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We already knew the Earth was not the center of the universe, but now we know exactly where it is.

It's hard to wrap your head around the vastness of the universe. But a recent discovery has made it just a little easier to understand our place among the stars.

We already knew the Earth was not the center of the universe, but now we know exactly where it is.

Scientists have mapped more than 8,000 galaxies to find the Earth's official address, and it turns out the universe is even bigger than we thought.

Have you ever wondered where in the universe the Milky Way actually is? Like, literally where? In the vast expanse of nothingness that we call outer space, where exactly are we? You might think that sounds rhetorical, but it's not. And a recent discovery, as seen in this new video from Nature, has made it even easier to understand.

Well. Kind of.



GIF set from Nature.

Just as a group of celestial bodies is a galaxy and a group of galaxies is a cluster, a group of galactic clusters is known as a "supercluster" (not very original, I know).

Scientists had previously thought that our own galaxy was positioned at the edge of the Local Supercluster that itself was centered on the Virgo Cluster, which they believed to be about 100 million light-years wide. That's the equivalent of 1.03461597 × 1022 American football fields (or so Google tells me), which is such a ridiculously huge number that it probably didn't do anything to help you understand the scope of it.

But that's OK, because that number was off. Like, waaaaaaay off. So throw away all your preconceived notions of incomprehensibly exponential intergalactic football fields and say hello to your new home supercluster!

Our local supercluster has been named Laniakea, which means "immeasurable heaven" in Hawaiian. Because it's that freaking huge.

GIF set from Nature.

By defining the boundaries of Laniakea, we have a greater view of the universe as a whole — and a clearer understanding of our exact position in relation to it.

Scientists rely on physics, and waves of light in particular, to measure things on a galactic scale. Because Home Depot is always sold out of their light-year measuring tapes (plus those things are pretty hard to fit into the bed of your pickup truck), they examine the behavioral patterns of light waves and color spectrums to figure out how they work in a room, then apply that understanding to see how it works across an open field, then across an entire planet, then from the sun to the Earth, and so on.

By identifying and understanding the behavior of waves in a supercluster, they're better able to identify similar patterns beyond Laniakea. But it's hard to know what patterns are occurring beyond Laniakea if you don't know where it ends.

Think of it this way: Sometimes it's easier to define a thing by the lack of the thing. If we can identify something's absence, then the opposite of that absence must be the thing itself, right? So we're able to understand Laniakea because of what is not Laniakea — and now that we've defined it, we can start to figure what all that not-Laniakea stuff is actually about.


GIF from "Community."

Each celestial body has its own gravitational pull, but everything within the supercluster is being pulled toward the Great Attractor.

Right now you're probably all wide-eyed like: "Hey tell me more about your friend the Great Attractor. I'd like to get to know the Great Attractor, if ya know what I'm sayin'." Which I get. Because the Great Attractor is very attractive. And I would totally love to set you two up but, well, we're not entirely sure what the Great Attractor is beyond its pretty massive gravitational pull.

(....waiting for you to get your "that's what she said" giggles out....)

Basically, the universe is like a Russian nesting doll. Kind of.

You know, the ones where each recursive doll contains a smaller but otherwise identical doll within it, and so on and so on? Our moon revolves around the mass of the Earth — that's our smallest doll. By understanding the relationship between the moon and the Earth, we're able to extrapolate and understand how the Earth revolves around the Sun. That's our next-size-up doll. And it keeps going.

It's not a perfect analogy. But it's good enough for now as a macrocosmic shorthand. Anyway...


Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images.

As we continue to increase in size, each successive celestial body helps us understand the next piece of the puzzle.

Back to superclusters. Right now, Laniakea is the largest of the galactic Russian nesting dolls (excepting for the universe as a whole, which, being that it's infinite, is kind of hard to distill into a single egg-shaped wooden babushka). And everything within the Laniakea supercluster — ourselves included — is being pulled toward this same mysterious Great Attractor.

But things still exist beyond Laniakea. If we understand that everything within Laniakea shares the same attractor, then we can use the same approach to figure out if things in Not-Laniakea also share a mutual force that's opposite from our own. And that's exactly what these scientists did, and how they were able to identify and define our friendly next-door supercluster, Perseus-Pisces.

TL;DR — Laniakea is bigger than we thought, and now that we know it exists, we also know that there's another equally ginormous supercluster that exists opposite it.

This is my mind, being blown. Obvi.

So what does this actually mean for us as individuals, or for humankind as a whole? Well, at the moment ... not much.

We think of outer space as an endless expanse of incomprehensible nothingness. Which it is. But figuring out a new way to map it brings us that much closer to figuring out how it works, and what else is out there, and what our relationship is to all of it. If scientists can figure out how to map our immediate (ha!) supercluster, then they can use the same formulas to map uncharted territories as well. And from there, who knows what they'll find?

That being said, you might want to update your address book to read "Street, City, State, County, USA, North America, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, The Solar System, The Milky Way, Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, Laniakea, The Universe." Just in case you're worried that the Intergalactic Postal Service won't be able to deliver your holiday cards across the infinite blackness of space.

Watch the video below to bask in the beauty of Laniakea, with much more official-y explanations than I could ever give:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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