Astronomers Discover the Biggest Object in the Universe

Astronomers Discover the Biggest Object in the Universe

universe-wb_1024Astronomers have recently announced the discovery of the BOSS Great Wall, a group of superclusters that span roughly 1 billion light-years across and represents the largest structure ever found in space. The BOSS is named after the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey—an international effort to map galaxies and quasars in the early universe—and is like cosmic webbing. This wall is made up of 830 separate galaxies lying roughly 4.5 to 6.5 billion light-years away from Earth, that gravity has corralled into four superclusters, connected by massive filaments of hot gas. This creates a twisting structure that resembles a cosmic honeycomb.

According to Joshua Sokol at New Scientist, the megastructure discovered by a team from the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics has a mass 10,000 times greater than the Milky Way. To put the scale of this structure into perspective, our galaxy, the Milky Way, has over 200 billion stars, just like our Sun, in it alone with an unknown amount of planets orbiting them. Now, multiply that insane thought by 10,000 and you have the BOSS Great Wall.

Galaxy Superclusters & Cosmic VoidsHowever, not everyone agrees that the super structure should even be considered a structure at all. The argument is that these superclusters are not actually connected. Instead, they have dips and gaps between them that are sort of linked by clouds of gas and dust. This loose connection causes a debate every time ‘great wall-like’ structures are found. In the end, the arguments seem to boil down to personal definitions of what constitutes a single structure with most researchers agreeing that they are one. Despite the debate, the BOSS Great Wall is so far the largest object ever found in space. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that there are a lot of ‘great walls’ of superclusters floating around thousands and millions of light-years away. Besides being straight-up awesome, the web of galaxies is also helping researchers better understand how the Universe was structured after the Big Bang. The crazy thing is that this newly found king of the skies will likely get dethroned in the very near future as our ability to see further and further into the Universe increases.

Credit: Josh Hrala for Science Alert (Abridged)

13 March 2016