We May Be Floating in the Middle of the Observable Universe's Largest Void

There's a lot of stuff here on Earth. Then again, everything is relative. In the grandest of the grand scheme of things — like, a universe-wide scheme — our planet is a lonely little dot in the midst of a whole lot of nothing. According to a 2017 study, the rest of the universe is having a party, and we're just over here in the celestial boondocks.

Hellooooo? Anybody Home?

A study from University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Ben Hoscheit says that the Milky Way might be smack dab in the middle of the largest void we know of in the observable universe. No need to feel spooked; the universe is littered with voids. About 80 percent of the observable universe is empty space, after all. (That's why they call it "space" and not "stuff.")

Imagine a block of super holey Swiss cheese; this is a good way to visualize how we think the universe is constructed. The holes represent voids, which have stars and planets and the like, but not many. The actual cheese represents the filaments in the universe that contain a really high concentration of galaxies, stars, planets, dust, all the good stuff. (Whatever, good for them.) Let's spin it another way. If the universe were the United States, the Milky Way wouldn't be Times Square, but rather a little country house on a farm in southwestern Wyoming — in a place that isn't totally empty, but doesn't have a lot going on.

Literally Astronomically Huge

When we said there's not a lot going on in our galactic neck of the woods, we meant it. Researchers say our hometown void — the KBC void — is seven times bigger than regular voids. Where just your average, nondescript, run-of-the-mill void is about between 90 million and 450 million light-years in radius, our very own void has a radius of around one billion light-years. That's billion with a B. Maybe a stretch, but thought we'd put it out there: Maybe us being inside the largest void in the universe is why aliens haven't come to visit. And no, we are not going to apologize for bringing aliens into this.

Gotta Be Consistent

So what? If we really are camped out in the center of a gaping expanse of nothingness, it could help explain a lot of the weird problems relating to astronomy. Specifically, this idea could give us better insight into the Hubble constant, which is the rate at which the universe appears to be expanding. Different results come from the different ways scientists have tried to measure the Hubble constant, which is, understandably, quite frustrating. This new research shows how our existence inside a big ol' void helps explain discrepancies within various measurements of the Hubble constant.

"It is often really hard to find consistent solutions between many different observations," astronomer Amy Barger, who led the 2013 study, told Newsweek. "The density profile [of the void] is consistent with cosmological observables. One always wants to find consistency, or else there is a problem somewhere that needs to be resolved."

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Dive further into our place in the universe with Stephen Hawking's classic book, "A Brief History of Time." The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto October 12, 2017

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