August 29, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Is the Universe Hole-y?

Cosmologists are trying to avoid a void.  Since astronomers at U of Minnesota announced a gaping hole in a distant part of the universe, representing a region of space devoid of matter a billion light-years across, others are scrambling to discern what it means.  The issue was discussed on EurekAlert, BBC News, Science Now, and Space.com.  It even made the nightly TV news.
    The Minnesota team compared observations from the Very Large Array of radio telescopes with WMAP data, and looked closer at a region showing a remarkable drop in the number of galaxies in a region toward the constellation Eridanus.  Other voids have been detected in the past, but never one this large.  “Astronomers don’t know why the hole is there,” said science writer Robert Roy Britt.  Others don’t know that it’s there.

Cosmological observations are so deeply intertwined with theory, it is often hard to tell the one from the other.  The hole could be real, or it could be an artifact of the theory and techniques used.  Some cosmologists (see the BBC article) are claiming this a confirmation of dark energy.  ScienceNow said it contradicts the inflation theory.  And it quoted one astronomer who thought the conclusion was premature.  The Minnesota team said their announcement will need independent confirmation, so it is unwise to lean too heavily on the reports.  Still, it’s fun to see scientists get surprised once in awhile.

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Categories: Cosmology

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