Haven't had your mind blown in a while? Try this story on for size. Scientists have detected massive invisible structures in our galaxy that are shaped like noodles, lasagne sheets or hazelnuts, and they have no idea what they are, according to a recent news release.
The structures, which were lurking about 3,000 light-years away, are completely invisible, but scientists were able to catch a glimpse of their shapes by studying the lensing effect they had on a quasar called PKS 1939-315 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Those shapes were oddly irregular and difficult to describe.
"We could be looking at a flat sheet, edge on," said Dr. Cormac Reynolds, a member of the CSIRO team that performed the research. "Or we might be looking down the barrel of a hollow cylinder like a noodle, or at a spherical shell like a hazelnut." (CSIRO is Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the federal agency for scientific research in Australia.)
Their sizes were roughly comparable to the Earth's orbit around the sun, and they appeared to move at modest speeds of around 30 miles per second through the interstellar medium.
It's important to distinguish the lensing from these mystery structures from gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing is what's observed when massive objects like black holes bend the path of light, but the lensing caused by the invisible noodles is just simple refraction, such as how eyeglasses work.
The structures are also not made of dark matter, which is another mysterious, invisible substance that is often inferred from how galaxies are able to hold themselves together despite their rotation. There's no evidence that these structures play any part in that process.
So far the leading theory is that the structures represent cold clouds of gas that stay pulled together by the force of their own gravity. If this theory holds true, it could mean the clouds make up a substantial fraction of the mass of our galaxy. In other words, they could be all over the place, lurking everywhere throughout the cosmos.
It's even possible these structures are an answer to the problem of where all the missing matter in the universe is. Basically, when scientists count up all the matter that can be observed in the universe, it doesn't add up according to what current theories project. So maybe all that missing matter can be found among these invisible noodles.
For now, it's all just speculation. The structures might be invisible, and nobody knows exactly how they formed, "but [they] are real, and our observations are a big step forward in determining their size and shape," said Dr. Keith Bannister, lead author on the study.