Hundreds of Galaxies and Billions of Stars

an artist's rendering of the galaxies hiding beyond the veil of the Milky Way.
An artist's rendering of the galaxies hiding beyond the veil of the Milky Way. (ICRAR)

This is incredible: "Hundreds of Galaxies Were Found Hiding Behind Our Milky Way."
Using radio telescopes to peer through the dense plane of the Milky Way, researchers have spotted huge galactic gatherings that have long been obscured from view. These galaxies lie a mere 250 million light-years away—and they will only get closer, because they appear to be pulling us towards them at breakneck speed.

Scientists had suspected that galaxies existed in this region, says study co-author Renée C. Kraan-Korteweg of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. But seeing them with traditional telescopes presents a challenge.

"It was not really not that surprising, because the stars and dust in our own Milky Way block a not insignificant part of the sky from our view, in optical light that is," she says. "So yes, we did expect that many galaxies would be lying behind the plane of the Milky Way, or the so-called Zone of Avoidance. However, we did not know anything about their distribution in space."

...The effort identified 883 total galaxies, 240 of which hadn't been seen before, the team reports this week in the Astronomical Journal.

This galactic cornucopia represents a huge amount of mass, which makes the team suspect that the objects play a role in the intergalactic draw of a strange region called the Great Attractor.

...The authors suggest that the previously unseen galaxies may help explain where a lot of that mysterious mass comes from—hundreds of galaxies, each containing perhaps 100 billion stars, can exert a lot of pull.

"It seems that the Great Attractor consists of many galaxies and clusters of galaxies lying in a very large region of space," says Lister Staveley-Smith of the University of Western Australia. "Just why such a large overdensity of galaxies lies in that region is a mystery, although cosmological theory does seem to confirm that, occasionally, such large mass concentrations should occur."

The mystery isn't entirely solved, notes Kraan-Korteweg, but her team thinks they are on to something.

"Further follow-up studies are still required to quantify the mass that these galaxies seem to trace and see if this is in full agreement with what the Great Attractor suggested. But we are a major step closer in this endeavor."
Sometimes, when god-believers find out I'm atheist, they ask me a question like, "Don't you want or need to feel like there's something bigger than you?" or "Don't you sense that there's something bigger out there?"

I personally don't need a deity to experience the feeling of something bigger. I look at images and stories like these and I feel impossibly, wondrously tiny.

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