NASA Mission Suggests There Are Fewer Galaxies Than We Thought
NASA’s groundbreaking New Horizons mission is revolutionising what we understand about outer space, but its latest finding has suggested that there might actually be a whole lot less out there than we first thought.
Data from the New Horizons spacecraft, NASA’s third interstellar mission, has shown that the universe is actually darker than previously estimated, leading scientists to conclude that there are far fewer galaxies out there than we initially believed.
Earlier estimates of the total number of galaxies in the universe were modelled on observations made by the Hubble Telescope, with scientists calculating the number of ‘unseen’ galaxies based on the number of galaxies that were visible to the telescope.
In 2016, a team concluded that approximately 90% of the total number of galaxies in the universe were invisible to the telescope, leading them to estimate that there were a whopping 2 trillion galaxies in the universe.
Now, as the New Horizons mission reaches the outer edge of our solar system and becomes less affected by ambient light pollution from the sun and other planets, it’s able to see far more of interstellar space than is visible to the Hubble.
And sadly, data from New Horizons has revealed that earlier estimates based on Hubble observations were, to put it mildly, optimistic.
A new study conducted by the Space Telescope Science Institute has suggested that, rather than 2 trillion galaxies, the true numbers of galaxies in our universe ranges somewhere in the hundreds of billions, with lead study author Tod Lauer explaining that if you ‘take all the galaxies Hubble can see, double that number, and that’s what we see – but nothing more.’
Depending on your views on extra-terrestrial life, this is either great news, or a great big disappointment. But regardless of whether or not these findings make it more likely that we’re alone in the universe, the study is yet another notch in the belt for the New Horizons mission, which as already provided us with unbelievable images of some of the most distant objects in our solar system as it travels towards interstellar space.
The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 4.4 billion miles away from Earth, and Lauer says that the mission’s unique ‘vantage point’ is allowing scientists to calculate the cosmic optical background ‘better than anyone has been able to do it.’
To be fair, hundreds of billions of galaxies is still an awful lot of space, and when you consider the fact that we’ve barely even scratched the surface when it comes to understanding what’s in our own home galaxy, that’s still billions of potentially alien-populated galaxies for future generations to explore.
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