Scientists just detected a massive structure 60 times Bigger than the Milky Way!
The universe around us is as mysterious as it is expansive. We don't know much about the cosmos, but the things scientist has figured out are quite unfathomable to the common man. With the advent of space science and the rapid technological development of this century, scientists have discovered many incredible and downright mind-blowing things in the universe we're a tiny part of. Our universe is often compared to a massive ball filled with galaxies, stars, and giant physical objects. But this universe doesn't abide by this external perspective. Saying that it has mind of its own wouldn't be wrong, how else scientists justify their recent find?
Setting perspective of our home Galaxy
Something so massive and alarming has been detected by astronomers that the galaxy we call home seems like a dwarf in comparison and our solar system is probably like a grain of sand in relation to it. Our solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy. Its name describes the galaxy's appearance from the earth. From our perspective, the Milky Way looks like a hazy band of light visible in the night sky and it seems to be made of stars that are indistinguishable by the naked eye. Milky Way is a translation of the Latin word 'lacteal' meaning milky circle. The Milky Way looks like a thin band when looked from the Earth's surface. Because the disc shaped structure of the galaxy is viewed from within. Galileo Galilei was the first person to resolve this band of light into distinct stars in 1610 with the help of his telescope.
Interestingly, almost all the astronomers believed that all the stars in the universe were contained in the Milky way, but the 1920 great debate between Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis along with Edwin Hubble's observations gave way to the concept that the Milky way is just one of the multiple galaxies. Structurally, the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with an estimated D-25 isotropic diameter of 26.8 ± 1.1 Kiloparsecs. The spiral arms of the Galaxy are however just 1000 light years thick. Recent simulations produced by scientists also suggested the presence of a dark matter area which also contains some visible stars and extends up to a diameter of two million light years.
Our galaxy is a part of local group of galaxies that dorm a part of Virgo supercluster. This cluster itself is a constituent at the Laniakea Supercluster. The Milky Way also has several satellite galaxies according to experts. There are approximately 100 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way and at least the same number of planets. Our Solar System is located at a distance of around 27000 light years from the galactic centre on the inner edged spiral-shaped concentration of gas and dust called the Orion arm. At the centre of the Milky Way, an intense radio source called the Sagittarius A* is a supermassive black hole made of around 4.1 million solar masses.
These stars and galaxies located at varying distances from the galactic centre orbit around it at a speed of almost 220 kilometres per second. Scientists think this constant rotation speed contradicts with the Keplerian Dynamics and they've concluded that much of the Milky Way’s mass is invisible to telescopes as it doesn't emit or absorb electromagnetic radiation and this mass is what we called Dark Matter. As a whole, the Milky Way is moving at an incredible velocity of 600 Kilometres per second with respect to the extragalactic frames of reference. Researchers have now revealed that the oldest stars in the Milky Way are nearly as old as the universe, and therefore formed shortly after the dark ages of the infamous Big Bang.
Experts have also estimated that the Milky Way is one of the two largest galaxies in the local group, the other one is Andromeda. The mass of the Milky Way is approximately 890 billion to 1.54 trillion times the mass of our sun. So far, the astronomers, with the help of state-of-the-art equipment have found that a lot is going on inside this one galaxy besides the hundreds of billions of stars and planets, there're also 10 billion white dwarfs, 1 billion neutron star and nearly a 100 million stellar black holes. The space between the stars is occupied by disk of gas called the interstellar medium.
Outside Milky Way Galaxy
But a lot is happening outside the Milky Way too. In fact, recently astronomers have detected something extremely unsettling almost 730 million light years from Earth. It wouldn't be wrong to say that the astronomers have a thing for big explosions and collisions! They're always competing to find a bigger and brighter one, and what's better than an explosion produced by two of the largest objects in the universe colliding?
In February 2022 a new study was published in the Journal of Astronomy and astrophysicists presented to the world one of the detailed pictures ever captured of an enormous shock wave. The Abell 3667 is the name given to a mesmerising galaxy cluster. It is actually composed of two groups of galaxies colliding into one another. In reality, Abell 3667 is home to 550 individual galaxies that are slowly stirring into one huge cosmic soup. The enormous shock wave detected by scientists is a consequence of the merger of these two galaxy clusters. Right now, it is not clearly visible to most telescopes, but this Cosmic Collision had produced a massive wave of disturbance in the region.
Experts have described it as a colossal shock wave flaring out from both ends of the merging cluster that is only visible in radio wavelengths. Researchers use the Meerkat Radio telescope array located in South Africa to visualize the radio relics of both halves of the shock wave. This study revealed that the structures are far more complex than experts previously believed. According to the lead study author, Francesco De Gasperin a visiting scientist at the Hamburg observatory in Germany, the shock waves functions as massive particle accelerators that accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light.
The waves are threaded by an intricate pattern of bright filaments that trace the location of giant magnetic field lines and the areas where electrons are accelerated. The shock wave might be a recent discovery, but it sure isn't recent itself. In fact, it first blasted into being nearly 1 billion years ago and the two galaxy clusters constituting Abell 3667 first collided. Galaxy clusters are among some of the greatest gravitationally bound structures in the entire universe and when two clusters merge, they release an equally enormous amount of energy. Researchers think this is the largest amount of energy released in a single event since the Big Bang.
The collision event shot out a wave of electrons one billion years ago when the clusters collided and even today those particles are still travelling at an unbelievable speed of 1500 kilometres per second. When these particles pass through magnetic fields, they emit radio waves. These were the radio waves that Dr. Gasparin and his team observed through the Meerkat. But the radio waves alone weren't enough to characterize the shock waves. The XMM-Newton X-Ray Observatory also invested some time studding the Abell 3667. If you look closely at this picture of Abell 3667, you'll notice the white color on the centre. This is a concentration of 550 individual galaxies, but the red hues on the either side represent the shock waves formed during this superclusters' creation. This discovery is considered a game changer in the field of study focused on understanding the merger of Galaxy clusters. But this definitely isn't the only astonishing thing found in outer space in recent years.
A team of the astronomers led by Chong Ge from the University of Alabama Huntsville, use the European Southern observatory's XMM-Newton X-Ray telescope and multi-unit spectroscopic Explorer on the very large telescope and the Subaru telescope to conduct a study. They discovered a huge cloud of hot faintly glowing gas in the outer space that is much bigger than the Milky Way galaxy. This is a one-of-a-kind cosmic gas cloud and is possible that it stripped away from a galaxy. The surprising revelation was that instead of dissipating, somehow the cloud has managed to stay clumped for hundreds of millions of years. After analysing the X-ray emission, the team of researchers concluded that the cloud was even larger than they initially anticipated it to be. According to them, this cloud has a mass of about 10 billion times that of the sun.
Physicist Ming Sun from the University of Alabama stated that this discovery demonstrates that new surprises are always out there in astronomy. The study called this an Orphan Cloud and showed that it's temperature ranges between 10,000 to 1 billion Kelvin. This temperature is consistent with a gas found inside galaxies and therefore solidified the theory that they could ripped from a galaxy as it was moving through the space. Dr. Sun also revealed that the cloud was spotted in the Abell 1367 or Leo cluster which contains nearly 70 galaxies. It is located nearly 300 million light years from earth. The scientists were keen to figure out how the gas didn't dissipate despite stripping from its galaxy so long ago. Their calculations revealed that a magnetic field is capable of holding the gad cloud together against the instabilities for a long time.
It's only logical to assume from the mass of this cloud that the galaxy it ripped away from was extraordinarily large. The team of researchers is optimistic that this cloud might aid them in tracking its parent galaxy. This data will also help scientists in identifying other similar clouds in the future. Scientists consider this cloud, observational evidence favoring the assumption that the intra-cluster medium can divest galaxies of their gas.
Sometimes the absence of everything ends up being a bigger dilemma for scientists than the presence of something strange. Back in 1981, University of Michigan astronomers were trying to calculate the red-shifts of a great number of galaxies. They created the 3D map of the universe and as the map became fleshed out, they spotted something strange. Around 700 million light years from Earth there was a huge void, a roughly spherical region almost 330 million light years wide was staring back at the researchers. This void could fit the Milky Way a billion times over yet there were barely any galaxies there. At first it was called the Great Nothing, but later it was named as the Boötes void, this was because it apparently lies in the constellation of Boötes, the herdsman that drives the plough around the North Pole.
Many detailed maps of the universe have been created since then and we know that most galaxies are found in form of long structures called the filaments that wind through the cosmos. Between these threads lie huge empty voids with very few galaxies. It turns out these voids constitute around 80 percent of the observable universe, most of these are 30 to 300 million light years across. Boötes is one of the largest voids out there and is therefore called the Super-void. Some scientists believe that many smaller voids merge together to produce Boötes. But why do these voids exist?
Well, in the early days of the cosmos, the universe's matter was tightly packed together like a uniform soup. However, random Quantum fluctuations started creating small differences in the distribution of matter. Because of this some areas became denser than the others. This meant their gravitational pull was also greater, so they pulled away the matter from less dense areas. This rendered them even more dense in the other areas, less dense and so on the universe was also expanding at a fast speed at the same time. And the fluctuations that began at the same time on a Quantum level soon spanned hundreds of millions of light years. The smaller clumps began organizing themselves into galaxies, while the voids kept growing. Such discoveries and more helped the scientists gain a window into what the universe looked like in its earliest moments.
Though the revelation of more and more secrets from space is also terrifying as it only proves that we know very little about the endless universe around us. But experts believe no amount of fear should stand in the way of acquiring as much information about outer space as humanely possible. Do you agree? Tell us in the comment!
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