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Fascinating ‘Big Ring’ of Galaxies Challenges Cosmologists’ Conception of the Universe

A fascinating mega-structure of galaxies was discovered by Alexia Lopez, a PhD student of the University of Central-Lancashire. It has been dubbed the “Big Ring in the Sky.” This is the second of Lopez’s discoveries as an astrophysicist, following her discovery of the so-called “Giant Arc,” which spans an impressive 3.3 billion light years. Both were discovered using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Laboratory.

With a circumference of approximately 4 billion light years, and a diameter of 1.3 billion light years, the Big Ring joins the Giant Arc in defying the basic axioms which govern our understanding of the universe. One such axiom is the Cosmological Principle, a fundamental idea in cosmology that assumes, on a large scale, that the universe is both homogeneous and isotropic. This means that matter is evenly distributed throughout all directions of the universe.

According to the Cosmological Principle, large-scale structures begin to even out around 1.2 billion light years. The Big Ring and the Giant Arc defy this assumption, but they aren’t the only structures which have puzzled scientists. Giant walls of galaxies, such as the Sloan Great Wall, which measures roughly 1.37 billion light years in length, is another anomaly yet to be explained.

According to Lopez, the Big Ring and the Giant Arc are the same distance from Earth, about 9.2 billion light years away, and are near the constellation of Boötes the Herdsman, meaning they “existed at the same cosmic time when the universe was only half of its present age.” When observing the night sky, they only exist 12° apart from one another.

Lopez adds, “Identifying two extraordinary ultra-large structures in such close configuration raises the possibility that together they form an even more extraordinary cosmological system.”

Lopez presented her findings to the American Astronomical Society on Jan. 10 among a group of distinguished researchers, astronomers, and professors.