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Gigantic Structure Challenges Understanding of Universe

An absolutely enormous structure in far distant space is the second of such monumental size to be found - and both were identified by the same British PhD student.

Nick-named the Big Ring, it has a diameter of 1.3 billion light years and a circumference of 4 billion light years, making it roughly 15 times the size of the Moon, as seen in the night sky from Earth.

Artist's impression of what the Big Ring (blue) and Giant Arc (red) would look like in the sky
Artist's impression of what the Big Ring (blue) and Giant Arc (red) would look like in the sky | Credit: Stellarium/University of Central Lancashire

The structure, 9.2 billion light years away, is made up of galaxies and galaxy clusters and is the second of such gigantic proportions to be identified by Alexia Lopez, a British PhD student. She also found the Giant Arc - a structure spanning 3.3 billion light-years - three years ago. Remarkably, the data she analysed is "so far away that it has taken half the universe's life to get to us."

Alexia Lopez, who studies at the University of Central Lancashire, said: "Neither of these two ultra-large structures is easy to explain in our current understanding of the universe. And their ultra-large sizes, distinctive shapes, and cosmological proximity must surely be telling us something important - but what exactly?"

Her discoveries challenge a key cosmological principle which states that on a large scale, the universe should look roughly the same everywhere.

The general consensus is that large structures in the universe are formed through a process known as gravitational instability. This process has a size limit of approximately 1.2 billion light-years as anything larger would not have had enough time to form - and both of these structures are much larger. "From current cosmological theories, we didn't think structures on this scale were possible."

Commenting on the research, reports Guardian-Series, Professor Don Pollacco of the University of Warwick, said “The likelihood of this occurring is vanishingly small so the authors speculate that the two objects are actually related and form an even larger structure. So the question is how do you make such large structures?"

It's most definitely a bit of a head-scratcher.


More from OGN's Space archives:

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