For the first time, scientists have confirmed that the cosmic web is rotating, affecting the spin of galaxies hundreds of millions of light-years apart.
Strangely, enormous tubular structures of mysterious dark matter are bringing order to the chaos of the universe. As of yet, we don’t know for sure what invisible dark matter even is, though it influences how the Milky Way spins.
Now, an international team of astronomers and scientists discovered “long tendrils of galaxies spin on the scale of hundreds of millions of light-years.”
“A rotation on such enormous scales has never been seen before,” notes AIP.
After confirming the cosmic web’s spin, the researchers were left in awe. There’s an ordered motion to the galaxies.
“For me, at least, it’s incredibly inspiring to know that there’s some sort of cosmos to the chaos,” said project initiator Noam Libeskind. “There’s some order in this chaotic universe.”
What is the Cosmic Web?
The cosmic web is a vast intergalactic network made up primarily of dark matter and long filaments of hydrogen left over from the Big Bang. It’s the building block of the cosmos where galaxies are created.
Within the web, enormous bridges of cosmic filaments connect clusters of galaxies to each other.
Theoretically, the network contains more than 60% of the gas in the universe, feeding every star-producing region in space.
Roland Bacon, an astrophysicist at the Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon in France, explained the cosmic web via CNN:
“Galaxies in the early time of the universe, they formed through gas. Gas, mostly hydrogen, is the fuel which forms stars, and in the end, forms the galaxy,” he explained. “The galaxies will form in these very long filaments of gas.”
In 2019, scientists released the first-ever image of the cosmic web. (see in the video below)
The Cosmic Web is Spinning
Using a survey of hundreds of thousands of galaxies, the researchers mapped their motion along the cosmic web superhighways. Then, they discovered “a very strong rotation signal,” indicating the vast filaments were spinning.
“Despite being thin cylinders – similar in dimension to pencils – hundreds of millions of light-years long, but just a few million light-years in diameter, these fantastic tendrils of matter rotate,” said Libeskind.
Amazingly, it appears the cosmic web rotates in a helix or corkscrew pattern, which sounds reminiscent of DNA.
“On these scales, the galaxies within them are themselves just specs of dust. They move on helixes or corkscrew-like orbits, circling around the middle of the filament while traveling along it. Such a spin has never been seen before on such enormous scales, and the implication is that there must be an as yet unknown physical mechanism responsible for torquing these objects,” Libeskind added.
Although the reason for the rotation remains unknown, the team found the filaments where massive galaxies were located seemed to spin more. Thus, gravity may play a role.
Now the researchers will look further into how the cosmic web moves and influences how the galaxies are born.
How the Scientists Did It
Peng Wang, a postdoctoral researcher at Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP), led a team of international researchers to study the cosmic web.
As Vice explains in more detail, they examined hundreds of thousands of galaxies within a few billion light-years of Earth in data captured by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in New Mexico.
Then, they identified giant filament structures and studied how galaxies along the structures were either redshifted (moving away) or blueshifted (moving toward us). Additionally, they estimated the average velocities of all the galaxies in a filament.
Thus, the scientists studied the galaxies using phenomena we observe every day on Earth: the Doppler effect. For example, the effect causes a change in pitch when an ambulance’s siren moves away from you. But, the same effect also applies to light from distant galaxies.
“The Doppler effect, or Doppler shift, describes the changes in frequency of any kind of sound or light wave produced by a moving source with respect to an observer.”
Thus, using familiar everyday phenomena, these researchers took it to unprecedented scales and revealed something extraordinary. There’s an ordered motion to the universe, and everything is dynamically connected.