First discovered in the 1970s, the Great Attractor is a mysterious gravitational force pulling the Milky Way and thousands of galaxies toward it at incredible speed. It was theorized a massively large group of galaxies was responsible for this phenomenon, but the area was difficult to observe because the Milky Way obstructed the view of telescopes.
But now, researchers have used a radio telescope to peer through our galaxy to discover hundreds of hidden star systems, according to a study published Tuesday. The additional mass of these newly discovered galaxies could help explain the gravitational pull of the Great Attractor.
Led by Lister Staveley-Smith, the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research's director of science at the University of Western Australia, a team of researchers used the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia, to observe 883 galaxies. Close to 300 galaxies were never observed before.
The galaxies were found in the "Zone of Avoidance," the area obscured by our galaxy. "The Milky Way is very beautiful of course and it’s very interesting to study our own galaxy but it completely blocks out the view of the more distant galaxies behind it," Staveley-Smith said in a statement.
While the Great Attractor region contains clusters and superclusters of galaxies, these massive objects were not enough to explain the gravitational force pulling the Milky Way at a speed of two million kilometers per hour (around 1.2 million mph), according to the researchers.
Finding hundreds of new galaxies could provide proof of the necessary mass to explain the region's gravitational pull. "An average galaxy contains 100 billion stars, so finding hundreds of new galaxies hidden behind the Milky Way points to a lot of mass we didn't know about until now," Renée Kraan-Korteweg, astronomer from the University of Cape Town, said. The research was published in the Astronomical Journal.