Most people should have some familiarity with the fact that gravity is responsible for the structure of our solar system. For example, gravity is the reason that our moon orbits the Earth in much the same manner that Phobos and Demios orbit Mars. Furthermore, gravity is the reason that the Earth, the other planets, and countless other celestial objects in our solar system orbit our sun. However, it is important to remember that gravity remains important even when we speak of a much, much bigger scale.
In short, gravity is responsible for holding galaxies together, but it is interesting to note that gravity can hold entire groups of galaxies together as well. Generally speaking, a group of galaxies contains no more than 50 galaxies situated in a space with a diameter measuring between 1 and 2 mega-parsecs, whereas a cluster of galaxies can encompass thousands and thousands of galaxies. However, it is important to note that there is no clear line of distinction between the two, meaning that there is some blurring between particularly big groups of galaxies and particularly small clusters of galaxies.
For some time, people thought that clusters of galaxies were the biggest structures that could be found in the universe. However, that proved to be wrong in the 1980s, which was when astronomers discovered the existence of superclusters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a supercluster is an entire group of galaxy clusters as well as galaxy groups, which is so big that some estimates state that there are around 10 million of them situated in the observable universe. To some people, that might sound like a lot, but considering the scale of the observable universe, that is far from the case, which in turn, says much about the size of superclusters.
What Is the Virgo Supercluster?
Of course, the Milky Way galaxy is not exempt from this arrangement. First, our galaxy is situated in what is called the Local Group, which is a group of galaxies that number 54 in total. In turn, the Local Group is considered to be part of the Virgo Cluster, though to be fair, the Local Group isn’t situated towards the center of the Virgo Cluster but rather towards its peripheral. The Virgo Cluster is the heart of the Virgo Supercluster, which in turn, seems to be a component of an even bigger supercluster called the Laniakea Supercluster. With that said, it is interesting to note that recent studies suggest that the Laniakea Supercluster won’t concentrate but will instead break up in the far future, though for obvious reasons, this conclusion isn’t something that can be tested.
Why Does the Virgo Supercluster Matter?
The Virgo Supercluster and the other names that have been mentioned so far are important for us for a number of reasons. First, the Virgo Supercluster is our supercluster, meaning that it tends to matter for much the same reason that our solar system matters. However, since a supercluster is a much, much bigger structure than a solar system, that robs much of the strength of this sentiment. Second, studying the Virgo Supercluster provides us with information about the arrangement of the universe, thus deepening our scientific understanding. For example, the study of superclusters has revealed that superclusters are not situated throughout the universe in a uniform manner or even a semi-uniform manner. Instead, they are situated along filaments for reasons that are still unclear, with the result that there are huge regions of space where there are no more than a small number of galaxies in relative terms. As a result, if humanity wants to get a better understanding of our universe as well as all of the secrets that can be found within it, our supercluster is the natural place to start.
On a final note, it should be mentioned that our supercluster is the most accessible to us in relative terms. Speaking bluntly, interstellar travel isn’t possible with our current technological state, but it is nonetheless something that we can envision, as shown by the idea of huge, life-sustaining ships that can continue travelling for years and years from star to star. In contrast, well, suffice to say that while traveling to the Andromeda galaxy might not be impossible in the far future because it is expected to collide with the Milky Way galaxy at some point in time, traveling to other galaxies isn’t even imaginable because the universe is actually expanding faster than the speed of light. However, it is important to note that while we may or may not ever be able to access the rest of our supercluster in a physical sense, its relative proximity means that we can get more information from it than from its counterparts, thus making it valuable to us for that reason alone.