Researchers conducting a three-year deep radio imaging survey of a particular region of distant space known as ELAIS-N1 have discovered that the black holes there are doing something very, very peculiar: They’re all tilting with the same alignment and spitting out radio waves in the same direction, a finding that is far too improbable to be attributed to mere coincidence, reports Phys.org.
The discovery, made by South African researchers using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), hints at an unexplained cosmic pattern. It might mean that primordial mass fluctuations in the early universe caused this particular volume of space to spin as one, a profound possibility that could allow scientists to map out how the universe structured itself.
“Since these black holes don’t know about each other, or have any way of exchanging information or influencing each other directly over such vast scales, this spin alignment must have occurred during the formation of the galaxies in the early universe,” said professor Andrew Russ Taylor, principal author of the study.
Radio jets such as those measured in the study are produced by supermassive black holes that sit at the heart of ancient galaxies. Scientists are considering a number of different factors that could have forced so many of them into alignment, such as cosmic magnetic fields, or possibly fields associated with exotic, theoretical dark matter particles. Even cosmic “strings” could be the culprit, hypothetical 1-dimensional topological defects which may have formed in the early universe.
There are certainly a number of exciting hypotheticals to sift through. A large-scale alignment like this has never been predicted by current leading theories.
“[The alignments are] not obviously expected based on our current understanding of cosmology. It’s a bizarre finding,” said professor Romeel Dave, who leads a team developing plans for universe simulations.
Bizarre findings are healthy for science, however. They allow scientists to refine their theories to better account for a deeper pool of observations, and ultimately give us a grander and more precise understanding of the cosmos.
“We’re beginning to understand how the large-scale structure of the universe came about, starting from the Big Bang and growing as a result of disturbances in the early universe, to what we have today,” said Taylor, “and that helps us explore what the universe of tomorrow will be like.”
Credit: Bryan Nelson
The sheer size of our universe is just about unfathomable, so you can imagine the surprise that researchers must have experienced when they recently discovered a structure within our universe that measured 5 billion light years across. That’s more than one-ninth the size of the entire observable universe, and by far the largest structure ever discovered.
In fact, this mysterious structure is so colossal that it could shatter our current understanding of the cosmos.
“If we are right, this structure contradicts the current models of the universe,” said Lajos Balazs, lead author on the paper, in a press release by the Royal Astronomical Society. “It was a huge surprise to find something this big – and we still don’t quite understand how it came to exist at all.”
Just what is this massive structure? It’s not a single, physical object, but rather a cluster of nine massive galaxies bound together gravitationally, much like how our Milky Way is part of a cluster of galaxies. It was discovered after researchers identified a ring of nine gamma ray bursts (GRBs) that appeared to be at very similar distances from us, each around 7 billion light years away.
GRBs are the brightest electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe, caused by a supernova. Their detection typically indicates the presence of a galaxy, so all of the GRBs in this ring are believed to each come from a different galaxy. But their close proximity to one another suggests that these galaxies must be linked together. There is only a 1 in 20,000 probability of the GRBs being in this distribution by chance.
A mega-cluster of this size shouldn’t be possible, at least not if you think in terms of our current theories. Those theories predict that the universe ought to be relatively uniform on the largest scales, meaning that the sizes of structures shouldn’t vary by much. In fact, the theoretical limit to structure size has been calculated at around 1.2 billion light years across.
If the Hungarian-American team’s calculations are correct, then this giant new structure– which measures in at over 5 billion light years across — would blow that classic model out of the water. In fact, either the researchers’ calculations are wrong on this, or scientists will need to radically revise their theories on the evolution of the cosmos.
Needless to say, this GRB cluster discovery has the potential to cause a sweeping paradigm shift in astronomy. At the very least, it reminds us just how small our view of the universe really is.
Vitamin B3 is one of the most essential nutrients for life on Earth. It is used to build NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), a vital component to metabolism, and probably a necessary element for the beginnings of life on our planet. But now new NASA-funded research suggests that much of the vitamin B3 found on Earth may actually have an extraterrestrial origin.
The study builds on previous research which found that vitamin B3 is present in carbon-rich meteorites at concentrations ranging from about 30 to 600 parts-per-billion. Scientists were even able to reproduce these results in a lab designed to simulate space-like conditions. Vitamin B3 was produced from a mixture of pyridine, a basic organic compound, and carbon dioxide ice.
The new experiments went a step further by adding water ice to the mixture. This is particularly important because water ice is abundant on comets and icy dust grains found throughout the cosmos. Sure enough, vitamin B3 could still be generated under space-like conditions from this heartier meteorite-like stew.
“We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites,” said Karen Smith of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth.”
This is exciting news for those who expound the theory that life on Earth may have started elsewhere in the universe and traveled to our planet on comets and meteors. At the very least, the experiments demonstrate that the building blocks for life on Earth did not have to originate here. Furthermore, if the basic constituents of life are free-floating throughout space, this could increase the odds that life could form on other planets besides Earth.
Researchers hope that their results will further be validated by the Rosetta orbiter, which is currently circling comet 67P. This is the same comment that the dormant Philae lander is sitting on. If some of the same complex organic molecules used in these experiments is found in the gases released by the comet or in the comet’s nucleus, that would lend strong support to the idea that early Earth was seeded with vitamin B3 from beyond our solar system.