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Compact Cosmos

6 SUPERCLUSTERS galactic gatherings The great walls, filaments, and sheets are themselves chains of superclusters, huge aggregates of galaxy clusters linked by thinner skeins of galaxies and all bound together by gravitation. The largest superclusters may stretch for 300 million lightyears. We belong to a modest supercluster 150 million lightyears in extent and centered on the Virgo cluster. Our Virgo supercluster, along with several others, is heading toward the Great Attractor, an enormous mass hidden deep in the Centaurus Wall. Clusters themselves can be roughly divided into two types rich clusters, up to 1030 million lightyears wide, which can contain 10,000 galaxies and tend to be dominated by one to three giant elliptical galaxies,and the more common poor clusters,upwards of 3 million lightyears across,with as few as ten galaxies,predominantly spirals. Our Local Groupis a poor cluster lodged in the outskirts,some 60 million lightyears from the Virgo cluster. Orbiting a common center of gravity between ourselves and Andromeda, this group of thirty or so galaxies of various sizes covers four million lightyears. Three of our neighbors are visible to the naked eye as glowing wisps. The large and small Magellanic Cloudsare closest,being 170,000 and 190,000 lightyears away respectively. The third is mighty Andromeda,twice the mass of our own Milky Way. Currently over 2 million lightyears away,the two will merge in about 5 billion years. Although stars rarely bump,gravitys tides will sweep the galaxies into a whirling dance.
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