K-State study reveals asymmetry in spin directions of galaxies

June 01, 2020

MANHATTAN, KANSAS -- An analysis of more than 200,000 spiral galaxies has revealed unexpected links between spin directions of galaxies, and the structure formed by these links might suggest that the early universe could have been spinning, according to a Kansas State University study.


Since the time of Edwin Hubble, astronomers have believed that the universe is inflating with no particular direction and that the galaxies in it are distributed with no particular cosmological structure. But Shamir's recent observations of geometrical patterns of more than 200,000 spiral galaxies suggest that the universe could have a defined structure and that the early universe could have been spinning. Patterns in the distribution of these galaxies suggest that spiral galaxies in different parts of the universe, separated by both space and time, are related through the directions toward which they spin, according to the study.

"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."

A spiral galaxy is a unique astronomical object because its visual appearance depends on the observer's perspective. For instance, a spiral galaxy that spins clockwise when observed from Earth, would seem to spin counterclockwise when the observer is located in the opposite side of that galaxy. If the universe is isotropic and has no particular structure -- as previous astronomers have predicted -- the number of galaxies that spin clockwise would be roughly equal to the number of galaxies that spin counterclockwise. Shamir used data from modern telescopes to show that this is not the case.

With traditional telescopes, counting galaxies in the universe is a daunting task. But modern robotic telescopes such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, or SDSS, and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS, are able to image many millions of galaxies automatically as they survey the sky. Machine vision can then sort millions of galaxies by their spin direction far faster than any person or group of people.

When comparing the number of galaxies with different spin directions, the number of galaxies that spin clockwise is not equal to the number of galaxies that spin counterclockwise. The difference is small, just over 2%, but with the high number of galaxies, there is a probability of less than 1 to 4 billion to have such asymmetry by chance, according to Shamir's research.

The patterns span over more than 4 billion light-years, but the asymmetry in that range is not uniform. The study found that the asymmetry gets higher when the galaxies are more distant from Earth, which shows that the early universe was more consistent and less chaotic than the current universe.

But the patterns do not just show that the universe is not symmetric, but also that the asymmetry changes in different parts of the universe, and the differences exhibit a unique 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."

The concept of cosmological multipoles is not new. Previous space-based observatories -- such as the Cosmic Background Explorer, or COBE, satellite; the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP mission; and the Planck observatory -- showed that the cosmic microwave background, which is electromagnetic radiation from the very early universe, also exhibits multiple poles. But the measurement of the cosmic microwave background is sensitive to foreground contamination -- such as the obstruction of the Milky Way -- and cannot show how these poles changed over time. The asymmetry between spin directions of spiral galaxies is a measurement that is not sensitive to obstruction. What can obstruct galaxies spinning in one direction in a certain field will necessarily also obstruct galaxies spinning in the opposite way.

"There is no error or contamination that could exhibit itself through such unique, complex and consistent patterns," Shamir said. "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."
-end-


Kansas State University

Related Spinning Articles from Brightsurf:

New technology lets quantum bits hold information for 10,000 times longer than previous record
Quantum bits, or qubits, can hold quantum information much longer now thanks to efforts by an international research team.

Spinning black hole powers jet by magnetic flux
A new letter has been found in the mysterious alphabet of black holes.

Research captures how human sperm swim in 3D
Using state-of-the-art 3D microscopy and mathematics, Dr Hermes Gadêlha from the University of Bristol, Dr Gabriel Corkidi and Dr Alberto Darszon from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, have reconstructed the movement of the sperm tail in 3D with high-precision.

Argonne researchers create active material out of microscopic spinning particles
Argonne researchers have created a new kind of self-healing active material out of 'microspinners,' which self-assemble under a magnetic field to form a lattice.

The asteroids Ryugu and Bennu were formed by the destruction of a large asteroid
What is the origin of the asteroids Bennu and Ryugu, and of their spinning-top shape?

When a spinning toy meets hydrodynamics: Point-of-care technology is set in motion
An IBS research team has reported a diagnostic fidget spinner (Dx-FS) that allows for highly sensitive and rapid diagnosis and prescription only with hand power.

New study suggests 'Pac-Man-like' mergers could explain massive, spinning black holes
Scientists have reported detecting gravitational waves from 10 black hole mergers to date, but they are still trying to explain the origins of those mergers.

Spinning lightwaves on a one-way street
Researchers at Purdue University have created a quantum spin wave for light.

An effort to stop the revolving door for hospital patients may be spinning its wheels
A new study shows that after several years of rapid improvements in hospital readmissions, the federal readmission penalty program may be spinning its wheels more than it's slowing the spinning of the revolving hospital door.

Cool halo gas caught spinning like galactic disks
A group of astronomers from University of California, Santa Barbara has discovered cool halo gas spinning in the same direction as galactic disks in typical star-forming galaxies.

Read More: Spinning News and Spinning Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.