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We've found evidence the Milky Way is one of hundreds of galaxies being sucked in by the 'Great Attractor'

A supermassive black hole billions of times bigger than our sun. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Milky Way and hundreds of galaxies surrounding it are being drawn towards a mysterious force scientists call the “Great Attractor”.

And it took the CSIRO’s Parkes telescope to see them.

The force was first revealed back in the ’70s, when it was discovered the Milky Way was one of hundreds of galaxies deviating from the “universe is expanding” model.

But a new receiver on the radio telescope has enabled the team to see more clearly through the fog of stars and dust crowding the outer plane of the Milky Way, where they found 883 galaxies. It’s so crowded out there it’s even got a name – the “Zone of Avoidance”.

A third of the galaxies had never been seen before, according to a study published this morning in Astronomical Journal, and their discovery has made the trail toward the Great Attractor a little clearer.

“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,” Professor Lister Staveley-Smith, from The University of Western Australia said.

In particular, the discovery of three galaxy concentrations (named NW1, NW2 and NW3) and two new clusters (CW1 and CW2) will help astronomers understand what the Great Attractor actually is and why it’s pulling us toward it at an estimated two million kilometres per hour.

All that scientists understand about the Great Attractor is that it features “a few very large collections of galaxies we call clusters or superclusters”, Stravely-Smith said.

The radio telescope near Parkes, NSW. Picture: Getty Images

Now a new multi-beam system on the Parkes telescope has enabled the sky to be mapped “13 times faster”, Dr Bärbel Koribalski from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science said discoveries would come a much greater rate.

But even the new attachment is small beer compared to when results start coming in from WALLABY, a major survey project under way at the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder in midwest WA.

With the ability to spot more than half a million galaxies, Koribalski told she hopes the trail towards the Great Attractor will suddenly become much clearer.

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