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There Are 10 Times More Galaxies in the Universe Than Previously Believed

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This shot from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This stormy scene shows a stellar nursery known as N159, an HII region over 150 light-years across. N159 contains many hot young stars. These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs, and filaments from the surrounding material. At the heart of this cosmic cloud lies the Papillon Nebula, a butterfly-shaped region of nebulosity. This small, dense object is classified as a High-Excitation Blob, and is thought to be tightly linked to the early stages of massive star formation. N159 is located over 160 000 light-years away. It resides just south of the Tarantula Nebula (heic1402), another massive star-forming complex within the LMC. It was previously imaged by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which also resolved the Papillon Nebula for the first time.
This shot from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). (ESA/Hubble/NASA)

 

Scientists working on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope project have increased the estimated number of galaxies in the universe by a factor of 10, the Space Telescope Science Institute has announced.

Verifying the number of galaxies that the universe contains is “one of the most fundamental questions in astronomy,” the STScI explained, and a new analysis of data retrieved from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observations increases that number dramatically.

It had previously been thought that there were 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, but a team led by Nottingham University’s Christopher Conselice used images converted into 3D representations and new mathematical models to make inferences beyond the capabilities of contemporary telescope technology, leading to the number increasing to two trillion.

An image created using data from the Hubble Space Telescope (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
An image created using data from the Hubble Space Telescope (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

They also addressed a question that may puzzle many beholding this massive number of galaxies. “Why is the sky dark at night if the universe contains an infinity of stars?” the STScI asked on hubblesite.org.

They then explained: “There actually is such an abundance of galaxies that, in principle, every patch in the sky contains part of a galaxy. However, starlight from [those] galaxies is invisible to the human eye and most modern telescopes.”

Conselice looked forward to utilizing the next generation of astronomy equipment: “In the near future, the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to study these ultra-faint galaxies.”