July 22 (UPI) -- Astronomers have produced a new map of the Local Void, a large region of empty space surrounding the Milky Way galaxy.
Scientists have known about the Local Void for some time, but its off-plane positioning makes it difficult to study. A clear view of the Local Void is obscured by the Milky Way.
Like the negative space in painting, the Local Void is defined by the contours of other shapes -- the shape of the Milky Way and the profiles of its galactic neighbors.
To more accurately define the Local Void, astronomers analyzed the motions and distances of 18,000 galaxies. The analysis allowed scientists to better understand the demarcation between the collection of matter and the absence of matter that defines the contours of the Local Void.
The new research -- published this week in the Astrophysical Journal -- helps explain why the movement of the Milky Way and the galaxies that surround it deviate from the broader expansion of the universe. According to the latest analysis, the gravitational pull of the nearby Virgo Cluster and the expansion of the Local Void are influencing the movement of galactic cluster known as the Local Group.
Though mostly empty, the Local Void is a significant structural component of the local universe. Understanding the Local Void and its relationship with surrounding galaxies -- and other voids -- can help cosmologists better understand the formation and evolution of the Milky Way.
"The void network of the universe is interconnected and void passages are found from the Local Void to the adjacent very large Hercules and Sculptor voids," researchers wrote in their new paper. "Minor filaments course through voids."
In addition to publishing a new paper on the subject, scientists produced an animation of the Local Void's expansion.