Researchers conducting a three-year deep radio imaging survey of a particular region of distant space known as ELAIS-N1 have discovered that the black holes there are doing something very, very peculiar: They're all tilting with the same alignment and spitting out radio waves in the same direction, a finding that is far too improbable to be attributed to mere coincidence, reports Phys.org.
The discovery, made by South African researchers using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), hints at an unexplained cosmic pattern. It might mean that primordial mass fluctuations in the early universe caused this particular volume of space to spin as one, a profound possibility that could allow scientists to map out how the universe structured itself.
"Since these black holes don't know about each other, or have any way of exchanging information or influencing each other directly over such vast scales, this spin alignment must have occurred during the formation of the galaxies in the early universe," said professor Andrew Russ Taylor, principal author of the study.
Radio jets such as those measured in the study are produced by supermassive black holes that sit at the heart of ancient galaxies. Scientists are considering a number of different factors that could have forced so many of them into alignment, such as cosmic magnetic fields, or possibly fields associated with exotic, theoretical dark matter particles. Even cosmic "strings" could be the culprit, hypothetical 1-dimensional topological defects which may have formed in the early universe.
There are certainly a number of exciting hypotheticals to sift through. A large-scale alignment like this has never been predicted by current leading theories.
"[The alignments are] not obviously expected based on our current understanding of cosmology. It's a bizarre finding," said professor Romeel Dave, who leads a team developing plans for universe simulations.
Bizarre findings are healthy for science, however. They allow scientists to refine their theories to better account for a deeper pool of observations, and ultimately give us a grander and more precise understanding of the cosmos.
"We're beginning to understand how the large-scale structure of the universe came about, starting from the Big Bang and growing as a result of disturbances in the early universe, to what we have today," said Taylor, "and that helps us explore what the universe of tomorrow will be like."