The results, published today in the Astronomical Journal, document a vast region of space known as the Great Attractor, a mysterious mass of matter discovered in 1970 that is dragging in neighboring galaxies with the gravitational force of a thousand trillion stars.
“The Milky Way is very beautiful, of course, and it’s very interesting to study our own galaxy, but it completely blocks out the view of the more distant galaxies behind it,” lead author Lister Staveley-Smith, director of science with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) said in the statement.
The team used a special instrument — a multibeam receiver — outfitted to the Parkes radio telescope in Parkes, Australia. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation operates the dish.
Earth is at the end of the Milky Way that is farthest from the newly discovered galaxies. Three galaxy concentrations (named NW1, NW2 and NW3) and two new clusters (named CW1 and CW2) have sufficient mass alone to make the Milky Way move.
“We don’t actually understand what’s causing this gravitational acceleration on the Milky Way or where it’s coming from,” Staveley-Smith said.
“We know that in this region there are a few very large collections of galaxies we call clusters or superclusters, and our whole Milky Way is moving towards them at more than 2 million km/h [1.2 million mph],” he added.
The newly discovered galaxies still don’t entirely account for the Great Attractor’s force, but they do indicate that there’s a lot more to be discovered in the Zone of Avoidance.