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Colossal structures larger than the visible universe – forged during the period of cosmic inflation nearly 14 billion years ago – may be responsible for a strange pattern seen in the big bang's afterglow, says a team of cosmologists. If confirmed, the structures could provide precious information about the universe's earliest moments. In the first instant after its birth, the universe is thought to have experienced a rapid growth spurt called inflation. During this period, space itself expanded faster than the speed of light. Inflation solves some cosmological puzzles, such as why relic radiation from the big bang, released when the universe was less than 400,000 years old, is relatively uniform. Called the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the radiation can be observed in all directions in the sky. It has a slightly mottled appearance due to small differences in temperature from place to place in the early universe. The temperature differences are thought to be caused by variations in the density of matter, with denser regions being warmer than emptier regions. But the theory of inflation predicts that the mottling should be equally prominent in all directions. Curiously, it is 10% more pronounced on one side of the sky than the other, an asymmetry that was reported in 2004 by Hans Eriksen of the University of Oslo in Norway, based on a map made by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite. Now, cosmologists led by Adrienne Erickcek of Caltech in Pasadena, US, think they may have found the reason for this pattern.
They suggest the universe has been skewed by the imprint of primordial structures that date back to the period of inflation. Extra field: The structures stretch beyond the edge of the observable universe, which is essentially confined to a region with a radius of 14 billion light years, since only light from within that distance has had time to reach us since the big bang. The entire "global" universe is about 10100 times as large as the universe we can see