Mapping The Galaxies Surrounding Us: We’re Smaller Than Ever

Although the majority of articles I post are related to travel or culture, every now and then I’ll come across things that are too interesting not to share. If you’re human, you’ve probably wondered at some point about how the universe works. I found an article and correlating video on Nature.com that sheds a little more light on our astronomical neighborhood and an interesting new way to conceptualize it.

We know that our solar system is located within a spiral galaxy we call the Milky Way. A team of scientists wanted to dig deeper and see where exactly we sit among thousands of galaxies around us and map their positions in space. After studying 8,000 of the closest galaxies, they found out that the Milky Way is actually part of a larger super cluster of galaxies, which they named Laniakea (meaning “measurable heaven” in Hawaiian), at the very edge on the outskirts.

laniakea

The entire universe itself can be seen as an intricate network of galaxies, a cosmic web. Some areas are just empty voids, others are densely packed with galaxies. These are the super clusters – the largest structures in the universe. Scientists struggled in defining where one ends and another beings, so they started to study the motions of the galaxies in unprecedented detail.

While the universe is rapidly expanding, it’s also being affected by gravity (which is pulling against this acceleration). The scientists were able to determine which galaxies are being pulled towards us, in blue below, and which ones are being pulled away, in red. In turn, they were able to create a map of cosmic flows – a new way of visualizing the motion of the universe.

cosmic flows

galaxy flows

Flow lines showing galaxies moving towards and away from us.

In our own super cluster, most galaxies are being pulled towards a dense center, known as the Great Attractor. Until now, our galaxy and about 100 other galaxies have traditionally been grouped with the Virgo cluster. After seeing this new cosmic map, it turns out that our galaxy cluster, along with the Virgo cluster and nearly 100 other clusters, is actually part of a super cluster that stretches 100 million light years across.

galaxies

This “super cluster,” however, is just the tip of the iceberg and is merely an appendage of a much larger super cluster, over 100 times bigger and much more massive. Earth has always been just a tiny pea in the vast expansiveness of space. It suddenly feels a lot smaller… but also a lot more like home.

Check out the fascinating video below!

Header image: “Andromeda Collides Milky Way” by NASA

Josie Claire

Josie Claire

Hi Guys! My name is Josie and I'm a traveler, writer, photographer and adventurer with a curiosity for anything and everything. Introduced to travel at a very early age, I've been addicted ever since and have explored over 33 countries, documenting my stories along the way.
Josie Claire

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