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Space

This mind-blowing map shows Earth鈥檚 position within the vast universe

See the circle of galaxy clusters and voids that surround us in this map of the nearby cosmos, extending 200 million light years in each direction

By Leah Crane

26 June 2024

最新麻豆视频. Science news and long reads from expert journalists, covering developments in science, technology, health and the environment on the website and the magazine.

Richard Powell/NASA

This story is part of our Cosmic Perspective series, in which we confront the staggering vastness of the cosmos and our place in it. Read the rest of the series here. Subscribers can see a larger version of this map at the bottom of the page.

This map shows the circle of the cosmos that聽surrounds us, extending to a distance of聽200聽million light years. At this scale, space is聽comprised of clusters of galaxies and voids, the latter being areas with relatively few galaxies. The Milky Way, at the centre, is part聽of聽the Local Group of galaxies, with the聽Virgo cluster our nearest neighbour.

Majestic spiral

The Milky Way鈥檚 spiral structure is dominated by two main arms called Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus. It also features a dense region known as聽the聽central bar. Our solar system lies on a more聽modest structure called the Orion spur.

However tangled the question of our metaphorical place in the universe, we can use astronomy to grasp Earth’s physical location.

Earth orbits the sun at a distance of 150 million kilometres and the sun orbits the centre of the Milky Way. Specifically, we are in the Orion arm, around 26,500 light years from the centre.

The Milky Way resides in the Local Group of galaxies. About 2.5 million light years away is our closest neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, the largest galaxy in the Local Group. Right now, we are hurtling towards Andromeda at more than 100 kilometres per second; in about 4 billion years, the two galaxies will collide.

The Local Group

That will shake up the Local Group,…

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