team that prepared this release. "Our goal is to create a map of the Universe that will be used long after we are done, by future generations of astronomers, physicists and the general public."
Data Release 9 is the latest in a series of data releases stretching back to 2001. This release includes new data from the ongoing SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), which will eventually measure the positions of 1.5 million massive galaxies over the past six billion years of cosmic time, as well as 160,000 quasars — giant black holes actively feeding on stars and gas — from as long ago as 12 billion years in the past.
With such a map, scientists can retrace the history of the Universe over the last six billion years. With that history, they can get better estimates for how much of the Universe is made up of dark matter - matter that we can't directly see because it doesn't emit or absorb light - and dark energy, the even more mysterious force that drives the accelerating expansion of the Universe.
And it is just so beautiful to watch all on its own!