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Illustration of the most distant quasar yet found -- for space pictures gallery

A quasar jets energy in an illustration. A newfound quasar cluster is the universe's biggest known object.

Illustration courtesy M. Kornmesser, ESO

Andrew Fazekas

for National Geographic News

Published January 11, 2013

Talk about a whopper—astronomers have discovered a structure in the universe so large that modern cosmological theory says it should not exist, a new study says. (Also see "Giant 'Blob' Is Largest Thing in Universe [2006].")

Using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an international team of researchers has discovered a record-breaking cluster of quasars—young active galaxies—stretching four billion light-years across.

"This discovery was very much a surprise, since it does break the cosmological record as the largest structure in the known universe," said study leader Roger Clowes, an astronomer at University of Central Lancashire in England.

For comparison, our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is just a hundred thousand light-years across, while the local supercluster of galaxies in which it's located, the Virgo Cluster, is only a hundred million light-years wide.

Giant Quasar a Head-Scratcher

Astronomers have known for years that quasars can form immense clusters that stretch to more than 700 million light-years across, said Clowes. But the epic size of this group of 73 quasars, sitting about 9 billion light-years away, has left them scratching their heads.

That's because current astrophysical models appear to show that the upper size limit for cosmic structures should be no more than 1.2 billion light-years.

"So this represents a challenge to our current understanding and now creates a mystery—rather than solves one," Clowes said. (Also see "Dark Galaxies Discovered—May Be Cosmic 'Missing Links.'")

The titanic structure, known simply as the Large Quasar Group (LQG), also appears to break the rules of a widely accepted cosmological principle, which  says that the universe would look pretty much uniform when observed at the largest scales.

"It could mean that our mathematical description of the universe has been oversimplified—and that would represent a serious difficulty and a serious increase in complexity," Clowes said.

Decoding Early-Galaxy Evolution

Significant not only for its record-breaking size, the massive structure could possibly shed light on the evolution of galaxies like our own Milky Way. Quasars, which pump out powerful jets of energy, are among the brightest and most energetic objects from when the universe was still young. They represent an early, but brief, stage in the evolution of most galaxies. (See "Earliest Known Galaxies Spied in Deep Hubble Picture.")

One theory holds that this type of colossal collection of quasars may be precursors to galaxy superclusters in the modern universe—but the exact nature of their connection is still a mystery.

The discovery, a prime target for computer modeling, also needs to be mapped out more thoroughly with telescopes, said Gerard Williger, an astronomer at the University of Louisville in Kentucky not connected with the study.

"This structure is bigger than we expect based on the shockwaves formed in the universe after the big bang," said Williger.

"There is very likely some mechanism [that] is turning on quasars over a large scale like this—and in a short time—which could relate to some condition in the early universe."

Th quasar study was published this week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

86 comments
John Ford
John Ford

Ok my name is john and cosmology is my passion. I have an interesting insight of a theory to explain not only quasars but black holes as well. In laimence terms black holes gravitational pull is so enormous that all matter even light is sucked in and can't escape. In theory black holes are often referred to as wormholes to different dimensions or universes. It's known that their gravity warps time nd space. I believe that quasars are the receiving end of these "wormholes" emitting light matter energy and dark matter from virtually know where. Could they be connected to a black hole in the neighboring dimension or even from across our own universe. If there are other universes in other dimensions then most problematically they have black holes as well as quasars. Could it be they are all linked nd forever intertwined in a undetectable complex " tunnel" system linking universe to universe or dimension to dimension or even from across great distances of our own universe. If anyone finds this theory intriguing or infeasable please reply with your facts or opinions would love to here them!!!}

S. Somsoda
S. Somsoda

Does size matter? The Universe is large. You would expect to find something big in it. This finding kind of kills the big bang theory. An explosion would not create such uniform and symmetrical shapes. The most intriguing thing is they are group together as to perform a galactic function in the cosmos. Such organization, design, and purpose is not the result of a big bang or chance. A divine intelligence is at work here. The best has yet to be revealed. 


Why are we still using light speed as a distance reference? There are other waves that travel much faster and permeates through matter.  

Catalin Profir
Catalin Profir

2000 years ago God came on earth and spoke about all. Why people hate from their inside being , the stealings , the killings , the fornication , the lyings...There can not be GOOD life with those . Yet some may sin and live very nice with them... But what would you say when these things may happen to your beloved precious friend or girlfriend??? You wouldnt accept it no? Yet through these commendments you just live..with no pain in heart , you even feel thankful if bad things may happen if you're hated for respecting them . All writes and things w/o God talk just normally. Bible speaks from the heart... universe its just normal physics .. from wich only normal things would born from normal physics . If you kick a doberman with your leg , won't he bite you probably? if you kill a boy , won't his father hate you and try to kill you back??God had smashed that normallity . Many have killed God's love by ignoring His son... His Messiah was the only one that have said : Love your enemies...do not be agains the ones that want to harm you..pray for them...do not answer evil with evil.. after this life there is another one , either at God , either at His enemys... Be good. Belive in Jesus. Pray . Read the New Testment/Old too . Save yourself from this evil world..Sin no more. Repent and belive in Jesus and the 4 Gospels . Amen...

Owen M.
Owen M.

aint that a smack in the face for astronomers

atala damodar
atala damodar

Is space/universe finite or infinite...all galaxies, quasars countable, i mean their number is finite or infinite?

Faisal M
Faisal M

Hi, I am a newbie to cosmology. But I have great interest in it. I am but puzzled with many terms/jargon that appear in any space/cosmology writing. Can somebody give me some link(s) where I can understand things at a simpler or novice level but with an overall understanding? Thanks. Appreciate your help.

Santanu Ghose
Santanu Ghose

Reminds me of Tagore's song-words:

King of kings dressed in what spelndour have You come into the throne-room of my heart?
Under Your feet a million moons and suns fall and die in shame.

King of kings dressed in what spelndour have You come into the throne-room of my heart? Under Your feet a million moons and suns fall and die in shame.

Prides, all my prides, breakdown, breakdown and faint and fall...... King of kings dressed in what spelndour have you come into the throne-room of my heart?

Guess guys How BIG is our GOD?


Reminds me of Tagore's song-words:

King of kings dressed in what spelndour have You come into the throne-room of my heart?
Under Your feet a million moons and suns fall and die in shame.

King of kings dressed in what spelndour have You come into the throne-room of my heart? Under Your feet a million moons and suns fall and die in shame.

Prides, all my prides, breakdown, breakdown and faint and fall...... King of kings dressed in what spelndour have you come into the throne-room of my heart?

Guess guys How BIG is our GOD?


 

Devin Standish
Devin Standish

Well, according to the most recent theory I'm aware of, the universe first existed in 10+1 dimensions (10 spatial and 1 time). It was in false vacuum, which then decayed. The other 7 spatial dimensions collapsed into themselves, smaller than a Planck Length. During the very early period of the Big Bang, there was a brief inflationary period where the universe itself expanded faster than the speed of light for a miniscule fraction of a second. We knew from WMAP that the background radiation of our universe was not as homogenous as it was previously thought to be.

Would it not be possible that the early inflationary period was inflation as viewed from within our universe, but a pull when viewed from outside? The collapse of the other 7 spatial dimensions could have skewed that inflation, leading to a greater density of matter in one region of our budding universe. As our knowledge of galaxies shows us, supermassive black holes are not all that anomalous. Where higher concentrations of matter are should surely have more of them as well, and a quasar is simply a supermassive black hole consuming matter.

Could the LQG simply be the result of a skewed inflationary period from the early formation of our universe resulting in an enormous collection of matter unable to escape itself?

Simon Venaglia
Simon Venaglia

If anyone thinks that a mathematician is unintelligent I'd love to see you say it to the face of a eg rocket scientist.

Simon Venaglia
Simon Venaglia

The fact is, where there is mathematics there has to be intelligence, what a very intelligent person created that! 

Warren Gilchrist
Warren Gilchrist

Could it be that even our cosmological scientific viewpoint is anthropocentric to the extent that we overlook the possibility that the cosmos is infinite and that individual "Big Bangs" could occur, that there is no single beginning to the universe.  Do all of the calculations of expansion indicate a single point of origin?

Elizabeth J.
Elizabeth J.

Well said @Bond, if you mean religious ignorance, even though I do realize there's an awful lot of scientific ignorance. But since I'm not extremely scientifically knowledgeable, I can't really comment on that.  I love science -- all kinds -- and the reason I love it is because I believe in the One who created it all.  I love to watch science programs, even those that don't give God the credit, because I love learning.  I have great admiration for scientists.  I just know that one day they will learn the truth, and hopefully, they will be believers so that when they learn the truth, they will already be in heaven, instead of in hell.  Even a scientist who doesn't believe that God created everything, can become a believer and still believe in his science.  I just hope that believing in God will enable him to have a greater understanding -- and appreciation -- for all the miracles that his science has uncovered.  Besides, you don't HAVE to believe that God created everything to enjoy learning all about the universe.

Bond Bond
Bond Bond

I would argue that LQG is not the largest thing in the known universe.  The largest thing is the volume of ignorance (VOI) that abounds on this planet.

Bond Bond
Bond Bond

I would argue that LQG is not the largest thing in the known universe.  The largest thing is the volume of ignorance (VOI) that abounds on this planet.

Elizabeth J.
Elizabeth J.

It amazes ME to see how many people refuse to believe that the universe and all there is in it was created by GOD.  You say the "big bang".  What actually IS the "big bang" is the result of what happened when God SPOKE the universe into being.  No one has yet been able to explain how ANYTHING, in the universe or on Earth, really began.  There's an awful lot that we don't understand, and can't understand, until God deems it so.  One day, we WILL know everything --- all mysteries will be revealed, all questions will be answered.  Until then, we should just have faith that He has everything under control.  We should marvel at the universe and its planets and stars, and shake our heads, saying "What an imagination God has!!!"  Nothing begets nothing!  His hand is in everything. Without Him, nothing would BE.  Once you accept that truth, you can look at everything around you with fresh wonder and awe at His marvelous imagination.  How grateful I am that HE IS!

Bill Kearns
Bill Kearns

"Objects in the rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear."

Cory Kendall
Cory Kendall

Considering that, I believe that it is wrong to say a structure that we know so little about evolved. Modern science assumes too much for knowing so little.

Cory Kendall
Cory Kendall

I believe that the problem with this is the basic idea that the structure evolved over billions of years. also, the problem encompasses the basic idea of stellar evolution being a very misinterpreted theory.

Clifford Sanders
Clifford Sanders

The problem with all these ideas and speculation is that they all  miss the single point that Jesus rose from the dead. None other name is given unto men whereby we must be saved. Without a risen Savior there is no hope.

Andrew Planet
Andrew Planet

I'd really like to know if the high energy jets produced by quasars can coalesce into matter as they cool, slowing during their trajectory, therefore create stars and eventually, once these have died and recycled, planet producing stellar systems? If there are many quasars grouping together with high energy jets produced these would indeed diffuse into space that is less occupied with energy and matter.  Could the Big Bang be the result of a group of quasars and their high energy jets coalescing into the universe we now live in?

iam he
iam he

The cosmos is evolving to realize all of it's possibilities, to become the greatest it can become...

David Steele
David Steele

Maybe some other "Force" as yet 'Unseen and Unrecorded' by humanity, that moves faster than light?  

David Steele
David Steele

Always the "Big Bang"!  Maybe Black Holes recycle matter into say basic particles, and the universe then self perpetuates infinitum?

Tulio Janniere
Tulio Janniere

They are measuring its sized based on it distance from us.  Isn't red shift unreliable?  Hence, it may be smaller and closer than they think!

respawnd life
respawnd life

Foolishness. Truth is immutable. Nomads in a desert cannot redefine it. Scientists in the lab can only theorize it. The truth has never changed. It is not relative to any situation. The speed of light is not constant and the universe is actually a multiverse. My rambling is white noise in infinity. There is only one purpose in life and that is to seek the truth to be free of man's artificial constraints.

Margaret C.
Margaret C.

It is good to be humbled at least once in awhile.

Faith SleevesPhotography
Faith SleevesPhotography

why do we put a limit on how big things can be? this is space...and there is...well a lot of space in space :P

Bah Don Tmain
Bah Don Tmain

@John Ford What if, we are actually living in a black hole?

Clarke Vennerbeck
Clarke Vennerbeck

@Warren Gilchrist I would certainly say that discoveries such as this are crucial to further understanding of things as we know them. Without a desire to understand, we begin to think we have already understood, and in feeling as though we have understood, we are poised to be knocked off of our feet by the next discovery in our path. Thus, because of the possibility that any thing at all can exist that we have not yet seen, I would be careful to conclude that any of our current knowledge could be used to play with the existence of things we have not yet come close to discovering. 

In other words, possibilities are as infinite as the degree to which we will observe their variability.

In other words: we have no choice but to overlook some possibilities, and to accept others. Such is the device of human faith that only assumes what it has observed still remains true (in this case, the Big Bang), in no case able to fully know whether or not something continues unchanging in the future, allowing the possibility for just about anything at all to pop up anywhere, Warren. 

The only cure for something this chaotic is to put it under the authority of something all-powerful and wiling to control. In this place sits our God as you and I have come to find necessary for avoiding a madness of eternal confirmation in things we thought we already knew.

Elizabeth J.
Elizabeth J.

Well, Neal, I guess I'm not smart enough to see the relevance! I read the book's synopsis and I fail to understand how the journey of the two heroes in the story compares to the comments about God creating the universe.  I guess one would have to read the whole book to get it, but would you consider giving us a brief explanation of why you think it's relevant to our comments?  Many thanks!

Rainbow Beast
Rainbow Beast

@Elizabeth J. What does anything you said have to do with the discovery mentioned in the article? As far as I can tell, the article isn't concerning religion. And also, do you go to the doctor? Because the first pioneers in medicine didn't just sit back and "marvel at the universe" and wait for "God" to reveal "all mysteries" as you said. If it weren't for them, you would have had less chances of surviving until your current age, unless you tell me you're never gotten any shots. So it's nice that you have a religion, and you believe in a god, but what's the point of your statement? Do you, taking in consideration that medical doctors depend on scientific research, want scientists to stop studying the universe and sit around waiting for "God" to give them all the answers?

Tony Iallonardo
Tony Iallonardo

@Cory Kendall Yeah Hi, .... Mmmmm ... Yes, clearly this structure evolved over perhaps some 3 or 4 billion years, as we are seeing it as  it was 9 Billion years ago. The Universe wasn't really cranking out a lot of largish cluster groups for some 2 or 3 Billion years after the BB. It is likely that this large structure evolved from some of the largest concentrations of matter inferred from the CMB (WMAP) at roughly 380,000 yrs after the BB. There is nothing in this article that suggests anything otherwise ... so no problem. And from a purely scientific viewpoint, stellar evolution is very well understood, as is nucleo-synthesis ... again, no problem.

Blake Grubb
Blake Grubb

@Clifford Sanders to put it bluntly god either doesnt exist doesnt care or is long dead and if someone at any point in history where to rise from the grave they would be called a zombie demon or my favorite and closest to what the bible says a vampire (eat of my flesh, drink of my blood?) and what does that have to do with the known universe? nothing so why the hell would you post it here you ignorant sheep

Gaylon Arnold
Gaylon Arnold

@Khedira Khedira Thank you to Arab scholars who invented the numeral system, and preserved ancient knowledge.  Please don't try to reinterpret ancient writings to fit modern science. That's not science.

w brown
w brown

@Khedira Khedira what a load of religious crasp as usual, it never ceases to amaze me what all you people claim about our universe, give us a break

M. Waters
M. Waters

@Faith SleevesPhotography The dependence on mathematical constructs have led astrophysicists to believe things that when observed simply are not true.  I say get away from the chalk boards and look up!

Brian Childers
Brian Childers

@Blake Grubb @Clifford Sanders God does not interfere in a Free Will Universe. As for ignorant sheep, I find the most ignorant among us need to denigrate others to feel superior... Good luck with that.

iam he
iam he

@Gaylon Arnold @Khedira Khedira 

Arabs also gave us the first government with a department of conscience, a department that has preemptive veto power over all that government does and who can run for elected office.

Niville Nicholas
Niville Nicholas

@Rainbow Beast @Elizabeth J. Well, I agree with her, but before you begin to bash us for bringing God into this, first understand that, no one is saying we should just sit and wait for God to give us all the answers. We should be inquisitive and search for a better understanding of things, however with such small life expectancy, we cant possibly discern all things we would like to know in our lifetime So through faith we hope that when we get to heaven, yes heaven he will unravel the mysteries of the universe to us.

Rainbow Beast
Rainbow Beast

@Brian Childers @Blake Grubb @Clifford Sanders

Clifford, you're right. They're also missing that Buddha reached nirvana, Mohammed's teachings, that Brahma is in everything, etc. Your point is? What do your religious views have to do with a scientific theory? It's like someone is saying "Hm I can't figure out with apple pie recipe," and you're responding, "That's because you're missing the point that Jesus rose from the dead!!!" Sound a little fanatic? Maybe. Jesus is beside the point. (He wasn't an astronomer, he was a carpenter.)


Blake, arguing your beliefs to Clifford is just as obnoxious as him arguing his beliefs to us. Let him believe whatever he wants about a god. You're right about his comment being irrelevant, but your point got lost when you attacked him (i.e. ignorant sheep).


I'm not going to address Brian, because he's right about the ignorant people. Look at all the homosexuals who get denigrated by religious people. :P (I couldn't help myself.)

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