Welcome to Useless Genius, a series on the Update devoted to things you will never get tested on! This post is about the region in space known as the Bootes Void!
To be blunt, we’re going to be talking about and analyzing a huge piece of nothing.
Sounds like my love life (*ba dum tss*)
Alright, a bit of terminology: Space is huge. Like, really huge. A lot of that hugeness is these things called galaxies (you might have heard of them) which are essentially places where a lot of stuff happens – but even more of that hugeness is a bunch of nothing – empty space – where nothing happens. Some of these empty spaces are within galaxies themselves – just the space between solar systems. But there are also massive regions of nothing in between clusters of galaxies; these are called ‘Voids’.
There are a lot of voids in the observable universe, and we could talk about all of them (please don’t take me up on that offer) but there is one in particular that is of note. The Bootes Void (pronounced Bo-Oh-Teez).
So… Why on Earth would we want to talk about a specific patch of nothingness that’s currently sitting about 700 million light years away from us?
Well… Because this patch is big!
Big as in; 10 times bigger than it should be.
Big as in; science says it should not exist.
Basically, about a short 14 billion years ago, there was this thing called the Big Bang. It did a few things and one of them was start the expansion of the Universe. Well, OK, that’s oversimplifying by a massive margin but that’s only because the actual science behind it is baffling, so bear with me on this one.
As the Universe expands it pushes things further away from each other, which in turn creates these so-called voids. Over time, the voids tend to get bigger as (some) galaxies move further away from each other. However, as previously stated, the Bootes Void is about 10 times bigger than it should be. According to modern estimates about the age of the Universe the largest any void should be is somewhere in the tens of millions of light years in diameter. The Bootes Void is over 330 million light years in diameter. It’s so big, it’s believed that if the Milky Way was right in the center of the void, it would’ve taken humans until the 1960s to discover the existence of other galaxies.
So, why is this thing so huge? Is everything we know about the Universe false? That’s a possibility (the Universe could just be a simulation) but not a particularly pleasant one. Currently, there exist two explanations for the Bootes Void – and one is way more interesting than the other.
I’m talking about freaking aliens, man.
Why won’t you be tested on this?
The Bootes Void is really more a piece of trivia than anything else. Besides, school is more focused on teaching you how to figure stuff out – which is pretty useful if you think about it. This article is more of an overview of the Bootes Void, and won’t get into any of the technical science behind it (there will be some nice layman’s physics and biology though). Besides, I got a C in my IGCSE Chemistry exam – would you really trust me on my in-depth scientific knowledge?
The far cooler of the two options explaining the Bootes Void is that it doesn’t actually exist. In 1963, while looking at a quasar for the Soviet Union’s search for extraterrestrial life, Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev designed a scale dividing all possible civilizations (human and otherwise) into three ‘types’. A Type I civilization – which scientists like Michio Kaku and Carl Sagan claim humans haven’t even reached yet – is one that has the ability to harness all the energy stored on a planet. A Type II civilization can harness the energy of an entire star (hypothetically via what is called a ‘Dyson Sphere’ – a massive sphere that surrounds a star so that it absorbs all of its light and energy) and a Type III civilization can harness the energy of entire galaxies.
Some, therefore, have claimed that the Bootes Void doesn’t even exist. These people claim that when we look at the Bootes Void, we don’t see anything because enormous Dyson Spheres or similar structures have been constructed over thousands of galaxies, blocking the light from the stars from reaching us, making the region appear to be empty space. These people believe that the Bootes Void is a series of galaxies inhabited by a Type III civilization.
What this effectively means is that around 700 million light years away from us is a civilization of hyper-intelligent beings that probably rule over thousands of galaxies and quadrillions of solar systems. That idea is, to put it mildly, sexy.
But, there is another idea – and one that seems to make more sense. See, there are actually some galaxies inside the Bootes Void (although there’s still enough empty space to call it a void). 60, in fact. In order for the void to make scientific sense, there should still be around 10,000. However, the galaxies that are there are all arranged in a tube shape – a possible, albeit rare formation – a formation which suggests that the Bootes Void was actually formed via the collision of other, smaller voids.
On top of that, the Bootes Void isn’t even the biggest void out there. In 2015, astronomers at the University of Hawaii discovered a much larger void. Remember that the Bootes Void is already huge at over 330 million light years across? Well this new void is over 18 billion light years across (it would take light 18 billion years to travel from side of the void to the other – the Universe isn’t even that old). And yet, even this void is hypothetically possible.
Remember what I said earlier about the size of the Bootes Void disproving modern science? I was kind of being hyperbolic then (ie I lied). See, while the Bootes Void is unlikely to exist, it’s still possible. So is the so-called ‘supervoid’.
Furthermore, the idea of a Type III civilization existing now is heavily unlikely. By most estimates, it would’ve taken the Universe 9 billion years before a planet that could house intelligent life could be created (due to the probability of a planet having access to certain elements and heavy metals needed for creating and nurturing intelligent life and technologies) Currently, the Universe is around 14 billion years old – and the Earth is around 4.6 billion years old. That means that there is a possibility that humans are one of the most advanced species in the Universe, just because we turned up early. After all, a simple bit of subtraction will show that the Earth formed when the Universe was a young and spry 9.4 billion years old; only 400 million years past the threshold for a planet to house intelligent life. And keep in mind intelligent life occurred on Earth despite five complete extinction events (the largest of which wiped out around 90% of life on Earth) – extinction events that could potentially slow down evolution or even wipe out all life on a planet.
To cap it all off, even if there was a Type III civilization in the Bootes Void, there’s one little problem. Namely, that that species would have to have a lot of sex. And I mean, a lot of sex. See, most animals are what are called either ‘r-selected’ or ‘k-selected’ species. R-selected species are animals that have lots of offspring (think of spiders) and k-selected species are animals that have fewer offspring (like humans). In order to effectively populate an expanse as wide as the Bootes Void, there would need to be trillions if not quadrillions of whatever species this hypothetically is, making it more likely to be an r-selected species (the ones with a lot of offspring). But, r-selected species also tend to lose most of their children early on. The reason why most r-selected species have lots of offspring is because they tend to be lower down the food chain, and have most of their children eaten before maturity, minimizing the potential for exponential population growth. This means that if there were to be a large population of a species inhabiting the Bootes Void, it would probably be a k-selected species – the types that have fewer babies and spend more time gestating and nurturing their offspring. Therefore, in order for the theoretical Type III civilization to populate the Bootes Void, it would literally need to spend about half of the time making love and the other half raising offspring. This would, understandably, slow expansion into the Bootes Void.
As sexy as it may be, it is unlikely that the Bootes Void is inhabited by a super-intelligent race of aliens. It is, more than likely, just a collection of smaller voids that just so happened to collide with each other. Still, questioning it does allow us to pull in numerous theories about Life, the Universe, and some other stuff (sex stuff).
This is Useless Genius, a series devoted to analyzing things you will never get tested on. Let us know if there’s anything you want us to cover by contacting us through the ‘Contact Us’ page.