Scientists Discover Universe’s Largest Known Structure

Posted January 14th, 2013 at 7:27 pm (UTC-4)

Artist’s impression of a very distant quasar powered by a black hole with a mass two billion times that of the Sun. (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser via Wikimedia Commons)

Artist’s impression of a very distant quasar powered by a black hole with a mass two billion times that of the Sun. (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser via Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists have found the largest known structure in the universe, a cluster of galactic cores so vast it would take four billion years for a spacecraft traveling at the speed of light to cross it.

The sighting challenges a theory from Einstein which suggests such a massive object shouldn’t exist in the universe.

A quasar is the compacted center of a galaxy surrounding a massive black hole from the early days of the universe.  Quasars  go through periods of extreme brightness which can last anywhere from 10 to 100 million years. They tend to band together in enormous clusters, or structures, forming large quasar groups (LQGs).

The international group of scientists led by Roger Clowes from the University of Central Lancashire’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute, used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a major surveying project that uses 2.5-m wide-angle optical telescope located at New Mexico’s Apache Point Observatory, to make their findings.

Clowes and his colleagues are astounded by the size of this structure, which defies the Cosmological Principal, based on Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity that assumes when you look at the universe from a sufficiently large scale; it looks the same no matter where you are observing it from.  The Cosmological Principle, according to the research team, is assumed but has never been demonstrated observationally ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’

LQG - Large quasar group as imaaged by the Big Throughput Camera at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile (Photo: Chris Haines)

Large quasar group (LQG) as imaged by the Big Throughput Camera at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile (Photo: Chris Haines)

“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe,” said Clowes. “This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the universe. The universe doesn’t seem to be as uniform as we thought.”

Clusters of galaxies can be anywhere from six to 10 million light-years across, but the LQGs can be 650 million light-years or more across. Making calculations based on the Cosmological Principle, along with the modern theory of cosmology, astrophysicists shouldn’t be able to find a structure in the universe larger than 1.2 billion light-years, much less four billion light-years across as this newly sighted structure is.

To get some additional perspective of what the astronomers found, let’s step back and give it a sense of scale.  Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is separated from its nearest neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, by a distance of 2.5 million light-years.

Clowes points out that his team’s discovery does have a typical dimension of 1.6 billion light-years. But, because it is elongated, its longest dimension is four billion light-years, making it about 1,650 times larger than the distance from the Milky Way to Andromeda.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

22 responses to “Scientists Discover Universe’s Largest Known Structure”

  1. David says:

    It is amazing! I wonder though, how long it’ll be before they find something bigger again? No doubt bigger structures do exist in the universe.

  2. […] the largest object ever identified …Quasar wall's size surprises astronomersUSA TODAYScientists Discover Universe's Largest Known StructureVoice of America (blog)Biggest Thing in Universe Found—Defies Scientific TheoryNational […]

  3. John W Goerger says:

    In the first part of this article concerning the ‘time’ it would take a spaceship to transverse the Four Billion-Light Year size of this structure; the author wrote;”would take four billion years”.
    Actually, since the author has the spaceship travelling at the speed of light, the Spaceship Time” would be “ZERO”.
    To an “outside observer”, assuming the observer could live that long; the “Time” that would pass for the observer for the spaceship to travel the “length” of this ‘structure’ would be Four Billion Earth Years (which is the ‘TIME’).
    The ‘Distance’ transvered by the spaceship would be:
    ~6 Trillion Miles (dist. “c” travels in 1-earth yr) Times (X) Four (4) Billion LT YRS)

  4. Robert L. Oldershaw says:

    Let’s be accurate. It is the standard LCDM cosmological model, with its “homogeneity” assumption, finite Universe, and “WIMP” dark matter that is being falsified.

    Einstein’s General Relativity is still highly supported by all empirical evidence, but a less idealized version of the cosmological principle is clearly needed, as pointed out by Mandelbrot and others decades ago.

    We are seeing the gradual unveiling of a new discrete fractal model of the cosmos, and one that probably has no upper or lower bounds to its self-similar hierarchy, i.e., no largest or smallest systems in nature, but rather an infinite hierarchy of systems.

    This represents the biggest change in cosmological paradigms in 100 years, or possibly 400 years, depending on how you view Einstein’s Special and General Relativity ( as a correction to the Newtonian paradigm, or as a completely new paradigm).

    Robert L. Oldershaw
    Discrete Scale Relativity
    Fractal Cosmology

  5. davidhc says:

    What an Intelligent Designer there must be !!

    • John W Goerger says:

      I thought the discussions/replies would be within a logical & scientific one; not entering into the area of mythology such as, the Tooth Fairy, Superman, Zeus, or “un”intelligent designer.

      • seven says:

        dear John..people secure in their scientific understanding need never be concerned with the apparent superstitious mind, unless , of course, such ‘mythologies’ do indeed have an unsettling effect on the steadfast tower of mind science and the human ego has built for itself. i do fail to see how one places toothfairy and intelligent designer into teh same category of the absurd..unless the mind that does so be closed to anything bigger than itself and prefer denial rather than the enquiring inquisitive open mindset that science pretends to champion.. i realise this will merely bounce off the tower..but perhaps it may get close enough for a glimpse by the reigning Mind,through the high window ..and may sow its own seed of revolution..haha..

        • chris says:

          “i do fail to see how one places toothfairy and intelligent designer into teh same category of the absurd.”

          Probably because there’s an equal amount of evidence for the existence of both.

          The sooner we knock down the walls of irrational superstitious beliefs in bronze age mythologies, the sooner that tower of reason will actually be able to reach the stars.

  6. Emmanuel Ebube says:

    Next—–Quasar particle discovery and specifications—-unveiling the quasar enigma

  7. Prakash Kumar says:

    The Cosmological Principle is an assumption which admits of possible refutation. It is unsatisfactory. It does not mean that General Relativity is completely wrong.

    • John W Goerger says:

      I like your logical thinking. Way to many astronomers have gotten ‘way to hung up’ with the ‘Cosmological Principle’; as in thinking that is the most inportant part of a discussion, and missing the ‘Bigger Picture’—The Universe!

  8. Jeffrey Allen says:

    We need to consider the term Big Bang and perhaps need to rename it the
    Big Banging. A simple thought experiment would be viewing it as a time lapse
    video. If you live inside the Bang, you will see it at a very slow rate,because of space time compression. To an outside observer the process appears to have just started.

  9. Seeking our pasts to guess futures;
    Reading Minds here and there, yes!
    Strings along from point masses-to-
    “point masses”, they take the loads?
    Five congruent equal-lateral triangles,
    lying flat on each black hole, pop-out
    first from flat surfaces: simple words.

    Connect math to Knowing, moving ahead?
    Pressing keys, letter-by-letter, technology?
    Praise human labor, all life forms of many,
    and voices to chorus the strengths of all;
    prime numbers lines showing information.

    Match the forces of Nature to the Known;
    tasks made easier, many communicating;
    reading lines to our minds collectively now.

    To one and all,
    best, rm

  10. Emmanuel Ebube says:

    Reason For current Lack of Interest in Speed of Light Science (SLS)
    The main reason most of the happenings in the speed of light domain have remained unexplored, even by science prodigies like Lorentz, Heisenberg, Planck, Einstein, and a host of others, is because we do not go nearly close enough to the speed of light c with our research computations, or simply assume that it is inaccessible. One excuse is that we simply do not have the tools to make the approach to the proximity of this speed. The asymptotic nature of Time, Mass, Length, and velocity function graphs in the vicinity of c makes it imperative that we should come very close to c for events to begin to unfold.
    Understandably researchers could not explore the vicinity of the speed of light, where extremely small magnitudes make a whole world of difference, unless they are equipped with a super-computer, and these are certainly not readily available. For sure super-computers were unheard of in the time of Planck and Einstein. There is need to deal with magnitudes of 50 decimal places and higher to come into contact with the realities of this domain. For example the speed of gravity is given as:
    vg = 0.91…954c
    While the lowest particle speed in the electromagnetic spectrum, that of the neutrino is given as:
    vn = 0.91…970c
    Planckmass speed is given as vpm = 0.91…9140c (Planck mass: 10-8kg; wavelength: 10-35m)
    That of the proton and electron are given as:
    vpr = 0.91…9102c (proton mass: 10-27kg; wavelength: 10-16m)
    and ve = 0.91…996c respectively (electron mass: 10-30kg; wavelength: 10-13m)
    That of the quasar particle given as vq = 0.91…9114c (quasar mass: 10-22kg; wavelength: 10-22m)

    The above speeds are theoretical speeds not empirically observed speeds, the discrepancy attributable to factors discussed elsewhere (also why the Michelson-Morley experiment failed)
    From the above we begin to see that scientists have been shut out of this eventful sub c domain, not for lack of interest or curiosity, but for lack of knowledge on how to access it, the technology for this purpose being extremely limited and oftentimes not available at all.
    The author of this book is only able to explore this domain with a mathematical tool he developed to show that
    1/Ö(1 – v2/c2) = Ö(10n/2)
    and Ö(1 – v2/c2) = Ö(2/10n)
    where v is given as a decimal fraction of c to n places of decimal nines

    The quasar problem and solution
    Halton C. Arp of Mount Wilson and Las Camparnas observatories found the galaxy NGC 4319 that appears attached to the quasar Markarian 205 by a luminous bridge. NGC 4319 has a redshift of z = 0.006 giving a speed of 1800 km/s and estimated distance of 120 Mly. On the other hand Mk 205 has larger redshift of z = 0.07 equal to a speed of 21,000 km/s and distance of 1400 Mly
    If NGC 4319 is connected to Mk 205 then the quasar must be much nearer to us than its redshift indicates by Hubble law, pointing to a possible different law of physics operating.
    We surmise as a way out that the galaxy NGC 4319 and quasar Mk 205 are composed of different size particles, protons and quasar particles (see above), making their connection feasible as actually observed, with the anomaly attributable to a misapplication of the Hubble law to the quasar. Light is bent or refracted towards the red en of the spectrum with longer wavelength as it travels from the more dense quasar particle medium into the less dense star-studded proton based galaxy. The longer wavelength redshifted light would be wrongly interpreted by the Hubble law to indicate that the quasar was farther away and traveling faster than it actually is.
    For instance we learned in elementary physics that when an object in water (e.g. fish) is viewed from outside water it appears displaced from its actual location due to light refraction as it travels from a denser medium (water) to a less dense medium (air). A fish would appear farther away from the upright than it actually is if you followed or extrapolated your straight line of vision into the water

    —Uncertainty Principle in macro-media
    The above scenario looks like a version of the Uncertainty Principle. In the case of the electron the bouncing of a light photon particle off the tiny electron changes its location, making it uncertain where it actually was before the measurement. In the case of the fish the light traveling out of the water that would enable the human eye, or instrument, to see and locate it is distorted by refraction making it impossible to pinpoint its location from the air medium.
    In the case of the electron and the photon the problem would be non-existent if the observer were in the same frame of reference as the photon, i.e. traveling at the same speed of light. The observer could then accurately locate the electron at the point and instant of contact or impact. This would imply that the observer existed in a dilated time domain, as did the photon, traveling at the speed of light or very close to it. Indeed perception would be instantaneous and the term traveling would be non-applicable under the circumstances. The same would apply in the case of the fish, since traveling at the speed of light would imply being at the same location as the fish at the instant the light signal departed, making its location a certainty.

    This brings us back our last article where serious research into dilated time existence, dream state or consciousness-only existence, is proposed as the key to the mysteries of the universe, including the nagging problem of physical death.

    —To be continued

  11. Emmanuel Ebube says:

    “The soul never thinks without a picture.”——–Aristotle

    Next: Why our mortal bodies are a burden that could not be taken aboard a time-dilated environment that science must now commence research on

  12. Robert says:

    OK…”four billion light years to cross”. I can read the words but i cannot comprehend the vastness of time and space in that statement.
    It seems the deeper we look into space, the more astounded we become, the smaller we become.
    We, or more to the point, I am nothing.

  13. steve mckeon says:

    Putting this all in perspective …..If the milkyway were the size of a penny ….This newly discovered structure would be 1/2 mile along its longitudinal axis…Has there been a calculation of the width…?

  14. Prakash Kumar says:

    If the big bang is a reality then it is highly probable that the assumption of homogeneity is at fault and we can expect such discoveries.