Our entire universe can be thought of as an enormous network of galaxies that looks sort of like a cosmic web - with dark, empty areas called voids, where there are no galaxies, and areas called superclusters, which contain thousands and thousands of densely packed galaxies. Superclusters are the biggest structures in the universe, but until now, scientists had no idea how to tell where one begins and also where it ends.
Now, astronomers from the University of Hawaii in the US have discovered a new supercluster, which also happens to be our home supercluster, because in the outer edges sits our very own Milky Way. The team, led by astronomer Brent Tully, named the supercluster Laniakea, which means ‘immeasurable heaven’ in Hawaiian, and produced a 'map’ showing the Milky Way's position within it, along with 100,000 neighbouring galaxies.
The discovery of Laniakea was made possible when Tully's team decided to study the movements and positions of 8,000 galaxies nearby Earth in unprecedented detail. In doing so, they discovered thousands more galaxies, and were able to figure out which ones are being pulled towards and away from us. From this information, they produced a new animated map which shows the incredible network of thousands of galaxies, and their various cosmic flows, within the supercluster Laniakea. And it looks absolutely stunning.
View the animated map above, and you can read the team’s research in the latest edition of Nature.