Demystifying Laniakea Supercluster…Home to 100,000 Galaxies Including Our Milky Way [VIDEO]. It’s a mind-twisting exercise to attempt to wrap your head around the vastness of the universe, but a recent discovery has made it (slightly) easier to understand our world’s place among the stars. Using a new mapping technique that takes into account the motions and distances of nearby galaxies, astronomers have discovered that the Milky Way is actually located in the suburb of a massive supercluster named Laniakea—a Hawaiian term meaning “immeasurable heaven.”
Laniakea’s girth is actually not “immeasurable,” though it’s virtually impossible to conceptualize. The supercluster spans 520 million light-years in the diameter—five times larger than the cluster we originally believed was the Milky Way’s home. To put that in perspective, the Virgo Cluster was believed to be about 100 million light-years wide. One light-year is about 5.88 trillion so we’re looking at the equivalent of 1.03461597 × 10^22 American football fields. Times five.
But as monumental as that may seem, it’s not never-ending. Astronomers were able to identify the boundaries of Laniakea by charting the flow of more than 8,000 galaxies surrounding the Milky Way. They discovered that it is sailing toward a region named the Shapley supercluster. The new map allows us to look at regions of space under the influence of particularly super-clusters for the first time.
“We don’t have the distance information to see the far sides of our neighbors and we haven’t seen far enough to understand what’s causing this full motion of our galaxy,” astronomer and lead researcher Brent Tully, with the University of Hawaii, told Discovery News. “That’s really the goal, to look out far enough—probably three times farther than we are right now, probably requiring thousands of more distance measurements, to map this larger region.”
Astronomer Elmo Tempel of the Tartu Observatory in Estonia says he was surprised that the super-cluster wasn’t found sooner.
“Laniakea is the biggest structure in the local universe. Usually, the biggest structures are discovered first,” Tempel wrote in an email to Discovery News.
It’s hard to imagine, but things still exist beyond Laniakea. If scientists can figure how to map our immediate supercluster, they can use the same formulas to map uncharted territories. And from there? Your guess is as good as mine.
Sources: Seeker, Upworthy