Professor Carlos Frenk, Durham University (Image: Contributor)
Astronomers say they have solved a lingering problem that has tested our understanding of the evolution of the Universe.
New research has been conducted on the spatial distribution of faint satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way.
These satellite galaxies exhibit a bizarre alignment – they appear to be on a huge, thin rotating plane – called the “satellite plane”.
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This seemingly unlikely arrangement has puzzled astronomers for more than 50 years, leading many to question the validity of the standard cosmological model that seeks to explain how the Universe came to look like it does today.
Now, new research conducted jointly by the universities of Durham, UK, and Helsinki, Finland, has found that the plane of the satellites is a cosmological oddity that will dissolve over time in the same way constellations do. of stars also change.
Study co-author Professor Carlos Frenk, Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics at the Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University, UK, said: “The strange alignment of the satellite galaxies of The Milky Way in the sky has puzzled astronomers for decades, so much so that it was seen as a profound challenge to cosmological orthodoxy.
“But thanks to amazing data from the GAIA satellite and the laws of physics, we now know that the plane is just a random alignment, a matter of being in the right place at the right time, just like the constellations of stars in the sky.
“Come back in a billion years, and the plane will have disintegrated, just like the constellations of today.
“We were able to remove one of the main outstanding challenges of cold dark matter theory.
“It continues to provide a remarkably accurate description of the evolution of our Universe.”
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The research removes the challenge posed by the satellite plan to the standard model of cosmology.
This model explains the formation of the Universe and how the galaxies we now see gradually formed within clumps of cold dark matter – a mysterious substance that makes up about 27% of the Universe.
The results are published in the journal natural astronomy.
The Milky Way’s satellites appear to be arranged in an implausibly thin plane traversing the galaxy and, curiously, they also spin in a cohesive, long-lived disk.
There is no known physical mechanism that would make satellites airplanes.
Instead, satellite galaxies were thought to be arranged in a roughly round configuration tracing dark matter.
Since the discovery of the satellite plane in the 1970s, astronomers have tried unsuccessfully to find similar structures in realistic supercomputer simulations that trace the evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang to the present day.
The fact that the arrangement of the satellites could not be explained led researchers to speculate that the cold dark matter theory of galaxy formation might be wrong.
However, this latest research has seen astronomers use new data from the European Space Agency’s GAIA space observatory.
GAIA plots a six-dimensional map of the Milky Way, providing precise positions and motion measurements for approximately one billion stars in our galaxy (about one percent of the total) and its companion systems.
This data allowed scientists to project the orbits of satellite galaxies into the past and future and watch the plane form and dissolve in a few hundred million years – a mere blink of an eye in cosmic time.
The researchers also searched for new bespoke cosmological simulations to find evidence of satellite blueprints.
They realized that previous studies based on simulations had been misled by not taking into account the distances of the satellites from the center of the Galaxy, which made the virtual satellite systems appear much rounder than the real ones.
Taking this into account, they found several virtual Milky Ways that exhibit a map of satellite galaxies very similar to that seen through telescopes.
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The researchers say this removes one of the main objections to the validity of the Standard Model of cosmology and means that the concept of dark matter remains the cornerstone of our understanding of the Universe.
The study’s lead author, Dr Till Sawala, from the University of Helsinki, said: “The satellite plan was truly mind-blowing.
“It is perhaps unsurprising that a puzzle that has been going on for almost 50 years required a combination of methods to solve it – and an international team to come together.”