Astronomers have discovered a titanic structure nicknamed Hyperion. It is the most massive structure existing so early in the formation of the Universe.

This massive object lies in the constellation of Sextans (The Sextant). Hyperion exists at a remote time and distance, merely 2 billion years after the Big Bang.

The giant structure is a collection of thousands of galaxies, a supercluster.

Researchers calculated the mass of this structure to be more than one million billion times that of the Sun.

“This is the first time that such a large structure has been identified at such a high redshift, just over 2 billion years after the Big Bang,” explained Olga. “Normally these kinds of structures are known at lower redshifts, which means when the Universe has had much more time to evolve and construct such huge things. It was a surprise to see something this evolved when the Universe was relatively young!”

However, it turns out Hyperion has a very complex structure. It contains at least seven high-density regions connected by filaments of galaxies.

The Discovery

The team that made the discovery was led by Olga Cucciati of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) Bologna, Italy and project scientist Brian Lemaux in the Department of Physics, College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Davis, and included Lori Lubin, professor of physics at UC Davis.

Astronomers used the VIMOS instrument in the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to make the discovery. The VIMOS instrument can measure the distance to hundreds of galaxies at the same time. Thus, making it possible to map the position of galaxies within the forming supercluster in three dimensions.

In April 2018, another team of researchers discovered an early cluster of galaxies (a proto-cluster) called Colossus. These galaxies were forming stars as much as 1,000 times faster than in our own Milky Way galaxy.

However, given its size so early in the universe, astronomers expect Hyperion to evolve into something similar to the immense structures in the local Universe such as the superclusters making up the Sloan Great Wall or the Virgo Supercluster that contains our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

“Understanding Hyperion and how it compares to similar recent structures can give insights into how the Universe developed in the past and will evolve into the future, and allows us the opportunity to challenge some models of supercluster formation,” Cucciati said. “Unearthing this cosmic titan helps uncover the history of these large-scale structures.”

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Thumbnail image: Astronomers have discovered a titanic structure in the early Universe, just two billion years after the Big Bang. This galaxy proto-supercluster, Hyperion, is the largest and most massive structure yet existing at such a remote time and distance. It has a mass estimated at a million billion Suns. Credit: Luis Calçada & Olga Cucciati/ESO