Astronomer Discovers Universe-Defying Megastructure So Mind-Bogglingly Big It Shouldn’t Exist

hero cosmic ring
The discovery of a second universe-defying megastructure in the remote universe is making astronomers rethink some of the basic assumptions about cosmology. The Big Ring is the second of these ultra-large structures to be found by PhD student Alexia Lopez.

The Big Ring is located 9.2 billion light-years from Earth, and has a circumference of about 4 billion light-years. To put it into perspective of being on Earth and looking toward the night sky, it would encompass about 15 full moons. Lopez also discovered the first ultra-large structure two years ago, called the Giant Arc, which is 3.3 billion light-years across, and seen at the same distance as the Big Ring, at the same cosmic time, and are only 12 degrees apart on the sky.

Lopez, a University of Central Lancashire PhD student, explained, “Neither of these two ultra-large structures is easy to explain in our current understanding of the universe.” She added, “And their ultra-large sizes, distinctive shapes, and cosmological proximity must surely be telling us something important - but what exactly?”

phd student alexia lopez
PhD student Alexia Lopez

One possibility Lopez suggests is that the Big Ring could be related to Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations (BAOs). Lopez explains that these arise from oscillations in the early universe and today should appear as spherical shells in the arrangement of galaxies. The problem, however, is that detailed analysis of the Big Ring shows it as not being compatible with the BAO suggestion. It is simply too large and not spherical, according to Lopez.

One of the other possibilities presented by Lopez is that it might be caused by the effect of cosmic strings passing through. Nobel-prize winner, Jim Peebles, recently hypothesized that these cosmic strings could play a role in the origin of some other “peculiarities in the large-scale distribution of galaxies.” Another possibility comes from another Nobel-prize winner, Sir Roger Penrose, which is known as Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (CCC), as rings in the universe could be a signal of CCC.

“The Cosmological Principle assumes that the part of the universe we can see is viewed as a ‘fair sample’ of what we expect the rest of the universe to be like,” Lopez explains. “We expect matter to be evenly distributed everywhere in space when we view the universe on a large scale, so there should be no noticeable irregularities above a certain size.”

According to Lopez, current cosmological theories do not account for structures as large as the Giant Arc and Big Ring. She says that one large structure might be expected in all the observable universe, but two are “extraordinarily fascinating.”

Lopez presented her findings on the Big Ring at the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society.