Monday, February 9, 2009

The Great Void

Somewhere between 6-10 light years from earth lies the largest hole we have ever found! Its a complete empty space, known as a cosmic void "The Great Void" as it is being referred to is about 1 billion ly (light years) from side to side. It is roughly 1,000 times larger than any known or predicted cosmic voids. The universe appears to be pock-marked by empty bubbles (like soap bubbles.) These gaps often occur regularly, helping us to define galaxies, clusters and walls, great filaments or strings of galaxy clusters. What make this one unique is that no one would have ever predicted its unbelievable size. "It's hard even for astronomers to picture how big these things are." [University of Minnesota Professor Lawrence Ruddick] Just to give you an idea how big that is: it would take a spaceship {traveling at the speed of light} a billion years to cross it. The Milky Way galaxy is estimated to measure a mere 100,000 ly in diameter. This would feel kinda like studying normal fleas and then suddenly finding one the size of Jupiter. The team from UM found the enormous void by using the National Radio Astronomical Observatory's VLA Sky Survey (NVSS) in 2007. (I know its old news, but its still exciting!) The void is located just off the edge of the Eridanus constellation, and contains no stars, heavenly bodies,visible matter or dark matter, its a real pit of absolute nothingness! What lurks within the void may be more mysterious than the cause of its existence. As we begin to explore further and further into the starry blackness of space I cannot shake the mental image of an infant crawling through a jungle. The stars are not a playground, but a jungle of unimaginable variety. It is filled to the brim with every kind of creature, every kind of thing unfathomable, and we must respect it or perish. The earth and all its kind are but a tide pool, spinning in its sacred eddies and whirls around a small pond, The Milky Way. That ocean, that jungle has no end, no shores, only wave after wave of stars and inky black holes between them. So go out into the night, look up at the stars, and be in awe, for it is the correct response to such an unbelievable existence.

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