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The newly translated book "Finding Our Place in the Universe," out today (May 21), details how scientists discovered the vast supercluster of galaxies that contains the Milky Way — using careful calculations to reveal the supercluster's intricate, feathery shape.
In 2014, the French astrophysicist Hélène Courtois was part of a research team that discovered the supercluster, which is known as Laniakea ("immeasurable heaven" in Hawaiian). Laniakea is more than 500 million light-years in diameter and contains approximately 100,000 galaxies, the brightest of which is our own Milky Way. Those galaxies appear to be moving toward what is known as the "Great Attractor," an unseen force 160,000 million light-years away that pulls galaxies within Laniakea toward it inexorably.
Lanaikea - Extent - Research - Team - Distance
To determine Lanaikea's extent, the research team measured the distance from Earth to other galaxies and then measured each galaxy's movement due to other objects' gravitational pull. The scientists found that some galaxies tended to move in one direction, some in another — but since every galaxy is moving toward a spot called the Great Attractor, there is an outer bound even for something as large as Lanaikea. As of 2014, we have known where that outer bound lies. Now that Laniakea has been identified, Courtois is focusing on finding the causes of an ongoing, accelerated expansion of galaxies.
Related: Will the Great Attractor Destroy Us?
Author - Hélène - Courtois - Planetarium - Lyon
Author Hélène Courtois at the Planetarium of Lyon, France.
Courtois, a professor at the University of Claude Bernard Lyon 1 in France, wrote a French account of the discovery of Laniakea in 2016. Now, MIT Press has published an English version entitled "Finding Our Place in the Universe." The book details Courtois' own journey as an astrophysicist, while simultaneously telling the story of more than two decades of work that culminated in the discovery of Laniakea. It is an accessible...
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