Heroes

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.

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:

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

The Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness explains one way the rich get richer.

Any time conversations about wealth and poverty come up, people inevitably start talking about boots.

The standard phrase that comes up is "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," which is usually shorthand for "work harder and don't ask for or expect help." (The fact that the phrase was originally used sarcastically because pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps is literally, physically impossible is rarely acknowledged, but c'est la vie.) The idea that people who build wealth do so because they individually work harder than poor people is baked into the American consciousness and wrapped up in the ideal of the American dream.

A different take on boots and building wealth, however, paints a more accurate picture of what it takes to get out of poverty.

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Katie Peters shared a day in the life of pandemic teaching and pleaded for teachers to be given grace.

Teachers are heroes under normal circumstances. During a pandemic that has upended life as we know it, they are honest-to-goodness, bona fide superheroes.

The juggling of school and COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging, creating friction between officials, administrators, teachers, unions, parents and the public at large. Everyone has different opinions about what should and shouldn't be done, which sometimes conflict with what can and cannot be done and don't always line up with what is and isn't being done, and the result is that everyone is just … done.

And as is usually the case with education-related controversies, teachers are taking the brunt of it. Their calls for safe school policies have been met with claims that kids aren't at risk of severe COVID, as if teachers' health and well-being are expendable. Parents' frustrations with remote or hybrid learning are taken out on the teachers who are constantly scrambling to adjust to ever-changing circumstances that make everything about teaching more complicated.

Superheroes, seriously.

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This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015


Remember those beloved Richard Scarry books from when you were a kid?

Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.

The best!

If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!

Image via

Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.

But here's something you may not have known about these classics: They've been slowly changing over the years.

Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.

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