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Scientists make huge discovery – that 'challenges our understanding of the universe'

Scientists have discovered a huge ring-shaped structure in outer space – and it’s so big that it challenges our current understanding of the universe.

Dubbed the Big Ring, the ultra-large structure has a diameter of 1.3 billion light-years and a circumference of 4 billion light-years, making it roughly 15 times the size of the Moon, as seen in the night sky from Earth.

The structure is made up of galaxies and galaxy clusters and is the second of such a huge size to be identified by Alexia Lopez, a British PhD student.

She also found the Giant Arc – a structure spanning 3.3 billion light-years – three years ago.

Ms Lopez, who studies at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “Neither of these two ultra-large structures is easy to explain in our current understanding of the universe.

“And their ultra-large sizes, distinctive shapes, and cosmological proximity must surely be telling us something important – but what exactly?”

The findings, presented by Ms Lopez at the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), appear to challenge a key cosmological principle which states that on a large scale, the universe should look roughly the same everywhere.

Undated handout graphic issued by the University of Central Lancashire of what has been dubbed the Big Ring which is made up of galaxies and galaxy clusters seen in the centre of the image Pic: Stellarium/University of Central Lancashire/PA Wire
The Big Ring is made up of galaxies and galaxy clusters seen in the centre of this image. Pic: Stellarium/University of Central Lancashire/PA Wire

The general consensus is that large structures in the universe are formed through a process known as gravitational instability.

This process has a size limit of approximately 1.2 billion light-years as anything larger would not have had enough time to form.

Ms Lopez said: “Both of these structures are much larger – the Giant Arc is almost three times bigger and the Big Ring’s circumference is comparable to the Giant Arc’s length.

“From current cosmological theories, we didn’t think structures on this scale were possible.”

The data being analysed is “so far away that it has taken half the universe’s life to get to us,” she added.

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Large structures have also been discovered by other cosmologists.

The biggest single entity scientists have identified is a supercluster of galaxies – the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall – which is roughly 10 billion light-years wide.

The Big Ring appears as an almost perfect circle in the sky, but Ms Lopez’s analysis suggests it has more of a corkscrew shape with its face aligned with Earth.


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