Friday, September 5, 2014

Our Galaxy Is a Lot Less Alone in Space Than We Thought


The Milky Way isn't as lonely a galaxy as you might have thought. In fact, our home galaxy is actually part of a gigantic supercluster of galaxies called Laniakea, according to new data gathered using the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT)

The largest structures in the universe form a massive network of clusters, filaments, and superclusters of galaxies that break up the cosmic void. But for everything we know about these large cosmic objects, astronomers have been unable to create a detailed map of the structure in which our own galaxy resides, until now. 

According to the new work, it turns out our galaxy resides in the outskirts of the Laniakea Supercluster. Laniakea, which means “immense heaven” in Hawaiian, is a supercluster 500 million light-years in diameter that contains the mass of one hundred million billion Suns spread across 100,000 galaxies. 

In short, our galaxy is just one part of a massive whole. But the finding goes deeper than that: the discovery that has helped clarify the boundaries of our galactic neighborhood to establish previously unrecognized links between galaxy clusters in our local part of the universe.

“We have finally established the contours that define the supercluster of galaxies we can call home,” said Brent Tully, lead researcher and astronomer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in a release. “This is not unlike finding out for the first time that your hometown is actually part of much larger country that borders other nations.”

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