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Scientists Discover Galactic Supercluster That's Home to Our Milky Way [VIDEO]

Sep 03, 2014 03:50 PM EDT
supercluster Laniakea
Scientists have recently discovered "Laniakea," a massive supercluster of galaxies that is home to our own Milky Way galaxy, shedding light on the boundaries of our own cosmic neighborhood.

Pictured: A slice of the Laniakea Supercluster in the imaginary supergalactic equatorial plane, which contains many of the most massive clusters in this structure. The colors represent density, with red meaning areas of high densities and blue showing voids, or areas with relatively little matter. Individual galaxies are shown as white dots. Velocity flow streams within the region gravitationally dominated by Laniakea are shown in white, while dark blue flow lines are away from the Laniakea local basin of attraction. The orange contour encloses the outer limits of these streams.
(Photo : SDvision interactive visualization software by DP at CEA/Saclay, France)

Scientists have recently discovered "Laniakea," a massive supercluster of galaxies that is home to our own Milky Way galaxy, shedding light on the boundaries of our own cosmic neighborhood.

There are lots of lines in our planet's cosmic address: Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the Local Group of galaxies, and the Virgo Cluster of galaxy groups - and now scientists have added yet another one.

"We have finally established the contours that define the supercluster of galaxies we can call home," lead researcher R. Brent Tully, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a press 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."

Superclusters are among the largest structures in the known Universe, containing hundreds of massive clusters, and within those clusters are thousands of galaxies, like the Milky Way galaxy. It is because these galaxies are so interconnected that their boundaries are often difficult to distinguish.

Tully and fellow astronomers using the National Science Foundation's Green Bank Telescope (GBT) - among other telescopes - set out to better define our cosmic map. Researchers were able to observe the gravitational tug-of-war going on between neighboring galaxies, and thereby could map the velocities of each galaxy throughout our local Universe. The team was able to define the region of space where each supercluster begins and ends.

"Green Bank Telescope observations have played a significant role in the research leading to this new understanding of the limits and relationships among a number of superclusters," Tully said.

According to the findings, the Milky Way lies on the outskirts of a newly identified supercluster, appropriately named Laniakea. Meaning "immense heaven" in Hawaiian, this supercluster is 500 million light-years in diameter and contains the mass of one hundred million billion Suns spread across 100,000 galaxies.

The results help clarify what's going on with the "Great Attractor" - the focal point that influences the motion of our own Local Group as well as other groups of galaxies. The Great Attractor is a large gravitational valley that draws all those galaxies inward, in the same way that Earth's gravity causes water streams to follow descending paths toward a valley.

Laniakea's outlines and boundaries are laid out for the first time in the journal Nature.

[Credit: Nature Video]

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