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An unknown force is pulling the Milky Way and all else towards it at 14 million mp

The Night Sky in April 2015: the Great Attractor is neither a black hole or a super-cluster of galaxies, but we are travelling towards it inexorably .

The chart shows the whole sky as it would appear from the UK at 23:00 on April 1st, 22:00 on April 15th and 21:00 on April 30th. All times are GMT

Climbing may prove the most popular of sports in space. Today, about 300 people have travelled the world to climb the highest peak on each continent. In coming centuries adventurers of this kind may discover a far more extreme challenge: to climb the most difficult peaks in the solar system.

Olympus Mons on Mars, at three times the height of Everest, looks comparatively easy to climb because of its gentle slopes. But the extreme cold will demand very special suits that retain warmth and oxygen yet are light enough to allow complex movement.

This mountain is also so large that it would cover half of England. Climbers who reached the summit would find its opposite side beyond the horizon.

Climbing on the Moon, a world much easier to reach than Mars, will have a practical purpose. It will be necessary to ascend to the peaks to place radio and optical antennae to guide approaching spacecraft, an excellent excuse for hiking.

Further out in space, extreme thrill seekers may seek out Mimas, a small moon of Saturn only one eighth the size of our Moon. It contains the four-mile deep Herschel Crater. At its very centre is a mountain peak three miles high, itself an attraction to climbers.

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Perhaps the most awe-inspiring sight in our system will be the sheer ice cliffs of Miranda, the second largest moon of Uranus. They are as tall as Everest. In the words of the space enthusiast Keith Cowing, they are cliffs “just begging to be climbed.”

From the comparatively nearby to the unimaginably remote. The huge constellation of Virgo is now well in view. Well away from the Milky Way, it enables us to look out into the infinite. When we peer into it we see galaxies that seem to go on for ever.

Except for the bright star Spica, only 250 light-years away, there are so many galaxies here in the groups and clusters and superclusters of Virgo that we get the impression here of the true size of the visible universe.

The Great Attractor: what is this thing?

Two individual galaxies in Virgo are worth looking at: the Sombrero Hat galaxy (M104) and M87, with a jagged shaft of light sticking out of it, are both mysterious in their own right.

But the real mystery of Virgo lies further away. The smallest unit of galaxies out there is our local group, comprising the Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy and about 50 others. The Local Group is in turn part of the Virgo Supercluster containing some 40,000 members.

Beyond all this is an unseen object called the Great Attractor which is pulling the Milky Way and all else towards it at the terrific speed of 14 million mph. What is this thing, how far away is it, and what will happen when we reach it? No one knows.



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