back to article You are here => Earth is in 'the suburbs' of an immense heaven

Astronomers have finally figured out just where the heck in the Universe we are – and it turns out to be the suburbs of a galactic supercluster now known as Laniakea. Galaxies don’t tend to be scattered throughout the Universe willy-nilly; they tend to bunch up into clusters, groups and superclusters. Our Local Group contains …

  1. Ashton Black

    Yeah...

    ... but remember the universe was created for the sole exclusive use of man, according to some nomadic desert dwelling gents.

    On a serious note, the cosmos never fails to astound me.

    1. mark 63 Silver badge

      Re: Yeah...

      " but remember the universe was "

      I thought you were breaking into song there!

      -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving,

      And revolving at 900 miles an hour,

      That's orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it's reckoned

      A sun that is the source of all our power.

      The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see,

      Are moving at a million miles a day

      In an outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour

      Of the Galaxy we call the Milky Way.

      Our Galaxy itself contains 100 billion stars

      It's 100,000 light years side to side

      It bulges in the middle, 16,000 light years thick

      But out by us it's just 3,000 light years wide

      We're 30,000 light years from galactic central point,

      We go round every 200 million years

      And our Galaxy is only one of millions and billions

      In this amazing and expanding Universe

      As fast as it can go, at the speed of light you know,

      12 million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.

      So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure

      How amazingly unlikely it is your birth

      And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,

      Because there's bugger all down here on Earth.

      1. Darryl

        Re: Yeah...

        My absolute favourite (From my absolute favourite author):

        “It is known that there are an infinte number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely products of a deranged imagination.”

        1. Matt Siddall

          Re: Yeah...

          Logic on that doesn't quite work... Try this:

          “It is known that there are an infinte number of numbers, simply because you can add 1 to any number to make another one. However, not every one of them is odd. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near nothing as makes no odds, so the average number of odd numbers that exist can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the all numbers are even, and that odd numbers you run across are merely products of a deranged imagination.”

          But then, I've never really been a Douglas Adams fan.

      2. frank ly

        Re: Yeah...

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWVshkVF0SY

    2. boltar Silver badge

      Re: Yeah...

      "... but remember the universe was created for the sole exclusive use of man, according to some nomadic desert dwelling gents."

      Pity Harry Potter wasn't written 2000 years ago. Never mind Mary, I'll worship Hermione thanks. Though I'm not sure a glasses wearing kid fits the prophet mold but then neither really does a ranting carpenters son or a bigamous paedo so beggars etc....

    3. mr.K
      Thumb Down

      Re: Yeah...

      I am sorry, but mocking religious beliefs in commentard section of an article about astronomy is as cheap as it gets. If somebody had dragged their religion into it in the first place, maybe, but nobody did except you.

      "A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind." is a cool including statement. He could have said some religious thing, he didn't. He could have made in American only, he didn't. It made us in the rest of the world able to say "We have been too the moon." and brought the world a little closer together.

      "I see no god." is belittling and served as nothing else as to make me think less of mankind.

      1. dan1980

        Re: Yeah...

        @mr.K

        Okay, maybe it wasn't the friendliest thing to say but it's not exactly 'cheap'. I mean, astronomy has given us a view far broader and grander than anything imagined by the bronze/iron age writers of the Bible.

        There are two big scientific revelations that have served to put humans in our place: the age of the Earth and the size of the Universe it fits into. We now know (objections of YE Creationists aside) that the Earth is ~4.5b years old and the Universe is so unimaginably vast that the laws of physics limit how much of it we can ever see.

        Our existence is so fleeting and our share of the universe so miniscule that many of our grand beliefs in the importance of humanity have had to be scaled down to better fit the infinitesimal stage that our lives play out on.

        In this new view of the universe and our place in it, the idea of a personal God who created the universe for us is, frankly, rather ill-fitting. The continued existence of that belief is a result of its long heritage in the human psyche.

        Some people, however, get scared by the implications. How can our lives matter if they are so tiny? How is our existence even possible unless it is a random chance? To those people, the only answer is double-down on god.

        I'm not criticising anyone's beliefs but astronomy is very relevant to religion and this can be seen in the way more fundamental believers argue against things like the big bang and the evolution of stars. They do this because they are unwilling to accept the broader and longer view of the universe that astronomy provides.

        Of course, there are many non-fundamentalist believers who accept - at least casually - the idea of an old, infinitely vast universe and the naturalistic evolution of humanity in a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny corner of that universe.

        Those 'moderate' or 'mainstream' believers still cleave to their comforting belief in a personal god who set this whole amazing show in motion and - 13 billion years later, once the universe was in a fit state - saw to it that humans would receive a special, immortal and supernatural component to supplement the physical matter of our evolved bodies so that we could survive our own deaths and continue on in a non-physical existence outside of space and time.

        The list of questions that belief raises is long but the final argument will be "where did the universe come from then!?".

        That's a thorny one and likely moves outside of science and into philosophy, but even if one proves without doubt that the universe was created by some intelligent agent, it simply does not follow that said agent would necessarily not only know of our existence (it a big universe!) but actually care what we do or say and it doesn't follow that that creator of that universe must have had any hand at all in creating humans, much less the notion that we have been given immortal souls as some kind of heavenly door-pass.

        It certainly doesn't follow that such a god would pause the laws of physics selectively to benefit this person or that (or their football team) but not some other, less pious, individual.

        I can accept the possibility of a god that set the universe in motion but only if the person suggesting it is willing to agree that such a god does not automatically have the qualities that any religious person would worship.

    4. Michael Thibault

      Re: Yeah...

      You think you're astounded, do you? You are deluded, my fellow commentard, deluded.

    5. Bunbury

      Re: Yeah...

      You have to think that those nomads had the same thought as you - astounded by the immensity of their surroundings. Their explanation was that it was created in detail and fully formed - because that's all they knew: if you want a hut someone has to build it. we on the other hand have worked out some of the physics involved - so we can see how the building occurs on its own.

      However, we don't actually know why the rules of physics are as they are or properly how they link up - so in that sense we are little further on. If there were a conciousness somewhere that could define how the rules of physuics work, how would we identify that?

      Those of a scientific bent see the universe and think it's pretty, stunning, etc. but there's nothing in our evolution that drives those thoughts. Why don't we see hubble images and think "crikey, that's really ugly"?

      Big bang scientists and fundamentalists do at least agree on some of the order: void, light, earth.

  2. Brian Morrison

    And we're still...

    ...far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy...

    <sigh!>

    1. Ironclad

      Re: And we're still...

      I immediately thought of:

      "Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space."

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: And we're still...

      But at least we don't still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.....

      1. Aggrajag

        Re: And we're still...

        Given all the fuss about the possible new iWatch and exisiting and upcoming smartwatches I think your statement is more incorrect now than anytime in the last 20 years :)

        (BTW I get the reference, I just think it's funny how these things are cyclical.)

        1. Brian Morrison

          Re: And we're still...

          Cyclical, yes.

          In your particular case I think you're supposed to say "Oh no, not again!"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Meh

            Re: And we're still...

            All things cyclical imply futility

            All things cyclical imply hope

            Twice or more around the cycle and you don't give a .....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And we're still...

        > But at least we don't still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.....

        iWatch?

    3. Michael Thibault

      Re: And we're still...

      Relatively safe here, IOW. Right?

    4. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: And we're still...

      Damn. Beat me to it.

  3. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    It's a long way down the high street to the chemists.

    I'm not popping round to our neighbours in Persues-Pisces any time soon.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: It's a long way down the high street to the chemists.

      That's a pity, 'cos they've just put the kettle on.

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Let me be the first to say

      as a pround Laniakean that those Persues-Piscans totally suck.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and to think that ...

    ... just one guy created all this in six days, 6000 years ago ...

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: just one guy created all this in six days, 6000 years ago ...

      Well, he says "created". I think maybe he just eventually decided to comb his beard, and all this just kind of fell out in the process.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: just one guy created all this in six days, 6000 years ago ...

        HERETICS!!! We are all just the result of a sneeze of the Great Green Arkleseizure!!

        Repent sinners, the Great White Handkerchief approacheth!!

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: and to think that ...

      ... just one guy created all this in six days, 6000 years ago ...

      Polish plumbers! They work too hard and for what?

    3. Adair

      Re: and to think that ...

      Man, you're really stuck in the dark ages, aren't you. Plenty of people of faith didn't think much of that literalist analysis when it was first made, let alone today.

      Or maybe you're attempting a little troll.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: and to think that ...

        > Plenty of people of faith didn't think much of that literalist analysis when it was first made

        Plenty of people still think a lot of that idiocy today.

        Your Faith Corporation, Inc. has some 'splainin' to do when it comes to science.

    4. Michael Thibault

      Re: and to think that ...

      >... just one guy created all this in six days, 6000 years ago ...

      Or so it is claimed. There having been apparently no one else around at the time to vouch for him, though, leaves me a little suspicious of the claim.

    5. Martin Budden Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: and to think that ...

      As any fule kno, the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe "after drinking heavily".

  5. DrXym Silver badge

    Too bad there is no such thing as a total perspective vortex

    War criminals, jihadist and assorted other murderous / religious loons would all benefit from a stint inside.

    1. Amorous Cowherder
      Unhappy

      Re: Too bad there is no such thing as a total perspective vortex

      Sadly that's what makes it all the remarkable. Huge, mind-f**king amount of exciting stuff out there to find and look at, yet the idiots jacking-off over their bits of metal that make bang-bang noises just seem intent in trying to keep the human race a smidge below the mental capacity of pond scum.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Too bad there is no such thing as a total perspective vortex

        > Sadly that's what makes it all the remarkable. Huge, mind-f**king amount of exciting stuff out there to find and look at, yet the idiots jacking-off over their bits of metal that make bang-bang noises just seem intent in trying to keep the human race a smidge below the mental capacity of pond scum.

        I can't second that enough.

      2. Chicken Marengo
        Pint

        Re: Too bad there is no such thing as a total perspective vortex

        @Amorous: Unfortunately I can only give you 1 upvote, but if I ever meet you I will buy you one of these -->

      3. Brian Allan 1

        Re: Too bad there is no such thing as a total perspective vortex

        Wow, how does one follow this comment!!?? Upvoted an infinite number of times!

  6. Alister Silver badge

    It turns out that the Milky Way is in the ‘burbs of the Laniakea supercluster, which is 500 million light years in diameter and contains the mass of a hundred quadrillion suns in 100,000 galaxies.

    Thanks for this topic.

    I find it fascinating, but at the same time, completely incomprehensible.

    I have no frame of reference into which I can comfortably fit "a hundred quadrillion suns", and make it possible for me to visualise.

    A complete failure of imagination, I just don't have the resources.

    :(

    1. Natalie Gritpants

      Just look up on a dark clear winter night in the countryside. Space is mostly cold, dark and empty.

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        Its

        not dark, our eyes just cant see the photons coming from every point in the sky

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Its

          "It's not dark, our eyes just cant see the photons coming from every point in the sky"

          The cosmic background radiation you mean, but that's just 3K. A rather dark light. Still, technically it's true, the sky is not dark, exactly.

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Its

            And deep down, it's really, really active.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      A hundred quadrillion is about* a third of the number of water molecules in one-hundredth of a cubic millimetre of water. Does that help?

      *If I'm out by an order of magnitude it's because I can't be arsed to find a calculator.

      1. Brian Morrison

        I thought you were out by a fair bit, I made it 3.334x10^^17 molecules in 1/100th of a cubic mm. 100 quadrillion is 10^^20. Er, no, quadrillion is 10^^15 isn't it, I was thinking 10^^18 which is a quintillion. So it's actually 3.334x10^^14. Was that the number you first thought of?

        18g (or cc) of water gives 6.022 x 10^^23 molecules, so divide by 18,000*100,000.

        Fun with chemistry again after 33 years, yay!

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        >A hundred quadrillion is about* a third of the number of water molecules in one-hundredth of a cubic millimetre of water. Does that help?

        Thank you for your effort, but... I've never seen a molecule of water. Could you possibly scale that up to 'grains of sand in X number of swimming pools', or another other Reg-approved unit of volume?

        1. M7S

          Really dilute

          Does this make Earth/humankind some kind of galactic homeopathy and if so, what are we the treatment for?

          Additional musing for Friday: If so, homeopathic practitioners might be the ultimate genocidal warmongers, on the basis that the less of us there are left, the more effective we are.

    3. illiad

      quadrillion?

      I do wish peeps would use a proper numbering system!! >:(

      1. (Mathematics) (in Britain) the number represented as one followed by 24 zeros (1024). US and Canadian word: septillion

      (1000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000)

      2. (Mathematics) (in the US and Canada) the number represented as one followed by 15 zeros

      (1000,000,000,000,000)

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/quadrillion

      1. carrera4life

        Re: quadrillion?

        The clue should be in the name; quad million ergo 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

        But for some reason we now all defer to *that* other numbering scheme.

        The Greeks got it right :-)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Giant Sugarlumps!

      Here's one way of trying to visualise it. It uses the fact that a million is 100 times 100 times 100, which should be easy to visualise as a cube containing a million little cubes.

      Imagine a grain of sugar, one cubic millimetre, is the sun. (Okay, it's the wrong shape, but nevermind.)

      A thousand suns make a sugarlump, one cubic centimetre.

      A billion suns make a cubic metre.

      A quadrillion suns make a cube that's 100 metres along each edge.

      100 quadrillion suns make a ten-by-ten square of those giant sugarlumps.

      That's a square kilometre of cubic millimetre grains of sugar, 100 metres high.

      The mass of the sun is about 330,000 times the mass of the earth, which itself is nearly six million million million million kilograms. A cubic millimetre of sugar has a mass of about 1.6 mg. So, the earth has a mass of 3.75 thousand million million million million grains of sugar, and the sun has a mass of 1.24 thousand million million million million million grains of sugar. So now you've just got to visualise that, and you're done.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: Giant Sugarlumps! @AC

        So now you've just got to visualise that, and you're done.

        Thanks for trying to break it down into an understandable form.

        Ooh, my head hurts...

        It must be a massive sugar rush. :)

      2. The Corner of Moron

        Re: Giant Sugarlumps!

        Perhaps if someone expressed it in terms of London Buses, we could all visualise it?

      3. intrigid

        Re: Giant Sugarlumps!

        The flaw in your visualization is that you're compacting all the suns together, which does not represent the density of stars in Laniakea.

        Spread out the 100 quadrillion 1x1mm sugar grain stars so that they're each 3,000 kilometers apart, and there you go! A perfect super-shrunk visualization of a supercluster!

      4. Caaaptaaaain kick arse

        Re: Giant Sugarlumps!

        Blimey, the horses must be happy.

    5. Elmer Phud

      A complete failure of imagination, I just don't have the resources.

      Out of Cheese error?

    6. Michael Thibault

      @Alister

      You. are. not. alone.

    7. Rusty 1

      Otters

      To visualise such a large number of things you need to start smaller. Perhaps with otters. Say 100, on a plane?

    8. Joe Harrison

      Exactly. Nothing could possibly be that big, which proves we are living in a simulation.The operators of the simulator are not allowed to tell us that directly but the hundred quadrillion bit is their subtle hint. QED.

  7. Sander van der Wal
    Boffin

    Boring is good.

    Any particular reason it is not called the Local Supercluster?

    1. Brian Morrison

      Re: Boring is good.

      Yes, because the people who named it are in Hawaii and like names that reflect local culture.

      1. Benchops
        Joke

        > names that reflect local culture.

        umm, given the scale of this thing -- that's pretty darn localised! ;)

    2. LaeMing Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Boring is good.

      "Local Supercluster" was already taken by the supercluster just north of Coma (off the map shown).

  8. thomas k.

    You are here!

    The image accompanying this story in the Guardian contains a helpful "You are here!" label.

  9. dogged

    That headline

    I keep trying to parse it as a lambda expression

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Life in the suburbs

    Chances are that the suburbs are a much better place to live than closer to the center...

    Higher density = more stars = higher probability of a local supernova = extinction.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Life in the suburbs

      ... not to mention less drive-by shootings

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Life in the suburbs

        SETI Galactic Cop Radio Scanner:

        "Galactic core? We have a 246, repeat 246 around some lousy G Star. Also 207 and possibly 273A. Multiple victims and new asteroid belts."

        "Not again. Same customer as last month?"

        "Yeah, dude calls himself 'Vader'. Believes in some mythical crap called "Force". Totally crazy. Some old civilization I talked to saw him flyby in a pimped-out technological terror. I'm going after him. Over."

  11. ecofeco Silver badge

    Well...

    ... they sort of look like turtles.

    Close enough!

  12. d3vy Silver badge

    Looks to me like we are near to the edge of a noodly appendage...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you could show this data to the ancient sheep herders

    I reckon they'd drop their petty little god quicker than you could say Jehovah!

    (Did someone say Jehovah?)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If you could show this data to the ancient sheep herders

      In the beginning was void, and Anonymous Coward walked upon the face of the void and said "let there be light"...

      Nah things probably wouldn't have turned out much different...

  14. Lapun Mankimasta

    Laniakea

    Now let's see, in Tahitian it would be Ra'iatea and in Te Reo Maori it would be Rangiatea:

    http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/hawaiki/page-3

    Location Location Location. Now where are those beads I had for sale to the nice gentlemen in that UFO ... ?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Location

    So when is TomTom going to update its maps with this information, I cant wait for the Local Super cluster map but will it fit on my memory card?

  16. perlcat

    Dyslexia strikes again

    Read that as "Lana Ikea". Was briefly amused at the thought of all humanity wandering about in the bowels of a cosmically huge assemble-it-your-sorry-arsed-self furniture store. Briefly, mind you.

  17. willi0000000

    OK, we've got the map now . . . road trip!

    [this is why i have to live forever . . . there's just too much to see in one short lifespan]

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