There's a hole in the Universe, dear Martha, dear Martha
November 27, 2007 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Astronomers find a giant hole a billion light years across & located 8 billion light years away from us. They believe it could be evidence of another Universe at the edge of ours.
posted by scalefree (53 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Link to goatse in 5...4...3..
posted by DU at 7:24 AM on November 27, 2007

They found that the hole was about 900 light-years across and about 8 billion light-years away.

900 < 1 billion. Also, how can something only 8 billion light years away be at the "edge", when the "edge" is 15 billion light years away?
posted by DU at 7:28 AM on November 27, 2007

Maybe Galactus dropped his soap.
posted by brain_drain at 7:29 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well it's interesting to see string theory being used to predict observable phenomenon. They predict another void will be found on the opposite side of this one. Let's see if they are right.
posted by stbalbach at 7:29 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

the "edge" is 15 billion light years away

heh.. actually every point in the universe is the center of the universe, there is no edge. In this sense, the Earth really is the center of the universe. But then so is Pluto and you see what kind of respect it gets.
posted by stbalbach at 7:32 AM on November 27, 2007

What? I thought the universe was like an expanding soap bubble, and therefore every point is the edge, not the center, of the universe.
posted by Mister_A at 7:33 AM on November 27, 2007

So by "edge" they mean in some higher dimension? Like every point of a square is an "edge" to a 3D creature?
posted by DU at 7:35 AM on November 27, 2007

"Very speculative" is generous. Sounds like string theorists at it again.
posted by awesomebrad at 7:37 AM on November 27, 2007

Well, if the universe is a big bubble, there are parts of the edge that are right next to us, and parts that are very far away.
posted by Mister_A at 7:37 AM on November 27, 2007

Good news, everyone!
posted by tapeguy at 7:42 AM on November 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

What is this fucking nonsense? "Another hole has already been found in the Northern Hemisphere.." This is fucking retarded!
posted by autodidact at 7:43 AM on November 27, 2007

If "billion" and "edge" are good enough for the editors of the articles I'm linking to, they're good enough for me.
posted by scalefree at 7:43 AM on November 27, 2007

"The team says that smaller universes are positioned at the edge of our universe, and because of this interaction they are seen by us."

So, I'm a little confused. Are they are using "universe" in an odd way? Doesn't universe mean something like "the totality of existing things?" If these other so=called universes interact with our own, doesn't that make them just a different region of our universe?
posted by oddman at 7:55 AM on November 27, 2007

Link to goatse in 5...4...3..

It was tempting, I admit it. But I've already done that joke, and it still weighs heavily on my conscience.

I think the fact that mathowie favorited it makes it ok, though.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:56 AM on November 27, 2007

I assume this nonsensical semantics is due to the difficulty of expressing an abstract, >3 dimensional space-time thing in plain English. Otherwise... it just sounds dumb.

If "our" universe is connected to this other space, in what sense would it be "another universe". At most, one should say it's another region of the universe. It seems to me, by definition, that "exo-universes" (a very we-centered name) are unattached, and therefore undetectable. If they communicate with our universe, then they are a part of it, no?

Also, they say the "hole" actually just consists of a region with 20-40% less stuff in it. Not much of a hole!
posted by mondo dentro at 7:58 AM on November 27, 2007

Doh! oddman beat me to it...
posted by mondo dentro at 7:58 AM on November 27, 2007

If I understand correctly, not even the people who understand string theory really understand it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:04 AM on November 27, 2007

It's just Oakland.
posted by languagehat at 8:09 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I thought the universe was like an expanding soap bubble, and therefore every point is the edge, not the center

My understanding is everything started at the same spot (big bang) and is moving away from that spot at about equal speed. So everywhere we look, we see the big bang surrounding us on all sides, with us at the very furthest point away from it, and everything else in between. That could either be an edge, or a center, depending on perspective. I think center is a better model because it takes into account not only the relation to the big bang, but the relation to everything else.
posted by stbalbach at 8:20 AM on November 27, 2007

I have always loved that phrase, "There is no there there." I always forget it was Gertrude S. dismissing her home town, huh.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:22 AM on November 27, 2007

Thanks stbalbach, but I need to be really drunk sitting at the bar at the Khyber to understand that.
posted by Mister_A at 8:23 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

My 8 year old on the Big Bang: What was there before the Big Bang?
Me: I'm not a cosmologist, but my understanding is that "before" is not a valid concept wrt to the Big Bang. That's when time started. You can't have a "before".
My 8 year old: If time started at the Big Bang, how did it change from "existing" to "not existing"?
Me: Let me get back to you on that. *sends urgent text message to Zeno*
posted by DU at 8:28 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I need to be really drunk sitting at the bar at the Khyber to understand that.

That sounds really great right about now. Well, the further we look into space, the further back in time. So, to see to the "edge" of the universe is actually to see back to the beginning on time ie. the big bang. So, as we look outward from Earth into the universe, no matter which direction, eventually a wall is hit - the big bang. We are surrounded by the big bang on all sides. Thus, we are at the center of the universe, the "edge", from our perspective, is the beginning of time. This is true for everything, from any point in the universe, it appears to be at the center, from its perspective. Since there is no way to take a god-like overview of the universe (ie. to look at the universe from outside the universe) this center of the universe model is pretty accurate.
posted by stbalbach at 8:36 AM on November 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

First off, my understanding is that the universe is not a soap bubble, but, according to most theories, flat like a plate.

Also, everything is not expanding at that same rate, which accounts for the "clumpiness" of matter in certain regions.

So, when they say, "on the edge", this COULD refer to the upper or lower portion of our plate-shaped universe, but I am only speculating here.

AND, our universe has properties which we are familiar with, such as weak gravity, but other universes could have completely different set of physical properties. The term "universe" is out-dated in the sense that you can only have one universe, but that is just semantics.

Hope that helps.
posted by jonjacobmoon at 8:38 AM on November 27, 2007

Ahhh thanks stbalbach. Even without liquor, i think I get it.
posted by Mister_A at 8:39 AM on November 27, 2007

(from "not existing" to "existing", that is)
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on November 27, 2007

Is it just me, or does it seem like this article was written by a 15-year-old journalism student? I swear I've read this guy in my high school paper before.
posted by dead_ at 8:52 AM on November 27, 2007

Does it fill the Albert Hall?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:00 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Outer Space is pretty empty and boring when you think about it. Which leads me to this mind blowing theory: What if we are just part of a microscopic organism which is inside of a larger one that doesn't know we even exist?!?!? BWAAAAAAAAAAA... Ok I'm going back to work now.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 9:01 AM on November 27, 2007

Before I logged in the giant banner ad under this post was for "Across the Universe."
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:18 AM on November 27, 2007

While I guress this could be very cool I really get lost as soon as someone says "string theory".
posted by Artw at 9:23 AM on November 27, 2007

If Disney's The Black Hole has taught me one thing, it's that other universes are actually hell.

If it's taught me a second thing, it's that if you give a robot the voice of Slim Pickens, it will both look and act like a lovable redneck.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:26 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

How did I know that this was going to be about another fucking overhyped New Scientist article before I even read it?
posted by empath at 9:28 AM on November 27, 2007

Gateway to the chiliocosm, man. Gateway to the chiliocosm.
posted by Abiezer at 9:38 AM on November 27, 2007

How is this not chicken-little-ism? Clearly the authors of the latter article have a very poor understanding of cosmology (and even technology! including JSESSIONID in a url posted in a periodical?) and can't even get their facts straight.

Suggesting that "another universe" is hanging out "at the edge of this one" is misleading at best. Even string theorists, kooky bunch that they are, don't suggest that there is an "edge" to the universe and that there are ten-to-the-five-hundred little universes hanging off the teats of this one. Most of them talk about "manifolds" and complex shapes that are "folded up" (which is to say, they're not physically attached to the edge of anything, and they're not observable in the visual or microwave spectra).

The hole is interesting, but as the article said, it was discovered years ago. In fact, in November's Astronomy there's an article on it, subtext to a larger article on the alignment of our solar system and the CMB. (a different article, but related)
posted by avriette at 9:58 AM on November 27, 2007

Was there a giant bathtub plug floating near it?
posted by brundlefly at 10:10 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

When we talk about the "edge" of our universe, we're referring to the edge of the visible universe - we simply don't have a very good idea how far it extends beyond that. Some cosmologists think it may be infinite. Others disagree. It is, however, generally accepted that our universe is, at minimum, 150 billion light-years across - so an object, or an absence, 8 billion light-years away is pretty much in our immediate neighborhood, and pretty unlikely to be some kind of cosmic property line beyond which our deeply annoying neighbors are having another all-hours party with drunks stumbling into our rosebed and crappy music being played way too loud and their stupid showoffy cosmological constant being slightly but significantly different, yet again.

I'm voting normal space with some weird characteristics, which describes a whole lot of normal space.
posted by dyoneo at 10:22 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ack! dyoneo links make brain hurt!

Seriously though, pretty interesting stuff. Are our measurements flawed then? When we look at primordial objects that we say are 13 billion light years away, do we really mean 13 billion LY old, and 60 billion LY away? Some new terminology is in order perhaps...
posted by Mister_A at 10:43 AM on November 27, 2007

That 'shrums thread just keeps on giving doesn't it?
posted by oh pollo! at 12:10 PM on November 27, 2007

You know, those stinkin contractors have had since the beginning of time to fix that hole...

from avriette’s astronomy link: “Rather, you conclude that improbable things happen frequently because there are lots of opportunities for them to occur”

Pretty much says it all. Fluctuations in the expansion of the universe inevitably look very much like we wouldn’t think they would, precisely because you can’t predict, before an entire series of events, how something will wind up.
So any void, even a large scale one, even an extremely improbable one, sure, why not?
I call this Smed’s law (WTFN?).
It sounds esoteric when it’s applied to astrophysics, but I discovered it early on as a young man playing basketball in my buddy’s driveway and it’s quite simple. See, a friend of ours, who weighed like 500 lbs (itself improbable), had come over to play some ball (again, nearly unprecedented since we’d known him). He had his mom’s car (rarely, if ever, given to him). And had just gotten it fixed for her. Apparently some kids had broken off the hood ornament earlier in the week to wear it or something (as was the style of the time). So he pulls along the curb (because we’re in the driveway) near a tree, ostensibly to protect the car from loose balls. And he lugubriously heads towards us. So he gets the ball and checks me, I steal and go for a hook shot. Just then my buddy’s mom comes out with some lemonade on a tray (she was, miraculously, off work that day). My shot goes wide and almost hits my buddy’s mom who swipes at the ball with the tray to deflect it spilling the lemonade and bouncing it across the uneven driveway back at me. I was already running flat out to get the ball, so I accidentally kneed it and it bounces onto the roof behind the backboard then bounces right onto the edge of the backboard and hits my buddy’s brother (who was playing with us and now trying to help his mom) on the back of the head. Bounces off his head, down the driveway, misses the grass lawn to bounce on the sidewalk and into the street where it hits a passing car and bounces off that hard (the car stops), ricochets off the parkway tree from the other side and breaks off my chubby buddy’s mom’s car’s hood ornament.

He looks at me and says “Smed! What the hell did you do?” as though there was any way to cause that sequence of events even had I given it any effort. I tried telling him it was impossible, that no one could predict all the random factors that resulted in busting the hood ornament, but he was fixated on assigning blame. I was, after all, the last person to physically, and intentionally, touch the ball. (Fortunately, being very fat, he couldn’t really lay a hand on me.) The guy in the car got out to yell at us damned kids and we tried to explain the situation. (Fortunately, no damage)
This, I suspect, has a similar psychology. It’s just a bunch of random confluences compounding each other in a spectacular manner, but because it’s so far outside of our expectations, we start looking for a more coherent reason.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:17 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're an odd duck, Smed. Cool, but an odd duck.
posted by stenseng at 1:14 PM on November 27, 2007

Smedleyman, I think you're right to raise the question of how unlikely this hole is just based on natural variations, because the article doesn't really do a good job of explaining that.
However, and I should throw out the disclaimer that I am completely unqualified as a scientist, so somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I just think a more apt analogy relating to basketballs would be that if you stood in one spot and rotated randomly, throwing a ball once a second for a million years or a billion years or whatever, you would expect to hit just about every place around you relatively evenly (give or take some number less than the 40% density difference they're talking about here.)
Now, if a scientist were to observe that there was a place where the balls landed far less times than any other, it would be unusual, and hard to explain without looking for some cause.
This doesn't seem to be about random causation, but rather about natural odds on a literally astronomical scale.
posted by dosterm at 1:34 PM on November 27, 2007

When we look at primordial objects that we say are 13 billion light years away, do we really mean 13 billion LY old, and 60 billion LY away?

Good question. In other words, some (most?) objects that are 13 billion LY old (or younger) are not visible because they expanded with the universe faster than the speed of light to a distance greater than 13.7 LY away (the max range we can see). But that would mean we could observe things disappearing before our eyes, and I'm not sure that is possible, So I really don't know on this.
posted by stbalbach at 2:05 PM on November 27, 2007

CitrusFreak12: I think the fact that mathowie favorited it makes it ok, though.

Yeah, well you're lucky he didn't tear you a new one.

Also, apparently it's up to me to be that one guy, the guy who points out that in that in that Gertrude Stein quote, she's talking about her childhood house in Oakland, subsequently demolished - not necessarily dissing the city itself. (On the other hand, the parking lot outside of Oakland Raiders games is colloquially referred to as "the black hole," so maybe there is something to that...)
posted by whir at 2:25 PM on November 27, 2007

stbalbach: err yes and no. It's exactly because of the expansion, and isn't related to 'faster than the speed of light', which is a bad term to use with respect to universes expanding because... well... it's not that kind of speed. Basically, the very first light year the light travelled is now a lot bigger than when the light travelled it. And the same applies to all the later ones since (but to a lesser degree).

Likewise, the earlier comment about 8 billion vs 150 billion light years may not be valid because journalists may be confusing different distance measures, which have the potential to differ by a lot.

I'd comment more on the whole hole thing and the other universe stuff, but I'm yet to see a paper on it, and the articles I've seen on it don't give enough detail for me to figure out what exactly is being claimed.
posted by edd at 3:59 PM on November 27, 2007

“This doesn't seem to be about random causation, but rather about natural odds on a literally astronomical scale.”

I think you’re on it. (I’m not a scientist either). But I suspect the missing thing here is that while you’re tossing balls the floor is expanding. So any fluctuation in where you toss the balls are going to compound because that spot will always have less balls, and have less and less as time goes on because of the expansion. So as something that starts to trend off out onto natural odds can compound into something that appears to have astronomical odds against it.
And I suspect it’s self-reciprocating.
Someone just wrote a book about that - his point was that the physical laws of the universe didn’t exist before the universe but that they were sort of negotiated on the quantum level - he gets into life and such, but I think the idea holds sans consciousness, mass tells space-time how to curve, space-time tells matter how to move (according to relativity). On the quantum level (as I understand it) the general argument is force interaction. What this guy ( Davies , I looked it up - he wrote “Cosmic Jackpot”) was saying - if I’ve got it correctly - makes me think that there’s a sort of quantum tunneling effect (rather than a graviton) going on that is sort of fuzzy when it comes to space time. Not an actual transmission of information, but an affect. So stuff affects each other on that level).
Basically - Nomic.
Poor analogy there, but certain rules, lead to certain other rules, etc. etc. etc. If mass has to curve spacetime, it can only curve it ‘c’ amount before it goes off the ‘board’ so the normal rules go out the door - there’s no longer even the potential of quantum transmission past the chandrasekar limit. So no ‘negotiation’
I’m pulling a lot from John Wheeler there as well. But that’s the gist. The weirder stuff gets, the even weirder it will tend to get. Although it seems the opposite is true as well. Which, I suspect, is Davies point as to how the universe gave rise to life at least in part (again, sans the role of consciousness).
posted by Smedleyman at 4:05 PM on November 27, 2007

The degree to which you expect to see the kind of fluctuation dosterm refers to is encapsulated in 'cosmic variance'. The suggestion is obviously that this void goes well beyond what is expected within cosmic variance.

It's the kind of thing that gets discussed a lot, for obvious reasons, and if something is looking like it's well beyond cosmic variance then there's good reason to sit up and take note.

I wouldn't comment on whether this actually is well beyond it - I've not read enough on this hole.
posted by edd at 4:14 PM on November 27, 2007

See, it's things like this that make me question the usefulness of string theory mathematics.

Spring theory, on the other hand, is infallible.

*boing, boing, boing*
posted by quin at 4:18 PM on November 27, 2007

Here’s a piece by Davies. Bit of a tangent, but the stability/symmetry thing is there.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:20 PM on November 27, 2007

From the article: Future tests will be made that will probably validate or reject their conclusion.

posted by damnthesehumanhands at 5:00 PM on November 27, 2007

Clearly, this region of space was mined for computronium by a Matrioshka Brain network. It's probably scanning us now.

posted by Sparx at 2:33 AM on November 28, 2007

Here. Let me break all this silliness down into relevence as it applies to common folk. All this space gazing is irrelevant for simple reasons:

1. Noseeums aplenty: Everything we see out there isn't there anymore. The light is so old that nothing is where we think it is cuz we been moving and that's been moving. We're seeing where that stuff was billions of years ago, when we were somewhere else.

2. You'll never see it coming: If something was coming towards us faster than the speed of light, on a trajectory of Earth impact, we won't be able to see it. It'll just look like a blackness that's getting bigger.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:03 PM on November 28, 2007

IOW.. it'll look like a BIG HOLE IN SPACE.

Time to pack yer bags and head for Venus, chilluns.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:09 PM on November 28, 2007

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