Astronomers have spotted a huge structure of galaxies in a remarkable glimpse into our universe's past.
Hyperion, as scientists are calling it, is a proto-supercluster that holds an enormous quantity of mass, more than 1 million billion times the mass of the sun, the discovering astronomical team reports.
It stands as the biggest structure ever to be found from the universe's early years.
It formed only about 2.3 billion years after the Big Bang, or more than about 11 billion years ago.
“It was a surprise to see something this evolved when the universe was relatively young,” said Olga Cucciati, astronomer and first author of the study published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “Normally these kinds of structures are known at lower redshifts, which means when the Universe has had much more time to evolve and construct such huge things.”
The discovery was made by an astronomical team, led by Cucciati, from Bologna, Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics.
The proto-supercluster's namesake, Hyperion, was a mythological ancient Greek Titan. The Titan was one of the 12 children of the god of Earth Gaia and the god of the sky Uranus. Hyperion and his siblings overthrew Uranus and were later overthrown by the Olympians, including widely-known figures like Zeus.
Hyperion, the proto-supercluster, is bound together by enormous galaxy filaments, knotting together at least seven highly dense parts of the cluster, according to researchers.
The sprawling structure was described as quite different than those closer to Earth.
"Superclusters closer to Earth tend to a much more concentrated distribution of mass with clear structural features,” said University of California at Davis astronomer Brian Lemaux, co-leader of the research team. “But in Hyperion, the mass is distributed much more uniformly in a series of connected blobs, populated by loose associations of galaxies.”
The structure's unusual form could be attributed to its age.
“Understanding Hyperion and how it compares to similar recent structures can give insights into how the Universe developed in the past and will evolve into the future,” Cucciati said. "With the presence of such a huge structure already in formation when the universe was so young, we hope to learn more precisely the role of dark matter at that epoch."
Hyperion was spotted in the COSMOS field of the Sextans constellations.