There are dark places out there in the deep universe, vast Saharas hundreds of millions of light years across, empty except for a stray hydrogen atom or a bit of radiation. They are the cosmic voids, and they will someday grow to consume the entire universe.
To understand voids, we must first have the proper perspective. And to do that, we need to zoom out beyond the solar system, beyond the Milky Way galaxy, and even beyond all the groups and clusters that comprise our neighborhood of the universe. We need to zoom out so far that entire galaxies—each home to hundreds of millions of stars—become nothing more than tiny dots of light.
At these truly cosmological scales, we see an amazing structure emerge. Galaxies in our universe are not scattered about randomly like salt spilled on the table; instead, they form the largest pattern found in nature. We see dense clusters, home to thousands of galaxies, and long, thin strands connecting those clusters. These strands act like long highways stretching between the clusters, with thousands of galaxies strung along them. And we see those strands bound together to form broad, immense walls.
The Virgo Cluster is a large cluster of galaxies in the constellation Virgo. Comprising approximately 1,300 (and possibly up to 2,000) member galaxies, the cluster forms the heart of the larger Virgo Supercluster, of which the Local Group (containing our Milky Way galaxy) is a member.
We call this immensity the “cosmic web.” It’s made of galaxies in much the same way as your body is made of microscopic cells. But that metaphor can only go so far; to make a proper scale model of the cosmic web, your cells would have to be a million times smaller than they are.
Today, voids make up over 80 percent of the volume of the universe, yet contain less than a tenth of its total mass.
But while the lights of the stars and galaxies of the cosmic web stand out, those structures only serve to set the boundaries of the true masters of the cosmos: the empty regions between them. First discovered in the early 1980s, these cosmic voids dominate the volume of the universe. In other words, most of our universe is completely, totally empty.
If you search hard enough you can find small, dim, dwarf galaxies scattered inside the voids, and of course there’s the ever-present thin soup of radiation and particles that flood the cosmos. But the voids are well and truly empty, deserted of any meaningful structure or concentration of matter.
Origin of the Void
The seeds of the voids were planted in the earliest moments of the universe, before even the first stars and galaxies appeared. Billions of years ago, the matter in our universe was almost perfectly uniform, with no variations from place to place. But there were tiny, random, microscopic differences. Just a millionth more matter over here, or a millionth less matter over there.
As our universe aged, those differences grew. Gravity is an incredibly weak force, but it’s very persistent and extremely patient. The regions of our universe with ever so slight an advantage in matter also had a slightly stronger gravitational pull. That caused more matter to be drawn toward that patch, emptying out its surroundings. As more matter accumulated, the gravitational pull grew strong, and the surroundings emptied out even more. Over the course of hundreds of millions of years, the cosmic web began to emerge: first as small clumps, which ignited as the earliest stars; then, small galaxies appeared and merged together before forming the great clusters of galaxies, the filaments, and the walls.
Illustration showing the evolution of the universe, from an unstructured cloud of fog to the large-scale structure we see today consisting of superclusters of galaxies arranged along filaments, with “voids” between them.
And as the rich got richer, the poor got poorer. The voids started out as small, effervescent dimples in an otherwise smooth and harmonious fabric. But as the cosmic web grew, so did the voids, all their matter rushing into the gravitational embrace of large, bright structures. Today, voids make up over 80 percent of the volume of the universe, yet contain less than a tenth of its total mass.
✅ Cosmic voids are holes in the distribution of matter in the universe, like holes in Swiss cheese or the gaps in a spider web. They are empty of everything, including normal matter and dark matter.
And that emptiness gives them a secret power. In the late 1990s, two teams of astronomers discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating; our universe is getting bigger and bigger—faster and faster—with every passing day. We had expected to observe the opposite: in an expanding universe, the gravitational pull of all the matter in the cosmos should gently slow down that expansion, not speed it up. Confirmed with multiple experiments in the past quarter century, the accelerated expansion has a name: we call it dark energy.
Simply put, we have no idea what dark energy is. But we suspect that this mysterious acceleration is somehow a property of the vacuum of spacetime itself. In other words, dark energy is built into the very fabric of the cosmos, and it’s causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate everywhere. But we don’t feel that acceleration locally. Earth is not expanding, the solar system is not expanding, the Milky Way is not expanding, and not even our local cosmological environment is expanding.
That’s because our local patch of the universe is filled with stuff—stars, gas, dust, people. All that stuff has gravitational attraction, and it completely overwhelms the effects of dark energy acceleration.
But not in the voids. The voids are empty. That’s their definition. There are no stars, or gas, or dust, or people. There’s nothing within the voids to counteract the effects of dark energy. And so the voids are growing, accelerating in their expansion. They are literally pushing on the filaments and walls that surround them, driving matter away from themselves in their pursuit of relentless expansion.
The End of the Universe?
In about 10–20 billion years, the cosmic web, with its glory of galaxies, filaments, and walls, will dissolve. First, the filaments will pull themselves apart as the voids around them squeeze them out of existence. Then, the walls will dissolve. The clusters will survive, but each one will become an island universe, effectively alone in a vast expanse of nothingness.
Before that happens, however, we have plenty of work to do. While dark energy soaks every cubic inch of spacetime, it only shows itself in the voids. So if we want to study this mysterious force that will dictate the future of the universe, we can’t look inside the galaxies or clusters. Their internal gravity is just too strong, washing away dark energy’s influence. Instead we have to look into the voids.
The voids are our key to understanding dark energy. Their growth over cosmic time, their shapes, their numbers, and all their properties tell us about the strength and history of dark energy. If dark energy had a different strength or a different evolution, it would show up first in the voids. Astrophysicists have already begun to map as many cosmic voids in the universe as possible to compare their features and characteristics to our theoretical estimations. Researchers hope these wide-region surveys can tease out the subtle and poorly understood properties of dark energy.
But there’s more. The cosmic voids are the greatest time capsules in the cosmos. In billions of years, they simply have not changed all that much. Within galaxies, stars live and die; matter and material drift away and recombine. The galaxies look nothing like their younger selves. But billions of years ago, the voids were simple, empty. And today, billions of years later, they are still simple and empty.
The answers to many cosmological mysteries—the nature of dark energy, the properties of the ancient cosmos, and more—live inside the voids. And so perhaps our greatest insights will only come once we stare into the abyss.
Paul M. Sutter
Paul M. Sutter is a science educator and a theoretical cosmologist at the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at Stony Brook University and the author of How to Die in Space: A Journey Through Dangerous Astrophysical Phenomena and Your Place in the Universe: Understanding Our Big, Messy Existence. Sutter is also the host of various science programs, and he’s on social media. Check out his Ask a Spaceman podcast and his YouTube page.
Cosmic voids (also known as dark space) are vast spaces between filaments (the largest-scale structures in the universe), which contain very few or no galaxies.How much of the universe is void? ›
The emptiness between stars and galaxies makes up 80 percent of the volume of the known universe. Dark energy is expanding these voids rapidly. There are dark places out there in the deep universe, vast Saharas hundreds of millions of light years across, empty except for a stray hydrogen atom or a bit of radiation.What are the giant voids of nothingness? ›
The Boötes Void (/boʊˈoʊtiːz/ boh-OH-teez) (colloquially referred to as the Great Nothing) is an approximately spherical region of space found in the vicinity of the constellation Boötes, containing very few galaxies, hence its name. It is enormous, with a radius of 62 megaparsecs.What happens if you fall into the void in real life? ›
Death would come from normal asphyxiation as the blood runs out of oxygen. It is a myth that your blood would boil. That would only happen if the blood was exposed to space. The body is a pretty good sealed container, as far as blood is concerned.Are we in a void universe? ›
Our Galaxy Is Also Surrounded By A Void
Not only is the inside of the Milky Way home to a big void, but chances are we're also surrounded by one. This is known as a Local Void, and likely surrounds the outside of the Milky Way galaxy. However, our galaxy tends to move towards areas with more density.
By definition, the universe is everything, so there is nothing external to it for it to expand into. It is not expanding into anything as such – everything is expanding.Is the void dark energy? ›
Astronomers predict that dark energy is located in the voids between galaxies. Dark energy is thought responsible for the acceleration of our universe. The intergalactic voids are known as GEODEs.How big is the void in the universe? › What causes cosmic voids? ›
Astronomers believe that voids are formed by the hierarchical clustering of galaxies around primordial density fluctuations (quantum mechanical fluctuations in the density of the Universe in the very first moments following the Big Bang).What is the darkest void in the universe? ›
The Darkest Part of the Universe--Boötes Void
Located around 700 million light-years from Earth, the Boötes void was first discovered by American Astronomer Robert Kirshner alongside with his University of Michigan colleagues back in 1981, during a survey of galaxy redshifts.
With no particles or antiparticles, no matter or radiation, no identifiable quanta of any type in your Universe, all you'd have left is the void of empty space itself. To some, that's the true scientific definition of “nothingness.”Is the space void endless? ›
Space appears uniformly dense, and appears to go infinitely far in every direction. That doesn't mean that it is infinite or uniform, but that is what we see. As far as we can actually observe, this universe is the only one.Is there a life in the Void? ›
As rare as it is, there are numerous occurrences of life in space on record. Most of the time it's nothing but microscopic life, especially when it comes to carbon based lifeforms, but most complex organisms out in the void tend to be silicone based.Can energy exist in a void? ›
According to Einstein, "empty space" can possess its own energy. Because this energy is a property of space itself, it would not be diluted as space expands. As more space comes into existence, more of this energy-of-space would appear, thereby causing accelerated expansion.Is The Void Purgatory? ›
The Void is a purgatory-like place that is marshalled by a fierce beast known as Alioth.What is the great void theory? ›
The Great Nothing: an actual void in space
The Boötes void, often referred to as the Great Nothing or the Great Void, is an actual area of space with fewer galaxies than you'd expect. At 250 to 330 million light-years across, it is one of the largest voids that we know of.
The closest void to us on Earth is the Local Void (clever, right?). This guy is 150 million light years across and sits at the edge of our local group of galaxies. It is believed that the center of the Local Void is at least 75 million light years from Earth.What fills the Void of space? ›
But by and large, the voids really are void. And because of this voidiness, ironically, the voids are filled with one thing: dark energy. This is the name we give to the accelerated expansion of the universe, as well as for whatever's causing it.Are we in a dark cosmic void? ›
We are not living in a galactic void, but rather along a filament/surface of clusters running roughly between the Perseus supercluster and the Virgo/Laniakea supercluster. We are however living near the edge of the Local Void.Are cosmic voids real? ›
To put it simply, cosmic voids are areas of our Universe that have an extremely low density (on average less than a tenth of the average density of the Universe). Cosmic voids can be as large as 500 MILLION light years across!
Welcome to the desert
These barren regions are the great cosmic voids, the smallest of which are 20 million light-years across, while the largest can be more than 160 million light-years across.
Even though, at any given instant, there's only around 10-22 kilograms of dark matter inside you, much larger amounts are constantly passing through you. Every second, you'll experience about 2.5 × 10-16 kilograms of dark matter passing through your body.Which void is Earth in? ›
That previous study showed that Earth's galaxy, the Milky Way, is part of a so-called cosmic void.Can we feel dark energy? ›
We can't see dark energy. We can't feel it or detect it in any way even with sophisticated scientific instruments. But most astronomers are convinced it exists because we can see its effects in the movement of galaxies.How many dimensions are in the void? ›
Void or absolute void is an elementary entity in the existence and it is the source of everything else. It has four dimensions X axis, Y axis, Z axis and the force. Obviously, void in an open system, mean the void's existence in a free form.Where is the great attractor? ›
The location of the Great Attractor was finally determined in 1986: It is situated at a distance of somewhere between 150 and 250 Mly (million light-years) (47–79 Mpc) (the larger being the most recent estimate) away from the Milky Way, in the direction of the constellations Triangulum Australe (The Southern Triangle) ...What is the biggest thing in the universe? ›
The biggest single entity that scientists have identified in the universe is a supercluster of galaxies called the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall. It's so wide that light takes about 10 billion years to move across the entire structure.How do voids exist? ›
Voids are believed to have been formed by baryon acoustic oscillations in the Big Bang, collapses of mass followed by implosions of the compressed baryonic matter. Starting from initially small anisotropies from quantum fluctuations in the early universe, the anisotropies grew larger in scale over time.Why does the great void exist? ›
The cause of these voids is thought to lie in the origin of the Universe. In the early days of the cosmos, all the Universe's matter was tightly packed together. Initially, this is thought to have been a uniform soup, but random quantum fluctuations soon created small differences in the distribution of matter.Who created dark matter? ›
The term dark matter was coined in 1933 by Fritz Zwicky of the California Institute of Technology to describe the unseen matter that must dominate one feature of the universe—the Coma Galaxy Cluster.
Astronomers have previously noticed that the Milky Way sits in a large, flat array of galaxies called the Local Sheet, which bounds the Local Void. The Local Void extends approximately 60 megaparsecs (200 Mly), beginning at the edge of the Local Group.What is the biggest black void? ›
Our galaxy's supersized black hole, Sagittarius A*, as seen by the Event Horizon Telescope. It contains the equivalent mass of 4.3 million Suns and lies about 26,000 light-years away.How many galaxies are in the void? ›
The Hercules Supercluster forms part of the near edge of the void. So far, only 60 galaxies have been found in the Boötes void. Using a rough estimate of about 1 galaxy every 10 million light-years (4 times as far as Andromeda Galaxy from Earth), there should have been approximately 2,000 galaxies in the Boötes void.What is the realm of nothingness? ›
Realm of Nothingness ［無所有処］ ( Ākimchanyāyatana; Mushou-sho): Also, Ākimchanya Realm, Heaven of Nothingness, or the realm where nothing exists. The second highest of the four realms of the world of formlessness. Meditation that leads to rebirth in this realm is called meditation on the Realm of Nothingness.How did everything start from nothing? ›
The Big Bang was the moment 13.8 billion years ago when the universe began as a tiny, dense, fireball that exploded. Most astronomers use the Big Bang theory to explain how the universe began.What is the law of nothingness? ›
Nothingness is only a conceptual entity, without any physical property and it can be just thought and knowledge. The nothingness is the concept of physiochemical laws only . Nothingness is the brain of the Universe without physical entities just pure thought and knowledge.Does space have a smell? ›
We can't smell space directly, because our noses don't work in a vacuum. But astronauts aboard the ISS have reported that they notice a metallic aroma – like the smell of welding fumes – on the surface of their spacesuits once the airlock has re-pressurised.What is the universe ending called? ›
Rather than meeting its end through fire and brimstone, the cosmos will likely succumb to “heat death.” Astronomers call it the Big Freeze.Who created the universe? ›
According to the Book of Genesis, God created the universe - and all the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon, and the stars - in six days. But according to contemporary cosmologists the universe began with a great explosion known as the Big Bang, after which the stars and galaxies slowly formed over billions of years.What is the Void in spirituality? ›
emptiness, also called Nothingness, or Void, in mysticism and religion, a state of “pure consciousness” in which the mind has been emptied of all particular objects and images; also, the undifferentiated reality (a world without distinctions and multiplicity) or quality of reality that the emptied mind reflects or ...
These explosions generate beams of high-energy radiation, called gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), which are considered by astronomers to be the most powerful thing in the universe. What's more, these GRBs could be killing our chances of ever discovering life on other planets.Are humans made of energy? ›
The molecules present in the cell are made up of basic elements such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. These elements possess energy; hence we can say that humans are made of energy.Can energy be destroyed and created from nothing? ›
The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed - only converted from one form of energy to another. This means that a system always has the same amount of energy, unless it's added from the outside.What void is our galaxy in? ›
Astronomers have previously noticed that the Milky Way sits in a large, flat array of galaxies called the Local Sheet, which bounds the Local Void. The Local Void extends approximately 60 megaparsecs (200 Mly), beginning at the edge of the Local Group.How many types of voids are there? ›
There are two types of voids in close packed crystals (FCC, HCP): tetrahedral and octahedral voids (identical in both the structures as the voids are formed between two layers of atoms).Can we get out of our galaxy? ›
So, to leave our Galaxy, we would have to travel about 500 light-years vertically, or about 25,000 light-years away from the galactic centre. We'd need to go much further to escape the 'halo' of diffuse gas, old stars and globular clusters that surrounds the Milky Way's stellar disk.