Spiral galaxies’ patterns indicate that the cosmos may have a definite structure

According to a Kansas State University research, an examination of more than 200,000 spiral galaxies showed surprising linkages between galaxies’ spin orientations, and the structure produced by these ties may imply that the early cosmos was spinning.

The findings were presented by Lior Shamir, a K-State computational astronomer and computer scientist, at the 236th American Astronomical Society conference in June 2020. The results are noteworthy because they contradict several previously held beliefs about the universe’s large-scale structure.

“Data science in astronomy has not just made astronomy research more cost-effective, but it also allows us to observe the universe in a completely different way,” said Shamir, also a K-State associate professor of computer science. 

The geometrical pattern exhibited by the distribution of the spiral galaxies is clear, but can only be observed when analyzing a very large number of astronomical objects.

This image shows an all-sky mollweide map of the quadrupole in the distribution of galaxy spin directions. In this image, the different colors mean different statistical strength of having a cosmological quadrupole at different points in the sky. Credit: Kansas State University

A spiral galaxy is a one-of-a-kind celestial object since its visual appearance is determined on the observer’s point of view. For example, a spiral galaxy that seems to spin clockwise when seen from Earth appears to spin counterclockwise when observed from the other side of the galaxy. If the cosmos is isotropic and devoid of structure, as past astronomers anticipated, the number of clockwise spinning galaxies would be nearly equal to the number of counterclockwise spinning galaxies. Shamir demonstrated that this is not the case by using data from contemporary telescopes.

Counting galaxies in the cosmos is a difficult undertaking with conventional telescopes. However, contemporary robotic telescopes such as the Sloan Digital Sky Sweep, or SDSS, and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS, are capable of automatically imaging millions of galaxies as they survey the sky.

When the number of galaxies with various spin orientations is compared, the number of galaxies spinning clockwise is not equal to the number of galaxies spinning counterclockwise. The difference is tiny, little over 2%, but given the large number of galaxies, the possibility of such imbalance occurring by chance is less than 1 in 4 billion, according to Shamir’s research.

The patterns extend more than 4 billion light-years, but the asymmetry is not consistent over that distance. The study discovered that as galaxies travel farther away from Earth, the asymmetry increases, indicating that the early cosmos was more consistent and less chaotic than the current universe. However, the patterns demonstrate not only that the cosmos is not symmetric, but also that the asymmetry varies across the universe, with the discrepancies exhibiting a distinct pattern of multipoles.

“If the universe has an axis, it is not a simple single axis like a merry-go-round,” Shamir said. “It is a complex alignment of multiple axes that also have a certain drift.”

We have two different sky surveys showing the exact same patterns, even when the galaxies are completely different. There is no error that can lead to that. This is the Universe that we live in. This is our home.

Multipole alignment in the large-scale distribution of spin direction of spiral galaxies, Lior Shamir

Published: Apr, 2020

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