The Universe Is Way Bigger Than We Realized, With A Whole Lot More Galaxies

New Research Expands universe ten fold

It turns out that the universe, the inconceivably vast expanse of space we live in, is even bigger than we realized. According to a recent report from Space.com, the universe has at least 10 times more galaxies than previously thought.

If you’re keeping track, that means there could be up to 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe — for now. That’s up from estimates of 100 to 200 billion. And that’s just in the observable universe.

“An international team of astronomers used deep-space images and other data from the Hubble Space Telescope to create a 3D map of the known universe, which contains about 100 to 200 billion galaxies,” the Space.com article explains. “In particular, they relied on Hubble’s Deep Field images, which revealed the most distant galaxies ever seen with a telescope.”

After creating the 3D map, the researchers attempted to estimate where other galaxies that have not yet been seen by Hubble could exist. The relied on “new mathematical models” to arrive at their calculations.

“For the numbers to add up, the universe needs at least 10 times more galaxies than those already known to exist,” Space.com reports. “But these unknown galaxies are likely either too faint or too far away to be seen with today’s telescopes.”

The fact that the universe may be 10 times its presumed size left researchers wide-eyed and scratching their heads.

“It boggles the mind that over 90 percent of the galaxies in the universe have yet to be studied,” Christopher Conselice, a University of Nottingham in the U.K. astrophysics professor who led the study told Spacetelescope, the official website for news on the Hubble Space Telescope. “Who knows what interesting properties we will find when we observe these galaxies with the next generation of telescopes.”

The images the team of researchers used looked more than 13 billion years into the universe’s past, and shed new light on how it developed over time.

“This gives us a verification of the so-called top-down formation of structure in the Universe,” Conselice said.

Putting it into layman’s terms, Spacetelescope said, “These results are powerful evidence that a significant evolution has taken place throughout the Universe’s history, an evolution during which galaxies merged together, dramatically reducing their total number.”

The study also provided new insight on astronomical phenomena such as Obler’s paradox, which accounts for the night sky is predominately dark despite it being crowded with galaxies.

“The team came to the conclusion that there is such an abundance of galaxies that, in principle, every point in the sky contains part of a galaxy,” according to Spacetelescope. “However, most of these galaxies are invisible to the human eye and even to modern telescopes, owing to a combination of factors: redshifting of light, the Universe’s dynamic nature and the absorption of light by intergalactic dust and gas, all combine to ensure that the night sky remains mostly dark.”

Ethan Siegel at Forbes notes that an important aspect of the research was to point the Hubble in a direction “without an observing target.” In other words, they pointed the telescope at a patch of “empty” space, with no visible or known stars, nebulae, or galaxies in it.

“Rather than observe a planet, star, nebula, cluster or galaxy, Hubble was going to observe the black void of empty space,” writes Siegel. “[A]stronomers were hoping to find out whether empty space was truly empty, or whether, as the Big Bang and the cosmological principle predicted, a plethora of galaxies from the distant Universe would be revealed to us.”

Well, it looks like they got there answer. With one little experiment, they managed to expand the universe tenfold and discover hundreds of billions of new galaxies.

[Featured image via NASA/Getty Images]