Friday 5 September 2014

Laniakea and Dreadnoughtus

Blimey, this is an exciting time for science geeks. Two pretty amazing discoveries were published in the last couple of days that I have to share here. BIG discoveries.

Firstly, a whopper of a dinosaur. Dreadnoughtus schrani is the newly named BIGGEST DINOSAUR EVER. Well, at least, the largest dinosaur for which we have decent remains. Most of the truly gigantic sauropods leave only a few bones, from which size is estimated based on other, better skeletons. This can, of course, lead to some major disagreements and arguments and a bit of extreme guesswork. However, the skeleton of the new dinosaur is remarkably complete, and palaeontologists are able to estimate its length and mass far more reliably than usual. And they've picked a fantastic name - Dreadnoughtus. Just yells "I am a big dinosaur!" Much data here.

Dreadnoughtus was a titanosaur, which weren't always as vast as they sound but did include some of the most enormous dinosaurs of all. The sample appears to have been 26 metres long (85 feet), and according to the bone growth patterns, it wasn't even fully grown. While some slenderer genera such as Diplodocus grew longer, and some such as Antarctosaurus may have been larger overall, Dreadnoughtus, being so well documented already, gets the crown as the big, fat king of the dinos.

But if that isn't big enough for you, check out Laniakea. Astronomers at the University of Hawaii have charted the distribution of matter throughout the universe and used this data to map the large-scale structure of the universe. Amazingly, they've actually managed to map the galactic supercluster in which our galaxy lies. We've identified distant superclusters before, but charting the part of the universe we're actually in is naturally more difficult. Yet now the bods at Hawaii have done so, and identified precisely where we are in the supercluster, which they have named Laniakea, from the Hawaiian words for "immeasurable heaven." Vaka rangi.

The Local Group is attracted to the nearby (in supergalactic terms) Virgo Cluster, and it and the many other galactic clusters spiral around the Great Attractor, aka the Norma-Hydra-Centaurus Cluster. Laniakea is estimated to contain 100,000 galaxies and is over 500 million light years across. It's gradually drifting towards the Shapley Supercluster, in the whole gigantic system of galaxies stretching across billions of light years. IFL Science has a rundown of the discovery and a gorgeous video of our place in the supercluster.

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