The largest structure in the observable universe or cosmic variance?


Figure 1: The coloured background indicates the peaks and troughs in the occurrence of quasars at the redshift of the Huge-LQG.  The LQG is shown as a long chain of peaks indicated by black circles. The red crosses indicate the positions of quasars in a smaller LQG, the Clowes & Campusano LQG at the same redshift, around z = 1.28. Credit: R. G. Clowes / UCLan

In late 2012 a discovery was made1 of what was afterwards called the Huge Large Quasar Group (Huge-LQG).  A collection of 73 quasars all with redshifts around a mean value of z = 1.27 was discovered in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS DR7QSO) that covers 15 degrees across the sky.

A new discovery was made in 2013 of a massively large quasar group as indicated by the black circles in figure 1. Its longest extension is about 4 billion light-years based on standard concordance cosmology.  This was then claimed as the largest single structure in the universe. Its location on the sky is about 8.8 degrees north of the Clowes & Campusano large quasar group (LQG) at the same redshift, with a mean of z = 1.28.  The latter is indicated by the red crosses in figure 1.

But these two LQGs are at the same approximate redshift, and therefore according to the standard model they are at the same distance from earth. Together they are called the Huge-LQG.  See figure 2.


Figure 2: The box shows the location of the two LQGs making a very large group of many quasars all at approximately the same redshift of z = 1.27. Reproduced from reference 5.

The question was raised; how could this even exist if the standard big bang paradigm is correct? The largest quasar groups seen in the early universe up until this point were with characteristic sizes of 70-350 Mpc, where 1 Mpc is 3.26 million light-years. This is what their proper size at the current epoch would be. This new discovery was then calculated to have a characteristic size of about 500 Mpc. How then could the structure form so soon after the big bang? Even the light travel-time across this structure, assuming that the big bang model is true, and the quasars are at the distance the standard model says they are, is about 4 billion years or one third of the age of the big bang universe. The structure the astronomers are looking at is supposed to be from the epoch of time only 4 billion years after the big bang.

Dr Clowes, the discoverer, said:2

“While it is difficult to fathom the scale of this LQG, we can say quite definitely it is the largest structure ever seen in the entire universe. This is hugely exciting— not least because it runs counter to our current understanding of the scale of the universe.” [emphasis added]

The problems it presents

So how could it possibly have formed so soon after the big bang? It just could not. It questions the correct scale over which the universe is homogeneous and the validity of the cosmological principle (which assumes that we are in no special place, and that the cosmos is uniform everywhere on a large scale). However, without the large-scale uniformity (or homogeneity) provided by that assumption the standard Friedmann-Lemaître-Robinson-Walker metric, upon which all standard big bang cosmologies are based, is invalid.

According to the Daily Galaxy March 17th, 2013 article:3

The LQG also challenges the Cosmological Principle, the assumption that the universe, when viewed at a sufficiently large scale, looks the same no matter where you are observing it from. The modern theory of cosmology is based on the work of Albert Einstein, and depends on the assumption of the Cosmological Principle. The Principle is assumed but has never been demonstrated observationally ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. [emphasis added]

If you understand cosmology correctly you’ll understand that it is all about philosophy and worldview, and not about ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Cosmology is not science in the usual repeatable laboratory sense. All interpretations rely on one’s set of assumptions. These assumptions determine the model, and the standard big bang model has some fundamental unprovable assumptions, of which the cosmological principle is key.

The problem is that quasars in the standard model are at their redshift distances. That is, based on the Hubble law any object with a redshift greater than z = 1 must be extremely distant (more than 9 billion light-years) and also extremely old (formed less than 5 billion years after the big bang).  Accordingly, this structure must have formed much less than 4 billion years after the big bang, but that is impossible because of the problem of scale, or put another way communication across the whole structure. Gravitational forces according to standard general relativity are limited to the speed of light, so for the structure to form under gravity it must take much more than 4 billion years. But that does not accord with its own redshift distance.

According to the standard model:3

Quasars are the nuclei of galaxies from the early days of the universe that undergo brief periods of extremely high brightness that make them visible across huge distances. These periods are ‘brief’ in astrophysics terms but actually last 10-100 million years. Since 1982 it has been known that quasars tend to group together in clumps or ‘structures’ of surprisingly large sizes, forming large quasar groups or LQGs.

This means it has been observed that quasars tend to be found in clusters with very similar redshifts. This is a point of contention for interpreting the universe. Halton Arp has, for many decades until he recently passed away, presented a different picture of the universe where the redshifts of the quasars are not a result of their cosmological distances and the Hubble law expansion of the universe, but from something intrinsic to the quasars. He and others have shown a lot of evidence that supports the alternative interpretation, which includes the ejection of quasars as embryonic galaxies from the hearts of active galactic nuclei (AGNs).  In his model these AGNs are low-redshift parent galaxies.

That line of argument changes all the distances for the quasars, and in the case of the Huge-LQG it would not be at such a great distance and hence there is not such a scale problem. This type of argument has even been used by some in a video against the big bang.4 But that is not the end of the matter.

Cosmologists deny5 there is any problem with the cosmological principle because galaxy formation and clusters thereafter are the result of perturbations away from the smooth homogeneous early universe.  And they are critical of creationists6 who have made an argument against validity of the cosmological principle based on this Huge-LQG.

But that is not the end of the story, because as explained above, if this Huge-LQG formed only 4 billion years after the alleged big bang, something is wrong with the story and they know it. So this is where it is important to understand the worldview issue. For the big bang cosmologist the answer is in ‘cosmic variance’.

This is the way the story goes. We can’t see the whole universe and when these LQGs were discovered they selectively missed many other quasars also scattered around in space at approximately the same redshift.  This was a result of the computer algorithm used to identify them in the large SDSS database.

A key issue, however, presents itself. Is the perceived clustering of the Huge-LQG of sufficiently low probability that it reflects physics, rather than randomness? What does that even mean when we have only the one Universe, making odds of multiple outcomes meaningless? [emphasis added]

The only way to determine what is the probability of such clustering is to simulate the universe with mock universes, fake universe in computer simulations. This is because we have only one universe, so how can you tell what a typical universe should look like?  A researcher at the University of Bielefeld ran simulations on quasar clustering in 10,000 simulated randomly populated regions and found that 8.5% of them clustered larger than the Huge-LQG. He concluded that,

“… the observation of the Huge-LQG is best explained as the action of a computer algorithm biased to find clusters looking at a spatially random scattering of quasars.” 5

That means that it is not real but a fluke; that the quasars formed that way randomly and it only appears that they are clustered in some way. But can one prove that assertion?


This brings us to the most important point in this discussion. It is all about a worldview. The dominant one says, basically: We are here looking at this problem and the only way that that could come about is if the big bang history is all true, which of course includes evolution of man from pond scum starting some 3.8 billion years ago. ‘Since we know that that is the true history of the universe then we can rely on our simulations that tell us there is an 8.5% chance of the apparent cluster forming randomly in the early universe. Whew, that was close!’

This now goes to the heart of science—really scientism.  How does one know what are the parameters to use to simulate typical early universes? One doesn’t, so one uses the standard model and everything flows from that. This then becomes circular reasoning.  Only an interpretation of the evidence that fits with the accepted worldview is allowed. In the case of the simulations the researcher did, 91.5% did not cluster on the scale needed, but because 8.5% did, this is the evidence (but note, not from the only real universe) that indicates everything is ok? Nothing to worry about? No. It makes much more sense if the quasars are not at their redshift distances and they have similar redshifts because of their common origin from the same or similar parent galaxies.

Adopt the correct worldview—one that has God creating the universe—and you don’t need to support a godless worldview that is only justified by the existence of unknowns.

Update August 5, 2015: Another structure, so big it would take light 10 billion years for light to traverse it, traced out by a number of GRBs (Gamma Ray Bursts) was discovered in 2013. The news report described “Universe’s Largest Structure is a Cosmic Conundrum”. Then a giant ring of GRBs about 5 billion light-years across was discovered in 2015 (published August 4, 2015). A news report was headlined “Giant Mystery Ring of Galaxies Should Not Exist”. Such structures defy any big bang explanation.

Prof. Balazs comments: “If we are right, this structure contradicts the current models of the universe. It was a huge surprise to find something this big — and we still don’t quite understand how it came to exist at all.” ScienceDaily “Five billion light years across: The largest feature in the universe.”



  1. R.G. Clowes, K.A. Harris, S. Raghunathan, L.E. Campusano, I.K. Söchting and M.J. Graham, A structure in the early Universe at z ∼ 1.3 that exceeds the homogeneity scale of the R-W concordance cosmology, MNRAS 429, 2910–2916 (2013)
  2. Biggest structure in universe: Large quasar group is 4 billion light years across,
  3. The largest structure in the observable universe – Quasar group 4 billion light-years wide,
  5. B. Dodson, Do the largest structures in the Universe actually exist?,
  6. B. Thomas, Massive Quasar Cluster Refutes Core Cosmology Principle,