Milky Way is ‘Too Big for its Wall’ in Unique Cosmic Occurrence

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Milky Way is ‘Too Big for its Wall’ in Unique Cosmic Occurrence

An international team of astronomers has discovered that the Milky Way is in a special place in the Universe, as it is too big for its surrounding “cosmological wall.” This is something that has not been observed in other galaxies.

A cosmological wall is a flattened arrangement of galaxies that surrounds other galaxies and are characterized by empty regions called ‘voids’ on either side. These voids tend to squash the galaxies together into a pancake-like shape. The environment of this wall, called the Local Sheet, affects how the Milky Way and nearby galaxies rotate around their axes in a more organized way than if we were in a random place in the Universe.

Typically, galaxies tend to be significantly smaller than the surrounding cosmological wall. However, The Milky Way is found to be surprisingly massive in comparison to its cosmological wall, a rare cosmic occurrence.

A new study has revealed that the Milky Way is unique in its position in the Universe. The research, conducted by an international team of astronomers, shows that the Milky Way is too large for its “cosmological wall,” a feature that has not been observed in other galaxies. The findings were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The study was based on a computer simulation known as the IllustrisTNG project. The simulation examined a volume of the Universe that was nearly a billion light-years wide and contained millions of galaxies. However, only a tiny fraction of these galaxies were as large and located in a cosmological wall like the Milky Way.

The team believes that it may be important to take into account the unique environment around the Milky Way when running simulations in order to avoid a “Copernican bias” in scientific inference. This bias comes from assuming that the Milky Way is located in an average place in the Universe. In order to make accurate measurements, the team suggests using precise locations within the simulation.

The lead researcher, Miguel Aragón, stated that “the Milky Way is, in a way, special.” He explained that while the Earth is unique in being the only known home of life, it is not at the center of the Universe or even the Solar System. Similarly, the Sun is just an ordinary star among billions in the Milky Way and the Milky Way is just another spiral galaxy among billions in the observable Universe.

“According to lead researcher, Miguel Aragón, it may be necessary to travel a half a billion light years from the Milky Way, past many, many galaxies, to find another cosmological wall with a galaxy like ours. This distance is a couple of hundred times farther away than the nearest large galaxy around us, Andromeda.”

“Dr. Mark Neyrinck, another member of the team, cautioned that it is important to be careful when identifying properties that qualify as ‘special.’ He stated that if they added a ridiculously restrictive condition on a galaxy, such as that it must contain the paper they wrote about this, they would certainly be the only galaxy in the observable Universe like that. However, they believe that the ‘too big for its wall’ property is physically meaningful and observationally relevant enough to call out as really being special.”

“Reference: ‘The unusual Milky Way-local sheet system: implications for spin strength and alignment’ by M A Aragon-Calvo, Joseph Silk and Mark Neyrinck, 23 December 2022, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.”

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