An image of a spiral Galaxy, taken from the same Subaru telescope that spotted the new rock
An image of a spiral Galaxy, taken from the same Subaru telescope that spotted the new rock

Our universe could have been spinning around, new study that might change our understanding of the cosmos suggests

Andrew Griffin
Monday 01 June 2020 15:39

Galaxies are spinning in different directions, scientists have found – a discovery that could change our undertstanding of the structure of the universe.

The spin of those galaxies seem to suggest there are unexpected and unexplained links between the directions of their spin.

The structure formed by those unusual links could suggest that the early universe was also spinning, according to the new study.

That is in conflict with previous understandings of the structure of the universe at the largest scale.

For decades, scientists have believed that the universe is expanding in no particular direction, with the galaxies inside of it distributed with no particular structure.

But the latest discoveries, looking at 200,000 spiral galaxies throughout the universe, suggest that the cosmos could actually have a defined structure.

Despite the fact that the spiral galaxies are distributed through space and time, they appear to be connected through the ways they spin, the new study suggests.

The pattern only appeared when researchers were able to understand those galaxies at the very largest scale.

“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 Lior Shamir, who presented the findings at the 236th American Astronomical Society meeting.

“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.”

Spiral galaxies are unique because they appear differently depending on where the observer is. If a galaxy is seen spinning clockwise from Earth, then it would loo like it was spinning counterclockwise to a person who is on another planet at the opposite side of the galaxy.

If the universe has no particular structure, then we would expect to see a roughly equal number of galaxies spinning each way. But the data analysed by the Kansas State University suggests that is not the case.

Scientists were able to examine so many different galaxies relatively quickly by taking images of many millions of them as they surveyed the sky. They then used artificial intelligence to sort through those hundreds of millions of spiral galaxies, and understand the way they were spinning.

They found that there seemed to be a difference in the number of galaxies spinning each way. While the difference was only just over 2 per cent, the chance of such a mismatch happening with so many galaxies to look at is 1 in 4 billion, the new research suggests.

What's more, the difference in spin appeared to change throughout the universe. The further away any given galaxy is, the more likely such a mismatch is – suggesting that the universe was more consistent and less chaotic in its early days than it is today.

Researchers claimed that the unexpected results would not be the result of error – but rather showed us the unusual structure of the universe that surrounds us.

“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.”

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