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Where are we in the universe?: Most detailed map yet released. Wow!

Where are we in the universe?: Most detailed map yet released. Wow! 86

We know that the Earth and the solar system are located in the Milky Way galaxy. But how, exactly, does the Milky Way fit in among the billions of other galaxies in the known universe?

In a fascinating 2014 study for Nature, a team of scientists mapped thousands of galaxies in our immediate vicinity, and discovered that the Milky Way is part of a jaw-droppingly massive “supercluster” of galaxies that they named Laniakea.This structure is much, much, much bigger than astronomers had previously realized. Laniakea contains more than 100,000 galaxies, stretches 500 million light years across, and looks something like this (the Milky Way is just a speck located on one of its fringes on the right):

Say hello to Laniakea, our local supercluster

laniakea map 2

(Nature Video, based on Tully et al 2014)

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around how enormous this is. Each of those points of light is an individual galaxy. Each galaxy contains millions, billlions, or even trillions of stars. Oh, and this all is just our little local corner of an even broader universe. There are many other galaxy superclusters out there.

So how did the researchers figure out this structure existed — and how did they distinguish it from other superclusters?

The team of scientists, led by R. Brent Tully of the University of Hawaii, first studied the motion of some 8,000 galaxies in our neighborhood. By doing so, they could map out certain patterns. The universe overall has been expanding ever since the Big Bang. But the team also found that gravity was pulling some galaxies toward each other.

That helped them build the graph below, where galaxies moving away from us are shown in red, and the galaxies moving toward us in blue.

The galaxies around us are moving in identifiable patterns

chart of supercluster

Galaxies moving away from us are in red, those moving toward us in blue (Nature Video, based on Tully et al 2014)

That, in turn, let them create a map of the pathways along which all the galaxies are moving and demarcate some boundaries.

The map below shows some of the pathways within our broader supercluster of galaxies. There’s an especially dense region called “The Great Attractor” (in red) that’s slowly pulling the Milky Way and many other galaxies toward it:

Many galaxies in Laniakea are being pulled toward the “Great Attractor”

great attractor

(Nature Video, based on Tully et al 2014)

What’s interesting is that this structure is much bigger than anyone had realized. Astronomers had long grouped the Milky Way, Andromeda, and other galaxies around us in the Virgo Supercluster, which contained some 100 galaxy groups.

But as Tully and his colleagues found, and as the map above shows, this Virgo Supercluster is just part of a much, much bigger supercluster — Laniakea. (The name, aptly enough, means “immeasurable heavens” in Hawaiian.)

So what happens when we zoom out? The paper notes that Laniakea borders another supercluster known as Perseus-Pisces. And the scientists defined the borders as where the galaxies are consistently diverging:

Laniakea borders another supercluster: Perseus-Pisces

perseus-pisces

(Nature Video, based on Tully et al 2014)

What happens if we zoom out even further? Even Laniakea and Perseus-Pisces are just one small pocket of the much broader universe. That universe consists of both voids and densely packed superclusters of galaxies. It looks something like this:

And… zooming out to the broader universe

broader universe structure

(Nature Video, based on Tully et al 2014)

We still don’t have detailed maps of every last galaxy supercluster out there. But we now have one for our own home supercluster — and that’s certainly a start.

Further watching: There’s an excellent video from Nature breaking down the team’s findings. The stills above come from that video.

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Space

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 99
Photo: (Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC))

To us, the Sun alone seems perfectly normal, but our solar system is actually a strange exception.

Most stars in the Milky Way galaxy have at least one companion star. In a system 1,800 light-years away, astronomers have finally confirmed the existence of a gas giant planet orbiting stars in a triple star system.

Called KOI-5, the system is located in the constellation Cygnus, and the exoplanet was confirmed ten years after it was first detected by the Kepler space telescope.

In fact, the planet – now known as KOI-5Ab – was discovered by Kepler when it began operations back in 2009.

“KOI-5Ab was dropped because it was difficult and we had thousands of other candidates,” astronomer David Siardi of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute said.

“There were lighter dives than the KOI-5Ab, and every day we learned something new from Kepler, so the KOI-5 was almost forgotten.”

Exoplanet hunters tend to avoid the complexities of multi-star systems; of the more than 4,300 exoplanets confirmed to date, less than 10 percent are multi-star systems, although such systems dominate the galaxy. As a result, little is known about the properties of exoplanets in multi-star systems compared to those orbiting a lone star.

After Kepler’s discovery, Chardy and other astronomers used ground-based telescopes such as the Palomar Observatory, Keck Observatory, and the Gemini North Telescope to study the system. By 2014, they had identified two companion stars, KOI-5B and KOI-5C.

Scientists were able to establish that the planet KOI-5Ab, is a gas giant that is about half the mass of Saturn and 7 times the size of Earth, and is in a very close five-day orbit around KOI-5A. KOI-5A and KOI-5B, both of roughly the same mass as the Sun, form a relatively close binary system with an orbital period of about 30 years.

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 100

A third star, KOI-5C, orbits the binary system at a much greater distance, with a period of about 400 years – slightly longer than Pluto’s 248-year orbit.

“By studying this system in more detail, perhaps we can understand how planets are created in the universe.”

The discovery was announced at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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Space

Why the universe does not fit into science

Why the universe does not fit into science 101
Photo: YouTube

Science can be compared to an artist painting what he has never seen, or to a writer describing other people’s travels: objects that he has never seen, places where he has never been. Sometimes such scientific “arts” turn out to be beautiful and interesting, but most of them will forever remain only theories, because they are beyond human capabilities.

In fact, science has the right only to speculate: how our universe appeared, how old it is, how many stars and other objects it contains.

Universe model

Why the universe does not fit into science 102

How many stars are there in the sky?

With an unarmed eye, a person can see about nine thousand stars in the sky in one cloudless and moonless night. And armed with binoculars or a telescope, much more – up to several million. However, this is much less than their true number in the universe. Indeed, only in our one galaxy (the Milky Way) there are about 400 billion stars. The exact amount, of course, is not known to science. And the visible universe contains about 170 billion galaxies.

It is worth clarifying that scientists can see the universe 46 billion light years deep in all directions. And the visible (observable) universe includes the space accessible to our eyes from the moment of the Big Explosion. In other words, only this (accessible to human perception) space science refers to our universe. Science does not consider everything that follows.

It is believed that there are supposedly a ceptillion (10 to 24 degrees) stars in our universe. These are theoretical calculations based on the approximate size and age of the universe. The origin of the universe is explained by the Big Bang theory. This is why the universe is constantly expanding and the more time passes, the more complex the universe and its components become.

Why the universe does not fit into science 103

It is not entirely correct to consider and perceive this scientific theory “head-on”. Scientists always claim that that explosion was not exactly an explosion, and the point that exploded was not the only one. After all, it was everywhere, because space did not exist then. And in general – everything happened quite differently from what is described in the Big Bang theory, but all other descriptions of the origin of the universe are even more incredible and inaccurate.

Separate but interconnected

That which is beyond the reach of human perception is usually discarded by science, or recognized as non-existent. Recognizing one thing, science does not want to recognize the existence of the other, although everything in our world is interconnected and is not able to exist separately – by itself.

Each object of the universe is a part of it much more than an independent, separate object.

Any person, like any material object of our world, consists of components: organs, cells, molecules, atoms. And each of its constituent parts can represent the whole world. Separate, and at the same time connected with all the others.

However, science, as a rule, perceives all the components of the universe – people, animals, plants, objects, the Earth, the Sun, other planets and stars – as separate subjects, thereby limiting itself.

Why the universe does not fit into science 104

Even what is considered the visible universe, one of the atoms of which could be called our solar system, is not subject to the boundaries of human perception. But perhaps the atom is an exaggeration, and our solar system is not even an atom, but one of its elements!

How, being so far from the truth, can one reason about something with the degree of probability with which science tries to reason about the origin of the universe?

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Space

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars 105

The red planet sways from side to side like a whirligig when it loses speed. The new study allowed scientists to notice that the poles of Mars deviate slightly from the axis of rotation of the planet. On average, they move 10 cm from the center with a period of 200 days.

Such changes are called the Chandler Oscillations  – after the American astronomer Seth Chandler, who discovered them in 1891. Previously, they were only seen on Earth. It is known that the displacement of the poles of rotation of our planet occurs with a period of 433 days, while the amplitude reaches 15 meters. There is no exact answer why this is happening. It is believed that the fluctuations are influenced by processes in the ocean and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Chandler’s wobbles on Mars are equally perplexing. The authors of the study discovered them by comparing data from 18 years of studying the planet. The information was obtained thanks to three spacecraft that orbit the Red Planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. 

Since Mars has no oceans, it is likely that the Red Planet’s wobbly rotation is due to changes in atmospheric pressure. This is the first explanation that researchers have shared. In the future, there should be new details about the fluctuations that have so interested the scientific community.

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