UCLan student makes discovery that challenges our understanding of the universe

Posted on - 13th January, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Education, Preston News
An artistic impression of what the Big Ring (shown in blue) and Giant Arc (shown in red) would look like in the sky. Background image credit: Stellarium.
An artistic impression of what the Big Ring (shown in blue) and Giant Arc (shown in red) would look like in the sky. Background image credit: Stellarium.

A student at UCLan has discovered a second ultra-large structure in the remote universe that they say is so big that it challenges our understanding of the universe.


The Big Ring has a circumference of about four billion light-years and was observed around 9.2 billion light-years away. It is made up of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

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It is the second significantly large cosmic structure identified by Alexia Lopez, a PhD student at UCLan. She discovered the Giant Arc around three years ago.

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She said: “Neither of these two ultra-large structures is easy to explain in our current understanding of the universe.”


“And their ultra-large sizes, distinctive shapes, and cosmological proximity must surely be telling us something important – but what exactly?”

UCLan PhD student Alexia Lopez
UCLan PhD student Alexia Lopez

Alexia’s findings appear to challenge the cosmological principle – the idea that the universe should look roughly the same everywhere.

The general consensus is that large structures are formed in the universe through a process known as gravitational instability. Anything larger than that would not have had sufficient time to form.

Alexia saidsaid: “The cosmological principle assumes that the part of the universe we can see is viewed as a ‘fair sample’ of what we expect the rest of the universe to be like.

“We expect matter to be evenly distributed everywhere in space when we view the universe on a large scale, so there should be no noticeable irregularities above a certain size.

“Cosmologists calculate the current theoretical size limit of structures to be 1.2 billion light-years, yet both of these structures are much larger – the Giant Arc is almost three times bigger and the Big Ring’s circumference is comparable to the Giant Arc’s length.

“From current cosmological theories we didn’t think structures on this scale were possible.”

There are other large structures discovered – such as the Sloan Great Wall, which is around 1.5 billion light-years in length, and the South Pole Wall, which stretches 1.4 billion light-years across.

The biggest single entity scientists have identified is a supercluster of galaxies called the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, which is about 10 billion light-years wide. The observable universe is approximately 93 billion light-years in diameter.

While the Big Ring appears as an almost perfect ring on the sky, Alexia’s analysis suggests it has more of a coil shape with its face pointed towards Earth.

Alexia said: “This data we’re looking at is so far away that it has taken half the universe’s life to get to us – from a time when the universe was about 1.8 times smaller than it is now.

“The Big Ring and the Giant Arc, both individually and together, gives us a big cosmological mystery as we work to understand the universe and its development.”

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