An worldwide team of astronomers using the VIMOS instrument of ESO's Very Large Telescope have uncovered a titanic structure in the early Universe.
"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, "said astronomer Olga Cucciati of the Osservatorio di Astrofisica e Scienza dello Spazio di Bologna in Italy".
Hyperion sits in the constellation Sextans, and is said to have a complex structure that differentiates it from nearby superclusters of similar size. It contains at least seven density peaks, or denser regions, but these are connected by filaments of galaxies.
"Superclusters closer to Earth tend to have a much more concentrated distribution of mass with clear structural features", explained astronomer Brian Lemaux who co-led the team behind this discovery. "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", said lead author Olga Cucciati.
"It was a surprise to see something this evolved when the Universe was relatively young..." This is the largest and most massive structure yet found at such a remote time and distance - merely 2 billion years after the Big Bang.
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'But in Hyperion, the mass is distributed much more uniformly in a series of connected blobs, populated by loose associations of galaxies'.
It is set to be 100 times more potent than its predecessor, Hubble, and three times larger.
When it is launched in 2018, it will be the world's biggest and most powerful telescope, capable of peering back 200 million years after the Big Bang.
It will also help reveal information about atmospheres of planets outside our solar system, and perhaps even find signs of the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe.
Given its size so early in the history of the Universe, Hyperion is expected to evolve into something similar to the vast 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.
The difference, the team hypothesise, is that superclusters closer to us have had more time to, well, pull themselves together, so to speak - to more tightly gravitationally bind their galaxies into discrete clumps.
"Unearthing this cosmic titan helps uncover the history of these large-scale structures", Cucciati added.
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