Hundreds of galaxies found hiding behind the Milky Way

By Brooks Hays  |  Feb. 9, 2016 at 6:07 PM
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CANBERRA, Australia, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Astronomers in Australia have confirmed the discovery of hundreds of galaxies hidden by the Milky Way and a gravitational anomaly known as the Great Attractor.

Until now, the galaxy-rich region of space some 250 million light-years away has been obscured by the stars and dust of the Milky Way.

"The Milky Way is very beautiful of course and it's very interesting to study our own galaxy but it completely blocks out the view of the more distant galaxies behind it," Lister Staveley-Smith, a professor at the University of Western Australia, said in a press release.

A new receiver installed on the Parkes radio telescope has allowed astronomers for the first time to see through the foreground fuzz of the Milky Way's starry dust and into the hidden portions of the Great Attractor region.

Previous measurements suggest the Milky Way and several hundred other galaxies are being pulled toward the Great Attractor region by a gravitational force as powerful as a million billion suns. But researchers aren't exactly sure why.

"We know that in this region there are a few very large collections of galaxies we call clusters or superclusters, and our whole Milky Way is moving towards them at more than two million kilometers per hour," Staveley-Smith said.

But the new findings -- detailed in the Astrophysical Journal -- have revealed several structures that might offer clues to the nature of the Great Attractor region's magnetism.

The significance of these structures won't be certain for some time. But in the meantime, astronomers can be proud to have opened up a large swath of outer space to further observation.

"An average galaxy contains 100 billion stars, so finding hundreds of new galaxies hidden behind the Milky Way points to a lot of mass we didn't know about until now," said University of Cape Town astronomer Professor Renee Kraan-Korteweg.

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