I was watching a science program on the television the other night – it completely blew me away. It never fails to amaze me how little I know and how much we (the human race) are discovering.
When Einstein published his theory of General Relativity in 1916, it was generally believed that ours was the only galaxy in the universe. To put this another way, the universe was considered to consist of just our galaxy, which we call the Milky Way, and which looks something like the following:
Since that time, we've come to understand that there's somewhere around 200 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way; also, the most current estimates are that there are 100 to 500 billion galaxies in the Universe. Now, until I saw this TV program, I'd pretty much assumed that -- generally speaking -- the galaxies were relatively evenly "sprinkled" through the universe, looking something like the following:
I had also heard that there were things like superclusters of galaxies, and also terms like "voids," which refer to volumes of space that are relatively barren or stars. But I hadn't thought of these as having any "structure." What I hadn’t grasped was the awesome majesty of the universe, which we now know to resemble a three-dimensional fabric "woven" from cosmic threads as illustrated below:
The filaments (threads) shown in this simulation are each formed from numerous galaxies. In the television program they were represented as an animation, in which the filaments were like cosmic highways with "rush hour" traffic of galaxies "flowing" along them. The "hubs" where multiple filaments meet are known as superclusters, which consist of humongous groups of smaller galaxy groups and clusters and which are among the largest known structures in the cosmos.
All of this left me speechless (and it's not often that you'll hear me say that).
It also prompts me to wonder what things look like from different places in the universe. Even in the voids, there may be isolated galaxies floating around, or even isolated solar systems that have been ejected from a galaxy in the same way that individual planets can be ejected from a solar system. What would it be like looking up at the night sky from one of these? At the other end of the scale, suppose you were living on a planet close to the center of your galaxy (our solar system is located in the outer reaches of the Milky Way galaxy), and your galaxy was at the heart of a supercluster, what do you think the night sky would look like there?
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