Is the universe controlled by gigantic structures?
The idea that celestial objects exist within utterly immense cosmic structures is becoming inescapable.
New astronomical discoveries are causing some astronomers to question our basic model of the cosmos. Celestial object alignments suggest that they may be embedded in large-scale structures. Galaxies that are too far away to influence each other are traveling through space together.
Solidity is a function of magnification. We know that anything we see as solid is actually a structure of atoms packed so closely together that it appears to our eyes to be a single solid thing. We could see the spaces between them if we were small enough; if we were much smaller, those spaces may appear vast. Similarly, in 1989, Margaret Geller and John Huchra discovered the immense “Great Wall,” a “sheet” formed by galaxies thousands of light years away, while reviewing redraft survey data. The first large-scale structure is 500 million light-years long, 200 million light-years wide, and 15 million light-years thick.
Since then, more massive large-scale structures have been identified, including sheets, filaments, and knots, with bubble-like voids interspersed among them. Clouds and filaments of hydrogen gas and dark matter appear to connect them. Though the bodies that make up the structures are not gravitationally attached to one another because the distances between them are too great, evidence is piling up that they are connected by something.
Recent observations show that galaxies that are millions of light-years apart are moving in synchrony. After all, something appears to be connecting large-scale structures that are many light years apart. Is it correct to assume the universe as various clumps of matter just expanding outward from the Big Bang and gravitationally pulling on each other?
The existence and physics of large-scale structures are intriguing mysteries with clear implications for our understanding of the universe. As Noam Libeskind, of the Leibniz-Institut for Astrophysics (AIP) in Germany tells VICE, “That’s actually the reason why everybody is always studying these large-scale structures. It’s a way of probing and constraining the laws of gravity and the nature of matter, dark matter, dark energy, and the universe.”
The discovery and study of large-scale structures results from analyzing and modeling simulations of redshift scans for specific regions of the sky that visually reveal these huge structures.
BILLIONS OF LIGHT YEARS APART
Several pieces of research are causing interest in these large-scale structures to heat up. The most mind-blowing distant synchronized motion was reported in 2014, when the rotating axes of 19 super-massive black holes at the centers of quasars were found to be in alignment, billions of light years away, out of 100 quasars analyzed. According to the study’s lead author, astronomer Damien Hutsemékers of the University of Liège in Belgium, “Galaxy spin axes are known to align with large-scale structures such as cosmic filaments but this occurs on smaller scales. However, there is currently no explanation why the axes of quasars are aligned with the axis of the large group in which they are embedded.”
The first word of the title of the research publication, “Spooky Alignment of Quasars Across Billions of Light-years,” suggests cosmic-scale quantum entanglement as a possible explanation.
GALAXIES OF A FEATHER
Astronomer Joon Hyeop Lee of the Korea Astronomy and Space Institute is the lead author of “Mysterious Coherence in Several-megaparsec Scales between Galaxy Rotation and Neighbor Motion,” published in October of this year in Astrophysical Journal.
Using data from two catalogs of redshift survey data — the Calar Alto Legacy Integral Field Area (CALIFA) and NASA-Sloan Atlas (NSA) catalogs — the researchers found that galaxies six meparsecs, or 20 million light years away, were travelling in the same direction. Those observed, for example, a galaxy moving toward the Earth was mirrored by other distant galaxies moving in the same direction.
“This discovery is quite new and unexpected,” according to Lee, “I have never seen any previous report of observations or any prediction from numerical simulations, exactly related to this phenomenon.”
Since the galaxies are too distant for their gravitational fields to be influencing each other, Lee poses another explanation: That the linked galaxies are both embedded within the same, large-scale structure.
Another puzzle indicating the impact of large-scale construction has emerged in recent years. It’s been observed that galaxies surrounding our own Milky Way are weirdly arranged in a single, flat plane. Big-Bang thinking would suggest that they should be circling us from all angles. Obviously, this is a worrying anomaly for adherents of that method of viewing the galaxy, known as the CDM model.
The discovery of the same event happening around the Andromeda galaxy, and then again around Centaurus A in 2015, undercut the belief that it was an anomaly. By the time “A whirling plane of satellite galaxies around Centaurus A challenges cold dark matter cosmology” was published in 2018, the phenomenon was starting to seem quite common, and possibly universal. The possibility that the satellite galaxies were part of a larger structure had become more fascinating.
JUST THE BEGINNING
We can only hope that as more astronomers accept the concept of large-scale structures and associated research intensifies, these perplexingly unusual movements and associations will be clarified. Imagining a vast arrangement of unimaginably gigantic structures in which galaxies are embedded provides a very different vision of the cosmos, one that makes one question if these structures are embedded in something even larger. We are indeed small enough in this mind-boggling case to observe merely the space between objects — in this example, galaxies. We’ve been unaware of them, just as we’ve been unaware of whatever may be living between our own atoms.