Planet Earth, the Sun, our Solar System, the Galaxy, everything in our known universe, is always moving. This is something we know and accept. As we sit in our chairs in our offices, schools, and houses, we are hurdling through space at unimaginable breakneck speeds. 2.2 million kilometers per hour to be exact. While we understand the rate we which we are moving, the question is where are we going? Scientists have worked tirelessly to answer this question for us and found that there is a mystery out there beyond our universe that seems to be drawing our galaxy closer. This mystery is called The Great Attractor.
What is even stranger is that there are many other galaxies in our local group being drawn away from their expansion path and toward The Great Attractor as well. This means that the Great Attractor must be tens of thousands of times denser than our own galaxy to have such a gravitational effect on us and the galaxies around us. And, the force is so strong that it has been able to overcome dark energy, which is the force that is believed to be pushing galaxies in to expansion.
The Great Attractor was first discovered in the early 1970’s when scientists were studying Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). This is the left-over light residue from the big bang. It inhabits every part of the farthest reaches of our cosmos. By studying this light, they made a startling realization. The Milky Way, our home, is slightly warmer on one side than the other. This could mean that the Milky Way is being pulled in a specific direction. The direction that we are being pulled to, to our dismay, is towards an area called “The Zone of Avoidance.” This ominous area is unable to be mapped and studied because the disk of our own galaxy is full of space stuff that is essentially obstructing our equipment’s ability to view it. That is, until recently.
In 1986 scientists were able to work out that the Great Attractor is between 150 and 200 million light years away. In 2005, X-ray observations have made it possible to view and partially map the Zone of Avoidance. So now that we know where the Great Attractor is, we can theoretically say where are universe is going. Our galaxy as well as a gaggle of other neighboring galaxies are all being drawn in the same direction, towards a gigantic mystery mass. But don’t worry, scientists predict that we aren’t due for a collision for another 5 billion years. The Great Attractor can now be downgraded from a full-on mystery to a partial mystery.