Astronomers have noticed an ultimate discovery in our galaxy: one of the biggest-known structures in the Universe. Called the Vela supercluster, the newly discovered object is a massive group of several galaxy clusters, each one comprising tens of thousands of galaxies.
“I wouldn’t expect this type of structure to pop up, said Renée Kraan-Korteweg in a press release, an astrophysicist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Kraan-Korteweg and her team published their discovery of the supercluster, where it had been found named following the constellation Vela , in the Monthly Notices Letters of the Royal Astronomical Society.
It may be difficult to believe that such a huge object could go unnoticed. The Milky Way hosts trillions of planets, more than 100 billion stars, and colourful clouds of gas and dust. This makes it an excellent resort to analyze individual things, like black holes, the formation of alien solar systems, or extrasolar planets that are possibly habitable.
To peer through it, Kraan-Korteweg and her colleagues joined the observations of several telescopes: the newly refurbished South African Large Telescope (SALT) near Cape Town, the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) near Sydney, and X-ray surveys of the galactic plane.
Using that data, they calculated how fast each galaxy they saw above and below the galactic plane were moving away from Earth. Their numbers revealed that they seemed to be moving collectively – signifying a lot of galaxies couldn’t be noticed.
The researchers estimate that the Vela supercluster is a comparable mass of the Shapley Supercluster of around 8,600 galaxies, which is located about 650 million light-years away. Given that the typical galaxy has about 100 billion stars, researchers estimate that Vela could include somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 trillion stars.
Their calculations also show Vela is about 800 million light-years from Earth.