The largest thing ever? That’s quite the claim.
Astronomers have discovered the largest known structure in the universe – a group of quasars so large it would take four billion years to cross it while travelling at speed of light.
The structure is a large quasar group (LQG), a collection of extremely luminous galactic nuclei powered by supermassive central black holes. This particular group is so large that it challenges modern cosmological theory, researchers said.
“Since 1982 it has been known that quasars tend to group together in clumps or ‘structures’ of surprisingly large sizes, forming large quasar groups or LQGs,” the society said.
The discovery in the deep Universe was made by a team led by Roger Clowes at the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute at Britain’s University of Central Lancashire.
“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe,” lead author Roger Clowes said in the statement.
“This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.”
“The structure we found is a few per cent, say 5 per cent, of the size of the observable universe. It becomes hard to say the universe is uniform,” the researcher added.
Clowes’s earlier work in discovering large quasar groups has found structures “that have come close to challenging” the idea of a symmetrical universe. This one hits it out of the celestial ballpark.
Quasars are the brightest objects in the universe. For decades, astronomers have known that they tend to assemble in huge groups, some of which are more than 600 million light-years wide, reports the Fox News.
The newfound LQC is composed of 73 quasars and spans about 1.6 billion light-years in most directions, though it is 4 billion light-years across at its widest point.
This newly discovered large quasar group has a dimension of 500 megaparsecs, each megaparsec measuring 3.3 million light-years.
Because the LQG is elongated, its longest dimension is 1200 megaparsecs, or four billion light-years, the society said.
That size is 1600 times larger than the distance from Earth’s Milky Way to the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda.
It would take a spaceship travelling at the speed of light four thousand million years to get from one end of the cluster to the other.
“This is hugely exciting, not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the Universe.”
“Our team has been looking at similar cases which add further weight to this challenge, and we will be continuing to investigate these fascinating phenomena,” Clowes said.
It does, however, raise the red flag that science has been simplifying that theory by assuming one half of the universe is the same as the other half.
The researchers from the project will publish the remainder of their findings in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.