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There’s a Supercluster of Galaxies Hiding Behind the Milky Way
published during a new moon.
11/30/2016

supercluster

The supercluster of galaxies is circled in the larger ellipse and labeled VSC. The smaller oval circles the Shapley Concentration, another group of galaxies in that area. Credit: Thomas Jarrett (UCT)

There’s a constellation in the southern sky called Vela, named after the Latin word for “sail,” and it’s shaped somewhat like a billowing cloth sail of a ship.

Now, an international team of researchers has discovered that behind that vague construct of stars hides a massive array of galaxies that has never been previously observed.

In a paper published in the journal, MNRAS Letters, researchers describe the discovery of the newly identified supercluster. Superclusters, or massive clusters of galaxies, are the largest structures in the Universe.

supercluster

Our Milky Way galaxy is a large spiral. Because of our position in the galaxy, it can be difficult to see some of the objects (even large one like clusters of galaxies) located just outside of our field of vision. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Vela supercluster, as it is now known, is located 800 million light years away. The supergalaxy evaded detection till now because it was obscured by dust and stars within our own galaxy. The discovery was made over the course of several years, with researchers piecing together glimpses of galaxies and galaxy clusters at telescopes in South Africa and Australia.

The discovery came as something of a surprise to researchers, who have been studying that area of the sky for years.

“I could not believe such a major structure would pop up so prominently,” Renée Kraan-Korteweg, lead author of the study said.

The supercluster might help explain the movement of the Milky Way and its neighbors, also known as the Local Group of galaxies. Our local group is also located on the outskirts of another supercluster, known as the Laniakea Supercluster.

Researchers are still trying to learn more about the properties of superclusters like Vela and Laniakea. More research will eventually help researchers pinpoint the size and mass of the Vela Supercluster, and figure out how it interacts with its neighbors.