The Universe Is Not Expanding Uniformly

A few weeks ago, researchers announced the discovery of a “dark flow” of invisible matter tugging at distant galaxy clusters at the edge of the universe. Now comes more evidence of unseen and unknown forces in the cosmos, but this time its closer to home. A group of researchers have discovered that our particular part of the Universe — out to a distance of 400 million light years — is not expanding uniformly in all directions as expected. To be exact, the expansion is faster in one half of the sky than in the other. “It’s as if, in addition to the expansion, our ‘neighbourhood’ in the Universe has an extra kick in a certain direction,” says Mike Hudson from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. “We expected the expansion to become more uniform on increasingly larger scales, but that’s not what we found.” If confirmed, their findings will result in a new understanding of the origin of structure in the universe and possible revisions to the standard cosmological model.

Hudson and two other scientists have been conducting research on large-scale cosmic flows and the general expansion of the universe. This expansion increases the distances between galaxies steadily with time, and is called the Hubble flow. Deviations of the velocity of galaxies from the overall Hubble flow is called the “peculiar velocity.” By examining the peculiar velocities of clusters and superclusters scientists can obtain estimates of local mass concentrations that may be responsible for causing any deviations from the Hubble flow.

In particular, these researchers were attempting to address a longstanding question about the origin of the approximately 600 km/s peculiar velocity of the Local Group of galaxies, with respect to the Cosmic Microwave Background.

Using several different surveys they discovered that about 50% of the Local Group’s motion is faster than anticipated. To produce this motion, they believe there must be large unseen and unknown structures in the universe. They write, “The large value of the residual motion implies that there are significant velocities generated by very-large scale structures,” and the structures lie beyond the Local Group.

Brian McNamara, a University Research Chair in UW’s department of physics and astronomy, says Hudson is finding that much of the matter in the nearby universe moves as an ensemble with a surprisingly high speed. “If the work he and others are doing is confirmed, it will require a major revision in the way we think the universe came into being and how it evolved.”

Hudson and his colleagues have submitted a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society, and a preprint version is available here.

Sources: arXiv, University of Waterloo

40 Replies to “The Universe Is Not Expanding Uniformly”

  1. Yes,

    this is EXACTLY the sort of non uniformity evidence I was expecting;

    The BIG BANG THEORY proposed by the Belgium monk: Georges Lemaître and supported by Hubble’s observations are now also in question and the non uniformity/ non isotropic arguments are now going to resurface;

    moreover, if Frederick Hoyle were alive to day he would be delighted; he passed away recently in 2001.

    intellgent design IMHO started this universe, not just a random uniform Big Bang from a single point in time. The universe is much less uniform than Hubble or Lemaître realized. The Masons call this the Grand Architect of creation.

  2. The last post sounds a wee bit biased. I think that this finding supports the “dark flow” findings. The explanation for it will be the same and it will require revision of the standard model to account for this. The early period of inflation will have to be redefined to allow for super massive structures to form that create these flows that we see today. The existence of such massive structures would help explain dark energy in that they would restrict the expansion pressure of dark energy in a smaller universe which is why dark energy appears to become more powerful as the universe expands. It may be that the gravitational pull of these structures is weaking as objects move a further distance away.

  3. This sort of reminds me of a lava flow moving down the side of a mountain, areas of the lava that are cooling move slower than those that are still red hot. Still, you’d expect that anything that is expanding in such a way that it is often illustrated using a ballon as a model, that it wouldn’t more faster in some areas, and not so fast elsewhere, doesn’t make sense.

  4. Isn’t the expansion of the universe to be understood as an expansion of space itself, which is the reason for increased travel speed on the edges of the observable university? So not the speed of the objects by themselves is the reason why they get out of sight but the stretching of space between here and there?

    But what has this general expansion to do with the velocity of “nearby” local objects due to attraction by a yet not directly observed very-large scale structure adjacent to the Local Group?

  5. It’s always been my understanding that relative local velocities could not be used to support the idea of the broader expansion of the Universe. Andromeda is headed our way at a pretty good clip. Galactic collisions are fairly commonplace. Of course there are going to peculiar velocities, even with regard to larger structures. The Universe was set in motion with the big bang, and a certain amount of turbulence would hardly be surprising. Add gravitional effects to that and it hardly seems likely that expansion would have any meaning at all on any but the broadest scales.

  6. Some of the last posts are missing a key point. Regarless of the individual local group members relative to each other, all of the local group is moving in a certain direction at the same speed, the so-called peculiar velocity. Therefore some object or structure is responsible. The first thing that came to mind was that a galaxy cluster could be responsible, but it seems that what is implied is something more massive, which sounds alot like dark flow.

  7. “it seems that what is implied is something more massive, which sounds alot like dark flow.”

    There is “flow”. It is but just a different word for the description of the observed movement.

    What does “dark” mean? That the cause is “dark”? Is “dark flow” not just an explanation by labeling with attributes?

  8. It seems to me that theory is a major component of this equation,the bottom line is we don’t know,the more we think we know the further away we get from fact.

  9. To Stephen R Deens


    this is EXACTLY the sort of non uniformity evidence I was expecting;

    This is exactly NOT what you have predicted.

    “intellgent design IMHO started this universe…”

    That’s your personal opinion, likely biased, and not supported by any predictions made…

  10. 1.Dark energy = Hubble flow
    2.Dark matter = Dark flow

    amiright? imsoright!

  11. The local group is a very small patch of the whole visible universe. It is not surprising that it is moving relative to the general background. Simple turbulence in an expanding gas (such as a cloud of steam) will give similar effexts.

    The immediate cause of the movement could be attraction by some large “dark” body or group of bodies. Or it could be inherited from turbulence in the early universe, just as the Earth’s spin is inherited from rotational turbulence in the gas-and-dust cloud that developed into the solar system.

  12. Since everything in the cosmos seems to have a ‘spin’ to it, why can’t our local group be spinning on a central axis as it expands away from the center of the universe? Wouldn’t this account for half of it seeming to be expanding faster than the other half?

  13. If, as I believe, there are other dimensions then presumably the matter of those dimensions would form structures.
    Lets say for example, that we live in dimension 7, then for all we know a galaxy in dimension 6 could be influencing the particles that we have in common.
    It could just be, as in music, that dimension 6 is just a higher harmonic of what we understand as the universe.
    Note to self: must buy better tuning fork 🙂

  14. Dear Nancy Atkinson, the bulk flow found by Hudson et al. does not belong to another “unseen and unknown force” in the universe. It is part of the much bigger dark flow discovered some time earlier and with methods designed for much greater distances.

    I cite Sasha Kashlinsky (one of the authors of the dark flow papers):

    ” Interestingly, the results from a recent study done by Watkins, Feldman and Hudson (arXiv:0809.4041) “Consistently Large Cosmic Flows on Scales of 100h^-1Mpc: a Challenge for the Standard LCDM Cosmology” , which appeared after our papers have been posted, are in excellent agreement with our results, albeit done on smaller scales and obtained with different methods”

    Taken from here:

  15. 400 million light years is a very large space – 3% of the distance of the observable universe.

    Given this extent would cover dozens of galaxy superclusters and galactic voids, it is expected there would be speed differences in this space.

    Nice website here zoomable in to 50,000 light years all the way out to 14 billion light years.

  16. ok, so if at the beginning of the universe everything started expanding, it would be like a sphere growing constantly, and if we were somewhere (not in the middle) of this sphere and we watched this expansion, wouldnt it be expected that we wouldnt see things expand uniformly relative to our position?

  17. Don’t really surprise me much .
    Just another step forward from the realisation that we are not the centre of the universe. Although ain’t too sure where we go from here. Just want to wish all fellow stargazers out there, dark skies

  18. don’t bother yourselves with such things as this could be just a simulated reality, and our Universe altogether with what we experience as our individual reality is just a some sort of “videogame”. We not gonna get to the bottom of it, as we don’t expect the characters in the latest computer videogames to understand what, who or how they been created (by computer programmers). I would like to hear more opinions about this… with attempts to explain weird things such as why light speed is limited at its current 300,000km/s and other…

  19. I’ll just quote Spock on this one: ‘Fascinating.’ (Deadpan look on face.)

    Super Nerd

  20. Yoogih, no one will believe in you, becuz our brains are designed not to understand the “real reality” 😀 …our brains will start to hurt if we brood on the real reality.

    Whoever built our reality has designed our “platform” really well, perhaps there “were” several versions that existed before that “crashed” or had several “bugs” 😀 .

    For all we know, our “Universe” is still in its “beta” stages 😀

  21. Hills and Valleys in the fabric of the universe, the bubble may be expanding however localized parts flow the 4D landscape of matter and energy.

    Very interesting.

    Perhaps future interstellar travelers, may also follow the (currents) of space time. 🙂

    Sustained on the warm flows of matter.


  22. I have been saying for years to my fellow astromers that the “The Universe Is Not Expanding Uniformly” and that we need to reconsider the BIG BANG theory and expansion models to incorporate more thinking along these lines.

    this evidence (which is still in debate) is an excellent first step in that direction.

    cosmoloigy is changing every day, advancing years in just a few months, so is it really a surprise that we found somehting like this?


    we should have been expecting it, and we should expect to see even more diversity and NON uniformity in the years to come.

    Hubble would feel uncomfortable with these results and Hoyle would be delighted.

    The tapestry of the cosmological body needs non unformity to maintain healthy evolution and growth.

  23. L.s.,

    It seems that one of the most evident mechanisms in the Universe is overlooked.. Gravity.
    I think Galaxies are subject to the same gravitational influences as our planets do revolving around Sol (Doh..), and the Universe doesn’t _seem_ to be expanding uniformly because Galaxies are influencing each other.
    Also Black Holes will influence the trajectories of everything that isn’t captured in them, even Galaxies.
    I just think that the Universe just became messier when getting older, and this finding doesn’t surprise me one bit..

  24. These findings could turn out to be a statistical fluke but that appears unlikely. As for the effect being generated by one of the superclusters, this was my first thought as well. But the distance is so vast (3% of the visible universe) that more than one super cluster would be involved. That would put this on par with dark flow and require supermassive structures which we aren’t seeing. Dark flow if verified certainly makes for a much more interesting universe as opposed to the boring uniformity once considered sacrosanct. But it is potentially explainable via tinkering with the inflation period of big bang theory. So the big bang is by no means dead.

  25. Frankly, I have pretty serious problems with the assignment of undefinables as “causes” for observed phenomena. “Dark matter” and “Dark Flow” are meaningless supposition until you can establish not only whether they exist, but precisely what they are. Such irregularities of motion are not to be unexpected on a range of scales. They may be the result of gravitational attraction or they may be an artifact of an early state of turbulance, or they may be both. This arbitrary assignment of cause to something that remains in itself undefinable is hardly serious science.

  26. Perhaps this is a signal of a “baby universe” inflating and being pinched off from our own universe, as hypothesized in Andre Linde’s work with spontaneous inflation and multiverse theory. It also brings to mind a possible influence of the “Great Attractor” discovered behind the Milky Way in Centaurus some years ago. This also may seem to be a more plausible explanation of this “dark flow”. But more research will be needed to confirm and explain this latest cosmological curveball thrown our way.

  27. This “dark flow” stuff – is it lumpy? Does it have big pointy chunks in it; flotsam that could take out an entire galaxy – that would be *undetectable*? Is one of those ‘lumps’ bearing at unimaginable speed upon our very galaxy right now?

    Oh great: another thing to worry about. Thanks.

  28. Quantum Flux,

    You are kidding right? About the red/blue shift applicable to the rotation of the earth? I mean, a few thousand km an hour compared to percentages of light speed?
    Come now, let’s elevate.

  29. After reading both papers on this finding, I still find no reference ruling in or out possible effects of the “Great Attractor” located in the constellations Centaurus and Hydra at a distance close to this new “dark flow” anomaly( see the Wiki page for the “Great Attractor”). It is located behind the Milky Way in the so-called Zone of Avoidance. Alternatively, might a more distant, undiscovered supercluster exist even further out behind the GA? Until these questions are answered, I see no reason to invoke new astrophysics to explain their result. Already the Local Group and Virgo Cluster show kinematic movement towards the GA along with several other galaxy clusters. Maybe astronomers need to search for infalling galaxy clusters located on the far side of this apparent anomaly. Wikipedia entry mentions “The first indications of a deviation from uniform expansion of the universe were reported in 1973 and again in 1978. The location of the Great Attractor was finally determined in 1986, and is situated at a distance of somewhere between 150 million and 250 million light years (the latter being the most recent estimate) from the Milky Way, in the direction of the Hydra and Centaurus constellations. That region of space is dominated by the Norma cluster (ACO 3627),[1][2] a massive cluster of galaxies, containing a preponderance of large, old galaxies, many of which are colliding with their neighbours, and/or radiating large amounts of radio waves.

    Attempts to further study the Great Attractor and other phenomena are hampered due to line of sight obstruction by its location in the zone of avoidance (the part of the night sky obscured by the Milky Way galaxy). Ronin and Jarod both seem to be on the right track.

  30. The two published papers referenced in the above article can by found at the site as arXiv:0809.3734v1 and arXiv:0809.3733v1.

  31. The question I would like to ask is whether the ‘faster’ expansion is in an area where large amounts of visable matter are present.
    If so, as I have always suspected, it is matter causing the expansion as it generates spacetime.

  32. Too many fantasies. The Universe is eternal, has not starting point and no end. Consequently, has not expansion but it is in perpetual evolution. It is flat and the space is Euclidian. Gravitation is not Attraction but Pushing by Gravitons. Forget FANTASIA. Go back to the common sense of Galileo Galilee, Newton and Carezani with his Autodynamics for short: Fundamental Basis for a New Relativistic Mechanics.

    Lucy Haye
    [email protected]

  33. Anyone bothered to measure the speed of starlight? ANYONE? Few people understand photons and light.

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