While space internet is starting to become a thing, the cosmic web is a different way of staying connected. Previous observations have found that some galaxies have many smaller galaxies arranged around them — and revolving around them — in an unusually orderly way. If that sounds more like the Star Trek universe than ours, it gets better. New research has found that hundreds of galaxies are rotating eerily in sync with others that lie tens of millions of light-years from Earth.
“For this mysterious coherence in large scales, we cautiously suggest a scenario in which it results from a possible relationship between the long-term motion of a large-scale structure and the rotations of galaxies in it,” said astronomer Joon Hyeop Lee, of the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, and colleagues in a study recently published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Never before has anything quite like this been observed. Lee’s team used the NASA-Sloan Atlas (NSA) catalog and Calar Alto Legacy Integral Field Area (CALIFA) survey data to look at 445 galaxies up to 400 million light-years away from our planet. They realized something peculiar was going on after noticing galaxies closest to us and slightly further were synced up in their rotations towards Earth, and vice versa. Galaxies moving in the opposite direction had satellite galaxies moving away from Earth.
Apparently, galaxies are influenced to rotate a certain way by other galaxies in close proximity. That isn’t even the most mind-blowing thing about this. What Lee and his team observed means that this galactic hive mind must have something to do with large-scale structures invisible to the naked eye, because no two galaxies separated by millions and millions of light years could possibly influence each other directly.
Whatever this mysterious megastructure is, it is believed to be moving counterclockwise and possibly moving all those galaxies with it.
“The rotation of a galaxy (particularly at its outskirt) is significantly influenced by interactions with its neighbors,” Lee said in an earlier study.
Lee’s discovery builds on a 2014 study by astronomer Damien Hutsemékers of the University of Liége in Belgium. He and his team, who were able to look back in time with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile when they observed about 100 quasars billions of light-years away. They found something astonishing after using the polarization of light from these quasars to figure out how the black holes lurking within them were aligned. Never mind how many billions of light-years away from each other; 19 of these black holes showed parallel rotation.
“Quasar spin axes are likely parallel to their host large-scale structures,” Hutsemékers and colleagues said in that study.
This could mean that megastructures have been behind the movement of galaxies since the universe was born. While we’re only starting to understand this bizarre phenomenon, it proves science fact can definitely be stranger than science fiction.