A Massive Stellar Group

The vast universe hides many mysterious secrets, and researchers have just uncovered another huge one. Hiding beyond the Milky Way is the Vela supercluster, a newly discovered group containing several galaxy clusters, each containing hundreds or thousands of galaxies. The study is detailed in Monthly Notices Letters of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomers from the University of Cape Town in South Africa made the discovery. The supercluster was named Vela, after the constellation where it was found. It’s one of the most massive objects in the known universe, containing an estimated 1,000 to 10,000 trillion stars.

The discovery was somewhat of a surprise. “I could not believe such a major structure would pop up so prominently.” said Renée Kraan-Korteweg, astrophysicist and proponent of the study.

Researchers’ calculations show that the supercluster is 800 million lightyears away, and is zooming farther away from us with a speed of about 18,000 kilometers per second (40 million mph).

What is Vela’s influence on our home galaxy? The giant stellar groups give us clues on how our own galaxy got to this location in the universe. Kraan-Korteweg and her team estimate that the supercluster’s gravitational tug has caused the Local Group of galaxies, where our own Milky Way is located, to speed up by about 50 kilometers per second (110,000 mph).

Seeing Beyond

The astronomers’ observation and analyses of Vela was made possible using the South African Large Telescope (SALT) near Cape Town, the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) near Sydney, and X-ray surveys of the galactic plane.

South African Large Telescope. WikiMedia Commons.

Several developments in technology are enabling us to see further and clearer into outer space. The recent completion of the James Webb Space Telescope, which has a view 100 times larger than Hubble’s, is revolutionizing how we gather data about the mysteries of the final frontier.

Telescopes and lensing technology are giving us a deeper understanding of the celestial entities beyond our world, and effectively, of who we are in this vast universe.

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