Just recently, a group of astronomers discovered a huge stream of stars in space that flows between galaxies. You can imagine this as a river or even a huge channel of stars cutting through outer space. If Pythagoras and Plato had seen this system, they would have shed tears.
The length of the discovered stream is simply mega-colossal – 1.6 million light years. This is more than 10 times larger than the diameter of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Of course, with such a scale, this intergalactic stream of stars can be called truly gigantic.
To make it easier to realize its size, let’s look at smaller examples. Take, for example, the distance from the Earth to the Moon – about 384 thousand kilometers. Any association with something familiar always makes it easier to perceive huge cosmic numbers. So, if we add together 700 thousand distances from the Earth to the Moon, we get the approximate length of this amazing stellar stream.
Located in a cluster of galaxies called Coma Berenices
This cluster is approximately 300 million light years away from us. That is, the light from it travels to us for as long as 300 million years. This cluster contains many galaxies – as many as several thousand. But what is important is that the giant stellar stream itself does not belong to any one galaxy, but simply flows in intergalactic space.
How were scientists able to see such a distant and subtle stellar structure?
It all started with the observations of amateur astronomer Michael Rich from California. He was conducting another scan of space with his small amateur telescope with a diameter of 70 centimeters and drew attention to an unusual area in the constellation Coma Berenices.
After this, professional astronomers pointed a much larger 4.2-meter telescope in the same direction. Thanks to its large light collection, it was possible to obtain detailed photographs of a distant cluster of galaxies. And a thin, almost transparent haze clearly emerged on them – this was a gigantic intergalactic stream of stars.
Why this discovery is so significant?
Firstly, no intergalactic stellar stream of this size has ever been found before. And secondly, it is surprising that such a vulnerable and fragile structure can exist in the rather aggressive conditions of the intergalactic environment. After all, it is full of galaxies that move, rotate, and their powerful gravitational field could break such a flow.
However, scientists say that the existence of such giant intergalactic streams of stars fits well with scientific theories and models. This means that similar discoveries await us in the future.
The fact is that the nature and properties of the so-called “dark matter” still remain largely unknown. Meanwhile, according to scientists’ calculations, it is dark matter that makes up about 85% of the total mass of the Universe. Ordinary matter – stars, planets, gas, dust – is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Therefore, one of the fundamental mysteries of modern science is what exactly this dark matter is? What are its properties, how is it distributed in space and how does it interact with ordinary matter?
And this is where giant intergalactic streams of stars, like the one just discovered, can come to the rescue. The fact is that the gravity of dark matter affects the movement of stars in such flows. This means that by observing this movement, scientists will be able to better understand the distribution and concentration of dark matter.
Imagine a huge cosmic flow in which billions of stars, like small plugs in a river, rush through space at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second. At the same time, their movement is affected not only by the gravity of other stars, but also by the gravity of invisible clusters of dark matter.
By analyzing the trajectories of individual stars, the speed of their movement, acceleration and deceleration, scientists seem to “grope” for the location and density of these clusters. Imagine a blind person trying to understand a room’s shape by studying the echoes – the reflection of sounds from the walls. Almost the same thing, only much more complicated, is the way astrophysicists work.
In addition to dark matter, the gravity of intergalactic stellar streams sheds light on other cosmic mysteries. For example, it helps to more accurately estimate the distances between galaxies and the expansion rate of the Universe.
So the discovery of such unique “cosmic rivers” will certainly be of great help to scientists in understanding the fundamental secrets of our wonderful world.
The origin of this record-breaking giant intergalactic stellar stream still remains a mystery to scientists.
Music of spheres
The ancients were convinced that the luminaries, moving in their orbits, created a musical sound, or tone, special for each planet. The Greek mathematician and visionary Pythagoras claimed that he heard this music of the spheres directly, with his ears.
There were seven known planets then (the Sun and Moon were also considered planets). Pythagoras developed the world’s first musical system, consisting of seven notes. Thus, in the series do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si, each note corresponds to a planet.
But as knowledge about real orbits accumulated, it became clear that the solar system does not fit into exact mathematics. Astronomers, however, stubbornly continued to search for patterns. In the 17th century, Kepler noticed that the orbits seemed to be inscribed in a sequence of regular Platonic polyhedra: tetrahedron, hexahedron (roughly speaking, a cube), octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron. But they didn’t fit in quite exactly.
Much later, Bode and Titius noticed a simple pattern in the arrangement of orbits: each subsequent orbit is approximately twice as large as the previous one. However, according to this rule there should be a planet between Mars and Jupiter, but there isn’t, there is an asteroid belt instead.
So, there is a certain ideal model, whispered to Pythagoras by Heaven itself, there is a real solar system, not entirely musical, and now another planetary system has appeared, and now it is ideal. The ideal exists.
There are several exciting theories
The first hypothesis states that once upon a time, two galaxies collided in this region of space. Their powerful gravitational interaction seemed to “shake out” part of the stellar population of these galaxies into the surrounding space, forming a giant stellar “tail”.
However, other scientists dispute this version. After all, in order to “eject” so many stars, the energy of a galactic collision would not be enough.
Therefore, there is another hypothesis – that this huge stellar stream is in fact part of an even larger structure that once connected two galaxies or even two clusters of galaxies. Over time, this structure broke apart under the influence of gravity and part of the star bridge remained drifting in space like a giant stream.
Finally, a completely surreal version by our human understanding has appeared – that this stream of stars is actually a trace of the passage of an alien ship the size of a galaxy.
They say that some supercivilization needed additional stars (for example, to build a new planet), so they “borrowed” them from this cluster of galaxies billions of years ago.
Although the latest hypothesis looks more like science fiction, the solution to this cosmic mystery is yet to come. On the other hand, when you see something smooth and verified, this is a sign of intelligence, isn’t it?
Others generally decided that in this system we are observing “God’s plan,” some ideal model from which the Creator produced other planetary systems. This version seems more logical, if only because it is impossible to verify. And, of course, a strong argument in favor is that the real planetary system is made exactly according to the “blueprints” received by ancient thinkers in revelation.
So, before us is another mystery of space which won’t be revealed anytime soon. Observing planets around other stars is incredibly difficult. We “see” them when they cover their star, and we understand the mass by the insignificant vibrations of the star itself around the center of mass common to the system. We cannot directly see these planets through a telescope, much less photograph their surfaces. So we are at the beginning of a long journey of knowledge, perhaps the greatest secret of the universe.
Let’s hope that further observations and research will help scientists determine the true origin of the most extensive intergalactic stellar stream to date. In the meantime, there is room for the most daring scientific hypotheses and guesses.