‘Largest structure in the universe’ undermines fundamental cosmic principles

largest structure in universe discovered grb
NASA/Swift/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones
Just in time for the hype surrounding No Man’s Sky, the game that takes cosmic scale to the extreme, a team of astronomers say they’ve discovered what might be the largest structure in the observable universe. The tremendous feature consists of nine gamma-ray bursts (GRB), forming a ring that is streaking across some 5 billion light years through space, according to a paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“We were totally surprised…we did not expect to find it.”

The ring’s diameter stretches more than 70 times that of the full moon as seen from Earth. And, as the GRBs each appear to be about 7 billion light years away, the probability that these features are positioned in this way by chance is just one in 20,000, according to lead author Professor Lajos Balazs from the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest.

Image of the distribution of gamma-ray bursts (blue dots).
Image of the massive feature as a distribution of gamma-ray bursts (blue dots). L. Balazs

Amazingly, the team of astronomers discovered the cosmic ring by accident. “Originally, we studied the space distribution of gamma ray bursts,” Balazs told Digital Trends. “GRBs are the most energetic transients in the universe and the only observed objects sampling the observable universe as a whole. In general, we were interested to conclude whether the universe is homogeneous and isotropic on large scale.

“We were totally surprised,” he added, “because we did not expect to find it.”

However, there are reasons to step back and reconsider the discovery — it seems to undermine our established understanding of how the universe developed.

“We still don’t quite understand how it came to exist at all.”

According to the cosmological principle, the structure of the universe is uniform at its largest scale and its largest structures are theoretically limited to 1.2 billion light years across. This new discovery pushes that limit nearly five-fold.

Balazs and his team used telescopes in space and observatories on Earth to identify the structure. They will now investigate whether the cosmological principle and other processes of galaxy formation can account for the ring structure. If not, theories about the formation of the cosmos may need to be rewritten.

“If we are right,” Balazs commented in a press release, “this structure contradicts the current models of the universe. It was a huge surprise to find something this big – and we still don’t quite understand how it came to exist at all.”

Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Outdoors

Snooze soundly anywhere you lay your head with the best sleeping bags

A proper sleeping bag has the ability to make or break a camping or backpacking trip. Here are our picks for the best sleeping bags on the market to help you choose the correct bag for any type of outdoor adventure.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.