Astronomy is more than just a study of the heavens. Humanity’s first great venture into the scientific world is synonymous of mankind’s desire to learn more, to know more and never be satisfied with current learning. For every answer astronomical studies provides, there are inherent questions not too far behind. A discovery made in 1981 is a prime example of this.
Measuring a mind-numbing distance of 250 million light-years in diameter, there is a region of space approximately 700 million light-years from Earth that is roughly spherical in shape. It can be found with equipment powerful enough to see not too far from the constellation of Boötes. The description of this region and its location has given it the name of The Boötes void and is one of the largest examples of this phenomena yet known. This is likely the reason for it’s pseudonym The Great Void. The void was initially discovered as part of a study into the existing process of redshift – or the movement of interstellar objects to or from Earth. After it was discovered, astronomers focused more attention on it and quickly found that inside the void were galaxies. Approximately 60 have been found to date, which for a region of that size is a limited number.
Is the Void Older than the Universe?One of the more pertinent questions about this void is obviously what is it?
Nobody knows one way or another at the moment but studies are ongoing. These have yielded some results and a few details about this void have been established. As well as it’s size and distance, a quite surprising statistic has been proposed. Scientists believe that in order to grow or evolve to the current appreciated size of this void, it would have to pre-date the accepted age of the Universe. In other words it would have be more than 13 billion years old and have been in existence before the Big Bang occurred. There may be another, as yet undiscovered, explanation for this though.
One idea that has been suggested is that this is the combination of two or more voids that have coalesced at some point in the past. This is a conclusion based on the opinion of some that the known galaxies contained within the void have formed a tubular style structure and may mark the boundaries of former voids that have come into contact with each other. These galaxies are stuck within the void and, if the Universe endures for long enough, they may end up escaping it.
Highly Advanced Civilizations Consuming Starlight
Almost all of the explanations put up for debate are of a natural source. A more radical idea that has been put on the table is that this is not a natural occurrence but a designed one. Hundreds of millions of years ago, a civilization may have begun construction on an engineering project best known as a Dyson Sphere. The theory of the Dyson Sphere is if extraterrestrial intelligent beings exist and have reached a high level of technological advancement, they would have moved on from fossil fuels and would have learned to convert starlight into energy. This was a suggestion that first appeared in print back in 1937 and brought to the attention of mainstream science by Freeman Dyson in 1960 with his paper Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-red Radiation. Dyson concluded that such a device was a natural progression of exhausting possible fossil fuel sources and relying on alternative energy sources. Dyson further suggested that a structure of this design would be found surrounding just a star and isn’t likely to encompass a region of space 200 million light-years across. Finding such a structure would almost certainly prove the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Whatever the real explanation for the void, it has given astronomers a lot more to consider about the known cosmos. Ideas about the formation of galaxies and even the origins of the Universe have been reconsidered. The Boötes void is not alone. Other cosmic voids can be found in other regions of space as well. The so-called Local Void is a mere baby in comparison to The Boötes void at roughly 60 million light-years across and forms part of the Virgo Supercluster of which the Milky Way is a member. Other voids can be found within the constellations of Taurus and Eridanus.
The Boötes void proves beyond all doubt that whenever astronomers think they have answers, the questions often change.