Recently found massive cosmic structure contradicts existing theories about the nature of the universe.
Scientists have identified a circular cosmic structure of massive proportions that contradicts current theories about the universe.
The Big Ring, also known as the Large Circle, measures approximately 1.3 billion light years in diameter, ranking it as one of the largest structures ever detected. Although it is located more than 9 billion light years away from Earth and cannot be directly observed, its size on the night sky would appear equivalent to 15 full moons.
The findings, shared on Thursday during the 243rd conference of the American Astronomical Society in New Orleans, hold importance as the dimensions of the Big Ring seem to challenge a key belief in cosmology known as the cosmological principle. This principle states that beyond a specific spatial scale, the universe is uniform and appears the same in all directions.
According to Alexia Lopez, a PhD student at the University of Central Lancashire who conducted the analysis, current cosmological theories did not suggest the existence of structures on this size. It was believed that there would only be one extremely large structure in the entire observable universe.
Zooming out on the universe should, in theory, reveal a vast, featureless expanse. Yet the Big Ring is one of a growing list of unexpectedly large structures. Others include the Giant Arc, which appears just next to the Big Ring and was also discovered by Lopez in 2021. Cosmologists calculate the current theoretical size limit of structures to be 1.2bn light years, but the Big Ring and the Giant Arc, which spans an estimated 3.3bn light years, breach this limit.
Interestingly, both structures are equidistant from Earth and located near the Boötes constellation. This raises the question of whether they are connected within a cosmological system.
“Illegalities like these are continuously being ignored, but as we discover more, we will have to confront the possibility that our current model may need to be reconsidered,” stated Lopez. “At the very least, it is lacking. At most, we require an entirely new theory of cosmology.”
The discovery of the Big Ring was made by studying information gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which contains records of faraway quasars. These quasars are extremely luminous and can be observed from billions of light years away. They serve as massive, far-off sources of light, making visible the galaxies along their path that would otherwise be invisible.
Lopez and his team utilized various statistical methods to detect possible massive formations, ultimately discovering the Big Ring. While initially appearing as a near-perfect ring in the sky, further investigation revealed its shape to be more similar to a corkscrew, with Earth facing it directly.
The cause of the structure is uncertain among cosmologists. One theory suggests that baryonic acoustic oscillations, a type of sound wave in the early universe, may have resulted in the current arrangement of galaxies with spherical shells. Another idea is that cosmic strings, theoretical imperfections in the fabric of the universe, could be responsible for the clustering of matter along major fault lines on a large scale.
According to Dr. Jenny Wagner, a cosmologist from the Bahamas Advanced Study Institute & Conferences, the discovery holds great importance. She stated, “It is not just a random coincidence.”
According to Wagner, it is feasible to incorporate the Big Ring into the cosmological principle if its boundaries are clearly defined. However, as more of these exceptional, large-scale formations are uncovered, the statistical validity of this perspective decreases. Wagner emphasized the importance of continuing to search for additional enormous structures, stating that she would not be shocked if the cosmological principle needs to be discarded in light of future findings.