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Astronomers Find Largest Galaxy Proto-supercluster

Newsweek logo Newsweek 10/17/2018 Katherine Hignett

Astronomers have found an enormous mishmash of galaxies hiding in the early universe. Located only 2.3 billion years after the Big Bang—which occurred some 13.8 billion years ago—this gigantic proto-supercluster is the largest and most massive structure ever discovered at such an early stage in the life of the universe.

Dubbed Hyperion after an ancient Greek Titan, the tangled galactic mesh holds more than one million billion times the mass of our Sun.

“It was a surprise to see something this evolved when the Universe was relatively young,” said astronomer Olga Cucciati in a statement, first author of a study describing the find published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “Normally these kinds of structures are known at lower redshifts, which means when the Universe has had much more time to evolve and construct such huge things.”

Galaxy filaments—enormous thread-like boundaries—tie at least seven highly dense areas of the proto-supercluster together in a sprawling mass quite different to those nearer Earth, the research team reported.

“[These] tend to a much more concentrated distribution of mass with clear structural features,” said Brian Lemaux, an astronomer from University of California, Davis and a co-leader of the research team. “But in Hyperion, the mass is distributed much more uniformly in a series of connected blobs, populated by loose associations of galaxies.”

Scientists think Hyperion’s weird structure might be to do with its age. Gravity has had much more time—billions of years in fact—to draw the matter in nearby superclusters closer together.

"Gravity needs time to assemble such amount of mass, but this proto-supercluster is found in an epoch when the universe was only two billion years old. This means that gravity had a huge amount of matter 'to work with,'" Cucciati told Newsweek.

Our own galaxy—the Milky Way—sits in the Virgo Supercluster, which has a tighter structure. Hyperion will likely develop into a more familiar shape over its lifetime.

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In Greek mythology, Hyperion was born to Gaia and Uranus, gods of earth and sky, respectively. Their twelve Titan children went on to overthrow Uranus, before the Olympians—a major group of gods including Zeus and Apollo—toppled them.

The team delved into vast reams of data gathered by an ultra-deep space survey to help pinpoint the cosmic behemoth, which was lurking in the COSMOS field of the constellation Sextans. The researchers think the discovery could help unlock the secrets of the early universe and shed light on the role of "dark matter"—mysterious invisibe stuff that makes up much of the mass of the universe's.

“Understanding Hyperion and how it compares to similar recent structures can give insights into how the Universe developed in the past and will evolve into the future,” said Cucciati in the statement. "With the presence of such a huge structure already in formation when the universe was so young, we hope to learn more precisely the role of dark matter at that epoch," she told Newsweek.

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