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.

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:

True

In 1945, the world had just endured the bloodiest war in history. World leaders were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. They wanted to build a better future, one free from the "scourge of war" so they signed the UN Charter — creating a global organization of nations that could deter and repel aggressors, mediate conflicts and broker armistices, and ensure collective progress.

Over the following 75 years, the UN played an essential role in preventing, mitigating or resolving conflicts all over the world. It faced new challenges and new threats — including the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, a Cold War and brutal civil wars, transnational terrorism and genocides. Today, the UN faces new tensions: shifting and more hostile geopolitics, digital weaponization, a global pandemic, and more.

This slideshow shows how the UN has worked to build peace and security around the world:

1 / 12

Malians wait in line at a free clinic run by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali in 2014. Over their 75 year history, UN peacekeepers have deployed around the world in military and nonmilitary roles as they work towards human security and peace. Here's a look back at their history.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Who would have thought that giving the world access to all human knowledge via the internet, the ability to follow and hear from experts on any subject via social media, and the ability to see what's happening anywhere in the world via smartphones with cameras would result in a terrifying percentage of the population believing and spouting nothing but falsehoods day in and day out?

Those of us who value facts, reason, and rational thought have found ourselves at some of our fellow citizens and thinking, "Really? THIS is how you choose to use the greatest tool humanity has ever created? To spew unfounded conspiracy theories?"

It's a marvel, truly.

Between Coronavirus/Bill Gates/5G conspiracies and QAnon/Evil Cabal/Pedophile conspiracies, I thought we were pretty much full up on kooky for 2020. But apparently not. The massive fires up and down the West Coast have ignited even more conspiracy theories, some of which local law enforcement and even the FBI have had to debunk.

Keep Reading Show less
True

In 1945, the world had just endured the bloodiest war in history. World leaders were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. They wanted to build a better future, one free from the "scourge of war" so they signed the UN Charter — creating a global organization of nations that could deter and repel aggressors, mediate conflicts and broker armistices, and ensure collective progress.

Over the following 75 years, the UN played an essential role in preventing, mitigating or resolving conflicts all over the world. It faced new challenges and new threats — including the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, a Cold War and brutal civil wars, transnational terrorism and genocides. Today, the UN faces new tensions: shifting and more hostile geopolitics, digital weaponization, a global pandemic, and more.

This slideshow shows how the UN has worked to build peace and security around the world:

1 / 12

Malians wait in line at a free clinic run by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali in 2014. Over their 75 year history, UN peacekeepers have deployed around the world in military and nonmilitary roles as they work towards human security and peace. Here's a look back at their history.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

via Philanthropy Daily

On September 14, Charles "Chuck" Feeney signed the paperwork to shut down Atlantic Philanthropies. The ceremony was attended via Zoom by the philanthropies' board which included former California Governor Jerry Brown, Bill Gates, and Nancy Pelosi.

While most would think the shuttering of a philanthropic endeavor would be a sad event, it was just how Feeney planned. It marked the competition of four-decade mission to give away almost every penny of his $8 billion fortune.

Feeney has saved $2 million to live on for the remainder of his life.

Keep Reading Show less
Katie Neeves (L) photo by Jayne Walsh, JK Rowling (R) photo by Sjhill, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dear JK Rowling,

I am writing this letter to say a big thank you to you. You may think it strange that a gobby trans woman such as me would wish to thank you after all your recent transphobic outpourings, but let me explain…

I certainly don't thank you for your lengthy essay last month where you describe the abuse you have suffered (for which you have my sympathy) and in which you stated that you do not hate trans people, while at the same time peddling even more anti-trans mis-information. Sadly, your diatribe directly caused some trans children to self-harm and other to attempt suicide.

Keep Reading Show less