Our galactic neighborhood just got a whole lot bigger

Contributed by
Sep 9, 2014

If you think our little corner of the universe is big already, prepare to have your mind blown.

Astronomers at the University of Hawaii, using a new three-dimensional map that measures the velocities of 8,000 galaxies that surround our home galaxy, the Milky Way, have determined that the cluster of galaxies in which the Milky Way sits is a lot more massive than we originally determined.

While scientists previously thought that the Milky Way was part of a group of 2,000 galaxies known as the Virgo "supercluster," they've now established that our galaxy is part of something that's actually 100 times bigger: a titanic supercluster that stretches some 520 million light-years across and may contain as many as 100 quadrillion stars (that's 100 million billion).

Researchers have dubbed this awe-inspiring structure Laniakea, which in the Hawaiian language means "immense heavens."

Laniakea Map

Lead astronomer R. Brent Tully said, "We have finally established the contours that define the supercluster of galaxies we can call home. This is not unlike finding out for the first time that your hometown is actually part of much larger country that borders other nations."

This is the kind of thing that simply makes your brain explode. And I don't know about you, but after I put my shattered mind back together, the first thing that I think is: With 100 quadrillion suns potentially in our neck of the cosmic woods alone, surely there must be someone else out there. Or a few million someone elses. It certainly seems like there's enough room -- and even more than we thought.

(Nature via Huffington Post)