With the gravitational power of a million billion suns, astronomers are now able to view the Great Attractor region of space. And in case you doubt the fact that a million billion is an actual number, there has been a press release from the International Centre For Radio Astronomy Research to verify that there is such a number, as well as a big hunk of galaxies only recently directly detectable to researchers. Despite the relative nearness of the Great Attractor, scientists have not been able to view the cluster due to the fact that our own galaxy has been blocking this region of space. But new use of technology is shedding light on this formation, which seems to be drawing the Milky Way and other galaxies into gravitational pool.
250 million light years away, there is a massive glob of galaxies that only seem to be collecting more with an equally formidable gravitational pull. The Great Attractor region has long been a mysterious subject for astronomers, not directly visible yet detectable. The Milky Way has always blocked any view of cluster. But by using new methods of detection, an international team of scientists have been able to peer through the dust and stars of our home galaxy to see what is beyond. What they found is profound.
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Lead author Professor Lister Staveley-Smith from the University of Western Australia said that his team has discovered 883 new galaxies. Staveley-Smith commented on the discovery as if justifying his determination to study the Great Attractor.
“The Milky Way is very beautiful of course and it’s very interesting to study our own galaxy but it completely blocks out the view of the more distant galaxies behind it.”
Peculiar gravitational forces associated with the Great Attractor region were observed back in the ’70s and ’80s by scientists who discovered major deviations from universal expansion. Our universe has been expanding progressively since the time of the Big Bang, and the Great Attractor region appears to be unaffected by this general theory. Professor Staveley-Smith said in the press release,
“We don’t actually understand what’s causing this gravitational acceleration on the Milky Way or where it’s coming from… We know that in this region there are a few very large collections of galaxies we call clusters or superclusters, and our whole Milky Way is moving towards them at more than two million kilometres per hour.”
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The main goal of their research is to understand all the different gravitational forces influencing the trajectory of the Milky Way and just how significant those forces are. The Hubble Space Telescope was able to capture an obscure image of the Great Attractor in 2013, and according to NASA,
“The enormous mass concentrated here, and the consequent gravitational attraction, mean that this region of space is known to astronomers as the Great Attractor, and it dominates our region of the Universe. Observing the Great Attractor is difficult at optical wavelengths. The plane of the Milky Way — responsible for the numerous bright stars in this image — both outshines (with stars) and obscures (with dust) many of the objects behind it. There are some tricks for seeing through this — infrared or radio observations, for instance — but the region behind the center of the Milky Way, where the dust is thickest, remains an almost complete mystery to astronomers.”
University of Cape Town astronomer Professor Renée Kraan-Korteweg said,
“We’ve used a range of techniques but only radio observations have really succeeded in allowing us to see through the thickest foreground layer of dust and stars… an average galaxy contains 100 billion stars, so finding hundreds of new galaxies hidden behind the Milky Way points to a lot of mass we didn’t know about until now.”
The researchers used the CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope equipped with an innovative receiver to accomplish their goals. Radio observations have allowed astronomers to see part of the universe previously impossible to observe until now.
[Photo by ICRAR]