In part 1 of this two-part series I explained how astronomers were able to discern the structures and extent of superclusters of galaxies and determine where we reside in the Laniakea Supercluster. Here in part 2 I will use a 26-image library I constructed (in part from a 176-megapixel image of the large-structure features of the universe) to describe how, at all cosmic size scales, we see that our position is remarkably fine-tuned to make possible our existence and civilization.
The library is organized in an inside-out manner, where the size scale zooms out from our Milky Way Galaxy (MWG) to the full extent of the observable universe. Where a red dot shows up in an image, it indicates the position of either our solar system or our galaxy.
Design Features Revealed in the Image Library
Image #1 shows the relative locations and sizes of the MWG and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The sizes and positions of the galaxies are to scale. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds rank as the fourth- and fifth-largest galaxies (right after the Andromeda Galaxy, the MWG, and the Triangulum Galaxy) in the Local Group cluster of approximately 100 galaxies. These two galaxies are not so nearby as to disturb the spiral arm structure of ours. However, they are large enough and in the just-right positions to funnel in a steady stream of their gas—plus a steady stream of tiny dwarf galaxies—into the core of our galaxy. These streams have sustained the MWG’s spiral structure without disturbing its overall symmetry over the past ten billion years. In previous blogs that I cited in part 1, I explained how the MWG’s spiral structure is unique among all known galaxies and how its unique structure is essential for our civilization to be possible. Hence, the sizes and positions of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are crucial for existence.
Image #2 shows the relative locations and sizes to scale of the seven largest galaxies in the Local Group galaxy cluster. (The sixth- and seventh-largest galaxies are M32 and M110, just to the left and right, respectively, of the nucleus of the Andromeda Galaxy.) The other galaxies in the Local Group are tiny by comparison. The Local Group stands in stark contrast to other galaxy clusters in the universe. It contains no giant galaxies and only two large galaxies. Images #3, #4, and #5 show typical galaxy clusters.
Unlike other galaxy clusters, the large- and medium-sized galaxies in the Local Group are far enough apart from one another that they do little to disturb one another’s structure. The MWG’s isolation from the Andromeda and Triangulum Galaxies in part explains why its spiral structure is so exceptionally symmetrical and undisturbed. The hundreds of tiny galaxies that have resided in the Local Group and the 100+ that continue to reside there explain why the MWG’s spiral structure has remained stable for over 10 billion years.
Image #6 shows the 28 largest dwarf galaxies in the vicinity of the MWG (sizes and locations not to scale). The population and sizes of dwarf galaxies in the region around the MWG are not so high as to disturb the spiral arm structure of the MWG, yet they are high enough to deliver sufficient matter into the galaxy’s core to sustain its spiral structure.
Images #7 and #8 show nearly all the known dwarf galaxies in the Local Group (not to scale). However, the sizes and directional locations, but not the separation distances, of the Andromeda Galaxy, M32, and M110 are roughly to scale relative to one another.
A decade ago, astronomers expressed concern that the number of dwarf galaxies in the Local Group was much lower than the number predicted by the best observationally affirmed big bang creation models. It also was too low to sustain the spiral structure of the MWG, Andromeda Galaxy, and Triangulum Galaxy for more than 5 billion years. Since then, astronomers have discovered that the Local Group is filled with ultra-diffuse dwarf galaxies that were beyond detection more than a decade ago. These ultra-diffuse galaxies are rich in gas and dust and ideal for sustaining the spiral structure of the Local Group’s spiral galaxies. The number and types of dwarf galaxies in the Local Group now come close to matching the predictions of the best-affirmed models and also explain why the spiral structures of the MWG, Andromeda Galaxy, and Triangulum Galaxy have been preserved for so many billions of years.
Furthermore, the distribution of known dwarf galaxies in the Local Group explains why the spiral structures of the Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies are disturbed and warped to the point of ruling out advanced life whereas such is not the case for the MWG. Our MWG is the only galaxy in the Local Group where the existence of advanced life is possible.
The Andromeda Galaxy is uninhabitable for advanced life for another reason. It has a supermassive black hole at least a dozen times more massive than the MWG’s. However, because of how far away the Andromeda Galaxy is from us (see image #2) the radiation from its supermassive black hole poses no risk. It helps, too, that the Andromeda Galaxy’s supermassive black hole is presently in a quiet phase.
Image #9 shows the Laniakea Supercluster of galaxies in which we reside, as delineated by the peculiar velocities of tens of thousands of galaxies both within and outside its boundaries. I discussed this image at some length in Part 1.
Image #10 shows the interior region of the Laniakea Supercluster immediately surrounding the Local Group. The red dot indicates the location of the MWG. The galaxy just to the right of the “P” (an even smaller dot) in the Local Group label is the Andromeda Galaxy. This image shows that the Local Group is surrounded by galaxy clusters containing many more galaxies where the galaxies are larger and more densely packed. None of these clusters are candidates for advanced life.
Fortunately, none of them are close enough to our Local Group to gravitationally disturb the structure of the Local Group or of any of its individual galaxies. It is fortunate, too, that in none of these nearby galaxies clusters is there a supergiant galaxy harboring a gigantic supermassive black hole blasting us with deadly radiation.
In between the Local Group and these other clusters of galaxies are voids where only a few small galaxies exist. These voids are inhospitable for advanced life in that they lack the density of galaxies for the spiral structure of any possibly existing spiral galaxy therein to be sustained for a long time period.
Image #11 zooms out to show the position of the Virgo Cluster. The Virgo Cluster contains more than ten times as many galaxies as any of the clusters in image #10. Its galaxies are also larger and more densely packed. It contains several supergiant galaxies, each harboring a supermassive black hole hundreds (some even thousands) of times more massive than the one in the core of the MWG. These supermassive black holes spew out extremely deadly radiation. Fortunately for us, the Virgo Cluster is 50–60 million light-years away and radiation from its largest supermassive black hole (the one in the core of the galaxy M87)1 is presently aimed away from us.
Image #12 zooms out to show the full extent of the Virgo Cluster and two of the arms of galaxy clusters that comprise the interior structure of the Laniakea Supercluster. One arm extends from the Local Group down and leftward toward the Dorado Cluster. The arm from the Local Group and the M94 Group extends down and rightward toward the Leo galaxy clusters. This structure of the Laniakea Supercluster is exceptional among superclusters in that instead of the structure being dominated by enormous dense clumps of huge galaxy clusters, it is characterized by smaller galaxy clusters distributed along long arms. It is this structure, characterized by smaller galaxy clusters distributed along long arms, that permits the Local Group to exist with the necessary features to support the existence of advanced life.
Image #13 zooms out to show almost the entirety of the Laniakea Supercluster. It reveals that beyond the Virgo Cluster is an even larger and more dangerous galaxy cluster, the Centaurus Cluster. Fortunately, it is sufficiently distant from us (as are several other very large galaxy clusters, the Hydra, Fornax, and Pavo Clusters) to pose no risk.
Images #14 and #15 show the full extent of the Laniakea Supercluster. They reveal two more arms of strung-out galaxy clusters extending from the Local Group, one out to the Pegasus and Pavo Clusters, the other out to the Centaurus Cluster. Though the Local Group appears to be close to the geographical center of the Laniakea Supercluster, it resides far from its gravitational center in one of its least populated areas. As they say in the real estate industry, “Location, location, location.” Where we are in the Laniakea Supercluster is the perfect location—the only location where humans could exist and thrive.
Image #9 shows that all the galaxy clusters in the Laniakea Supercluster are being gravitationally pulled toward the Pavo Cluster, a region referred to by astronomers as the Great Attractor. This gravitational pull is partly due to the Pavo Cluster and the galaxy clusters in its vicinity being much larger and more massive than what images #14 and #15 portray. Astronomers have a less obstructed view toward the Virgo, Centaurus, and Hydra Clusters than they do toward the Pavo Cluster and its vicinity. This gravitational pull also is partly due to the supergalaxies beyond the Laniakea Supercluster.
We need not worry about the Local Group being pulled into the death trap of being sucked into a much larger and denser cluster of galaxies. Once one gets beyond the boundaries of the Local Group, the expansion of the universe dominates all the peculiar velocities of galaxies and galaxy clusters (see Part 1 for details). Hence, the Local Group will get farther and farther away from adjacent galaxy clusters as the universe continues to expand.
Image #16 shows the nearest supercluster to the Laniakea Supercluster, the Perseus-Pisces Supercluster. Rather than exhibiting a spindly shape like the Laniakea Supercluster, the Perseus-Pisces Supercluster has the shape of a football or fat sausage. The density of its galaxies and galaxy clusters is far too great to permit the possibility of anything like the Local Group.
Image #17 zooms out to show the Great Wall and the truly enormous Shapley Supercluster (upper right). It also reveals gigantic voids between the superclusters. Neither these voids nor these super-superclusters would permit the existence of a cluster akin to the Local Group where advanced life could exist.
Image #18 zooms out to reveal yet more distant superclusters of galaxies: the Leo Supercluster, the Sculptor Wall, the Pavo-Indus Supercluster, and the outskirts of the Phoenix Supercluster. Even larger voids now come into view: the Canis Major Void, the Macroscopium Void, and the Sculptor Void. In all this vast extent of superclusters, gigantic voids, clusters, and smaller voids, there is only one location for the possibility of advanced life.
Images #19 and #20 zoom out to show the most distant superclusters of galaxies and supervoids that we can image in detail with current telescopes and technology. These images reveal a dozen more superclusters and almost as many more supervoids. In this most distant view (we presently have) of the details of superclusters, Laniakea remains alone in possessing the characteristics that permit advanced life to exist.
Image #21 shows the location (red dot) of the Laniakea Supercluster relative to much larger and much more massive superclusters. The Great Attractor (see description in part 1) toward which our Local Group of galaxies is being gravitationally pulled lies in the upper left part of the Laniakea Supercluster near the location of the Pavo Cluster (see image #15). The nearest white blotch to the red dot that is slightly larger than the red dot and just to the right and slightly above the red dot is an even bigger and more massive region of gravitational attraction. Astronomers refer to it as the Monster Attractor.
Above the red dot in image #21 lie five much larger white blotches in a vee formation. These regions of gravitational attraction make the Monster Attractor appear as a tiny attractor by comparison. Above the vee formation of gravitational attractions lies the biggest white blotch and the biggest gravitational attractor in image #21.
The ensemble of the Great Attractor, the Monster Attractor, the vee formation of attractors, and the gigantic attractor above the vee formation all lie in the same general direction relative to our galaxy and our Local Group of galaxies. This combined gravitational pull is responsible for the dipole distortion that astronomers observe in maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation, a.k.a. the radiation left over from the cosmic creation event. This dipole distortion was first mapped by the COBE satellite two decades ago (see image #22). Astronomers subtract out the dipole signal (resulting from the gravitational pull of the Local Group toward the ensemble of attractors) to obtain detailed maps of the structure of the universe at the time very early in its history when it had cooled sufficiently for atoms to form.
As enormous as the ensemble of attractors are, none of them are massive enough or close enough to disturb the structure of the MWG, the Local Group or the Virgo Cluster. None pose any risk to advanced life in the MWG.
Image #23 is a repeat of image #21. Image #24 zooms out to reveal yet more regions of intense gravitational attraction almost rivaling the region above the vee formation of five attractors. None, however, are bigger.
Images #25 and #26 zoom out further to show the structure of the entirety of the observable universe. In the most distant parts of the observable universe, less than a handful of regions of gravitational attraction match the pull of the gigantic attractor above the vee formation. None, though, are significantly larger. Astronomers see no structures in the most distant parts of the observable universe that could possibly pose a risk to advanced life in our galaxy.
Beyond the Observable Universe
The observable universe is that part of the universe that astronomers can potentially observe through telescopes. Because of the finite and constant velocity of light, the farther away astronomers observe, the farther back in time they see the condition of the universe. For example, the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster are 50–60 million light-years away. Thus, astronomers are observing these galaxies as they were 50–60 million years ago.
Owing to ongoing, continual expansion, the universe of the past is smaller than the universe of the present. The present size of the universe relative to the observable universe is determined by its cosmic expansion rate and geometry. Astronomers’ measurements of the cosmic expansion rate and the universe’s geometry establish that the universe of the present is at least 98 times larger than the observable universe.
Are there structures in the universe beyond the observable universe that could pose any conceivable risk to advanced life in the MWG? The answer is no. The homogeneity and uniformity of structures in the entire universe must match that which astronomers see in the observable universe for the existence of physical life to be possible anywhere in the universe. As I explain in some detail in The Creator and the Cosmos,2 a universe with less or more homogeneity and uniformity than what astronomers see in the observable universe could not produce the galaxy clusters, galaxies, stars, planets, asteroids, and comets of the just-right types in the just-right distributions to make the existence of life possible.
The 26-image library of the distant universe is a scientific and visual marvel. It shows that no matter what size scale we choose to observe and measure on, we will discover designs fine-tuned to make possible the existence of a large population of humans (or their functional equivalent) on a single heavenly body. Scientists will find that the more they learn about any size scale of nature, whether it be the size scales pertinent to fundamental particles, or the size scale of the universe’s largest structures, or anything in between, the more evidence they will uncover for the supernatural handiwork of the Creator. They will increasingly find scientific evidence for a Creator who intended for them and the rest of humanity to exist, to thrive, and to fulfill the purposes for which they were created.3
Featured image: Map of the Laniakea Supercluster
The red dot shows the location of our galaxy.
Image credit: Andrew Z. Colvin