Scientists recently uncovered the largest known structure of the ancient universe.
It’s an object called a supercluster, which is not as foreign as it may sound. We reside in a supercluster, too. If space seems like a lonely place on dim nights, just remember that Earth is in the midst of plentiful galactic company. The sun’s home, the Milky Way, is one galaxy out of many in its cosmic neighborhood. And the Milky Way galaxy is a member of a gathering of nearby galaxies called the Virgo supercluster, which is part of a larger supercluster called Laniakea (which translates to “immeasurable heavens” in Hawaiian).
Hyperion’s unimaginably enormous mass is estimated to be a million billion times that of our own Sun (which is approximately 1,048 Jupiters, or 333,000 Earths).
Hyperion is an adolescent in astronomy terms. Its distance from earth means astronomers are viewing it as it was created just over 2 billion years after the Big Bang, which gave rise to the universe about 13.8 billion years ago. The Milky Way galaxy, which hosts our Solar System, is about 13.6 billion years old.
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, and allows us the opportunity to challenge some models of supercluster formation. Unearthing this cosmic titan helps uncover the history of these large-scale structures.
This is the first time that such a large structure has been identified as such a high redshift, just over two billion years after the Big Bang. 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.
The VIMOS, an instrument that measures objects at a distance of billions of light years away, in practice allows experts to see what the early universe was like in the distant cosmic past. The spectrograph is hosted by the Chile-based Very Large Telescope.
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is a telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.
The VLT consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 m across, which are generally used separately but can be used together to achieve a very high angular resolution. The four separate optical telescopes are known as Antu, Kueyen, Melipal, and Yepun, which are all words for astronomical objects in the Mapuche language.
The VLT operates at visible and infrared wavelengths. Each individual telescope can detect objects roughly four billion times fainter than can be detected with the naked eye, and when all the telescopes are combined, the facility can achieve an angular resolution of about 0.001 arc-second. This is equivalent to roughly 2 meters resolution at the distance of the Moon.
The VLT is the most productive ground-based facility for astronomy, with only the Hubble Space Telescope generating more scientific papers among facilities operating at visible wavelengths.