Scientists discover massive ‘extragalactic structure’ behind Milky Way

Astronomers have discovered a huge extragalactic structure lurking in an unexplored region of space far beyond the center of the Milky Way.

This phantom region, known as the zone of avoidance, is a white spot on our map of the universe, occupying 10% to 20% of the night sky. The reason we can’t see it – at least with ordinary visible-light telescopes – is that the Milky Way’s bulging center blocks our view of it; the center of our galaxy is so dense with stars, dust and other matter (will open in a new tab) that light from the zone of avoidance is scattered or absorbed before it reaches terrestrial telescopes.

However, researchers are more fortunate to unlock the zone’s secrets with telescopes that can detect infrared radiation. (will open in a new tab) A form of energy invisible to the human eye, but powerful enough to shine through dense clouds of gas and dust. Infrared studies of the zone of avoidance have found evidence of thousands of individual galaxies shining through the cosmic fog, although little is known about large-scale structures lurking there.

Now, according to a study published October 28 in the preprint database, researchers have combined data from several of these infrared surveys to reveal the most colossal structure ever found in the zone of avoidance. (will open in a new tab). (This study has not yet been peer-reviewed, although it has been submitted to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics for review.)

The mysterious structure, located about 3 billion light-years from Earth, is a large cluster of galaxies united by a common center of gravity. Using observations from the VVV Survey — a survey that studies the Milky Way’s central bulge in infrared using the Visible and Infrared Astronomy Survey Telescope in Chile — the authors of the study found evidence that at least 58 galaxies are clustered together in a small patch of the zone. avoidance.

Clusters of galaxies are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe; the largest known clusters contain hundreds of thousands of galaxies clustered together. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell how wide or massive the newly discovered cluster is, given the vast distances and countless obstacles between the cluster’s stars and Earth.

However, the mere discovery of this colossal object shows that the zone of avoidance may not be as incomprehensible as previously thought. Future infrared exploration, including potential observations by the James Webb Space Telescope, which has already used its infrared camera to take the deepest image of the universe. (will open in a new tab) to date – should help scientists uncover hidden secrets beyond the bulge of the Milky Way.

This story was originally published on Live Science.

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