Posted on November 1st, 2016

Reaching Orbit – When Galaxies Collide

hubbleThis image, a part of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field survey, is one of the deepest images ever taken of the Universe, cutting across billions of light-years. (Credit: Hubble Ultra Deep Field, HUDF)

We call the Milky Way home, our solar system rotates in the Orion spur between two of the large arms that make up the spiral galaxy. The Universe holds hundreds of billions of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars. Some are like our own spiral-shaped galaxy where in the center researchers believe a supermassive black hole resides, its immense gravitational pull moving stars and planets in an intricate dance. Other galaxies have elliptical shapes while still others form rings or linear shapes. Up until recently, scientist estimated that there were over 200 billion galaxies in the Universe.
A recent study has put a whole new spin on the matter as now scientist estimate that there are 10 times more galaxies then originally estimated. It all starts with an estimate of the number of galaxies found in the early Universe. Most of these were small in size and as they fell into each other’s gravitational pull, they collided, creating larger galaxies and cutting down their numbers. Christopher Conselice and his team from the University of Nottingham referenced previously published data along with some of Hubble’s deep space images. They created 3-D models from the Hubble images to get an accurate count of the galaxies through time, looking back at some of the oldest galaxies. To see galaxies as far back as possible, researchers studied near-infrared light as visible light doesn’t travel as far through the Universe. The team also took advantage of new mathematical models that help extrapolate the number of galaxies that current satellite technology cannot yet see.

galaxypairArp 87 is a pair of galaxies that are slowly gravitating towards each other and will someday merge into one larger galaxy. (Credit: NASAESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

This led to the discovery that researchers have greatly underestimated the number of galaxies currently in existence. From this new estimate, we can now assume that we have only observed 10 percent of the known Universe, meaning that 90 percent of the universe is completely unknown to us. There are galaxies and interstellar phenomenon that we have yet to lay eyes on. The next generation of space telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, could unveil a whole new Universe. It is impossible to fully grasp the size of the Universe let alone our place in it, but we keep boldly going in search of answers.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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