Astronomers have finally peer through the Zone of Avoidance with the aid of CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Australia, unveiling 883 galaxies previously hidden from view near the Milky Way.
Although these former 'hidden galaxies' are a mere 250 million light-years away from the Earth, which is comparatively close in astronomical terms, they were unobservable because they lie within an area obstructed by planets and stars found in the Milky Way, which is called the Zone of Avoidance. In the past several decades, scientists who had tried to map out the galactic distribution of the said area with no success.
"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," said astronomer Lister Staveley-Smith of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at the University of Western Australia.
Renée Kraan-Korteweg from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, another team member, said that they tried using a range of different techniques, but only the use of radio waves is successful "in allowing us to see through the thickest foreground layer of dust and stars."
"An average galaxy contains 100 billion stars, so finding hundreds of new galaxies hidden behind the Milky Way points to a lot of mass we didn't know about until now," he added.
With this new discovery, astronomers now have information to further study a cosmic phenomenon that occurs in the Zone of Avoidance. Scientifically known as the "Great Attractor," this is a region that appears to be attracting the Milky Way towards it. This astronomical anomaly was first discovered in the 1970s.
In this region, there are very large collections of galaxies scientists call clusters or superclusters, and the Milky Way is moving towards them at more than 2 million kilometres per hour," explained Staveley-Smith. "We don't actually understand what's causing this gravitational acceleration... or where it's coming from."
The findings has since been published on The Astronomical Journal.