Colossal supercluster of galaxies found in the early universe
Big news - literally! Astronomers have discovered an enormous system of galaxies that formed a mere two billion years after the Big Bang. It's the largest structure ever seen in the early universe, and raises questions about how something so big could have formed so quickly.
Gravity has slowly shepherded galaxies together for fourteen billion years. Most galaxies, like our Milky Way, reside in small groups, the cosmic equivalent of villages and towns. Others prefer the hustle and bustle of life in galaxy clusters - the urban centers of the universe - where thousands of galaxies dart about under gravity's pull. One such cluster, named Abell 1689, is shown below.
Even larger structures exist. Known as superclusters, these enormous systems span many millions of light years and often have hundreds of thousands of member galaxies. The map below shows the distribution of bright galaxies in our cosmic neighborhood. One of the most striking features is its filamentary appearance, with long strands of galaxies woven together into a vast interconnected web of superclusters.
But gravity, the weakest of nature's forces, needs time -
lots and lots of time - to shape the distribution of galaxies. That's why the existence of a gigantic supercluster when the universe was only two billion years old has astronomers scratching their heads.
The supercluster, christened Hyperion after the Greek deity of light, was discovered by an international team of scientists. Because light travels at a finite speed we see distant objects as they appeared in the past, turning telescopes into time machines. By mapping the distribution of faraway galaxies in the direction of the constellation Sextans, the astronomers discovered a large clump of galaxies already weighing more than a trillion Suns when the universe was still in its infancy.
"It was a surprise to see something this evolved when the universe was relatively young," says lead scientist Olga Cucciati of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy. "Understanding Hyperion and how it compares to similar recent structures can give insights into how the universe developed in the past and will evolve into the future."
If you'd like to know more, just click on any of the links below:
You can also watch a short video about the discovery of Hyperion:
|ESOcast 179 Light: Largest Galaxy Proto-Supercluster Found (4K UHD)
And if you'd like to read the full scientific paper announcing Hyperion's discovery, you'll find it here: