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Astronomers Discover Largest Structure In the Universe 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the biggest-there-is dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Until now, the largest known structure in the Universe was the Huge-LQG (Large Quasar Group), a cluster of 73 quasars stretching over a distance of 4 billion light years. Now astronomers say they've spotted something even bigger in data from gamma ray bursts, the final explosions of energy released by stars as they die and the universe's most energetic events. Astronomers have measured the distance to 283 of these bursts and mapped their position in the universe. This throws up a surprise. At a distance of ten billion light years, there are more gamma ray bursts than expected if they were evenly distributed throughout the universe. This implies the existence of a structure at this distance that is about ten billion light years across and so dwarfs the Huge-LQG. What's odd about the discovery is that the Cosmological principle--one of the fundamental tenets of cosmology--holds that the distribution of matter in the universe will appear uniform if viewed at a large enough scale. And yet, structures clearly emerge at every scale astronomers can see. The new discovery doesn't disprove the principle but it does provide some interesting food for thought for theorists."
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Astronomers Discover Largest Structure In the Universe

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 15, 2013 @03:05AM (#45430729)

    Maybe we're at the bottom of the turtles after all?

    • If you look further, you will find that there is a spherical structure with radius of approximately about 13 billion light years, and nothing outside of that.
  • Like carelessly made Cream of Wheat.

  • Enter Metaphysics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by some old guy (674482) on Friday November 15, 2013 @03:08AM (#45430743)

    The real importance of such observations and discoveries lies not in their ability to test existing hypothesis but in furthering our ability to form new ones.

    • I don't have mod points today, so take a virtual +1 Insightful
      • by neonKow (1239288)

        This is as oppsed to the physical +1 Insightful atomicxblue would be sending you in the mail on a normal day.

        • by asliarun (636603)

          This is as oppsed to the physical +1 Insightful atomicxblue would be sending you in the mail on a normal day.

          Do you think that keyboard you are holding is ... real?

          Hmmm.

        • hahaha cute.. :D That usually takes the form of freshly baked cookies.. :D
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by icebike (68054)

      By forming new ones, I presume you mean taking a collection of some random radio emissions scattered around the universe and arbitrarily deciding they are a "structure"?

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 15, 2013 @04:38AM (#45431111) Journal
        Given that we have a relatively well developed mathematical articulation of 'random', and the likelihood of various outcomes arising from a random distribution, it should presumably be possible to determine that a given observed outcome is more or less probable as the result of a random distribution. That doesn't necessarily supply any causal suspicion of having arisen other than randomly; but it's still measurable.

        "Structure" seems like a poor word, given the heavy connotations of purposeful design or systemic interaction; but choosing a statistical cut-off and taking particular interest in outcomes less probable than that, given the assumptions about the underlying distribution, is in principle sound enough(though it may simply mean that an improbable outcome happened, rather than that the assumptions about the underlying distribution were wrong).

        It's like watching the payouts of N slot machines over the course of an evening: If you know, or have a hypothesis, about the odds of the game, you can tell how far a given outcome deviates from the expected distribution, though even observing an extraordinarily unlikely one cannot prove that the game was being rigged, though it can suggest it strongly enough to send you looking for clues in that direction.
        • I'd like to propose a "hypothesis" that the reason we see these anomalous structures where we should be seeing more randomness would also explain some anomalies we currently blame on dark matter; the influence via gravity of either other dimensions, or extra-Universe objects (basically, other Universes not directly tied to our own). It would mean Gravity is also an "extra dimensional" force or particle that isn't normally observable in our Space/Time.

          I'm not totally convinced of this hypothesis -- but I thi

          • Re:Enter Metaphysics (Score:4, Interesting)

            by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 15, 2013 @10:23AM (#45433093) Journal
            I'm no cosmologist, so I have no comment there; but the difficultly of looking at what is basically a black box (almost 300 objects at 10 billion light years? Voyager might be a few years away...) statistically is somewhat maddening.

            Even a trivially simplified case (say I have a coin, that I allege is fair, and you get to flip it as many times as you want before deciding if you believe me) cannot be decided with certainty. Any finite sequence of flips is equally likely as any other (though sequences that are approximately 50/50 should be overwhelmingly more common if the coin is in fact fair, I have no idea how the behavior changes if you choose infinitely many flips), and you can only gain greater or lesser doubt in the fairness of my coin.

            For a much more complex phenomenon, like the origin of the universe, deciding whether you are simply looking at an improbable; but perfectly possible, local perturbation, or whether there is some 'tilt' in the system not covered by current accounts... It's a mathematically cogent exercise; but 'mathematically cogent' and 'easy' are very, very, very different things.
          • Are you saying that gravitational lensing [wikipedia.org] is just an anomaly?

            Gravitational lensing seems to be one of the major evidences in favor of dark matter/mass, but it'd be interesting to see you (or anyone for that matter) argue that it's just an anomaly given that it can be observed in multiple distinct locations.

            (Now, I think we both agree that dark energy is still just a hypothesis, but I think you'd have to come up with something better than claiming that it's "just an anomaly" to explain the existing evidence.

    • But it does test our existing hypothesis. It disconfirms that at a scale of 10 billion light years, matter in the universe is uniformly distributed. If you're into Bayesian epistemology, this means confidence in the Cosmological principle has just been adjusted downwards because of the evidence that has been discovered.

      It is of course also important in the formulation of new hypotheses, as you rightly point out, but to imply the one is more important than the other is simply untrue.

      • I never said it didn't form a test, and I would not hesitate to imply that original thinking in pondering the unknown is always intrinsically more important than endlessly testing the ostensibly "known". Of course, YMMV.

  • It wasn't such a long time since they discovered the (now second) largest before, was it?

    • Re:What, again? (Score:5, Informative)

      by mynamestolen (2566945) on Friday November 15, 2013 @03:35AM (#45430849)

      1989
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CfA2_Great_Wall [wikipedia.org]
      The Great Wall (also called Coma Wall), sometimes specifically referred to as the CfA2 Great Wall, is one of the largest known superstructures in the Universe, (the largest being the Huge-LQG). It is a filament of galaxies approximately 200 million light-years away and has dimensions which measure over 500 million light-years long, 300 million light-years wide and 16 million light-years thick, and includes the Hercules Supercluster, the Coma Supercluster and the Leo Cluster.[1]
      It was discovered in 1989 by Margaret Geller and John Huchra based on redshift survey data from the CfA Redshift Survey.

    • by dwater (72834)

      They didn't discover the largest before; they were just wrong in thinking it was the largest, just like they probably are this time. It's just arrogance to claim it is the largest when one hasn't yet examined the *entire* universe.

  • God is great? (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) *

    Who tagged this "godisgreat"? Is it a joke?

    All this seems to suggest is that God cooks up lumpy pudding.

  • by Andtalath (1074376)

    Random distribution means that lumps will form.

    This is relatively obvious chaos theory.

    Even more so when objects can grow closer due to huge centers of mass.
    This might be how black holes start for all we know...

    • by boristhespider (1678416) on Friday November 15, 2013 @03:48AM (#45430909)

      Thank God we have people on Slashdot to tell us things like this. Where would we have been if generations of cosmologists were entirely ignorant of statistics or gravitational physics? The mind boggles!

      Sorry, but the problem isn't that there are lumps - if there weren't our existence would be a bit suspect since we live on the edge of a reasonably large lump (the Virgo supercluster) ourselves. The problem (if you want to call it a problem; it's more an interesting question) concerns the *size* of the lumps. We can predict with reasonable certainty the probability of a bound structure of such and such a size appearing in the universe. That's quite straightforward in principle. And structures this big are pushing the bounds of the standard cosmological model quite hard; basically, they shouldn't really be there. I don't know the actual probability but it's extremely low, and low enough that we would not expect to see it. That there are now three structures that are rather too large (this one, if it comes to be accepted as a genuine structure; the Sloan great wall, if it turns out to actually be a structure; and the CfA great wall) is getting interesting.

    • by Chalnoth (1334923)
      Yes. That and the primordial density fluctuations were nearly scale-invariant. That is, originally, there were structures of all scales. Gravity over time amplified some of these scales (the most significant being at around 240 million light years), but the natural expectation is still structures at all scales. It would take finding a few extremely large structures that are in excess of the number expected to really throw the standard cosmology into question.
  • These bunch of gamma ray bursts, are they in any way related to each other than in form?
  • I first heard about the idea of Fractal cosmology [wikipedia.org] in Mandelbrot's book from 1982, The Fractal Geometry of Nature. The idea is quite simple: there is structure at every scale in the Universe, at least up to some cutoff.

    It is kind of funny that some people are surprised when structure is discovered at larger and larger scales as we are able to make observations at longer and longer distance scales. It is much more sensible to expect to see more structure as we see more of the Universe instead of the m

    • The surprise here is that the cutoff is so big.

    • "That which is above is as that which is below and that which is below is as that which is above, for the purposes of the workings of the one thing."
      -- very very old.

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      My laymans understanding is that are processes feedback into themselves, which is what makes fractals. Watched a fun BBC video on on fractals. Plants even space themselves out in fractals, even when inter-species. The size of plants are fractals, the limbs are fractals.. etc etc. They covered a lot of other things, but the whole plant thing stuck the best. Another one was the it seems your hear-beat is based on fractals and non-fractal like hear-beats seem to be highly correlated with heart issues, but more
  • That's what she said!!!

    (that's what you get from watching The Office).

  • Are they really that arrogant? Perhaps they just don't know English too well.

    I mean, iinm, they previously claimed they had discovered the largest and now they claim it again. There is only *one* largest - it makes no difference if you know about it or not. If you find something new that is larger than what you thought was the largest, then all you have proved is that you were previously wrong. To then claim that the new thing is the largest is arrogant.

    How about adding some words to fix it, like 'known' or

  • Cue the yo mama jokes
  • It's amazing what we think we "know", by trying to interpret the electromagnetic radiation that falls on us.

    Next week: more amazing complete revisions of what we "know".

  • What's odd about the discovery is that the Cosmological principle--one of the fundamental tenets of cosmology--holds that the distribution of matter in the universe will appear uniform if viewed at a large enough scale. And yet, structures clearly emerge at every scale astronomers can see.

    Beings as we can only ever see a very small fraction of the universe, and don't even know how big it is in its entirety, it's certainly possible we simply can't view a large enough area for the distribution to "even out."

    • Beings as we can only ever see a very small fraction of the universe, and don't even know how big it is in its entirety, it's certainly possible we simply can't view a large enough area for the distribution to "even out."

      If the universe is smaller or larger than the observable universe is still a matter of debate. Quite likely, it will be observations like this that will lead us to the answer by what we can figure out about the very early universe and its expansion.

  • by ciderbrew (1860166) on Friday November 15, 2013 @07:07AM (#45431649)
    Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.
    - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    • by Chemisor (97276)

      Time is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's been so long since anybody has seen a "Chemist's", but that's just peanuts to time.

      • "Chemist" is the British English equivalent of the American English "Pharmacist" or "Drug store".

        That being said, pharmacology is bigger now than ever.
  • What I never inderstand about articles that talk about very distant objects: they always use "are" as if this large structure would be there now, when, if at all and we interpret the data correctly, it was there billions of years ago. Something that "stretches" over 4 billion ligth years may also (depending on in which direction it stretches) also stretch over a time span of at least 4 billion years.
    It is weird to think that what we see is not our universe at all: it is a picture that is a collage of times

    • Since we sit in the light cone for the event currently, to us it does exist now, as it's state 10 billion years ago/10 billion light years away can causely affect us, but not its state 999,999,999 years ago and 10 billion + light years away.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_cone [wikipedia.org]

  • If there's structure everywhere we look in the universe, maybe it's the multiverse that's uniform. (Disclaimer: I'm not a scientist of any type. I'm just thinking out loud here.)
  • Is it simply the fact that these objects are all relatively closer to each other that expected? Do they interact in any fashion, or were they all formed at the same time and/or from the same source?

    .
  • the distribution of matter in the universe is uniform if you view it on the scale of the entire universe. Which, if held to be infinite, definitively proves the theory.

  • My object. It's bigger.
  • I have issues with the whole report. If the Universe is 13.xG years old, and it's been expanding...
    1. How is 31 bursters over 10G ly a "structure"?
    2. How big was the Universe 10G years ago? If it was then 10G ly wide, then the expansion is
    clearly slowing down, only growing another 3G ly in 10G yrs, after doing 10G ly in 3.xG yrs.

    mark "or maybe the Universe burst through an extrad

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      Someone else pointed out that if this one "normal", we would be seeing the same rate of GRB from any direction, but we are not, so it must be true only in that direction, meaning it is something different that normal.
  • We see power-law scaling everywhere and it looks a lot like the statement in the article. If the size of cars obeyed a power law distribution it would be hard to tell how far you were away from the ground by looking at the apparent size of the cars. The wider you make your gaze the larger cars you will find. We see power-law scaling in continuous phase transition when the system can't really "decide" what scale to prefer so it kind of exists in all scales. Perhaps this means the universe is undergoing s

  • Must I remind yet again? The largest structure in the universe is the universe, because it's a subset of itself. No more largest structure pronouncements, please. The matter is settled. Also sprach Zarathustra.
    • We only can only observe part of the universe anyway, right?
    • The universe isn't a structure. By "structure" they mean "gravitationally-bound object". The universe is a conglomeration of objects that are not gravitationally-bound. Phrased another way, a "structure" is governed by a metric which is distinctly non-trivial but which you'd hope would be approximated by a Schwarzschild, whereas the universe as a whole is governed by a Robertson-Walker metric which is as trivial as one can get. Put it another way, a "structure" is virialised, while the universe very much i

  • When they see large structures billions of light years away, then they're also looking back billions of years in time and the universe was a lot smaller then, so they're not really looking at something that large, they're looking at something that was small and has been stretched out subsequently, so these reports of 'large structures' don't make sense.

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