Scientists confirm existence of largest 'structure' ever found -- a supervoid

Story highlights

  • The supervoid, with far fewer galaxies than normal, is 1.8 billion light years across
  • The confirmation serves to bolster standard models of physics
  • Scientists had known of a cold spot in space since 2004

(CNN)Scientists have confirmed the existence of what one said might be "the largest individual structure ever found by humanity" -- a supervoid in space with far fewer galaxies than is usual.

The confirmation shows that traditional models of physics can explain what has long been known to be a cold spot in space, and "exotic, non-standard models" do not have to be invented, said Edward Bloomer, an astronomer with the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in London. Bloomer was not involved in the recent research.
"The universe does seem to work the way our model says it does," Bloomer told CNN.

    Cold spot in space

    Scientists had been aware since 2004 of a cold spot in space but were uncertain how to explain it. At least part of the explanation appears to be that light, which takes hundreds of millions of years to pass through the supervoid, loses some of its energy in the process.
    The new study was carried out by a team of astronomers led by Istvan Szapudi of the Institute for Astronomy of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The results were published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It was Szapudi who said the void might be the largest structure ever discovered by mankind.
    "Using data from Hawaii's Pan-STARRS1 (PS1) telescope located on Haleakala, Maui, and NASA's Wide Field Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite, Szapudi's team discovered a large supervoid, a vast region 1.8 billion light-years across, in which the density of galaxies is much lower than usual in the known universe," the article says.

    Supervoid formed by accelerating expansion of universe

    Asked whether a void -- or semi-void -- could be called a structure, Bloomer compared it to finding the largest cave in the world or perhaps the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a void in a way, but what formed it is still interesting, he said.
    What formed the supervoid, he said, was the accelerating expansion of the universe.
    Bloomer acknowledged that the findings are theoretical rather than practical.
    "It's not going to change what you're up to next week or next month," he said. Instead, the new study serves to fill in the gaps in our understanding of physics, he said.