Scientists have discovered a large, hidden extragalactic structure using new technology
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
By: April Carson
According to a new preprint study, scientists have discovered an enormous “extragalactic structure” hidden in the Milky Way. The region is called the “zone of avoidance’ because it is obscured by our own galaxy, making it difficult to observe.
The new discovery of the galaxy cluster fills in some gaps in our understanding of space. The structure helps to explain what exists in this otherwise murky and unexplored area, which may as well be labeled "here be space dragons" because we know so little about it.
This new method of detection was made possible by the use of a technique called "stacking." Using data from multiple surveys, the scientists were able to piece together a clear image of the extragalactic structure.
Our galaxy, the Milky Way is full of star stuff that orbits around a central bulge. This region also contains a supermassive black hole and is packed with stars, dust, and gas that block our view from seeing what is on the other side. Even though scientists have been successful in using different wavelengths to see through the zone of avoidance (ZoA), which covers 10-20 percent of the sky, most of this area still remains hidden.
Now, a new study has found an enormous filament of galaxies that spans over one billion light-years. This structure, dubbed the South Pole Wall, was discovered using near-infrared data from the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) project.
A new galaxy cluster was discovered by Daniela Galdeano and her team this week. The report of the discovery has been submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, but is yet to be peer-reviewed. The findings help complete "the picture of the large scale structure in this still little explored area of the sky."
"We're extremely pleased with this result," Galdeano said in an email to Motherboard. "For a long time, the ZoA had very little information about it, but now we have data from new studies covering at least a small section of the sky. In the near future, we'll have even more data covering a larger area."
According to Dante Minniti, director of the Institute of Astrophysics at Andrés Bello National University in Chile and a co-author of the study, "It is incredibly difficult to find galaxies behind the galactic plane because of both the high density of stars and also obscuration by dust along the line of sight.
He added that they had suspected the presence of a structure, but since it was previously an unidentified region, the discovery of a new galaxy cluster acts as confirmation.
Galdeano and her staff were able to locate this group within the ZoA by taking advantage of the VVV Survey. This project surveys Europe's Southern Observatory's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at infrared wavelengths in Paranal, Chile which granted them a view of the Milky Way bulge. Although the galactic plane largely eliminates visible light in its vicinity, longer wavelengths of light--in the infrared band, for instance--can penetrate the haze of the Milky Way to reach telescopes on Earth.
In a 2021 study led by Galdeano, the team used the infrared glow captured in the VVV Survey to probe an “overdensity region” in the ZOA. This suggested the presence of “new extragalactic sources that have not been identified by other catalogs,” according to the study.
The scientists chose to focus on this region by using FLAMINGOS-2, an instrument that can measure "redshifts." Redshifts are helpful in determining the distance and velocities of objects in space. After taking measurements with FLAMINGOS-2, details about five previously unknown galaxies were revealed. These galaxies are roughly three billion light years away and seem to be a small part of a much larger cluster.
Galdeano said, “We started working with VVV data in 2017 and immediately noticed an excess of galaxies in a small region of the sky. For years we suspected these galaxies belonged to the same structure, but we couldn't confirm our suspicions because they were based on photometric techniques.”
“We requested follow-up telescope time to obtain the spectra of the brightest galaxies in these overdensity regions with the aim to confirm or discard our suspicions,” she added. “Fortunately we could confirm our conclusions.”
Although the team only has a current estimate of 58 galaxies in the cluster, more observations are needed to accurately determine its mass and contents.
What they have found, however, is that this structure is very large and very massive. “This structure is at least 10 times more massive than any cluster of galaxies previously known at this redshift,” said Hayashi. “It's a real monster.”
“Although it looks large, we cannot tell how massive yet,” said Minniti. “We need more spectroscopic redshifts to estimate the mass of this cluster.”
By discovering this cluster, we now have a better understanding of what lies behind the Milky Way. However, there is still much more to explore in order to gain a full comprehension of our place in space. For example, hidden galaxy clusters are not the only things located in the ZoA; there is also something called the Great Attractor. This attractor consists of unidentified gravitational Pulling galaxies and clusters toward it with great force. The true nature of this anomaly has yet to be determined and can only be solved through further observation and research.
So, what does this new discovery mean for us? Well, for starters, it gives scientists another piece of the puzzle that is our universe. By learning more about the distribution of matter, we can better understand how galaxies form and evolve.
Essentially, we may never be able to distinguish what lies in the hidden zone of an eclipse, but Minniti commented that he and his colleagues are open to anything.
“Galdeano concluded, saying that it is very difficult to explore these mysterious regions because the absorption of light is typically very high in areas with a lot of dust and stars. We hope to have an approach and find out interesting results in the near future.”
The researchers suggest that dark matter may play a role in the structure's formation, but more data is needed to confirm this hypothesis.
This is an exciting discovery that has the potential to change our understanding of the universe. Scientists will continue to study this anomaly to determine its true nature.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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