Space

VLT telescope reveals mysterious alignment of quasars with the Universe’s large-scale structure

VLT telescope reveals mysterio...
An artist's impression of the alignment of quasars with the large-scale structure of the Universe (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser)
An artist's impression of the alignment of quasars with the large-scale structure of the Universe (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser)
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An artist's impression of the alignment of quasars with the large-scale structure of the Universe (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser)
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An artist's impression of the alignment of quasars with the large-scale structure of the Universe (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser)
A simulation of the large-scale structure created as part of the Illustris simulation, with the distribution of dark matter displayed in blue and gas distribution in orange (Image: ESO/Illustris Collaboration)
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A simulation of the large-scale structure created as part of the Illustris simulation, with the distribution of dark matter displayed in blue and gas distribution in orange (Image: ESO/Illustris Collaboration)

Astronomers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have discovered an unexpected alignment of the spinning axes of supermassive black holes located billions of light-years apart. As if that discovery wasn’t fascinating enough in itself, the team then delved a little deeper, finding that the quasars aren’t just linked to each other, but are also aligned with the large-scale structure of the Universe itself.

The VLT’s observations focused on quasars – galaxies with active supermassive black holes at their heart, surrounded by spinning disks of bright, high temperature material. This extremely hot material is thrown out in jets along the axes of rotation.

To make the discovery, the team observed a sample of 93 quasars, all of which reside in such distant locations that the observed light comes from a time when the Universe was around a third of its current age. The team was unable to study the quasars directly, but instead measured the polarisation of the light from each object, using that data to identify the angle of its spin.

The astronomers first discovered that the axes of rotation, as seen in the direction of the high-speed jets, were aligned with each other. Considering the billions of light-years that separate the objects, that alone is a striking discovery, but further observations revealed an even greater level of alignment.

A simulation of the large-scale structure created as part of the Illustris simulation, with the distribution of dark matter displayed in blue and gas distribution in orange (Image: ESO/Illustris Collaboration)
A simulation of the large-scale structure created as part of the Illustris simulation, with the distribution of dark matter displayed in blue and gas distribution in orange (Image: ESO/Illustris Collaboration)

When you look at the Universe on a wide enough scale, you find that the distribution of galaxies is not even, but instead forms a web of clumps and filaments surrounding gigantic near-empty voids. According to the VLT findings, not only are the rotational axes of quasars aligned with each other, but they also tend to be arranged in parallel with this cosmic distribution of material, known as the large-scale structure.

The team estimates that the probability of this being down to chance to be less than one percent, believing instead that the alignment hints at a missing puzzle piece in our current model of the cosmos.

"A correlation between the orientation of quasars and the structure they belong to is an important prediction of numerical models of evolution of our Universe," said Dominique Sluse of the Argelander-Institut für Astronomie in Bonn, Germany. "Our data provides the first observational confirmation of this effect on scales much larger than what had been observed to date for normal galaxies."

Source: ESO

15 comments
canderso
So, the larger the black hole, the more the concentration of stars around it, so the higher the concentration of quasars. Doesnt seem mysterious to me. Seems more like odds of the gravity pulling in more stars.
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
It's the alignment of the rotation axis for quasars that is special here, not the concentration.
Arf
canderoso, I believe the massive black at the center of these galaxies IS the quasar--they were named quasars (quasi-stellar radio source I think) back before they knew that they were actually massive black holes at the center of galaxies.
Snatr
The second photo really looks like neurons to me :-)
Al Dutcher
Or, is it that the intervening stuff in the universe is filtering the light for a particular polarization? It might not be the rotational axis at all.
Paul Bedichek
It's unbelievably mysterious, they are separated by billions of light years and all are pointed the same way as well as the rest of galaxies also aligned that way.
Techtwit
So, God doesn't play dice with the Universe (Albert Einstein) but maybe He plays spinning tops?
Philip Sheffield
Of course I'm no astrophysicist, but this makes me wonder if the origin of these early supermassive black holes occurred during the Big Bang itself—as atom sized primordial nano holes. And then were spread apart throughout the early universe during the microseconds of Cosmic Inflation.
Tintas
It seems like we are living inside a large organism. Recent space images seems to suggest it. Most of them look like organic structures. Funny as you can actually see the same thing if you compare a cell with a galaxy or an atom with a solar system.
gregole
Reading the paper, you will see the researchers found 19 of 93 were highly polarized, and "quasar polarization vectors are either parallel or perpendicular to the directions of the large-scale structures to which they belong. Statistical tests indicate that the probability that this effect can be attributed to randomly oriented polarization vectors is of the order of 1%."
This is uncanny and fascinating; but 19 of 93 were highly polarized - what about the remaining approximately 80% that are not polarized? Why are 20% highly polarized?