Large-scale structure of the cosmos

Large-scale structure of the cosmos

In physical cosmology, the term large-scale structure refers to the characterization of observable distributions of matter and light on the largest scales (typically on the order of billions of light-years). Sky surveys and mappings of the various wavelength bands of electromagnetic radiation (in particular 21-cm emission) have yielded much information on the content and character of the universe's structure. The organization of structure appears to follow as a hierarchical model with organization up to the scale of superclusters and filaments. Larger than this, there seems to be no continued structure, a phenomenon which has been referred to as the End of Greatness.

Walls, filaments and voids

thumb|300px|left|DTFE reconstruction of the inner parts of the 2dF Galaxy Redshift SurveyThe organization of structure arguably begins at the stellar level, though most cosmologists rarely address astrophysics on that scale. Stars are organised into galaxies, which in turn form clusters and superclusters that are separated by immense voids. Prior to 1989, it was commonly assumed that virialized galaxy clusters were the largest structures in existence, and that they were distributed more or less uniformly throughout the universe in every direction. However, based on redshift survey data, in 1989 Margaret Geller and John Huchra discovered the "Great Wall," a sheet of galaxies more than 500 million light-years long and 200 million wide, but only 15 million light-years thick. The existence of this structure escaped notice for so long because it requires locating the position of galaxies in three dimensions, which involves combining location information about the galaxies with distance information from redshifts.In April 2003, another large-scale structure was discovered, the Sloan Great Wall. However, technically it is not a 'structure', since the objects in it are not gravitationally related with each other but only appear this way, caused by the distance measurement that was used. One of the biggest voids in space is the Capricornus void, with an estimated diameter of 230 million light years [ [ The Nearest Superclusters ] ] . In August 2007, a possible supervoid was detected in the constellation Eridanus. [ [ Biggest void in space is 1 billion light years across - space - 24 August 2007 - New Scientist Space ] ] It coincides with the 'WMAP Cold Spot', a cold region in the microwave sky that is highly improbable under the currently favored cosmological model. This supervoid could cause the cold spot, but to do so it would have to be improbably big, possibly a billion light-years across.

In more recent studies the universe appears as a collection of giant bubble-like voids separated by sheets and filaments of galaxies, with the superclusters appearing as occasional relatively dense nodes. This network is clearly visible in the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey. In the figure a 3-D reconstruction of the inner parts of the survey is shown, revealing an impressive view on the cosmic structures in the nearby universe. Several superclusters stand out, such as the Sloan Great Wall, the largest structure in the universe known to date.

End of Greatness

The "End of Greatness" is an observational scale discovered at roughly 100 Mpc (roughly 300 million lightyears) where the lumpiness seen in the large-scale structure of the universe is and isotropized as per the Cosmological Principle. The superclusters and filaments seen in smaller surveys are randomized to the extent that the smooth distribution of the universe is visually apparent. It wasn't until the redshift surveys of the 1990s were completed that this scale could accurately be observed.


Another indicator of large-scale structure is the 'Lyman alpha forest'. This is a collection of absorption lines which appear in the spectral lines of light from quasars, which are interpreted as indicating the existence of huge thin sheets of intergalactic (mostly hydrogen) gas. These sheets appear to be associated with the formation of new galaxies.

Some caution is required in describing structures on a cosmic scale because things are not always as they appear to be. Bending of light by gravitation (gravitational lensing) can result in images which appear to originate in a different direction from their real source. This is caused by foreground objects (such as galaxies) curving the space around themselves (as predicted by general relativity), deflecting light rays that pass nearby. Rather usefully, strong gravitational lensing can sometimes magnify distant galaxies, making them easier to detect. Weak lensing (gravitational shear) by the intervening universe in general also subtly changes the observed large-scale structure. In 2004, measurements of this subtle shear show considerable promise as a test of cosmological models.

The large-scale structure of the Universe also looks different if one only uses redshift to measure distances to galaxies. For example, galaxies behind a galaxy cluster will be attracted to it, and so fall towards it, and so be slightly blueshifted (compared to how they would be if there were no cluster); on the near side, things are slightly redshifted. Thus, the environment of the cluster looks a bit squashed if using redshifts to measure distance. An opposite effect works on the galaxies already within the cluster: the galaxies have some random motion around the cluster centre, and when these random motions are converted to redshifts, the cluster will appear elongated. This creates what is known as a "finger of God": the illusion of a long chain of galaxies pointed at the Earth.

Astrocartography of our neighborhood

At the centre of the Hydra supercluster there is a gravitational anomaly, known as the Great Attractor, which affects the motion of galaxies over a region hundreds of millions of light-years across. These galaxies are all redshifted, in accordance with Hubble's law, indicating that they are receding from us and from each other, but the variations in their redshift are sufficient to reveal the existence of a concentration of mass equivalent to tens of thousands of galaxies.

The Great Attractor, discovered in 1986, lies at a distance of between 150 million and 250 million light-years (250 million is the most recent estimate), in the direction of the Hydra and Centaurus constellations. In its vicinity there is a preponderance of large old galaxies, many of which are colliding with their neighbours, and/or radiating large amounts of radio waves.


There is much work in cosmology which attempts to model the large-scale structure of the universe. Using the big bang model and assumptions about the type of matter that makes up the universe, it is possible to predict the expected distribution of matter, and by comparison with observation work backward to support and refute certain cosmological theories. Currently, observations indicateweasel-word that most of the mass in the universe must be composed of cold dark matter. Models which assume hot dark matter or baryonic dark matter do not provide a good fit with observations. The irregularities in the cosmic microwave background radiation and high redshift supernovae give complementary approaches to constraining the same models, and there is a growing consensus that these approaches together are giving evidence that we live in an accelerating universe.

Largest structures in the universe

Clickable map

circle 334 301 20 Virgo Superclustercircle 351 333 18 Hydra Superclustercircle 366 266 29 Centaurus Superclustercircle 449 246 31 Shapley Superclusterrect 400 273 430 332 Coma Superclustercircle 416 163 45 Hercules Superclustercircle 465 365 40 Leo Superclusterscircle 260 184 32 Capricornus Voidcircle 510 218 33 Bootes Voidcircle 533 325 35 Ursa Major Superclustercircle 474 445 36 Sextans Superclusterrect 224 434 284 532 Columba Superclusterrect 145 450 199 571 Horologium Superclusterrect 272 312 333 367 Perseus-Pisces Superclusterrect 194 265 251 303 Sculptor Voidrect 97 89 165 150 Capricornus Superclusterrect 536 162 583 212 Bootes Superclusterrect 462 79 564 152 Corona-Borealis Superclusterrect 26 268 120 359 Pisces-Cetes Superclusterspoly 131 284 213 334 230 310 152 264 Sculptor Superclustersrect 237 215 324 278 Pavo-Indus Superclusterpoly 391 194 409 244 410 281 406 341 395 391 404 413 420 333 429 278 421 225 410 190 CfA2 Great Wall

desc bottom-left


* [ List of publications of the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey]


Further reading


* 'The Astrophysical Journal', Volume 624, Issue 2, pp. 463-484. PDF| [ A Map of the Universe] |4.86 MB "05/2005" Gott, J. Richard, III; Jurić, Mario; Schlegel, David; Hoyle, Fiona; Vogeley, Michael; Tegmark, Max; Bahcall, Neta; Brinkmann, Jon ; doi|10.1086/428890 bibcode|2005ApJ...624..463G

External links

* [ "Millennium Simulation" of structure forming] Max Planck Institute of Astrophysics, Garching, Germany
* [ The Sloan Great Wall: Largest Known Structure?] on [ APOD]
* [ Hubble, VLT and Spitzer Capture Galaxy Formation in the Early Universe.]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Timeline of knowledge about galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure — Timeline of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large scale structure of the cosmosPre 20th Century* 400s BC Democritus proposes that the bright band in the night sky known as the Milky Way might consist of stars, * 300s BC Aristotle believes the …   Wikipedia

  • Cosmos — For other uses, see Cosmos (disambiguation). The Ancient and Medieval cosmos as depicted in Peter Apian s Cosmographia (Antwerp, 1539). In the general sense, a cosmos is an orderly or harmonious system. It originates from the Greek term κόσμος… …   Wikipedia

  • cosmos — /koz meuhs, mohs/, n., pl. cosmos, cosmoses for 2, 4. 1. the world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system. 2. a complete, orderly, harmonious system. 3. order; harmony. 4. any composite plant of the genus Cosmos, of tropical… …   Universalium

  • Timeline of the Big Bang — Physical cosmology Universe · Big Bang …   Wikipedia

  • Shape of the Universe — Edge of the Universe redirects here. For the Bee Gees song, see Edge of the Universe (song). The local geometry of the universe is determined by whether Omega is less than, equal to or greater than 1. From top to bottom: a spherical universe, a… …   Wikipedia

  • Historique des connaissances sur les galaxies, amas de galaxies, et structures à grande échelle du cosmos — Historique des connaissances sur les galaxies, amas de galaxies, et structures à grande échelle du cosmos. Sommaire 1 De l Antiquité au e siècle[Lequel ?] 2 De 1900 à 1949 3 De 1950 à 1979 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • History of the Big Bang theory — The history of the Big Bang theory began with the Big Bang s development from observations and theoretical considerations. Much of the theoretical work in cosmology now involves extensions and refinements to the basic Big Bang theory.Prior to the …   Wikipedia

  • Magic in the Greco-Roman world — The study of magic in the Greco Roman world is a branch of the disciplines of classics, ancient history and religious studies. In the ancient post hellenistic world of the Greeks and Romans (the Greco Roman world), the public and private rituals… …   Wikipedia

  • Elements of the Cthulhu Mythos — The following tables and lists feature elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, that are often shared between works within that fictional setting. The Cthulhu Mythos were originally created by writer H. P. Lovecraft in his horror short stories, although… …   Wikipedia

  • Society and culture of the Han Dynasty — A Western Han jade carved door knocker with designs of Chinese dragons (and two other jade figurines) The Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) was a period of ancient China divided by the Western Han (206 BCE – 9 CE) and Eastern Han (25–220 CE) periods …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.