What lies beyond our galaxy? is one of the questions that have occupied astronomers and human beings in general throughout history. The curiosity to study and know what is outside our planet, further away from our solar system or in the confines of the universe has always been increasing; this time, the eyes and interest of the lovers of the cosmos are in the Great Attractor.
The space race only marked the beginning of the desire to conquer space, but as we got to know beyond the limits of the galaxy and as astronomers were able to reach more discoveries, it became clear that nothing could be ‘conquered.’ The universe has us ‘trapped.’
Millions of light years separate us from stars, galaxies, supernovae, or mysteries that simply have not been discovered, but on this occasion, astronomers determined that the Milky Way, along with many others, is traveling directly to the Great Attractor. According to astronomers who have dedicated their lives to studying space for decades, as well as those who have taken the baton from their predecessors, the Milky Way travels at approximately 600 kilometers per second through the Universe.
Since the 1970s in the 20th century, scientists determined that there was a ‘great force’ in the Universe that would be attracting groups of galaxies (now known as the Great Attractor), such as ours, and that the origin of this would be the final destination of the Milky Way.
“Our galaxy is heading in the direction of something we can’t see clearly. The focal point of that movement is the Great Attractor, the product of billions of years of cosmic evolution,” said Paul Sutter, professor of astrophysics at Stony Brooks University in New York, in an interview with BBC Mundo.
If it reaches the Great Attractor, our galaxy, with the Solar System living inside it, would be devoured by it and thus end its immeasurable journey through the Universe, after millions of years of existence. Although for Sutter, this event could remain only in theory and never happen.
“We will never reach our destination because, in a few billion years, the accelerating force of dark energy will destroy the universe,” explained the NASA consulting cosmologist. According to the explanation offered by NASA, dark energy is a mysterious force that permeates the cosmos and accelerates the expansion of the Universe, which means that galaxies are increasingly separated from each other; thus, in millions of years, the structure of the Universe as we know it so far will be destroyed.
“Within the study of the Universe it is very important to know how it is organized because it is arranged from structures that have certain sizes, and knowing each of them and their dimension helps a lot in this endeavor,” said Carlos Augusto Molina, Colombian astrophysicist who works at the Planetarium of Bogota, to BBC Mundo.
Thanks to the technology and telescopes that were developed, astronomers had better and better tools to study the Universe and reach farther, as well as to confirm the theories that galaxies were heading towards a final destination, the Great Attractor.
“Around the 1970s, we started studying the motion of our Solar System, of our galaxy, and compared it to the motion of other nearby galaxies, and everything seemed to be going in the same direction of the expansion of the Universe. However, astronomers began to notice something curious: there seemed to be a vague directionality in addition to that expansive motion as if all the galaxies near us were also heading toward the same focal point,” said Paul Sutter.
The Great Attractor, located in a supercluster of galaxies called Laniakea, can absorb everything within a radius of approximately 300 million light-years; the Earth is 200 million light-years away.
Story written in Spanish by Eduardo Vega in Cultura Colectiva News