It looks like we have a whole lot more cosmic neighbours than we thought. Astronomers led by the University of Nottingham’s Christopher Conselice have found that the observable Universe contains ten times as many galaxies as previously estimated. This takes the total number of galaxies in the cosmos from around 100 billion to more than a trillion.

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The discovery came after the team painstakingly pieced together thousands of deep space images taken using the Hubble Space Telescope to form a 3D model of the evolution of the Universe. By applying cutting-edge mathematical models to the data they were able to infer the existence of galaxies that the current generation of telescopes cannot observe.

“It boggles the mind that over 90 per cent of the galaxies in the Universe have yet to be studied. Who knows what interesting properties we will find when we observe these galaxies with the next generation of telescopes,” said Conselice.

Also, by compiling data stretching back 13 billion years into the past, the team found that galaxies were not evenly distributed throughout the Universe’s history. There were many more galaxies when the Universe was in its infancy.

This result is powerful evidence that smaller galaxies merged together to create larger structures throughout the Universe’s history – the so-called ‘top-down’ model of the formation of the Universe.

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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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