A team of astronomers have discovered that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is on the outskirts of a previously-unknown galactic supercluster. Scientists have named this supercluster Laniakea, which means “immeasurable heaven” in Hawaiian. Galaxies huddle together in groups known as clusters. Regions where galaxy clusters are densely packed are called superclusters.

Milky Way

Scientists used the Green Bank Telescope for this study

The discovery appeared in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. The discovery confirmed the previously unrecognized linkages between galaxy clusters. It also defines the contours of our cosmic neighborhood. R. Brent Tully, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, said that they have finally established the boundaries that define the superclusters. It’s like finding out your hometown is part of a much larger country bordering other nations.

Scientists used the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope to find out the status of Milky Way. Using a new mapping technique, astronomers were able to map the distances between more than 8,000 nearby galaxies and their velocities. It enabled astronomers for the first time to define the region where each supercluster dominates.

New study busts previous assumptions about the status of Milky Way

Previously, astronomers believed that the Milky Way (where our planet and solar system reside) was part of a cluster that was about 100 million light years in diameter. The new study revealed that it was just an appendage of the gigantic Laniakea supercluster. The Laniakea has a diameter of 500 million light years. It contains the mass of 100 million billion Suns across 100,000 galaxies.

One light year means roughly 9.45 trillion kilometers (5.88 trillion miles). Astronomer Elmo Tempel of the Tartu Observatory in Estonia said having a distinct method to identify superclusters will help scientists find out how galaxies, including the Milky Way, evolve. Bordering Laniakea are the superclusters Hercules, Coma, Shapley, and Perseus-Pisces. Scientists haven’t yet been able to determine the far edges of the neighboring galactic superclusters.