Our children may never know the revolutionary pleasure the video game Halo: Combat Evolved was when it appeared with a story, plot and overall entertainment value that put everything else to shame. But the universe won’t. We found Halo. In a manner of speaking. Astronomers and the general public have been inspired by the amalgam of structures discovered in deep space, however, today they announced the existence of an unimaginably massive structure composed of a loose ellipse of galaxies, roughly 5 billion light years in diameter.
EVEN MASTER CHIEF CAN’T LAP THIS HALO
This intergalactic halo was limned indirectly by 9 observed gamma-ray bursts, and has been triangulated at about 7 billion light years’ distance. From the ground, the ring spans a distance that’s 70 times the diameter of a full moon.
WHAT ARE GAMMA-RAY BURSTS?
When a super-massive star runs out of hydrogen, instead of just expanding and eventually releasing its outer layers in a relatively calm exhalation (like our sun will), it violently implodes, moving into itself so rapidly that the curvature of space time itself cannot keep up with the increasing gravity well, and a black hole forms. When it’s born, the black hole releases spectacular beams of energy coming out at a normal angle with respect to the black hole’s rotation. If earth is lucky (or unlucky) enough to be aligned with these beams, a climactic signal registers on scientists’ equipment, and with the information contained in the signal (e.g., direction, magnitude, dissipation), astronomers are able to ascertain the distance and location of the gamma-ray burst.
You can actually look up all observed gamma-ray bursts to date on the Gamma Ray Burst Online Index, which catalogues each and every gamma-ray burst’s position, so you can see where we fit into the big black picture. Gulp.
BUT WHAT ABOUT HALO?
The thing is that these 9 gamma-ray bursts, or rather black holes, must be somehow interacting, related, connected, since they are a similar distance from earth. The researchers involved have shared that there is actually a 1 in 20,000 chance that gamma-ray bursts would be distributed in such a way so closely resembling the Halo of science fiction. This actually means that this impossibly macro-geometry is actually a very likely phenomenon.
But latest cosmological models preclude the very possibility of such cosmic structures.
Currently, cosmology (the study of the cosmos), holds that the universe ought to have a fairly uniform distribution of matter and energy on macro scales. This is actually a precept of the science, called the “Cosmological Principle,” and it’s already found ground in the form of NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and Europe’s Planck Space Telescope, both of which catalogue cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation.
Until recently, the upper-limit for cosmic structures was 1.2 billion light-years across, but this gamma-ray burst halo is 5 times the size of that limit. That’s a theoretical discrepancy no trade could ignore. What’s more, another structure of gamma-ray bursts was discovered, spanning a distance of 10 billion light-years.
What madness is responsible for this super-geometry? Some macro-cosmology holds that there are areas of our universe which clump together in web-like strands that flow for billions of light-years, creating “holes” in the universe, where little to no matter or energy is present. But presently, this newest structure creates a super-void that puts even the most superlative absences to shame.
“If we are right, this structure contradicts the current models of the universe. It was a huge surprise to find something this big — and we still don’t quite understand how it came to exist at all,” exclaimed Balazs to the Royal Astronomical Society.
Originally reported by the Royal Astronomical Society.