An international team of astronomers headed up by academics from the University of Central Lancashire has discovered the largest structure so far in the known universe. The object, known as a large quasar group (LGQ) is so vast that it would take a beam of light about 4 billion years to cross from one end to another.
Massive groups of quasars, brightly shining galactic nuclei from early in the universe' s history, are not unknown to science. Astronomers have known since 1982 that quasars tend to cluster together in large groups, but so far none have matched the sheer size of this latest discovery.
The LGQ is so large, in fact, that challenges an assumption that form the very basis of our understanding of the known universe. This assumption is known as the Cosmological Principle, and it states that the universe is homogenous when viewed on a large enough scale. This assumption is based upon Einstein's work, but it has not been verified observationally 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.
According to the Cosmological Principle and modern cosmological theory, astronomers shouldn't be able to find a structure larger than about 1.2 billion light years. The newest LQG is elongated and measures 4 billion light years, which is about 1600 times more than the distance between our Milky Way and its nearest neighbor, Andromeda. It remains to be seen just how this discovery will influence humanity's ever evolving view of the universe.