Astronomers have discovered the biggest known structure in the universe, and it turns out it’s a hole.
This is surprising information to many of us who thought that a hole usually constituted a gap, with a distinct lack of any structure. But there you go.
In any case, it’s an incredibly big hole (as you might expect of the biggest known structure in the universe), even bigger than the hole in the wall between our lounge room and bedroom in our previous house, and you could put your fist right through that one.
This newly discovered hole is 1.8 billion light years across, and is “distinguished by its unusual emptiness.”
Our reporter is on the scene now, talking with the hole.
R: Wow, man, you really are LARGE. I’d even say gargantuan. I can’t see the other side of you from here. If I tried to, I’d die about a gazillion years before I got there. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you get to be so big?
H: Hey, dude, that is a bit hurtful. You know, I don’t get to talk to many people, and I start thinking it’s because I’m lonely that I feel this unusual emptiness. Then someone like you comes along with your judgemental comments and I remember why I prefer to be alone in the first place. It’s a real bummer always being talked about in terms of your size. Lay off. I have plenty of other good qualities.
Pic: The Guardian/ESA and the Planck Collaboration
The existence of the
large hole was discovered as a result of a targeted astronomical survey, which confirmed that around 10,000 galaxies were missing from the part of the sky where the hole is.
(I’m not a scientist, but I think it’s stating the obvious when I say that if 10,000 galaxies are missing from exactly the spot where there is a gaping big hole, clearly they’ve all fallen out and you’ve lost them all, and it’s your own fault for not sewing up the hole before it got any bigger and you lost all your galaxies.)
Questionnaires sent out to the millions of galaxies in that neighborhood had a surprisingly good response rate, but it became noticeable that none of the 10,000 galaxies within a particular radius had sent back a response. Extra time was allowed, in case they had used Australia Post.
Finally, however, the deadline was reached, and still not a single response was received from the area in question. When surveys from the other galaxies were collated and the data was analysed, scientists’ fears were confirmed: a recurring response from dwellers on nearby galaxies was, “where have the 10,000 galaxies just past the next solar system disappeared to? We just had them over for a barbecue a fortnight ago – now all I can see is a dark patch of nothing where they lived.”
Now as it happens, the scientists who sent out the survey had been hoping to come across a large void, because previous research had revealed that the sky was unusually cool in that region.
The so-called Cold Spot was discovered in the last decade. It was named when an astronaut on a passing space shuttle felt a chill run down her spine, and remarked “Wow, that is a really cold spot!” Ever since then, scientists working on modelling of the expansion of the universe have shaken their fists at that pesky Cold Spot, because it disproves current theories about how the universe has evolved following the Big Bang. The Big Bang was named when….oh, never mind.
The Cold Spot has created controversy within scientific circles. As Prof ____, a cosmologist at the University of Durham, said: “The Cold Spot raised a lot of eyebrows.”
(A note to our readers: in some parts of society, if you are upset you throw a hissy fit, trashing your dressing room and refuse to go on stage even though your promoter is begging you to. In the scientific world, they raise their eyebrows.)
Of course, the main reason so many eyebrows were being raised was because scientists had previously determined that the coldest spot in the universe was in the refrigerator section at an IGA supermarket. This has been taught in the science curriculum at secondary schools for years, which is why everyone knows to take a coat when shopping at IGA. So it was a shock to the scientific community, the wider public, and the skinnier members of the public, to discover that there was a larger, colder, (and unusually empty) cold spot somewhere else in the universe.
H: Hey, I have to admit I kinda like being called The Cold Spot. It’s better than being referred to as a Hole. From now on I’ll be know as The Cold Spot, or Mr Cold Spot.
R: OK….um…look, I’m sorry Mr Cold Spot, man. Forget I said anything about your size. What I’m more interested in is how it feels to be the coldest spot in the universe. I mean, I’ve shopped at IGA in winter time, and brrrr, that place is cold. While we’re on that topic…..I’m kinda curious as to where those other 10,000 galaxies have gone. It’s kinda fishy that they’ve all gone and disappeared, and meanwhile, you are so large…..did you eat them to keep warm?
CS: Wow, that’s really heavy, dude. You are really starting to freak me out. First I’m unusually empty, then I’m incredibly large, then I’m unusually cool, now I’m almost a cannibal. I had no idea this was what people were saying about me. If it’s cold around here, it’s probably because the Sun is a vindictive bugger and we had an argument a while back – I guess it’s payback. And to answer your other question, no, I don’t know where the galaxies have gone, and no, I didn’t eat them! As if. I’m on the paleolithic diet.
The supervoid is not an actual vacuum, but has about 20% less stuff in it than any typical region of the universe. “Supervoids are not entirely empty, they’re under-dense,” said Prof ____, a co-author at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.
CS: Is he talking about me – a Supervoid? That sounds pretty cool, like I’m the void that saves all the other voids in the universe. From now on I think Ill be known as Supervoid.
R: Ok…..Mr….er…Supervoid…..so anyway, Hoover asked me to see if you’d be interested in some kind of advertising deal. Look, of course they know you’re not an actual vacuum because obvs you’re way too large to fit inside anyone’s broom cupboard….but they think there’s potential for some kinda cool advertising gimmick given how you suck energy out of light as it passes through you.
S: What? Yeah, whatever…..just wait a minute…….I’m still trying to process that last information. So I’m not completely empty after all? That seems like a good thing, right? But then that dude said that I’m under-dense. What does that even mean? I must be too dense to know. Wow… I don’t know if it’s because I’m under-dense, but I can’t tell if you people are trying to bring me down, or if you’re on my side.
Poor Mr Cold Spot. He now knows how it feels to be a victim of the paparazzi. In a matter of days, (*Earth time) he has been described in the media as everything from “The greatest supervoid ever discovered,” and “the Everest of voids” to “an empty spherical blob.” It seems that even an incredibly big hole struggles to maintain its credibility in the fickle world of scientific journalism.
We hope that this article will help to provide some balance, by giving a voice to the supervoids.
*We contacted IGA Supermarkets for comment. A spokesperson said that they had never set out deliberately to be the coldest spot in the universe but they just couldn’t get the hang of how to work the store thermostat. He said it was a relief to hear that a colder spot had been discovered and he wished The Cold Spot all the best.
This post was inspired by the words and phrases used in an article in the Guardian about the discovery of the incredibly large hole. You may be excused for thinking that the post was just me taking a flight of fantasy – ok it is, but it’s peppered with entire words/phrases/descriptions lifted from the Guardian article, possibly some that you will think I invented.