Daily News Miner
February 25, 1990
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
The New York Times
ASTRONOMERS DISCOVER ‘MIND BOGGLING’
WELL-STRUCTURED CLUMPS OF GALAXIES
Astronomers have discovered more than a dozen evenly distributed clumps of galaxies stretching across vast expanses of the heavens, suggesting a structure to the universe that is so regular and immense that it defies current theories of cosmic creation and evolution. In a report published in last week's issue of the journal Nature, scientists said the newly found pattern of clumped galactic matter, if confirmed by further observations, dwarfs the extremely long sheet of galaxies, dubbed the "great wall" that was reported last fall to be the largest structure in the universe.
The great wall, in fact, is merely one of the closest of these clumps, or regions, that contain very high concentrations of galaxies.
Astrophysicists said the discovery could lead to a fundamental rethinking of theories about the early universe. The discovery raised further doubts about current concepts that try to explain how, over time, gravity alone could have produced a universe marked by conglomerations of galaxies.
Two teams of astronomers in the United States and Britain shared more than seven years' accumulation of data before they felt sure enough of what they were seeing to publish the results.
They were surprised to see so many large clumps rather than a more uniform distribution of matter over such a large scale. But they were astonished to find the clumps so evenly spaced, each either 400 million or 800 million light-years apart, depending on assumptions of how rapidly the universe is expanding.
"The regularity is just mind-boggling,"
said David Koo, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz and, one of the authors of the Nature report.
"It's as if we pierced an extremely narrow needle through the universe and hit one wall after another," said Alexander Szalay, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the discovery team. “The clumps should be randomly distributed and they're not. That's the biggest surprise."
In a commentary on the report, also published in Nature, Marc Davis, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Berkeley, said the distribution could be a statistical fluke and not a real pattern.
But he concluded that if the galaxy distribution was truly regular,
"it is safe to say we understand less than zero about the early universe . "
Koo said in a telephone interview that he too remained skeptical, but the evidence
"got so strong we had to publish what we had."
The other authors of the report are Thomas Broadhurst and Richard Ellis of the University of Durham in England and Richard Kron and Jeffrey Munn of the University of Chicago.
The scientist said it was too early to speculate on the cause of such a pattern and the theoretical implications. The survey covered only a small patch of the sky but it did penetrate structure going back about halfway to the beginning of time.
"If similar patterns appear elsewhere " Koo said, "theorists will have a lot of hard work before them to figure out how the universe could generate bubbles or shells or honeycombs of galaxies and imprint them on such large scales.''
A honeycombed structure is the picture for the universe that some astronomers draw from these observations. Each dense clump of galaxies is about the same distance from the next, and in between is a region of equally uniform size that has only a sparse population of galaxies.
Confirmation of these observations, astrophysicists said, would deal a heavy blow to the "cold dark matter" hypothesis for the formation of galaxies.
This postulates that it is the gravitation al force of invisible matter so far undetected, that has caused the universe to be transformed from its initially smooth state to the clumpiness of galaxies and clusters of galaxies.
The observations, Koo said, suggest that the universe may have "an inherent roughness" that was imprinted within a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, which is the theorized explosive moment, of the universe's creation.