In National Geographic this week:
On the outskirts of creation, unknown, unseen “structures” are tugging on our universe like cosmic magnets, a controversial new study says.
Everything in the known universe is said to be racing toward the massive clumps of matter at more than 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) an hour—a movement the researchers have dubbed dark flow.
The presence of the extra-universal matter suggests that our universe is part of something bigger—a multiverse—and that whatever is out there is very different from the universe we know, according to study leader Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
The theory could rewrite the laws of physics. Current models say the known, or visible, universe—which extends as far as light could have traveled since the big bang—is essentially the same as the rest of space-time (the three dimensions of space plus time).
In other words, there’s something very, very large out there, and it is outside of the known universe:
In an attempt to simplify the mind-bending concept, Kashlinsky says to picture yourself floating in the middle of a vast ocean. As far as the eye can see, the ocean is smooth and the same in every direction, just as most astronomers believe the universe is. You would think that beyond the horizon, therefore, nothing is different.
“But then you discover a faint but coherent flow in your ocean,” Kashlinsky said. “You would deduce that the entire cosmos is not exactly like what you can see within your own horizon.”
There must be an out-of-sight mountain river or ravine pushing or pulling the water. Or in the cosmological case, Kashlinsky speculates that “this motion is caused by structures well beyond the current cosmological horizon, which is more than 14 billion light-years away.”
This reminds me of the scene from the first Star Wars movie, when Harrison Ford is cutting up with Chubaka in their space cruiser—and suddenly they realize that they’re caught in the gravity of something far larger than themselves—Darth Vader’s planet-sized “Death Star.”