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Have a look at the heaviest thing in the universe (really)!

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
August 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Question: What's the heaviest thing in the universe? Answer: SPT-CLJ2344-4243, and it weighs about 2.5 quadrillion times the mass of our sun. And it doesn't look like this heavyweight will be shedding any pounds in the near future. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - If you're still trying to get our head around that figure, don't bother because the figures are quite literally astronomical. Conversely, it should make you feel a little less guilty about the last time you skipped the gym.
 
What we're really talking about is a galaxy cluster, a grouping of galaxies that astronomers say may be the most massive yet observed. And because SPT-CLJ2344-4243 makes for a mouthful of a name, they have dubbed it the Phoenix Cluster, based on its relative location in the constellation Phoenix. 

Astronomers now know the universe has structure, much like a young man's first attempt at making mashed potatoes. It's lumpy! This unevenness however, is part of the genius to the universe's design. The universe as we know it could not exist if not for the lumpiness. 

Each lump is characterized by clusters of galaxies. Clusters are groups of galaxies that are mutually bound by gravity, distinct from other clusters. 

Our Milky Way galaxy is just one galaxy in a cluster of its own, and this is true for most galaxies - they can be grouped into clusters. Our address is in the Local Group of the Virgo Supercluster. 

The Phoenix Cluster was first discovered in 2010 at a distance of 5.7 billion light-years. The number of stars in its central galaxy exceeds 3 trillion and researchers claim to be observing stars forming at the rate of 740 or more per year in that one galaxy alone. By comparison, the Milky Way is believed to contain no more than 200 billion stars and creates one, maybe two new stars each year. 

The cluster's central galaxy is itself just one galaxy of thousands spanning a distance of 7.3 million light years across, possibly making it the largest group of objects bound by common gravity in the universe. 

Researchers care about these objects because they provide critical insights into how the universe was formed. They also give us a better understanding of how stars are formed and what processes promote rapid star formation. 

The answers to these questions both satiate our natural curiosity and provide clues to how physical processes work on Earth. The techniques used to evaluate and measure the various features of the cluster also enable us to detect and assess various conditions right here on Earth. In other words, the science isn't entirely esoteric, there is a practical side to the research.
 
Scientists hope to continue studying the Phoenix Cluster in the hopes of making more refined measurements. As their understanding increases, so too does their knowledge of the universe and what physical processes were set in motion to form it. 

In the meantime, don't feel so bad about that extra treat you enjoyed over the weekend, for no matter what you'll never weigh as much as SPT-CLJ2344-4243.

 

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