Originally posted on In the Dark:
One of the challenges we cosmologists face is how to quantify the patterns we see in galaxy redshift surveys. In the relatively recent past the small size of the available data sets meant that only relatively crude descriptors could be used; anything sophisticated would be rendered useless by noise. For that reason, statistical analysis of galaxy clustering tended to be limited to the measurement of autocorrelation functions, usually constructed in Fourier space in the form of power spectra; you can find a nice review here.
Because it is so robust and contains a great deal of important information, the power spectrum has become ubiquitous in cosmology. But I think it’s important to realise its limitations.
Take a look at these two N-body computer simulations of large-scale structure: