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'El Gordo,' Galaxy With Mass 2 Quadrillion Times The Sun's, Discovered

Take the number 2. Put 15 zeroes behind it, as Space.com says:

2,000,000,000,000,000

Now, think about the news from this story at that website:

The discovery of "the largest cluster of galaxies seen yet in the early universe, a giant that astronomers have dubbed 'El Gordo,' " has been announced at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas.

And just how big is El Gordo thought to be? It "has mass about 2 quadrillion ... times that of the sun, making it 'the most massive known cluster in the distant universe.' "

El Gordo is about 7 billion light-years from us. Scientists hope its discovery will help shed some light, as Space.com says, on "dark energy" and "dark matter." And, as the BBC says, it's possible El Gordo will help us figure out how galaxy clusters "form, grow and collide with one another."

NASA adds that "galaxy clusters, the largest objects in the universe that are held together by gravity, form through the merger of smaller groups or sub-clusters of galaxies. Because the formation process depends on the amount of dark matter and dark energy in the universe, clusters can be used to study these mysterious phenomena."

One other note: Scientists say El Gordo's still growing.

Later today, Melissa Block's conversation about El Gordo with astronomer Felipe Menanteau of Rutgers University is due on All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

Meanwhile, over at the 13.7 blog they're thinking about this: "What Happened Before The Big Bang? And Other Weird Cosmic Questions."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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