A giant ring of galaxies challenges our ideas about space

Scientists at the University of Central Lancashire have discovered a giant ring-like structure in space.

It is 1.3 billion light years across and appears to be about 15 times larger than the Moon in the night sky as seen from Earth.

Called the Big Ring by astronomers, it is made up of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

They say it is so large that it challenges our understanding of the universe.

It cannot be seen with the naked eye. It's really distant and identifying all the galaxies that make up the larger structure has taken a lot of time and computing power.

Such large structures should not exist according to one of the guiding principles of astronomy called the cosmological principle. It states that all matter is uniformly distributed in the universe.

Although in our eyes stars, planets and galaxies are huge clumps of matter, in the context of the size of the Universe they are insignificant - and according to the theory, they should not form much larger blobs of matter.

The great ring is by no means the first probable violation of the cosmological principle, and therefore suggests that there is another, as yet undiscovered factor.

According to Dr Robert Massie, Deputy Director of the Royal Astronomical Society, the evidence for a rethinking of what has been a fundamental idea of astronomy is mounting.

"This is the seventh major structure found in the universe that contradicts the idea that the cosmos is smooth at the largest scales. If these structures are real, it's definitely food for thought for cosmologists and for conventional thinking about how the universe has evolved over time," he said.

The Great Ring was identified by Alexia Lopez, a PhD student at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), who also discovered the Giant Arc, a structure stretching 3.3 billion light years into space.

Asked how it felt to make the discoveries, she said: 'It's really surreal. I have to pinch myself because I made these discoveries by accident, they were accidental discoveries. But it's something big and I can't believe I'm talking about it, I can't believe it's me. Neither of these two super-sized structures are easy to explain within our current understanding of the universe," she said.

"And their supersize, characteristic shapes and cosmological proximity should surely tell us something important - but what exactly?"

Both the Big Ring and the Giant Arc appear relatively close together, near the constellation Bootes the Herdsman.

Professor Don Polacco, from the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick, said the likelihood of this happening is vanishingly small, so the two objects could be connected and form an even larger structure. /BGNES