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The observable universe is a ball-shaped region of the
universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological description of the development ...

universe
comprising all
matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particl ...
that can be
observed
observed
from
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wi ...

Earth
or its space-based telescopes and exploratory probes at the present time, because the
electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. ...

electromagnetic radiation
from these objects has had time to reach the
Solar System The Solar SystemCapitalization of the name varies. The International Astronomical Union, the authoritative body regarding astronomical nomenclature, specifies capitalizing the names of all individual astronomical objects but uses mixed "Sola ...

Solar System
and Earth since the beginning of the
cosmological expansion The expansion of the universe is the increase in proper length, distance between any two given Gravitational binding energy, gravitationally unbound parts of the observable universe with time. It is an intrinsic and extrinsic properties (philosoph ...
. There may be 2 trillion
galaxies A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its own gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to ...

galaxies
in the observable universe, although that number was estimated, in 2021, at only several hundred billion based on data from
New Horizons ''New Horizons'' is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA; ) is an independent agencies of the United States government, independent agency of the F ...

New Horizons
. Assuming the universe is
isotropic Isotropy is uniformity in all orientations; it is derived from the Greek ''isos'' (ἴσος, "equal") and ''tropos'' (τρόπος, "way"). Precise definitions depend on the subject area. Exceptions, or inequalities, are frequently indicated by t ...
, the distance to the edge of the observable universe is roughly
the same The Same was a Punk rock, punk Rock band, band from Sundsvall. Members were among others Magnus Holmén, Per Kraft, Peter Byström and Tomas Broman. Their most popular song was "Kuken i styret". This song also resulted in that the Sveriges Radio P3 ...

the same
in every direction. That is, the observable universe is a
spherical of a sphere A sphere (from Greek language, Greek —, "globe, ball") is a geometrical object in three-dimensional space Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values ...

spherical
region centered on the observer. Every location in the universe has its own observable universe, which may or may not overlap with the one centered on Earth. The word ''observable'' in this sense does not refer to the capability of modern technology to detect
light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visual perception, perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defined as having wavelengths in the range of 400–700 nan ...

light
or other information from an object, or whether there is anything to be detected. It refers to the physical limit created by the
speed of light The speed of light in vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called paramet ...
itself. No signal can travel faster than light, hence there is a maximum distance (called the
particle horizonThe particle horizon (also called the cosmological horizon, the comoving horizon (in Dodelson's text), or the cosmic light horizon) is the maximum distance from which light from particle In the Outline of physical science, physical sciences, a par ...
) beyond which nothing can be detected, as the signals could not have reached us yet. Sometimes astrophysicists distinguish between the ''visible'' universe, which includes only signals emitted since recombination (when hydrogen atoms were formed from protons and electrons and photons were emitted)—and the ''observable'' universe, which includes signals since the beginning of the cosmological expansion (the
Big Bang The Big Bang is the prevailing of the from the through its subsequent large-scale evolution. The model describes how the from an initial state of high and , and offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomen ...
in traditional
physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides a description of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and allows study of fun ...
, the end of the
inflationary epoch __NOTOC__ In physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides a description of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the ...
in modern cosmology). According to calculations, the current ''
comoving distance In standard cosmology, comoving distance and proper distance are two closely related distance measures used by cosmologists to define distances between objects. ''Proper distance'' roughly corresponds to where a distant object would be at a speci ...
''—proper distance, which takes into account that the universe has expanded since the light was emitted—to particles from which the
cosmic microwave background radiation The cosmic microwave background (CMB, CMBR), in Big Bang The Big Bang Scientific theory, theory is the prevailing cosmological model explaining the existence of the observable universe from the Planck units#Cosmology, earliest known perio ...
(CMBR) was emitted, which represents the radius of the visible universe, is about 14.0 billion
parsec The parsec (symbol: pc) is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric units, used in every ...

parsec
s (about 45.7 billion light-years), while the comoving distance to the edge of the observable universe is about 14.3 billion parsecs (about 46.6 billion light-years), about 2% larger. The
radius In classical geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative ...

radius
of the observable universe is therefore estimated to be about 46.5 billion light-years and its
diameter In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative position ...

diameter
about 28.5 gigaparsecs (93 billion
light-year A light-year, alternatively spelt lightyear, is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric un ...
s, or ), which equals 880 yottametres. Using the critical density and the diameter of the observable universe, the total mass of ordinary matter in the universe can be calculated to be about 1.5 × 1053 kg. In November 2018, astronomers reported that the
extragalactic background light The diffuse extragalactic background light (EBL) is all the accumulated radiation in the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of mat ...
(EBL) amounted to 4 × 1084 photons. As the universe's expansion is accelerating, all currently observable objects, outside our local
supercluster A supercluster is a large group of smaller galaxy clusters or galaxy groups; it is among the largest known structures of the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, ...
, will eventually appear to freeze in time, while emitting progressively redder and fainter light. For instance, objects with the current redshift ''z'' from 5 to 10 will remain observable for no more than 4–6 billion years. In addition, light emitted by objects currently situated beyond a certain comoving distance (currently about 19 billion parsecs) will never reach Earth.


The universe versus the observable universe

The size of the whole universe is unknown, and it might be infinite in extent. Some parts of the universe are too far away for the light emitted since the
Big Bang The Big Bang theory A theory is a rational Rationality is the quality or state of being rational – that is, being based on or agreeable to reason Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic ...

Big Bang
to have had enough time to reach Earth or space-based instruments, and therefore lie outside the observable universe. In the future, light from distant galaxies will have had more time to travel, so one might expect that additional regions will become observable. However, owing to
Hubble's law Hubble's law, also known as the Hubble–Lemaître law, is the observation in physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides ...
, regions sufficiently distant from the Earth are expanding away from it faster than the speed of light (
special relativity In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force ...
prevents nearby objects in the same local region from moving faster than the speed of light with respect to each other, but there is no such constraint for distant objects when the space between them is expanding; see uses of the proper distance for a discussion) and furthermore the expansion rate appears to be accelerating owing to
dark energy In physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides a description of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the unive ...

dark energy
. Assuming dark energy remains constant (an unchanging cosmological constant), so that the expansion rate of the universe continues to accelerate, there is a "future visibility limit" beyond which objects will ''never'' enter our observable universe at any time in the infinite future, because light emitted by objects outside that limit could never reach the Earth. (A subtlety is that, because the
Hubble parameter Hubble's law, also known as the Hubble–Lemaître law, is the observation in physical cosmology that galaxies are moving away from Earth at speeds proportional to their distance. In other words, the farther they are the faster they are moving aw ...
is decreasing with time, there can be cases where a galaxy that is receding from the Earth just a bit faster than light does emit a signal that reaches the Earth eventually.) This future visibility limit is calculated at a
comoving distance In standard cosmology, comoving distance and proper distance are two closely related distance measures used by cosmologists to define distances between objects. ''Proper distance'' roughly corresponds to where a distant object would be at a speci ...
of 19 billion parsecs (62 billion light-years), assuming the universe will keep expanding forever, which implies the number of galaxies that we can ever theoretically observe in the infinite future (leaving aside the issue that some may be impossible to observe in practice due to redshift, as discussed in the following paragraph) is only larger than the number currently observable by a factor of 2.36.The comoving distance of the future visibility limit is calculated on p. 8 of Gott et al.'
A Map of the Universe
to be 4.50 times the Hubble radius, given as 4.220 billion parsecs (13.76 billion light-years), whereas the current comoving radius of the observable universe is calculated on p. 7 to be 3.38 times the Hubble radius. The number of galaxies in a sphere of a given comoving radius is proportional to the cube of the radius, so as shown on p. 8 the ratio between the number of galaxies observable in the future visibility limit to the number of galaxies observable today would be (4.50/3.38)3 = 2.36.
Though, in principle, more galaxies will become observable in the future, in practice, an increasing number of galaxies will become extremely
redshift In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular ...

redshift
ed due to ongoing expansion; so much so that they will seem to disappear from view and become invisible. An additional subtlety is that a galaxy at a given comoving distance is defined to lie within the "observable universe" if we can receive signals emitted by the galaxy at any age in its past history (say, a signal sent from the galaxy only 500 million years after the Big Bang), but because of the universe's expansion, there may be some later age at which a signal sent from the same galaxy can never reach the Earth at any point in the infinite future (so, for example, we might never see what the galaxy looked like 10 billion years after the Big Bang), even though it remains at the same comoving distance (comoving distance is defined to be constant with time—unlike proper distance, which is used to define recession velocity due to the expansion of space), which is less than the comoving radius of the observable universe. This fact can be used to define a type of cosmic
event horizon In astrophysics, an event horizon is a boundary beyond which events cannot affect an observer. The term was coined by Wolfgang Rindler Wolfgang Rindler (18 May 1924 – 8 February 2019) was a physicist working in the field of general relativity ...
whose distance from the Earth changes over time. For example, the current distance to this horizon is about 16 billion light-years, meaning that a signal from an event happening at present can eventually reach the Earth in the future if the event is less than 16 billion light-years away, but the signal will never reach the Earth if the event is more than 16 billion light-years away. Both popular and professional research articles in cosmology often use the term "universe" to mean "observable universe". This can be justified on the grounds that we can never know anything by direct experimentation about any part of the universe that is causally disconnected from the Earth, although many credible theories require a total universe much larger than the observable universe. No evidence exists to suggest that the boundary of the observable universe constitutes a boundary on the universe as a whole, nor do any of the mainstream cosmological models propose that the universe has any physical boundary in the first place, though some models propose it could be finite but unbounded,This does not mean "unbounded" in the mathematical sense; a finite universe would have an upper bound on the distance between two points. Rather, it means that there is no boundary past which there is nothing. See geodesic manifold. like a higher-dimensional analogue of the 2D surface of a sphere that is finite in area but has no edge. It is plausible that the
galaxies A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its own gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to ...

galaxies
within our observable universe represent only a minuscule fraction of the galaxies in the universe. According to the theory of
cosmic inflation In physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology Cosmology (from Ancient Greek, Greek κόσμος, ''kosmos'' "world" and -λογία, ''-logia'' "study of") is a branch of astronomy concerned with the study of the ch ...
initially introduced by its founders,
Alan Guth Alan Harvey Guth (; born February 27, 1947) is an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist. Guth has researched elementary particle theory (and how particle theory is applicable to the early universe). He is Victor Weisskopf Professor of P ...
and D. Kazanas, if it is assumed that inflation began about 10−37 seconds after the Big Bang, then with the plausible assumption that the size of the universe before the inflation occurred was approximately equal to the speed of light times its age, that would suggest that at present the entire universe's size is at least 3 × 1023 (1.5 × 1034 light-years) times the radius of the observable universe. If the universe is finite but unbounded, it is also possible that the universe is ''smaller'' than the observable universe. In this case, what we take to be very distant galaxies may actually be duplicate images of nearby galaxies, formed by light that has circumnavigated the universe. It is difficult to test this hypothesis experimentally because different images of a galaxy would show different eras in its history, and consequently might appear quite different. Bielewicz et al. claim to establish a lower bound of 27.9 gigaparsecs (91 billion light-years) on the diameter of the last scattering surface (since this is only a lower bound, since the whole universe is possibly much larger, even infinite). This value is based on matching-circle analysis of the
WMAP The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), originally known as the Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP and Explorer 80), was a NASA The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA; ) is an independent agency A regulatory age ...

WMAP
7 year data. This approach has been disputed.


Size

The
comoving distance In standard cosmology, comoving distance and proper distance are two closely related distance measures used by cosmologists to define distances between objects. ''Proper distance'' roughly corresponds to where a distant object would be at a speci ...
from Earth to the edge of the observable universe is about 14.26 giga
parsec The parsec (symbol: pc) is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric units, used in every ...

parsec
s (46.5
billion A billion is a number with two distinct definitions: *1,000,000,000 1,000,000,000 (one billion A billion is a number with two distinct definitions: *1,000,000,000 1,000,000,000 (one billion, short scale; one thousand million or milliar ...
light-year A light-year, alternatively spelt lightyear, is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric un ...
s or ) in any direction. The observable universe is thus a sphere with a
diameter In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative position ...

diameter
of about 28.5 gigaparsecs (93 billion light-years or ). Assuming that space is roughly flat (in the sense of being a
Euclidean space Euclidean space is the fundamental space of classical geometry. Originally, it was the three-dimensional space of Euclidean geometry, but in modern mathematics there are Euclidean spaces of any nonnegative integer dimension (mathematics), dimens ...
), this size corresponds to a comoving volume of about ( or ). The figures quoted above are distances now (in
cosmological time Cosmic time, or cosmological time, is the time Time is the indefinite continued sequence, progress of existence and event (philosophy), events that occur in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past, through the ...
), not distances at the time the light was emitted. For example, the cosmic microwave background radiation that we see right now was emitted at the time of photon decoupling, estimated to have occurred about years after the Big Bang, (see p. 39 for a table of best estimates for various cosmological parameters) which occurred around 13.8 billion years ago. This radiation was emitted by matter that has, in the intervening time, mostly condensed into galaxies, and those galaxies are now calculated to be about 46 billion light-years from us. To estimate the distance to that matter at the time the light was emitted, we may first note that according to the
Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric The Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker (FLRW; ) metric METRIC (Mapping EvapoTranspiration at high Resolution with Internalized Calibration) is a computer model Computer simulation is the process of mathematical modelling, performed on ...
, which is used to model the expanding universe, if at the present time we receive light with a
redshift In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular ...

redshift
of ''z'', then the
scale factor A scale factor is usually a decimal which scales Scale or scales may refer to: Mathematics * Scale (descriptive set theory)In the mathematical discipline of descriptive set theory, a scale is a certain kind of object defined on a set (mathemat ...
at the time the light was originally emitted is given by
\! a(t) = \frac.
WMAP nine-year results combined with other measurements give the redshift of photon decoupling as ''z'' = , which implies that the scale factor at the time of photon decoupling would be . So if the matter that originally emitted the oldest
cosmic microwave background The cosmic microwave background (CMB, CMBR), in Big Bang The Big Bang theory A theory is a rational Rationality is the quality or state of being rational – that is, being based on or agreeable to reason Reason is the capacity ...
(CMBR)
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
s has a present distance of 46 billion light-years, then at the time of decoupling when the photons were originally emitted, the distance would have been only about 42 million light-years. The light-travel distance to the edge of the observable universe is the
age of the Universe In physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology Cosmology (from Ancient Greek, Greek κόσμος, ''kosmos'' "world" and -λογία, ''-logia'' "study of") is a branch of astronomy concerned with the study of the chro ...
divided by the
speed of light The speed of light in vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called paramet ...
, 13.8 billion light years. This is the distance that a photon emitted shortly after the Big Bang, such as one from the
cosmic microwave background The cosmic microwave background (CMB, CMBR), in Big Bang The Big Bang theory A theory is a rational Rationality is the quality or state of being rational – that is, being based on or agreeable to reason Reason is the capacity ...
, has travelled to reach observers on Earth. Because
spacetime In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model which fuses the three-dimensional space, three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional manifold. Minkowski diagram, Spacetime diagrams can be used to visuali ...
is curved, corresponding to the
expansion of space The expansion of the universe is the increase in proper length, distance between any two given Gravitational binding energy, gravitationally unbound parts of the observable universe with time. It is an intrinsic and extrinsic properties (philosoph ...
, this distance does not correspond to the true distance at any moment in time.


Large-scale structure

Sky surveys and mappings of the various
wavelength In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular su ...

wavelength
bands of
electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. ...

electromagnetic radiation
(in particular 21-cm emission) have yielded much information on the content and character of the
universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological description of the development ...

universe
's structure. The organization of structure appears to follow a
hierarchical A hierarchy (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) that are represented as being "above", "below", or "at the same level as" one another. Hierarchy i ...

hierarchical
model with organization up to the
scale Scale or scales may refer to: Mathematics * Scale (descriptive set theory)In the mathematical discipline of descriptive set theory, a scale is a certain kind of object defined on a set (mathematics), set of point (mathematics), points in some Poli ...
of
supercluster A supercluster is a large group of smaller galaxy clusters or galaxy groups; it is among the largest known structures of the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, ...
s and filaments. Larger than this (at scales between 30 and 200 megaparsecs), there seems to be no continued structure, a phenomenon that has been referred to as the ''End of Greatness''.


Walls, filaments, nodes, and voids

The organization of structure arguably begins at the stellar level, though most cosmologists rarely address
astrophysics Astrophysics is a science that employs the methods and principles of physics in the study of astronomical objects and phenomena. Among the subjects studied are the Sun, other stars, galaxy, galaxies, extrasolar planets, the interstellar medium and ...
on that scale.
Star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark ...

Star
s are organized into
galaxies A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its own gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to ...

galaxies
, which in turn form
galaxy group A galaxy group or group of galaxies (GrG) is an aggregation of galaxies A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by it ...
s,
galaxy cluster A galaxy cluster, or cluster of galaxies, is a structure that consists of anywhere from hundreds to thousands of galaxies A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous sphe ...
s,
supercluster A supercluster is a large group of smaller galaxy clusters or galaxy groups; it is among the largest known structures of the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, ...
s, sheets, walls and filaments, which are separated by immense
voids Void may refer to: Science, engineering, and technology * Void (astronomy), the spaces between galaxy filaments that contain no galaxies * Void (composites), a pore that remains unoccupied in a composite material * Void, synonym for vacuum, a s ...
, creating a vast foam-like structure sometimes called the "cosmic web". Prior to 1989, it was commonly assumed that galaxy clusters were the largest structures in existence, and that they were distributed more or less uniformly throughout the universe in every direction. However, since the early 1980s, more and more structures have been discovered. In 1983, Adrian Webster identified the Webster LQG, a
large quasar group A large quasar group (LQG) is a collection of quasar A quasar (; also known as a quasi-stellar object, abbreviated QSO) is an extremely luminous active galactic nucleus (AGN), in which a supermassive black hole with mass ranging from millions ...
consisting of 5 quasars. The discovery was the first identification of a large-scale structure, and has expanded the information about the known grouping of matter in the universe. In 1987, Robert Brent Tully identified the
Pisces–Cetus Supercluster ComplexThe Pisces–Cetus Supercluster Complex is a galaxy filament. It includes the Virgo Supercluster which in turn contains the Local Group, the galaxy cluster that includes the Milky Way The Milky Way is the galaxy A galaxy is a gravitat ...
, the galaxy filament in which the Milky Way resides. It is about 1 billion light-years across. That same year, an unusually large region with a much lower than average distribution of galaxies was discovered, the , which measures 1.3 billion light-years across. Based on
redshift survey In astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses m ...
data, in 1989
Margaret Geller Margaret J. Geller (born December 8, 1947) is an United States, American astrophysicist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Her work has included pioneering maps of the nearby universe, studies of the relationship between galaxie ...
and
John HuchraJohn Peter Huchra ( ; December 23, 1948 – October 8, 2010) was an American astronomer An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe ...
discovered the "
Great Wall The Great Wall of China () is a series of fortifications A fortification is a military A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is typic ...
", a sheet of galaxies more than 500 million
light-year A light-year, alternatively spelt lightyear, is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric un ...
s long and 200 million light-years 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
redshift In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular ...

redshift
s. Two years later, astronomers Roger G. Clowes and Luis E. Campusano discovered the
Clowes–Campusano LQG The Clowes–Campusano LQG (CCLQG; also called LQG 3 and U1.28) is a large quasar group, consisting of 34 quasars and measures about 2 billion light-years across. It is one of the List of largest known cosmic structures, largest known superstructur ...
, a
large quasar group A large quasar group (LQG) is a collection of quasar A quasar (; also known as a quasi-stellar object, abbreviated QSO) is an extremely luminous active galactic nucleus (AGN), in which a supermassive black hole with mass ranging from millions ...
measuring two billion light-years at its widest point which was the largest known structure in the universe at the time of its announcement. In April 2003, another large-scale structure was discovered, the
Sloan Great Wall The Sloan Great Wall (SGW) is a cosmic structure formed by a giant wall of galaxies A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held t ...

Sloan Great Wall
. In August 2007, a possible supervoid was detected in the constellation Eridanus. It coincides with the '
CMB cold spot The CMB Cold Spot or WMAP Cold Spot is a region of the sky seen in microwave, microwaves that has been found to be unusually large and cold relative to the expected properties of the cosmic microwave background, cosmic microwave background radiat ...
', 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, almost as big as the Giant Void mentioned above. Another large-scale structure is the SSA22 Protocluster, a collection of galaxies and enormous gas bubbles that measures about 200 million light-years across. In 2011, a large quasar group was discovered, U1.11, measuring about 2.5 billion light-years across. On January 11, 2013, another large quasar group, the
Huge-LQG The Huge Large Quasar Group, (Huge-LQG, also called U1.27) is a possible structure or pseudo-structure of 73 quasar A quasar (; also known as a quasi-stellar object, abbreviated QSO) is an extremely luminous active galactic nucleus (AGN), in w ...

Huge-LQG
, was discovered, which was measured to be four billion light-years across, the largest known structure in the universe at that time. In November 2013, astronomers discovered the
Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall The Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall or the Great Wall is the List of largest cosmic structures, largest known structure in the observable universe, measuring approximately 10 billion Light-year, light-years in length (the observable univers ...
, an even bigger structure twice as large as the former. It was defined by the mapping of
gamma-ray burst In gamma-ray astronomy, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are immensely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant Galaxy, galaxies. They are the brightest and most energetic Electromagnetic radiation, electromagnetic events known to occur in ...
s. In 2021, the
American Astronomical Society The American Astronomical Society (AAS, sometimes spoken as "double-A-S") is an American society of professional astronomers and other interested individuals, headquartered in Washington, DC ) , image_skyline = , imag ...
announced the detection of the Giant Arc; a crescent-shaped string of galaxies that span 3.3 billion light years in length, located 9.2 billion light years from Earth in the constellation
Boötes Boötes is a constellation in the northern sky, located between 0° and +60° declination, and 13 and 16 hours of right ascension on the celestial sphere. The name comes from Latin ''Boōtēs'', which comes from Ancient Greek, Greek Βοώτη ...

Boötes
from observations captured by the
Sloan Digital Sky Survey The Sloan Digital Sky Survey or SDSS is a major multi-spectral imaging and spectroscopic redshift survey using a dedicated 2.5-m wide-angle optical telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, United States. The project was named after ...
.


End of Greatness

The ''End of Greatness'' is an observational scale discovered at roughly 100  Mpc (roughly 300 million light-years) where the lumpiness seen in the large-scale structure of the
universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological description of the development ...

universe
is
homogenized Homogeneity and heterogeneity are concepts often used in the Science, sciences and statistics relating to the Uniformity (chemistry), uniformity of a Chemical substance, substance or organism. A material or image that is homogeneous is uniform in ...
and isotropized in accordance with the
Cosmological Principle #REDIRECT Cosmological principle In modern physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides a description of the largest-scale ...
. At this scale, no pseudo-random
fractal In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities a ...

fractal
ness is apparent. The
supercluster A supercluster is a large group of smaller galaxy clusters or galaxy groups; it is among the largest known structures of the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, ...
s and filaments seen in smaller surveys are
random In common parlance, randomness is the apparent or actual lack of pattern A pattern is a regularity in the world, in human-made design, or in abstract ideas. As such, the elements of a pattern repeat in a predictable manner. A geometric p ...

random
ized to the extent that the smooth distribution of the universe is visually apparent. It was not until the
redshift survey In astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses m ...
s of the 1990s were completed that this scale could accurately be observed.


Observations

Another indicator of large-scale structure is the '
Lyman-alpha forest In astronomical spectroscopy, the Lyman-alpha forest is a series of Spectral line, absorption lines in the spectra of distant Galaxy, galaxies and quasars arising from the Lyman series, Lyman-alpha atomic electron transition, electron transition of ...

Lyman-alpha forest
'. This is a collection of
absorption lines A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from emission (electromagnetic radiation), emission or absorption (electromagnetic radiation), absorption of light in a narrow frequency range, c ...
that appear in the spectra of light from
quasar A quasar (; also known as a quasi-stellar object, abbreviated QSO) is an extremely luminous active galactic nucleus An active galactic nucleus (AGN) is a compact region at the center of a galaxy A galaxy is a gravitation Gravity () ...

quasar
s, which are interpreted as indicating the existence of huge thin sheets of intergalactic (mostly
hydrogen Hydrogen is the chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol H and atomic number 1. Hydrogen is the lightest element. At standard temperature and pressure, standard conditions hydrogen is a gas of diatomic molecules having the che ...

hydrogen
) gas. These sheets appear to collapse into filaments, which can feed galaxies as they grow where filaments either cross or are overdense. An early direct evidence for this cosmic web of gas was the 2019 detection, by astronomers from the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research in Japan and Durham University in the U.K., of light from the very brightest part of this web, surrounding and illuminated by a cluster of forming galaxies, acting as cosmic flashlights for intercluster medium hydrogen fluorescence via Lyman-alpha emissions. In 2021, an international team, headed by Roland Bacon from the Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon, reported the first observation of diffuse extended Lyman-alpha emission from redshift 3.1 to 4.5 that traced several cosmic web filaments on scales of 2.5−4 cMpc, in filamentary environments outside massive structures typical of web nodes. Some caution is required in describing structures on a cosmic scale because things are often different from how they appear.
Gravitational lens A gravitational lens is a distribution of matter (such as a cluster of galaxies) between a distant light source and an observer, that is capable of bending the light from the source as the light travels towards the observer. This effect is know ...

Gravitational lens
ing (bending of light by gravitation) can make an image appear to originate in a different direction from its real source. This is caused when foreground objects (such as galaxies) curve surrounding spacetime (as predicted by general relativity), and deflect passing light rays. Rather usefully, strong gravitational lensing can sometimes magnify distant galaxies, making them easier to detect. Weak gravitational lensing, Weak lensing (gravitational shear) by the intervening universe in general also subtly changes the observed large-scale structure. The large-scale structure of the universe also looks different if one only uses
redshift In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular ...

redshift
to measure distances to galaxies. For example, galaxies behind a galaxy cluster are attracted to it, and so fall towards it, and so are 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 somewhat squashed if using redshifts to measure distance. An opposite effect works on the galaxies already within a cluster: the galaxies have some random motion around the cluster center, and when these random motions are converted to redshifts, the cluster appears elongated. This creates a "''Redshift-space distortions, finger of God''"—the illusion of a long chain of galaxies pointed at the Earth.


Cosmography of Earth's cosmic neighborhood

At the centre of the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster, a gravitational anomaly called the Great Attractor affects the motion of galaxies over a region hundreds of millions of light-years across. These galaxies are all
redshift In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular ...

redshift
ed, in accordance with
Hubble's law Hubble's law, also known as the Hubble–Lemaître law, is the observation in physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides ...
. This indicates 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 (constellation), Hydra and Centaurus constellations. In its vicinity there is a preponderance of large old galaxies, many of which are colliding with their neighbours, or radiating large amounts of radio waves. In 1987, astronomer R. Brent Tully of the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy identified what he called the
Pisces–Cetus Supercluster ComplexThe Pisces–Cetus Supercluster Complex is a galaxy filament. It includes the Virgo Supercluster which in turn contains the Local Group, the galaxy cluster that includes the Milky Way The Milky Way is the galaxy A galaxy is a gravitat ...
, a structure one billion
light-year A light-year, alternatively spelt lightyear, is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric un ...
s long and 150 million light-years across in which, he claimed, the Local Supercluster was embedded.


Mass of ordinary matter

The mass of the observable universe is often quoted as 1050 tonnes or 1053 kg. In this context, mass refers to ordinary matter and includes the interstellar medium (ISM) and the intergalactic medium (IGM). However, it excludes dark matter and
dark energy In physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides a description of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the unive ...

dark energy
. This quoted value for the mass of ordinary matter in the universe can be estimated based on critical density. The calculations are for the observable universe only as the volume of the whole is unknown and may be infinite.


Estimates based on critical density

Critical density is the energy density for which the universe is flat. If there is no dark energy, it is also the density for which the expansion of the universe is poised between continued expansion and collapse. From the Friedmann equations, the value for \rho_c critical density, is: :\rho_c = \frac, where ''G'' is the gravitational constant and H = ''H0'' is the present value of the Hubble constant. The value for ''H0'', due to the European Space Agency's Planck Telescope, is ''H0'' = 67.15 kilometres per second per megaparsec. This gives a critical density of (commonly quoted as about 5 hydrogen atoms per cubic metre). This density includes four significant types of energy/mass: ordinary matter (4.8%), neutrinos (0.1%), cold dark matter (26.8%), and
dark energy In physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides a description of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the unive ...

dark energy
(68.3%). Although neutrinos are Standard Model particles, they are listed separately because Scale factor (cosmology)#Radiation-dominated era, they are ultra-relativistic and hence Equation of state (cosmology)#Ultra-relativistic particles, behave like radiation rather than like matter. The density of ordinary matter, as measured by Planck, is 4.8% of the total critical density or . To convert this density to mass we must multiply by volume, a value based on the radius of the "observable universe". Since the universe has been expanding for 13.8 billion years, the
comoving distance In standard cosmology, comoving distance and proper distance are two closely related distance measures used by cosmologists to define distances between objects. ''Proper distance'' roughly corresponds to where a distant object would be at a speci ...
(radius) is now about 46.6 billion light-years. Thus, volume (''πr''3) equals and the mass of ordinary matter equals density () times volume () or .


Matter content—number of atoms

Assuming the mass of ordinary matter is about as discussed above, and assuming all atoms are hydrogen atoms (which are about 74% of all atoms in our galaxy by mass, see Abundance of the chemical elements), the estimated total number of atoms in the observable universe is obtained by dividing the mass of ordinary matter by the mass of a hydrogen atom ( divided by ). The result is approximately 1080 hydrogen atoms, also known as the Eddington number.


Most distant objects

The most distant astronomical object identified (as at 2016) is a galaxy classified GN-z11. In 2009, a gamma ray burst, GRB 090423, was found to have a
redshift In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular ...

redshift
of 8.2, which indicates that the collapsing star that caused it exploded when the universe was only 630 million years old.New Gamma-Ray Burst Smashes Cosmic Distance Record – NASA Science
Science.nasa.gov. Retrieved on 2011-05-01.
The burst happened approximately 13 billion years ago, so a distance of about 13 billion light-years was widely quoted in the media (or sometimes a more precise figure of 13.035 billion light-years), though this would be the "light travel distance" (see Distance measures (cosmology)) rather than the "Comoving and proper distances#Uses of the proper distance, proper distance" used in both
Hubble's law Hubble's law, also known as the Hubble–Lemaître law, is the observation in physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides ...
and in defining the size of the observable universe (cosmologist Edward L. WNed Wright argues against the common use of light travel distance in astronomical press releases o
this page
and at the bottom of the page offers online calculators that can be used to calculate the current proper distance to a distant object in a flat universe based on either the redshift ''z'' or the light travel time). The proper distance for a redshift of 8.2 would be about 9.2 Megaparsecs, Gpc, or about 30 billion light-years. Another record-holder for most distant object is a galaxy observed through and located beyond Abell 2218, also with a light travel distance of approximately 13 billion light-years from Earth, with observations from the Hubble telescope indicating a redshift between 6.6 and 7.1, and observations from W. M. Keck Observatory, Keck telescopes indicating a redshift towards the upper end of this range, around 7. The galaxy's light now observable on Earth would have begun to emanate from its source about 750 million years after the
Big Bang The Big Bang theory A theory is a rational Rationality is the quality or state of being rational – that is, being based on or agreeable to reason Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic ...

Big Bang
.


Horizons

The limit of observability in our universe is set by a set of cosmological horizons which limit—based on various physical constraints—the extent to which we can obtain information about various events in the universe. The most famous horizon is the
particle horizonThe particle horizon (also called the cosmological horizon, the comoving horizon (in Dodelson's text), or the cosmic light horizon) is the maximum distance from which light from particle In the Outline of physical science, physical sciences, a par ...
which sets a limit on the precise distance that can be seen due to the finite age of the universe. Additional horizons are associated with the possible future extent of observations (larger than the particle horizon owing to the expansion of space), an "optical horizon" at the Cosmic microwave background, surface of last scattering, and associated horizons with the surface of last scattering for cosmic neutrino background, neutrinos and gravitational wave background, gravitational waves.


See also

* * * * * * * * * *


Notes


References


Further reading

* * * *


External links


"Millennium Simulation" of structure forming
– Max Planck Institute of Astrophysics, Garching, Germany *



* [http://www.phys.ksu.edu/personal/gahs/phys191/horizon.html Animation of the cosmic light horizon]
Inflation and the Cosmic Microwave Background by Charles Lineweaver

Logarithmic Maps of the Universe

List of publications of the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey


– Note, this map only gives a rough cosmographical estimate of the expected distribution of superclusters within the observable universe; very little actual mapping has been done beyond a distance of one billion light-years.
Video: ''The Known Universe'', from the American Museum of Natural History

NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database

Cosmography of the Local Universe
at irfu.cea.fr (17:35)
arXiv


– ''LiveScience'', July 2021.
Limits to knowledge about Universe
– ''Forbes'', May 2019. {{Portal bar, Stars, Spaceflight, Outer space Physical cosmology Concepts in astronomy