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NASA Space Science

"Dark Flow" Outside Observable Universe 583

DynaSoar writes "NASA astrophysicists have discovered what they claim is something outside the observable universe exerting an effect on the observable. The material is pulling clusters of galaxies towards a region of space known not to contain sufficient matter to create the effect. They can only speculate on what the material is and how space might differ there: 'In these regions, space-time might be very different, and likely doesn't contain stars and galaxies (which only formed because of the particular density pattern of mass in our bubble). It could include giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe. These structures are what researchers suspect are tugging on the galaxy clusters, causing the dark flow.'"
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"Dark Flow" Outside Observable Universe

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @01:57AM (#25132075)

    We are going to continue to find things that we don't know about, because the Universe goes forever. Let me repeat that, FOREVER. Just because there may be an edge to what we think the Universe is doesn't mean that things just end there. It isn't rocket surgery, it is logic. If the known universe is expanding outward, that means that it has to have someplace to go, right?

    Or am I just high right now?

  • Flimflammery (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MaxwellEdison ( 1368785 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:06AM (#25132119)
    I'm actually pretty excited at this news. Granted, my understanding of astrophysics is limited to Hawking books and guests of George Noory (kidding, kind of). But I look forward to anything that seems to pin down the concept of 'dark matter'.

    Dark matter to me has always smacked of a Victorian Era flimflam artist talking about the aether. And I don't care how dapper Mortimer T. Snerd is dressed, I'm not drinking his dark matter kool-aid until I can get a better explination for it than 'its invisible, supermassive, unobservable, and so totally there'. If you can't explain it to me, the interested layman, you may need to put your theory back in the crucible o' truth. Its probably not done yet.
  • bah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by buswolley ( 591500 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:21AM (#25132195) Journal
    A force you can't detect exerting force?

    The universe is mmuch more complex than the average scientist lets on.

  • Re:bah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MaxwellEdison ( 1368785 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:26AM (#25132233)
    Don't tell anyone, but when contrasting known information against an infinite cosmos...the average scientist is basically as clueless as the rest of us.
  • Re:ermmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:38AM (#25132295) Journal
    You can't see ships past the YOUR horizon, but those ships could certainly see other ships that you can't see that are beyond YOUR horizon, but not theirs.
  • Re:Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:45AM (#25132325) Homepage

    i think it's kinda cool. the idea that there are even more massive structures out there than what's in our observable universe is really quite mind-boggling. but without stars and galaxies i wonder what kind of emergent structures or phenomena could exist beyond our observable bubble.

    i'm guessing it's probably not possible for biological life to form in such a radically different environment, but then again maybe i just lack the imagination to conceive of such possibilities. it seems like within our observable universe for any biological life to evolve it must follow certain patterns dictated by the laws of physics/chemistry. but if space-time in these regions is so different from our observable universe then who knows? our level of consciousness compared to what exists out there might be like comparing an amoeba with a blue whale. even the time scales experienced by other life forms could be drastically different from ours. entire civilizations could spring forth and flicker out of existence all in the blink of an eye.

    but since we can't even observe what is out there maybe this is all pointless speculation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:49AM (#25132337)

    What NASA really meant to say was, "Shit, we just found something else that does not fit our current model of the universe. Lets just make some stuff up and call it a new discovery"

    Maybe this time people will wake up.....probably not. []

  • Re:ermmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dexmachina ( 1341273 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:52AM (#25132353)
    Yes I know, but we can see the galaxies travelling under the effect of this supposed dark flow. If we can see the galaxies being affected by these superstructures, then the light travelling to us from the galaxies which we now see left after the causal influence reached them, which means the causal influence had time to reach /us/. Which means the super structures aren't in the unobservable universe...
  • by calmofthestorm ( 1344385 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:57AM (#25132377)

    Dark + Science = We have no clue what's going on please fund us

    Disclosure: I'm a heavy advocate of funding the sciences and a scientist myself. But seriously guys, just admit it if you don't have a clue;)

    To put it from my freshman chem course:

    If someone talks about:
    Yuan-Teller distortion - 50% chance bullshit
    Second-Order Yuan-Teller distortion - 100% chance bullshit
    Pseudo-Second-Order Yuan-Teller distortion - You are being mocked.

  • by Auckerman ( 223266 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @03:09AM (#25132443)

    To paraphrase David Hume: There is no reason to believe that the laws of physics have always been what they are today at all points in space and at all points in time. While it is well within reason, and quite likely, that the Universe follows neat patterns quite specifically, when one runs into really odd data that doesn't fit into your tidy boxes it might be time to rethink things. Dark matter/flow/energy or whatever the new buzzwords scientists come up with are stop gap measures meant to really say, "we haven't the foggiest idea what's going on, but it doesn't quite add up".

  • Re:Flimflammery (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RichiH ( 749257 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @03:10AM (#25132445) Homepage

    'Can be understood by an interested layman' is definitely the wrong metric for measuring scientific advancement.

    That being said, the aether & dark matter/energy analogy is something I have been thinking about as well. It _does_ feel like a crutch for current theories. Or someone figures out where this stuff hides in the next 24 hours. Who knows :)

  • by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @03:11AM (#25132453)

    If we are observing far-away galaxies being affected by the stuff too far away for us to observe directly, maybe we are observing the stuff outside our bubble indirectly? This visibility can be transitive?

    Also, maybe we can also "observe" the stuff outside our bubble via the effects of "spooky action at a distance"?

  • Re:woot (Score:3, Insightful)

    by calmofthestorm ( 1344385 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @03:16AM (#25132479)


  • I would like to counterpoint that I don't believe in your mind, and this post was never posted. It just was.

  • by The Master Control P ( 655590 ) <ejkeever@nerds[ ] ['hac' in gap]> on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @04:14AM (#25132811)
    Your reasoning is trapped by trying to imagine the universe as some defined boundary expanding. It's the same reasoning that images the Big Bang as an explosion in space.

    The bang wasn't an explosion in spacetime, it was an explosion of spacetime. The expansion of space just means that the metric which measures distance between two points that stay at the same location changes. As time passes, two points which stay at the same location on some hypothetical reference grid will first measure one foot apart, then two, then five, etc. They aren't going anywhere, they're being carried along on space itself.
  • Super.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xelios ( 822510 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @04:26AM (#25132889)
    First we had dark energy, then dark matter, now dark flow. All to try and explain an unexpected effect of something we don't understand. Lets figure out what exactly gravity is and how it really works over large scales, then we can revisit all this "dark" stuff.
  • by ThomsonsPier ( 988872 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @04:55AM (#25132987)

    Anything outside our observable universe cannot affect us without FTL velocities being involved. The observable universe, however, is centred on whatever is doing the observing. Therefore, things we can see from here have their own observable universe and, thus, their own set of stuff by which they can be affected.

    Poor ananlogy: imagine you can see a cat sitting on a street corner. It disappears around the corner because it can see some tuna. You can't see the tuna and are therefore unaffected by it (let's assume that you can't smell it either), but it's apparent to the cat.
  • Re:ermmm... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @04:55AM (#25132991)

    Well, that question seems unanswerable if you are unable to accept 'God' for example. (Note that I am mentioning 'God' here, not any specific ones. Different people have their own beliefs regarding the specifics of 'God' and I don't want to end up in some religion vs religion argument)

    Basically if I accept 'God', then I would also accept that perhaps that God can't be fully understood with our model of science.

    Perhaps God created us with a box around us. Everything we know, can know and will know in the future exists within this box. Of course, this raises the question where, if God is outside the box, then how is it that we know about him?

    I really don't know how to answer that question. I have not thought about it very much.

    But if I were to reject the notion of 'God'. Then it also becomes a case of 'turtles all the way down'.

    It becomes a question of 'who created matter (and anti-matter) ?' . Even if we are able to answer the question, like perhaps 'Due to conditions of X, matter and anti-matter was created', then the question becomes 'so how did condition X happen?'

    Basically you can't really answer anything because if we were to take the position that everything has to be created by something else, then nothing can be created.

    If everything has to be created by something else, then the creator of the created needs a creator as well. That's where you get into 'Turtles all the way down'.

  • Re:Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @05:43AM (#25133221)
    i think life is possible in almost any kind of environment. just look at the so called fragile state of life as we know it - bacteria that thrives in nuclear reactors and in boiling water. from what i've obversed life isn't fragile OR rare, but tough enough to adapt to anything and populating to the extent it seems like a cosmic imperitive.
  • Re:ermmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Headw1nd ( 829599 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @05:57AM (#25133279)
    This is why examples fail. There is no physical "horizon" like there would be on earth, the only "horizon" is time and the speed of light. To try to repair the ships example, the horizon would be expanding away at cannonball speed, thus when you see the first ship hit by a cannonball, you should logically bee able to see the ship that fired it at the same time, if not earlier. Thus if you see a ship hit by a cannonball, and don't see the ship that fired it, you might assume that the cannonball somehow travelled above cannonball speed. Or not, since this example isn't complete: The ocean is also expanding between you and the ships, and betwen the two other ships. To summerize, the naval analogy isn't really optimal for this problem.
  • Re:Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @06:45AM (#25133493) Homepage

    It's contradictory anyway. If we're seeing something influenced by it, then we ARE observing it. That's what observation MEAN.

    If you're "watching" something, you're really interpreting electrical signals generated by your retina in response to chemical reactions triggered by photons, nothing "direct" about it whatsoever.

    So saying we're seeing something being influenced by something outside the observable universe is nonsense.

  • by Thiez ( 1281866 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @06:46AM (#25133495)

    Would you mind explaining why? The big bang theory does not in any way suggest that we are 'special', and it is not in contradiction with any observations as far as I know.

  • Re:ermmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @07:04AM (#25133571)

    Yep you're right, but *I think* they're talking about a different horizon to the one you're thinking of (the summary doesn't make this clear).

    The furthest back we can see is the CMBR, due to the Universe being opaque any earlier on. This opacity creates a horizon at a slightly shorter distance than the horizon you would get due to the fact that light/changes in gravity fields propagate at c.

    The abstract (linked below) mentions that they suspect it is gravitational influences from beyond the CMBR barrier (but before the speed of light barrier) that is producing the effect:

    "... and may be indicative of the tilt exerted across the entire current horizon by far-away pre-inflationary inhomogeneities." ... at least that's how I translate the above.

  • Re:Great! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @07:20AM (#25133667) Homepage

    Humans are insignificant for the terms of the universe, but we at least strive to understand it.

    We haven't yet fully understood the universe, and even if we do it's so large that it's hard to fathom the span of it.

    And did the universe really exist before the big bang or was it created by the big bang? How can one prove something that is hypothetical if we don't have something to measure it against?

    Anyway - it is possible that what attracts matter is nothing more than an inert part of matter - or more specific a black hole that currently is invisible because it has consumed all matter near itself a long time ago.

    The Big Bang wasn't a "perfect" explosion, and if it had been we wouldn't have had the distribution of galaxies that we have - it would have been a cloud of gas. And since we haven't had a perfect explosion it is possible that the black hole was created at a very early stage of our universe.

    But who knows in reality?

  • Dr Seuss science (Score:1, Insightful)

    by noshellswill ( 598066 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @08:28AM (#25134193)
    Must be grant-writing season. Fairy-tales compounding fantasy multiplying speculation. I believe it's dark chocolate not dark matter that attracts medium-scale astronomical structures. That and strawberries ....
  • Here Be Dragons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @08:28AM (#25134201)

    Therefore, claiming that there could be "giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe" just outside this bubble seems somewhat... convenient.

    "giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe" is the new "here be dragons".

  • by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @09:29AM (#25134855)

    First, the region that these clusters are supposedly moving towards are pretty close to being in line with the heart of the Milky Way. What this means is that the attractor object may simply be obscured by our own galaxy.

    It's not just the lack of an attractor object, it's the unusual velocities.

    Second, the motion is not unusually large for superclusters.

    They argue otherwise: "If produced by gravitational instability within the concordance LambdaCDM model, the motion would require the local Universe out to ~ 300h^1 Mpc to be atypical at the level of many standard deviations of the model", and argue that even a 100 km/sec motion due to local gravitation alone would be excluded by observations. I confess that I don't know enough cosmology to understand why. Either you expect smaller motions in the earlier universe or else there are additional constraints at work (they mention having to explain why the dipole is approximately constant with depth). I'd have to do more background reading to understand what's going on here, but the point is that they say they have reason to believe that the motion is unusually large.

    What really bothers me here is the claim that these bodies are still experiencing forces from the long departed rest of the universe.

    I don't think they are. From my reading of the paper, it sounds like this motion is left over from the inflationary phase.

  • Re:Great! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rand Race ( 110288 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @10:06AM (#25135381) Homepage

    ... bacteria that thrives in nuclear reactors and in boiling water.

    Most extremophiles are archaea [] rather than bacteria.

  • Re:Flimflammery (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @10:14AM (#25135497) Homepage

    Modifying gravity doesn't appear to consistently explain all the gravitational behavior we observe.

    In fact, it actually *can't*. Once again, I cite the Bullet Cluster [] and MACS J0025 [] results. As this researcher [] put it, "Nevertheless, the most straightforward interpretation is that there is indeed unseen mass.", and "It does add something new, and that is that whatever that mass is, it is not collisional." Incidentally, his position is that CDM is still not the answer, and that the real solution is a combination of MOND plus some sort of non-interacting mass (eg, WIMPs). But given whatever is there is a) invisible, and b) collisionless, that proves that there's *something* out there that qualifies as dark matter, even if you're unwilling to believe that it is the sole explanation for the missing mass problem.

    In summary: for those of you complaining that dark matter resembles aether: you're wrong. It exists. It's existence has been demonstrated in real results. No one credible is denying this fact any longer.

  • Re:Great! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BraksDad ( 963908 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @11:05AM (#25136319)

    If God did create the universe he must exist beyond that universe and thus even bigger than the universe.

    Religion would thus make you feel even smaller.

    WOW, I am quite spiritual, I feel even smaller than you.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @11:21AM (#25136597) Journal
    Yes, it would. Gravity works at lightspeed also, so any gravitic effect on an observable object must be detectable at the observer, making the influencing object "observable".

    Well, let's set aside for a moment the fact that we have not yet measured the speed of gravity accurately enough to tell if it is equal, above, or below the speed of light. We'll just assume it's equal.

    Now that I've given it some post coffee thought, you are, of course, correct. My error was that I was considering the light cones of transmitting influence both from the "unobservable" object, and from Earth. I was looking at the wrong half of the light cone.
  • Re:bah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @02:24PM (#25139885)

    Absolutely wrong. [...] A in philosophy, F in science.

    And PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. Science is examined at the philosophical level by those at the top, and they recognize that
    ( scientist~=layman <= Total Possible Knowledge )
    if they earned their Doctorates the hard way.

  • Re:bah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by earlymon ( 1116185 ) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @06:05PM (#25143785) Homepage Journal

    Decades ago, university courses tying beliefs to science were given - I seem to recall one relating Zen Buddhism to physics.

    I think it's altruistic to believe that science is examined at the philosophical level by those at the top unless you could be more specific. I hobnob with a large number of Ph.D.s, majority physicists, definitely from best schools, definitely came up the hard way. Of those, and admittedly speaking from my experiences - but maintaining that is direct experience - the ones that map philosophical beliefs to science are in the minority.

    {soapbox}Extending to theosophy (adding religious beliefs to the philosophy and science soup) I personally opine that Hawking's, Galileo's, Newton's, and Einstein's formative thinking were adversely affected by philosophical contaminants. Taking the argument to the absurd to make the point (and substituting << as in much less than for your <= as in less than or equal to) relating to Total Possible Knowledge..... what scientist? what layman? computer scientist ~= astrology-or-creationist-believing layman << Total Possible Knowledge?? Yes, A << C and B << C making A and B somewhat analogous, but this doesn't make A ~= B.{/soapbox}

    I hear that there's a tombstone in Germany, and accepting this as fact, it's inscription is one of my favorites: "Now I know more than the wisest among you." This is a stunning and crystal clear truth for all things metaphysical.

    Some people want to study physics or cosmology to understand the mind of God, or the meaning of existence. I wish them best luck, as I was once one of them, and now believe that the grave will give the answer - (linear) time abides all. For that subset, you can argue your A~=B<=C case (no disrespect, but I prefer to save on typing), but you're really not arguing to cosmology.

    For those in group A that are interested in physical law for its own sake - to say that those in group A, who have worked their asses (and brains) off most all of their lives are equivalent in knowledge to those who have not, is simply not true. I'd have to allow the degrees of freedom that transmutes knowledge as wisdom or all knowledges as equivalent or transmute the properties of the equality (to political or existential equivalent or to equivalently ignorant for sufficiently large values of C (and given that C is by your definition, very significantly large)) to agree otherwise.

    Your A~=B<=C argument isn't at all new. In fact, it's very medieval. I don't much subscribe to it - just as I don't do well with angels dancing on pins, either, as it's the same discussion.

    I wasn't trolling anyone, and wasn't intending to waste bandwidth with my original post - I was just laying down a little dry humor and trying to open the door for membrane theory. If you look at the poster I'd responded to, and postulate (correctly) that I'd read his/her previous post and postulate that my reply was friendly (geez - my wife's friends are built, and there was an invitation to a pub there!) then maybe the context of what I'd written might seem different.

    However - your reply stand on its own merit, as I hope this one does for you.

    My instincts tell me that dark matter is a growth industry in physics and any truth in the matter may be long coming until the wheat is separated from the chaff. Is there a force in a true vacuum? A lot of the chaff came from Einstein's addition of a cosmological constant (added for religious/philosophical reasons - my theory says the universe is not steady state, I *know* it is steady state, I hereby add a cosmological constant to make it so) and others refuting Einstein when he said such a constant was his biggest blunder (no, Albert had the right idea, wrong constant!), sprinkle in calculation error regarding vacuum energy (i.e., dark energy), and there you are. Now comes the topic at hand, and my only point was - do we know the framework for the hypothesis in the article? Do we know the bent of those involved? Are they accepting strings as a corollary to membrane collision and positing spacetime laws in that regard?

    I'd like to know more. For all effects and purposes, I'm as clueless as a lay, man.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson