Astronomers have found at least one million new, previously unknown galaxies in the universe. They are calling it the biggest ever Atlas of our known universe.
The universe we live in is a pretty big place. In fact, it is so big that we have absolutely no idea who exactly big it is. We can make an educated guess based on data our space telescopes gather and mathematical formulas and algorithms that help put things into perspective.
The planet we live in is but a speck of dust in the vastness of the cosmos. Our planet, the “Blue Marble,” as Carl Sagan poetically described it, orbits the sun in our cosmic neighborhood we call the solar system. It shares the space around the sun with another 7 planets. There are eight in total, but there are countless other cosmic bodies more, from dwarf planets to comets and asteroids and alien moons orbiting distant words.
The solar system, in turn, is but a speck within our Galaxy, the Milky Way. Our best guess is that the Milky Way has a visible estimated diameter of 1.9 million light-years. Within this vastness of space, astronomers say the Milky Way hosts up to 400 billion stars. While this may seem large, the Milky Way is not the largest galaxy out there.
Compared to our neighboring galaxy Andromeda, the milky Way is tiny; Andromeda is some 220,000 light-years wide. Nevertheless, the Milky Way is the second-largest galaxy within the so-called Local Group—after Andromeda. The Local Group of galaxies, on the other hand, is part of the Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies, which in turn is part of a larger cosmic body called the Laniakea Supercluster.
But despite the fact we have gathered a plethora of data in recent years, understanding our exact place in the universe is far from mission complete.
But we are getting there.
A New Map
Recently, astronomers have managed to amp what they say is 83% of the observable universe, and they did so in 300 hours.
This new survey of the sky, which Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO) described in a statement as a “Google Maps of the universe,” marks the completion of a major test for Australia’s Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope, a network of 36 antennas rooted in the remote outback of Western Australia.
While astronomers have been using ASKAP to scan the sky for radio signatures – including the mysterious fast radio bursts (FRBs) – since 2012, the telescope’s full array of antennas have never been used in a single sky survey, that is until now.
Harnessing the full potential of the telescope, the researchers mapped approximately 3 million galaxies in the southern sky, of which “up to 1 million may be previously unknown to astronomy,” according to an article published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.
With this first survey’s success, CSIRO scientists are already planning even deeper observations in the coming years. Future studies using CSIRO could help experts better understand our place in the universe and understand even more galaxies across the cosmos.
What is even more impressive is the speed at which the new study was done.
As revealed by astronomers, all-sky surveys can take months, even years, to complete. CSIRO’s new effort, which they have dubbed the Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey, only took a few weeks of stargazing to complete, and that by itself is beyond impressive.
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