One of the most beautiful things on earth is lying on your back in the middle of the night and looking up. Looking up into space at a billion stars and galaxies and maybe being lucky enough to see a shooting star. And if you’ve ever looked through a telescope or been to an observatory then you will know how astonishing it is to look at the planets, to be able to see the stars and to see the great Milky Way.
But – way up there and unable to be seen by the naked eye, is a gravitational anomaly in Intergalactic space. It is called The Great Attractor and it is something we should all be very afraid of.
The Great Attractor has a mass that is tens of thousands times bigger than our own Milky Way. And this enormous mass is pulling things towards it. It is slowly drawing us and everything that is close to us,to its epicentre. It has been going on for billions of years but now we are getting closer. And it is pretty frightening.
Imagine it. We, earth, are being pulled in to a giant mass in the sky, in Space, even if we cannot feel it.
Some people call The Great Attractor a monster. It is unrelenting in its force and it is also a huge mystery as how it is getting us pulled in. It seems to defy gravity.
Astronomers first discovered The Great Attractor in the 1970s. While making maps and notes of the Cosmic Microwave Background with is the leftovers from the early universe, they noticed that one side of the Milky Way is warmer than the other. And Astronomers have called this warmer side the ZONE OF AVOIDANCE. That is enough to terrify anyone, especially because Astronomers are not usually dramatic.
The Zone of Avoidance, the Great Attractor, is moving at a much greater speed than Astronomers initially anticipated. The Milky Way is also moving much faster than anyone expected. The speed of the Milky Way is 2.2 million kilometers an hour. Just say that slowly so you can really get a sense of the speed.
2.2 million kilometers an hour.
That means it is moving faster than the galaxy’s own escape velocity, 55 times faster. And Astronomers do not quite understand where this fast motion is coming from. It is the Big Bang Theory that tells us every point in the universe should be moving apart from each other. Galaxies on either side of us, earth, should be moving at similar recession velocities.
But we have this one moving like crazy, The Great Attractor, and it could spell disaster. One explanation is that motion can arise from large clumps of matter, a massive cluster of galaxies for example. The additional gravitational attraction of a massive clump can slow down the expansion of the universe, or even reverse it
But there is no cluster in the direction of the Milky Way’s motion. And though there are excess galaxies in the vicinity and excess radiation that can be seen through a telescope, none are large enough to explain this motion. Unless the Milky Way itself is getting in the way of this huge mass and we cannot see it.
The Great Attractor is behind this big mass, in the AVOIDANCE ZONE, hard to understand. Astronomers are trying to get a grip on this, trying to characterize this zone and to peer through the very milky Milky Way.
Galaxies pull and gravitate towards one another and then pull away. These are the laws of gravity. It is why there are no accidents per se up in space. Although there is tons of stuff flying around, it doesn’t crash. But The Great Attractor is only pulling in.
Should we worry? More likely, should we worry that Astronomers are not doing their work properly. By now they should have been able to decipher what is going on up there. They have the best equipment in the world, amazing telescopes, giant observatories, and so, they should be able to SEE. Except, there’s the small matter of the Milky Way that just keeps getting in the way.
All the nearby stuff – the Milky Way, Andromeda, The Virgo Clusters, and the environs, are being pulled towards The Great Attractor. But they have been heading towards it for billions of years, so why are we worried that things may change now. Well, they actually won’t. We could also call The Great Attractor the NOT SO GREAT ATTRACTOR. Because if we look at the super galactic structure through the lens of flows of matter, we can see what is going on. Well, we cannot see it but we can imagine it.
The universe is hierarchical and small structures assemble, a bit like building blocks, into larger ones. The Milky Way and Andromeda are heading towards The Great Attractor, the warmer side of the Milky Way. And the Virgo Supercluster and all that matter is falling towards the centre of the Milky Way. And everything in the environs, the Laniakea Supercluster is falling towards the Virgo supercluster, forming gases and galaxies that actually, get to the center before we do.
In other words, we are not going to be pulled in. Other matters are pulled in before us. The Great Attractor is not really a THING, it is a place, a focal point or a patch of universe. This has all been going on for billions of years and is a natural result of flow and build up of matter.
The Great Attractor won’t be there forever. Like Clusters, they die up, they move away, they disappear. We don’t have to worry for too long about the Great Attractor. Unless, of course, there is something major that we could be missing.
Maybe The Great Attractor is a mystery after all. Maybe we should be scared.