Mysteriously Aligned Black Holes May Shed Light on the Structure of the Universe

Monday, 25 April 2016 - 10:50AM
Astrophysics
Black Holes
Monday, 25 April 2016 - 10:50AM
Mysteriously Aligned Black Holes May Shed Light on the Structure of the Universe
We generally don't think of black holes as synchronizing with each other, but in a new study, scientists have found that about a dozen black holes are spewing jets of matter in approximately the same direction. This weird synchronicity is not only fascinating in itself, but it could give us further insight into the formation of the large-scale structure of our universe.

While black holes are known for consuming matter, they also tend to eject matter from time to time. Supermassive black holes periodically emit astrophysical jets of matter from their poles that can extend great distances into space, and some of those jets contain radio waves that can be detected on Earth. Researchers from the University of Cape Town found that out of the 64 galaxies whose supermassive black holes are emitting radio waves, about a dozen are spewing matter in the same direction. According to the researchers, this type of pattern is statistically significant and shouldn't exist, unless the waves are being guided by a larger cosmic structure.

According to recent simulations, the universe resembles a gigantic spiderweb on a cosmic scale, in which galaxies compose the filaments that are thinly stretched around huge, dark, empty voids. These filaments serve as a sort of scaffolding for the universe, and as a place for galaxies to form, but they are not believed to actually impact the matter within them. If the filaments are somehow determining the direction of these astrophysical jets, then it would change a huge supposition about the nature of our universe.

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"What we're seeing is the result of a very large region in the early universe spinning coherently in the same direction," study leader Russ Taylor told Science News. If that's true, it adds a "new wrinkle to explain how large-scale structure formed."
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There are some detractors, however, who claim that the sample size of this study, as well as those previous studies that found similar alignments, is in fact not large enough to conclude that the results are statistically significant. Astrophysicist Michael DiPompeo from Dartmouth College claims that he ran his own calculations, and while it's possible that there is some sort of anomaly, it's also possible that there could be a similar pattern derived from 64 randomly oriented galaxies.

Opening quote
"If an alignment like this exists, it's very interesting," said DiPompeo. "But I'm not super convinced that it's really there. I could pretty regularly get patterns that look like this."
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However, further investigation is needed to fully rely on or discount the results. DiPompeo went on to say that if the galaxies are extremely varying distances from Earth, then the pattern is most likely a coincidence, but if clusters of galaxies showed similar patterns, then it's more likely that there are larger forces at work. And if the latter case is true, then there may be even more of a cosmic structure to our universe than we previously thought.
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Black Holes

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