Our lonely galaxy probably exists in the middle of cosmic nowhere

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, could be in one of the loneliest places in the universe. New data shows that our galaxy might not have many neighbors.

Astronomers counted how many galaxies they found as they looked farther and farther away from the Milky Way.

They saw many more galaxies at around the 1 billion light-year mark in all directions. That means we could be sitting in a region of space that's 2 billion light-years wide with few celestial bodies.

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Gorgeous new Milky Way image maps our galaxy's dust
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Gorgeous new Milky Way image maps our galaxy's dust

A spectacular new image of the Milky Way has been released to mark the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL). The APEX telescope in Chile has mapped the full area of the Galactic Plane visible from the southern hemisphere for the first time at submillimetre wavelengths — between infrared light and radio waves — and in finer detail than recent space-based surveys. The pioneering 12-metre APEX telescope allows astronomers to study the cold Universe: gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

The southern plane of the Milky Way from the ATLASGAL survey.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

The southern plane of the Milky Way from the ATLASGAL survey (annotated).

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

Comparison of the central part of the Milky Way at different wavelengths.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

Comparison of the central part of the Milky Way at different wavelengths (annotated).

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

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SEE MORE: Earth Doesn't Exactly Have The Best View For Studying The Milky Way

Scientists have found voids before, but ours is the largest we know about. It's at least seven times larger than average.

But, just like on Earth, we can't avoid our neighbors forever. The Milky Way is expected to collide with Andromeda, one of the few nearby galaxies, in about 4 billion years.

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