Scientists have been gathering a growing well of evidence that our universe may be connected via a vast array of large-scale "structures" that seem to reach out across the cosmos, like the hand of some metaphorical God, to synchronize the movements of galaxies that are separated by vast distances.
These mysterious edifices, should they exist, could challenge the most fundamental ideas we have about the universe, reports Vice.
Hints about these odd structures have come from observations we've made of galaxies separated by immense cosmic distances — distances too far to be influenced by the force of gravity. These galaxies appear to move in synchronized fashion, in spite of their distances, in a manner too uncanny to occur by chance.
For instance, a study recently published in The Astrophysical Journal found hundreds of galaxies rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that happened to be tens of millions of light years away.
“The observed coherence must have some relationship with large-scale structures, because it is impossible that the galaxies separated by six megaparsecs [roughly 20 million light years] directly interact with each other,” lead author Joon Hyeop Lee, an astronomer at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, told Vice.
So what could these large-scale structures be? Our best theory right now is that they are made from a network of gases and dark matter that fill the spaces between galaxies. They're essentially the filaments, sheets and knots of a larger cosmic web that makes up the scaffolding of the universe. These structures sync the rotations of galaxies within them because the structures themselves have a rotation. It's a wild idea, but one that's becoming increasingly difficult to deny as more and more evidence of synchronized patterns are discovered between distant galaxies.
One important way that these structures could change our understanding of the universe has to do with dark matter. Currently, we don't know what dark matter actually is, but if these large-scale structures are made of it, then we might be able to map out its distribution across the cosmos by looking at how distant galaxies are synced up through the structures.
Of course, more data will need to be collected before scientists can truly begin to plot out some of these large-scale patterns and synchronizations. Once we have that data, we'll be able to better test these theories. For now, this science is in its infancy, but that's also part of what makes this kind of exploration so exciting.
“What I really like about this stuff is just that we are still at the pioneering phase,” said Oliver Müller, an astronomer at the University of Strasbourg in France. “That’s super exciting.”