Some people think that the universe is just a hodge-podge of various celestial objects, such as planets, stars and galaxies.
But over the years, scientists have found more evidence that the universe may be anything but random, and is actually more organized and interconnected—like an enormous spider web.
Our place in the web
Let’s start with our home planet.
Earth is part of a solar system, and our solar system is one of many planetary systems and stars that make up the Milky Way galaxy.
The Milky Way galaxy, its numerous satellite galaxies as well as other galaxies such as the Andromeda Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy and all of their satellites belong to a collection of galaxies called the Local Galactic Group.
The Local Galactic Group is part of the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies, which scientists say is one of about 10 million such galactic superclusters.
Research conducted by an international team of astronomers in 2014 suggest that this Virgo supercluster is a part of an even larger collection of some 100,000 galaxies called the Laniakea Supercluster.
The website atlaoftheuniverse.com puts the number of these superclusters in the known universe at 10 million.
According to an April 2016 article in Scientific American, all of the galaxies (groups, clusters and superclusters) in the universe form an immense network called the cosmic web.
Measuring the web’s threads
Research suggests that galaxies are connected to one another with streams of hot thin ionized gas (mostly hydrogen) called the intergalactic medium or IGM.
The W. M. Keck Observatory (Keck Observatory) in Hawaii says in a press release that they have received a new device, they call the world’s most sensitive instrument for measuring these gas filaments of the IGM.
Called the Keck Cosmic Web Imager (KCWI), this device will help scientists study the cosmic web in extraordinary detail, learn about the life-cycle of galaxies, and investigate some of the mysteries of our universe.
Keck says the KCWI is a spectrograph that weights around 5 tons and is the size of an “ice cream truck”.
The device is set to be connected to one of the twin 10-meter telescopes at the Keck Observatory, which they say are the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world.
The telescopes located on Hawaii’s 4,207-meter-high dormant volcano, Mauna Kea, which is said to provide the most perfect astronomical viewing conditions in the world.
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) physics professor, Christopher Martin, and his team in cooperation with the Keck Observatory, University of California Santa Cruz and industrial partners, designed and built the KCWI.
Along with investigating the cosmic web, the device will also allow astronomers to study other very faint objects in the universe.