A Su­per(void) Ex­pla­na­tion

Sound­ings THE COLD SPOT IS A MYS­TERY

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Soundings - HEATHER GOSS

astronomers have been try­ing to solve for about a decade. In 2004, a NASA satel­lite sur­vey­ing the cos­mic mi­crowave back­ground—the first light af­ter the Big Bang—found an enor­mous cold spot, also ob­served later by the Euro­pean Space Agency’s Planck satel­lite. While the tem­per­a­ture of the back­ground ra­di­a­tion varies across the uni­verse, this strangely cool spot was sig­nif­i­cantly larger than any other.

Many the­o­ries have been lobbed to ex­plain it. Some astronomers think that the com­plex al­go­rithms used to crunch the satel­lite data “cre­ated” it. A few think the cold spot can be ex­plained by string the­ory’s idea of mul­ti­verses, in which a neigh­bor uni­verse is touch­ing ours.

But a pa­per pub­lished in the Monthly No­tices of the Royal As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety in April sug­gests the cold spot is due to a su­per­void in space. István Sza­pudi leads the team at the Univer­sity of Hawaii at Manoa, which uses ob­ser­va­tions from the PAN-STARRS1 tele­scope in Haleakala, Maui, and NASA’S Wide-field In­frared Sur­vey Ex­plorer (WISE) satel­lite. Not only would the ex­is­tence of the su­per­void be more ev­i­dence that the uni­verse is ex­pand­ing—be­cause light trav­el­ing through an ex­pand­ing su­per­void would lose en­ergy as it ex­ited, read­ing as a colder tem­per­a­ture—but, Sza­pudi says, it would be “the largest in­di­vid­ual struc­ture ever iden­ti­fied by hu­man­ity.”

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