A NASA mission has discovered that there may be far fewer galaxies than originally thought, revealing the possibility that humanity is only in the universe.
The New Horizons mission, which gave the first close-ups of Pluto, provided enough data for scientists to determine that the number of galaxies may be in the hundreds of billions, instead of the 2 trillion that was originally thought.
“It’s important to know the number – how many galaxies are there?” the study’s lead author, Mark Postman, said in a statement. “We just don’t see the light from 2 trillion galaxies.”
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The findings, which have been published and can be read here, are in stark contrast to the 2 trillion figure, which has long been used, thanks to data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists used a mathematical model to determine that 90% of galaxies in the universe are beyond Hubble’s ability to see “visible light.”
Traveling at about 33,000 miles per hour, the $ 720 million New Horizons spacecraft, launched in January 2006, will eventually reach interstellar space, similar to the Voyager spacecraft before it. The fact that it is currently close to the edge of the solar system allows it to see the surrounding sky 10 times darker than Hubble’s point of view.
“This type of measurement is extremely difficult. Many people have been trying to do this for a long time,” said study co-author Todd Lauer. “New Horizons has given us a perspective to measure the cosmic optical background better than anyone has been able to do.”
The New Horizons spacecraft is now 4.4 billion miles from Earth.
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“Take all the galaxies that Hubble can see, double that number and we see that – but nothing more,” Lauer added.
NASA’s James Webb Telescope, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, could help scientists learn more about the faint glow of space and whether it’s dwarf galaxies or something else.
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The New Horizons spacecraft has made a number of recent discoveries, including the Arrokoth site, formerly known as the Ultima Thule. In May 2019, New Horizons discovered water and organic molecules of Arrokoth, which is deep in the so-called Kuiper Belt or Twilight Zone, far beyond the orbit of Neptune.