While we can think of space as a vast sea of blackness, we all have to look through the night to see that it is streaked by countless stars, galaxies, and even some.
Scientists have recently used data from NASA’s New Horizons mission beyond Pluto to measure how deep the cosmic background really is. There are implications for what he found that we thought we knew about the makeup of the entire universe.
In short, the space is so dark that there may not be as many galaxies there, adding their faded glow to the back, as astronomers have previously predicted.
“This is an important number to know – how many galaxies are there?” Mark Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a statement on Tuesday. “We just don’t see light from 2 trillion galaxies.”
This was an earlier estimate derived from Hubble Space Telescope observations, but a new study in the Astrophysical Journal and co-authored by Postman suggests that the total number of galaxies in the universe is hundreds of billions compared to trillions.
Interestingly, this is close to an earlier figure that estimated that there were about 200 billion galaxies. It was based on Hubble data of the 1990s.
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The location of New Horizons outside the edge of the Solar System gives it 10 times darker sky than Hubble sits.
“These types of measurements are extremely difficult. Many people have tried to do this for a long time,” said co-author Todd Lauer of the National Optical Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory. “New Horizons has provided us with a vantage point to measure the cosmic optical background that anyone is capable of.”
The team’s results will be presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting on Wednesday.
Incoming, Currently set to launch on Halloween, may help provide further insight into how many and what kind of galaxies provide faint background flashes that prevent the universe from going completely black.
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