Durham astronomers help solve a problem involving the evolution of the Universe

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<p><figcaption class=Professor Carlos Frenk, Durham University (Image: Contributor)

Astronomers say they have solved a pending problem that has challenged our understanding of how the Universe evolved.

New investigations have been carried out on the spatial distribution of the faint satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way.

These satellite galaxies exhibit a strange alignment, appearing to lie in a huge, thin rotating plane, called the “satellite plane.”

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This seemingly unlikely arrangement had 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 as it does today.

Now, new research led jointly by the universities of Durham, UK, and Helsinki, Finland, has found that the plane of satellites is a cosmological quirk that will dissolve over time in the same way that star constellations change too.

Study co-author Professor Carlos Frenk, Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics at Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, UK, said: “The strange alignment of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies across the sky has perplexed astronomers for decades, so much so that it was seen as posing a profound challenge to cosmological orthodoxy.

“But thanks to the 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 today.

“We have been able to eliminate one of the main remaining challenges of the cold dark matter theory.

“It goes on to provide a remarkably accurate description of the evolution of our Universe.”

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The research removes the challenge that the plane of satellites poses to the standard model of cosmology.

This model explains the formation of the Universe and how the galaxies we see now gradually formed within clumps of cold dark matter, a mysterious substance that makes up about 27 percent of the Universe.

The findings are published in the journal nature astronomy.

The satellites of the Milky Way seem to be arranged in an incredibly thin plane that runs through the galaxy and, interestingly, they are also circling in a long-lived, coherent disk.

There is no known physical mechanism that would make satellites flat.

Instead, it was thought that the satellite galaxies should be arranged in a roughly round configuration following dark matter.

Since the satellite blueprint was discovered in the 1970s, astronomers have tried unsuccessfully to find similar structures in realistic supercomputer simulations that track 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 the researchers to think that the theory of galaxy formation from cold dark matter could be wrong.

However, this latest research saw astronomers use new data from the European Space Agency’s GAIA space observatory.

GAIA is mapping the Milky Way in six dimensions, providing precise positions and motion measurements for about a billion stars in our galaxy (about one percent of the total) and their companion systems.

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These data allowed scientists to project the orbits of satellite galaxies into the past and future and see how the plane formed and dissolved in a few hundred million years, a mere blink of an eye in cosmic time.

The researchers also searched new custom-made cosmological simulations for evidence of satellite blueprints.

They realized that previous simulation-based studies had erred by not considering the satellites’ distances from the center of the galaxy, making virtual satellite systems appear much rounder than real ones.

With this in mind, they found several virtual Milky Ways that have a plane 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.

Lead author of the study, Dr Till Sawala, from the University of Helsinki, said: “The blueprint of the satellites was really mind blowing.

“It is perhaps not surprising that a puzzle that has endured for almost 50 years requires a combination of methods to solve it, and an international team to come together.”

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