(CNN) – Dozens of astrophysicists gathered Wednesday in Chile’s Atacama Desert to examine a stunning target: a region of the universe undergoing dramatic changes.
As a final stop on their journey through the cosmos, the group of international researchers from several countries were walking in the Nevada Kossakovsky Gap, 2,100 feet above sea level.
For the next two days, the group will walk between volcanoes on the edge of the Andes mountains and conduct a series of workshops to help future scientists better understand the universe’s changing nature.
The goal of this “early universe walk” is to help astrophysicists better understand the universe’s changing shape, according to Steve Kane, a planetary astrophysicist and one of the researchers on the trip.
Kane said he’s been to the gap before but this is his fifth time he’s been there during this walk. His team also includes Diego Galicia, a cosmologist and planetary physicist, and Stephen McIrvine, a U.S. citizen originally from the UK. They’re joined by Tim Tyler, a physicist from the University of Nevada, Reno, and astronomers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), in Spain.
“We walk in front of a drill rig to very high altitudes,” Kane said in an interview.
A piece of doughnut
Galicia said they walk in front of that drill rig — which is about four feet wide and as tall as the group’s tallest member — for at least one hour at a time.
The drill rig blocks the pathway of their energy because of the constant energy. It’s made of ore called “iron balls,” which are the size of a small piece of doughnut. Galicia said the blocks come from the Las Condes or “Big Las Vegas” range — which is the range of volcanoes closer to the equator.
“Our theory is that those are areas that have a magnetic field, so as rocks change their density, their magnetic field changes with that,” Galicia said.
The team shows off the drill rig during the trip in Chile. Video courtesy of Steve Kane
Researchers believe that magma from these volcanoes acts as a mirror, reflecting the planet’s magnetic field. Because of this, they believe Las Condes are altering the space around them.
“There are disturbances at the edge of the planets’ magnetic field, and we know they’re disturbances within the space between the planets,” Galicia said.
Galicia said these disturbances are altering the way the universe is evolving, including the way stars and planets form.
“We’re trying to understand the process through which planets form,” Galicia said. “And through that we understand the process of our galaxy, which is the most dynamic region of the universe.”
An “Universe Tour”
Researchers have labeled the Nevada Kossakovsky Gap a Cosmic Energy Observatory (CEO), an acronym meant to describe the region.
As they traveled through the desert, McIrvine said, scientists have also been discussing dark energy, an expanding field of matter that is tearing apart our universe.
“The takeaway from this is that this is something that’s going to change the future of human society,” McIrvine said. “This is where this stuff’s starting to happen, and it’s going to affect us for many, many, many years to come. So this is something that’s going to take up a lot of people’s time in the future.”
McIrvine, a microgravity physicist, said that every time researchers go to this space, they expect to find something unusual.
When Galicia and his team were there in 2014, they didn’t expect to find two black holes that were formed from gravitational interactions around the Las Condes. The scientists said they were planning to go to the Nevada region to compare that event to other events in the universe but found it impossible to plan ahead.
So this year, Galicia and his team decided to take a different path.
By September this year, their research team had started looking for black holes around the Las Condes.
Galicia found two more.
The two black holes were ejected by the Las Condes magma, like cosmic Christmas trees, Galicia said.
Kane added, “The location was amazing in that it was another source of black holes in the galaxy.
“There were a few more that were colliding with each other that were seen this year,” Kane said. “That’s an area of focus right now. I think next year, we’re going to start looking for more.”