Pandora’s Cluster

Pandora’s Cluster, called in a more prosaic fashion Abell 2744 in Abell’s catalogue of galaxy clusters, is one of the most spectacular objects in our universe. It came into being through a collision of at least four galaxy clusters. This collision lasted about 350 million years and liberated an incredible amount of gas and also “dark matter”. We do not know much about this mysterious matter, except that it is invisible, but possible to detect because of its tremendous mass that can bend even light rays in its vicinity because of an effect called “gravitational lens”.

Astrophysicists situate the distance of the cluster at 3.3 billion (109) light years from earth. This means that in the photo we see today, we see the cluster as it was 3.3 billion years ago (to be compared to the: age of the universe – 14 billion or 14 x 109 years; age of the solar system – 4.6 billion years; appearance of life on earth – 3.7 billion years). It is impossible to know what the cluster looks like today!

We can see numerous galaxies in Pandora’s Cluster, with at least a billion stars in each. The total mass of the Cluster is about 1000 times that of our Milky Way. Yet, only 5% of the total mass is made up of stellar matter. 20% is in gaseous form, whereas the remaining 75% constitutes dark matter. The gas is so hot that it radiates in X-rays. These regions are marked in red colour in the image. The dark matter is marked in blue.

Our universe, with galaxies and stars piled up like sand on our beaches, is intoxicating because of its seemingly limitless extension, but also because of its strange and captivating beauty.

What a marvellous occasion to admire this splendour, to marvel at it and also to meditate upon what the Artisan of the Universe tells us: “Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the alternation of night and day there are indeed signs for men – gifted with understanding – who, standing, sitting and lying down celebrate the praises of God and contemplate the (wonders of) creation, (saying): ‘Not for nothing have You created (all) this! Glory to You! Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire. Lord! Any whom You do introduce to the Fire, You have already covered with shame. And never will wrong-doers find any helpers.’ Lord! We have heard one calling (us) to faith, saying: ‘Believe in the Lord!’ And we have believed. Lord! Forgive us our sins, blot out from us our iniquities and, once demised, take our souls to Yourself in the company of the righteous. Lord! Grant us what You have promised by (the intermediary) Your messengers! And do not humiliate us on the day of Resurrection! For You never break Your promise.” (Surah 3, verses 190 to 194)