Cracks in the Universe: Physicists are searching for the fingerprints of cosmic strings

October 11, 2010 By Mike Lucibella, Inside Science News Service
The blue dot in the center shows the Earth's location within the two linked cosmic strings in this simulated image. The arrows show how the magnetic field from the two stings affected the orientation of nearby quasars. Credit: Robert Poltis, University at Buffalo

Physicists are hot on the trail of one of strangest theorized structures in the universe. A team of researchers have announced what they think are the first indirect observations of ancient cosmic strings, bizarre objects thought to have contributed to the arrangement of objects throughout the universe.

First predicted back in the 1970s, are thought to be enormous fault lines that once existed in space. Not to be confused with the subatomic strings of , cosmic strings are widely believed by astrophysicists to have formed billions of years ago, just moments after the Big Bang when the universe was still a soupy mass of extremely hot matter. As the universe cooled, defects formed between different regions of space that cooled in different ways, much like cracks forming in the ice on a frozen pond. These defects in space were the cosmic strings.

Although researchers have not yet directly observed the strings themselves, the team believes they found evidence of them hidden in ancient quasars, enormous that shoot out mighty jets of light and radiation, found at the heart of many galaxies.

The presumed cosmic strings were incredibly narrow, thinner than the diameter of a proton, but so dense that a string less than a mile in length would weigh more than the Earth. As the universe expanded, so too did these strings until they either stretched across the known universe, or into enormous rings thousands of times larger than our galaxy.

"Their sort of hitches a ride with the expansion of the universe," said Robert Poltis from the University at Buffalo in N.Y. and lead author of the paper reporting the findings.

Poltis' team analyzed the observational data of 355 quasars that reside in the far off corners of the universe. With careful scrutiny of the light emitted by these quasars, it is possible to determine the direction their jets are facing in space. The team found that 183 of them lined up to form two enormous rings that stretch across the sky in a pattern unlikely to have formed by chance.

The team members think that the magnetic fields of the two cosmic strings affected the direction the quasars are pointing. The strings themselves should have long since dissipated by emitting gravitational radiation as they vibrated; however the original effect on the alignment of the quasars would have remained.

"The string itself is gone, but you get the magnetic field imprinted in the early universe," Poltis said. To check their hypothesis, they modeled the theorized effects of the strings on the formation of quasars, and found their predictions closely matched their observations.

Poltis added also that they still need to conduct more follow-up observations and analysis before they can be completely sure they have found evidence of the strings. The detection of a cosmic string would be an important cosmological discovery because of their theorized importance to the formation of galaxies in the early . However, other researchers are cautious about the results.

Jon Urrestilla of the University of the Basque Country in Biscay, Spain, doesn't want to jump to conclusions too quickly. He said that Poltis' research is exciting because his team is making testable predictions.

"It is still early to say that this work has discovered evidence for cosmic strings. It is promising, the science is sound, but one should be careful. There are assumptions made that need be checked," Urrestilla said, "But it is yet another piece to the puzzle, and the more predictions we can make from the same basic science into presumably independent effects, the closer we will be to detecting whether strings really were there."

Tanmay Vachaspati from Arizona State University in Tempe, a leading expert on cosmic strings, said he thought that the observation of lined-up quasars was puzzling, but he was skeptical it was caused by cosmic strings. He said that had the strings formed nanoseconds after the , they probably would have decayed so quickly that their magnetic effect wouldn't last until today.

"I don't see them staying around until today to provide observational signals," Vachaspati said.

Their paper was published in Physical Review Letters on Oct. 11.

Explore further: Quasar Dust in the Early Universe

More information: Can Primordial Magnetic Fields Seeded by Electroweak Strings Cause an Alignment of Quasar Axes on Cosmological Scales? Phys. Rev. Lett. 105, 161301 (2010) DOI:10.1103/PhysRevLett.105.161301

Related Stories

Quasar Dust in the Early Universe

March 26, 2010

( -- Quasars are galaxies whose very bright cores are thought to contain massive black holes around which disks are actively accreting matter.

NASA's Spitzer Finds Hidden, Hungry Black Holes

August 3, 2005

Most of the biggest black holes in the universe have been eating cosmic meals behind closed doors – until now. With its sharp infrared eyes, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope peered through walls of galactic dust to uncover ...

How space eruptions happen

April 7, 2009

( -- Mathematicians at the University of St Andrews have made a discovery which could lead to a better understanding of why huge eruptions occur in space.

Physicists investigate fate of five-dimensional black strings

September 10, 2010

( -- While black holes in four-dimensional space-time are stable and can persist for a long time, their higher-dimensional analogues are usually unstable. One such theoretical analogue is a five-dimensional black ...

Recommended for you

CMS gets first result using largest-ever LHC data sample

February 15, 2019

Just under three months after the final proton–proton collisions from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)'s second run (Run 2), the CMS collaboration has submitted its first paper based on the full LHC dataset collected in ...

Gravitational waves will settle cosmic conundrum

February 14, 2019

Measurements of gravitational waves from approximately 50 binary neutron stars over the next decade will definitively resolve an intense debate about how quickly our universe is expanding, according to findings from an international ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.3 / 5 (12) Oct 11, 2010
"Cosmic strings" are just one of many misconceptions of string theory. These things were actually observed already as a streaks of dark matter, connecting the galaxies.


Here you can find a computer simulation of strings in five dimension as a consequence of Gregory-Laflamme instability


Due the presence of extradimensions, the gravity collapses these artifacts into strings in similar way, like the polymer strings are coalesce into dropplets.


Such polymers are formed with stringy fluid, similar to those predicted with Kipp Thorne's membrane paradigm for description of black hole interior before years.

Compare the result of these simulation with models of dark matter at cosmic scales. The droplets of galaxies hanging on strings are clearly apparent here, so it's not surprising, their axes are aligned.
5 / 5 (5) Oct 11, 2010
5 stars if you just read this and nodded in quiet, confused acceptance of quantum physics
5 / 5 (20) Oct 11, 2010
"Cosmic strings" are just one of many misconceptions of string theory.

Cosmic Strings are not a misconception of String Theory. They are not related to the strings in String Theory, just as the article mentions.
4.1 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2010
There have been other cosmic string candidates proposed. Two recent candidates were thought to have lensed more distant objects. CSL-1 was thought to be a single distant galaxy split into two objects by the gravity of an unseen cosmic string. An observation by Hubble telescope later found them to be two different galaxies:

The second candidate was claimed to be revealed by brightness fluctuations of the famous lensed quasar Q0957+561:

Although this work was published in 2004, followup observations and independent analysis in support of this cosmic string interpretation have not been made AFAIK (and is rather dubious IMO). But it would be fair to say that most of the recent work has focused on distant(and long gone) primordial cosmic strings.
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 12, 2010
""Cosmic strings" are just one of many misconceptions of string theory. These things were actually observed already as a streaks of dark matter, connecting the galaxies.


Do you have a link to a published paper that presents that image and describes the telescopic OBSERVATIONS used to construct this image? That looks very much like an image derived from the Millenium Simulation:


I know of no dark matter filament maps with anything near the res of that image, to begin with. Cosmic strings are not interchangeable with dark matter, though dark matter haloes may exist around them (if CS exist), or not. That cosmic strings are not related to string theory has been pointed out to you before, so why do you persist in the notion?

not rated yet Oct 12, 2010
Someone please answer this question: If one of these cosmic strings collided with the sun, or even worse the Earth, what would happen? Is it like a sort of linear black hole?
not rated yet Oct 12, 2010
Someone please answer this question: If one of these cosmic strings collided with the sun, or even worse the Earth, what would happen?

Why even worse Earth? Take out the sun, you take out Earth. Either way, we'd be toast!
5 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2010
Well, if it took out the sun first, at least we'd get a cool fireworks show out of it.
not rated yet Oct 12, 2010
Well, if it took out the sun first, at least we'd get a cool fireworks show out of it.

I doubt it. I reckon the sun would appear as normal one second and the next it would disappear. Well, there may be some visuals depending on how fast the string is moving, though it would be less fireworks and more tidal smearing...
1 / 5 (4) Oct 12, 2010
Decay into high frequency 2-d waves of near infinite size.

Integrating with one another to form spiral torsionally spinning 3-d quanta wave-particle duality constructs.

With a stable past and a splitting future probability in unilinear temporal quanta, quanta which is relative in flow the respective matter constructs.
not rated yet Oct 12, 2010
Why even worse Earth? Take out the sun, you take out Earth. Either way, we'd be toast!

Something else to worry about...
1 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2010
... core twistor 2 categorie eclip ...
1 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2010
"Someone please answer this question: If one of these cosmic strings collided with the sun, or even worse the Earth, what would happen? "

Considering the sun is 99% of the mass in our solar system a 1 mile long string with close the mass of earth I imagine would not have much consequence to us on earth- passing through the earth on the other hand... At the very least I'd bet we all get pretty sea sick as gravity would get very screwy hehe
1 / 5 (5) Oct 13, 2010
Sub:Origins-Cosmology Vedas Interinks-Field UniverseThe String theory origins -Cosmic Dance of Lord SIVA. The Fields Spread functional Index is 2x5 multiplier modes. My research paper at Carnegie-Jan 2003 Symposium [Centennial series] provide the projection. Plasma Regulated EM Universe [Book 1995] Provide all details .See also Cosmic Pot Energy Universe-2003 [STSCI-Symp-May 2003]
Regarding its Links to Sun, I am providing Infprmation to ESA - Cluster and Solar orbiter missions. Comprehension of the Universe helps.
Vidyardhi Nanduri [Cosmology Vedas Interlinks]
5 / 5 (1) Oct 15, 2010
Wow! KBK and TDK need to contact the real scientists who did the research, and explain to them what they treated us to here. I'll bet the real scientists will be ever so grateful.
not rated yet Oct 17, 2010
Should make a nice topic of a good relaxing SciFi read!
1 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2010
TDK need to contact the real scientists
I did so at the case of Sabine Hossenfelder - and the result was, lets say, suboptimal...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.