This Multi-Galactic Merger will Create the Largest Structure in the Universe
Four massive galaxy clusters are merging into what will become the largest object in the universe, according to reports from Cosmos Magazine. A team of astronomers caught the phenomenon in progress using data from the NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory; their results were published in The Astrophysical Journal and you can read the study online at Cornell University's arXiv.org.
Galaxy clusters are currently the biggest structures in the universe that we know of. They are formed from hundreds – sometimes thousands – of galaxies held together in a primordial spider's web of dark matter and hot gas. When clusters collide, they create the most violent interstellar event since the Big Bang.
These particular clusters are situated 3 billion light-years from Earth in the system Abell 1758 and have a mass that is "at least several hundred trillion times that of the Sun" – each, according to NASA (remember, there are four of them in total). They're traveling in packs of two: a "northern" pair and a "southern" pair. Each pair of clusters is undergoing its own merger, and the fact that they're in different stages of the same process offers scientists an unprecedented look at galactic mergers in progress.
Take a look:
(Image credit: The northern pair of clusters is farther along in its collision; you can see two distinct areas of dense hot gas in each of its clusters as well as a shock wave along its leading edge. Scientists estimate that they're moving at speeds up to 3 million miles per hour. The southern pair of clusters, on the other hand, is earlier in its merger. There are fewer bright white orbs inside because the hot gas has not yet been compressed.
Watch this video that Chandra Observatory put together explaining galaxy clusters against a backdrop of the telescope's breathtaking imagery.