Concentric circles on an image of the early universe are an imprint of violent events before the big bang, according to a new study.
If correct, the discovery points to a universe that did not start 13.7 billion years ago, but one that eternally cycles through aeons dominated by big bangs and supermassive black hole collisions.
Published on the pre-press website arXiv.org, Professor Roger Penrose from Oxford University and Professor Vahe Gurzadyan from Yerevan State University, Armenia, claim the evidence is in data collected by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (W-MAP) spacecraft.
W-MAP's seven-year mission studied the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, the afterglow of the big bang.
The CMB dates back to 300,000 years after the big bang and has now cooled to around -270°C.
Slight variations in the temperature represent differences in density, which were the seeds from which galaxies and superclusters grew.
Big bang theories
According the presently accepted 'inflation theory', these variations are thought to be random because of the inflation period that occurred nanoseconds after the big bang, which made the universe expand from the size of a pea.
Despite this intial randomness, scientists say the early universe was in a low state of entropy, or high level of order, which was needed for complex matter to be possible.
But Penrose says inflationary theory doesn't explain why there was such low entropy in the first place.
His idea of 'conformal cyclic cosmology' predicts that eventually black holes will consume all the matter in the universe.
Finally the black holes evaporate leaving a universe with nothing but energy, and a state of low entropy, bringing this aeon to an end and triggering the next aeon with another big bang.
Circles predating the universe
Penrose and Gurzadyan detected concentric circles in the CMB, which they believe are older than the big bang and support their theory.
They think it is an imprint of very violent gravitational radiation waves generated by supermassive black hole collisions in a previous aeon before the last big bang.
They say supporting data collected by the BOOMERanG-98 balloon mission over the Antarctic rules out instrument anomalies.
The director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, Dr Matthew Colliss says the work's highly speculative, both in terms of theory and the evidence it's based on.
"It would certainly be a remarkable result if it proves to be true, but a lot of caution is required at this stage," says Colliss.
He says it's important to be sure when going through such a huge mass of data that you don't end up simply seeing the patterns you want to see.
"It's fascinating speculation, but I'm going to take leave to doubt it until much more solid evidence is in place."