Spooky alignment of quasars across billions of light-years

November 19, 2014
This artist's impression shows schematically the mysterious alignments between the spin axes of quasars and the large-scale structures that they inhabit that observations with ESO's Very Large Telescope have revealed. These alignments are over billions of light-years and are the largest known in the universe. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centres. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. Quasars can shine more brightly than all the stars in the rest of their host galaxies put together.

A team led by Damien Hutsemékers from the University of Liège in Belgium used the FORS instrument on the VLT to study 93 that were known to form huge groupings spread over billions of light-years, seen at a time when the Universe was about one third of its current age.

"The first odd thing we noticed was that some of the quasars' rotation axes were aligned with each other—despite the fact that these quasars are separated by billions of light-years," said Hutsemékers.

The team then went further and looked to see if the rotation axes were linked, not just to each other, but also to the structure of the Universe on large scales at that time.

When astronomers look at the distribution of on scales of billions of light-years they find that they are not evenly distributed. They form a cosmic web of filaments and clumps around huge voids where galaxies are scarce. This intriguing and beautiful arrangement of material is known as large-scale structure.

The new VLT results indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structures in which they find themselves. So, if the quasars are in a long filament then the spins of the central will point along the filament. The researchers estimate that the probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than 1%.

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

The team could not see the rotation axes or the jets of the quasars directly. Instead they measured the polarisation of the light from each quasar and, for 19 of them, found a significantly polarised signal. The direction of this polarisation, combined with other information, could be used to deduce the angle of the accretion disc and hence the direction of the spin axis of the quasar.

"The alignments in the new data, on scales even bigger than current predictions from simulations, may be a hint that there is a missing ingredient in our current models of the cosmos," concludes Dominique Sluse.

Explore further: Hubble finds jets and explosions in NGC 7793

More information: "Alignment of quasar polarizations with large-scale structures", by D. Hutsemékers et al., Astronomy & Astrophysics , 19 November 2014.

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cantdrive85
1.3 / 5 (12) Nov 19, 2014
"The first odd thing we noticed was that some of the quasars' rotation axes were aligned with each other—despite the fact that these quasars are separated by billions of light-years," said Hutsemékers.

This is not odd to Plasma Cosmologists, due to their further findings.

The new VLT results indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structures in which they find themselves. So, if the quasars are in a long filament then the spins of the central black holes will point along the filament. The researchers estimate that the probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than 1%.

The filaments are the electric currents feeding these quasars. The large scale structures of the Universe are expected and predicted by Alfven. Astrophysicists don't like when inter- disciplinarians invade their turf, so chances are this will lead to "surprises".
Selena
Nov 19, 2014
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dtxx
4.7 / 5 (12) Nov 19, 2014
Astrophysicists don't like when inter- disciplinarians invade their turf, so chances are this will lead to "surprises"."


Or maybe they just treat you the way biologists treat the anti-evolution cranks. May that alfven's name be forevermore, "The Ken Ham of Physics."

Hell, cantdrive, I'd even say you are invading alfven's turf, but apparently he likes parrots on his property.
IMP-9
4.6 / 5 (10) Nov 19, 2014
The filaments are the electric currents feeding these quasars.


A handwave with no substance. How does the electric model explain the emission in quasars, the broad and narrow lines, the polarised lines, the statistics of the variability, the morphology of QSOs... it doesn't. Without a quantitative model of the process you cannot claim you can explain this.

The large scale structures of the Universe are expected and predicted by Alfven.


Ah yes, I remember Alfven predicting baryon acoustic oscillations validated decades later. No that was big bang cosmology, and BAO even today cannot be explained by these plasma ideas. Or redshift space distortions or the angular correlation function... Plasma cosmology falls far short of modern cosmology.
Gigel
5 / 5 (3) Nov 19, 2014
The filaments are the electric currents feeding these quasars.

If there's electricity running through the filaments, then there may also be some electric and magnetic fields on the filament. Shouldn't these give a Stark-Zeeman splitting of the emission lines of the intergalactic gas along the filament?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2014
So this looks like some effect caused by the coalescence of matter that formed the filaments.

Next question, are the alignments all the same rotational sense? Can we tell that from the polarization?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Nov 20, 2014
So this looks like some effect caused by the coalescence of matter that formed the filaments.

Since the fileaments coalesced in directions orthogonal to the filament it sort of makes sense that the main rotational axis should be aligned with the filament.

Next question, are the alignments all the same rotational sense? Can we tell that from the polarization?

The red/blue shift of the accretion disk should be a general indicator of the rotational sense. I'm not sure whether a rotary component of the polarization is enough, as molecules that the radiation passes through may affect this either way.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2014
Yeah, it made sense to me as well (the orthogonal thing).

I don't know if the red/blue shift is visible under these circumstances, or if the angular resolution is high enough to see it edge on rather than face on to the accretion disk. I was thinking more of an effect on the polarization, maybe a left/right handed circular component.
Selena
Nov 20, 2014
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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2014
Even if the disk is somewhat tilted from our POV there should be red/blueshifts. But I'm pretty sure that for most of them we don't have the resolution to get a direct look at the accretion disk.

One could posit that there may be correlation between the spin direction of a quasar and the galaxy it's housed in. But I'm not sure how strong such a correlation would be.
An easiers step would be to check the galaxies in each filament for rotational preference first and work forward from that.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2014
Yeah but it sure would be nice and easy if you could get it as easily as you can the polarization direction they measured (which apparently doesn't find whether the rotation direction is the same or opposite; I'm sure they would have said if they could identify the rotational "north" and "south" poles).
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2014
And another thing that just occurred to me: keep in mind that they culled the sample to those galaxies that they could use their polarization method on, and it's dependent upon the observer being on the plane of the disk, if I understood correctly. I wonder what else that might select for...
IMP-9
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 20, 2014
I think people are missing a key part.

A correlation between the orientation of quasars and the structurethey belong to is an important prediction of numerical models of evolution of our Universe... on scales even bigger than current predictions from simulations


This does not surprise anyone. Why? Because the largest hydro-simulations that could trace such a trend are physically smaller than these scales. None of these simulations could predict it because they're about a factor of 10 smaller.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2014
Why are hydrodynamic simulations so important in this connection, and how are they different from the simulations being done now in terms of demand on a system?
Heliospheric
1 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2014
Ah yes, I remember Alfven predicting baryon acoustic oscillations validated decades later. No that was big bang cosmology, and BAO even today cannot be explained by these plasma ideas.


Didn't Alfven die before BAO was even conceptualized? A bit like blaming Einstein for not predicting the digital watch.
IMP-9
4 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2014
Why are hydrodynamic simulations so important in this connection, and how are they different from the simulations being done now in terms of demand on a system?


Accretion disks require hydrodynamics. You don't get disks without pressure and without that you don't get accurate accretion. There are zoom hydro simulations where big boxes are used but only small parts are well resolved but this is a large scale effect. Big hydro simulations that look at black holes well are 100 Mpc, this is 10 times larger. I'm sure it could be done but you would have to go looking for it.

IMP-9
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2014
Didn't Alfven die before BAO was even conceptualized?


BAO started being talked about in the 70's, Alfven died in 95. As I said even now plasma cosmology can't explain it, like most observations. My point was that Alfven said the universe should be filamentary (as did early n-body calculations in the 60's), but is only the very beginning of large scale structure. I would very much blame Einstein's theory if it couldn't describe what it sets out to.
Da Schneib
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2014
I still feel like I'm missing some of your point, I think, IMP. But thanks for telling why hydrodynamic models are used; it makes sense they'd re-use code from those sorts of earlier simulations, and I can see the parallels between the two situations now that you've pointed it out.

I'm surprised they need a field as large as 100 megaparsecs to simulate an AGN, though I suppose I shouldn't be.

I had heard about simulations of the early universe that replicate the LSS before; I assume they're using a different kind of code to do those, by what you've said. Is that right?
IMP-9
4 / 5 (4) Nov 21, 2014
I'm surprised they need a field as large as 100 megaparsecs to simulate an AGN


They don't. They have thousands of AGN in those simulations, the point I was making was about recreating this trend over a Gpc or so doesn't work because the simulations aren't large enough.

Big modern hydro simulations like ILLUSTRIOUS and EAGLE set out to describe the evolution of galaxies from a time not to far after the epoch of recombination when the CMB was emitted. They do reproduce large scale structure but only the smaller stuff, again due to their size. Bigger simulations like Millennium and Q Continoum can do large scale structure on the largest scales but they don't simulate baryons (during the actual run anyway) so they miss the small scale physics.
Da Schneib
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2014
Ahhhh. Yes, that makes it clearer. So are we short of data to validate the simulations, or are we short of processing power to make a realistic one? Sounds like the latter.
movementiseternal
Nov 22, 2014
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Tuxford
1 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2014
Another chicken and egg problem: Perhaps it is not that the quasars find themselves aligned within a filament, but that the quasars themselves are the source of the resulting structure. Rather simple when viewed with a bit of logic applied.

The quasars are extremely active core stars ejecting massive quantities of new matter largely along the jets, collinear with the spin axes. Thus, the new matter eventually forms into other galaxies in the general direction of the axes, forming the larger structure that the quasars 'find' themselves within.

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