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Image credit: Thomas Jarrett, University of Cape Town

Massive galaxy cluster found 'hiding' behind the Milky Way

The Vela supercluster could help explain how our own galaxy group moves.
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Thomas Jarrett, University of Cape Town

You would think that it would be easy to spot a cosmic structure as enormous as a supercluster holding legions of galaxies, but not so -- the Milky Way can hide all kinds of objects, usually due to dust and stars obscuring the view. If you need proof, you just need to ask the astronomers who have discovered the Vela supercluster, a giant collection of galaxies about 800 million light years away (shown as "VSC" above). They only detected it by making "thousands" of spectroscopic studies of partially obscured galaxies -- it was hidden on the far side of the Milky Way.

The actual details of the supercluster, such as its full size, mass and gravitational pull, are still forthcoming. Researchers will need to use radio astronomy (such as the new MeerKAT facility) and other techniques to measure an area that remains a relative mystery. Once that happens, however, humanity could learn a lot about the movement of both the Milky Way and other galaxies in the Local Group. Superclusters have enough gravitational influence to pull galaxies along in neighboring clusters, and Vela's existence could help explain the movement of our celestial home.

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