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Space Science

200,000 Elliptical Galaxies Point the Same Way 448

Posted by kdawson
from the axis-of-opportunity dept.
KentuckyFC sends us to arXiv, as is his wont, for a paper (abstract; PDF preprint) making the claim that 200,000 elliptical galaxies are aligned in the same direction; the signal for this alignment stands out at 13 standard deviations. This axis is the same as the controversial alignment found in the cosmic microwave background by the WMAP spacecraft.
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200,000 Elliptical Galaxies Point the Same Way

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  • Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcmm (768152) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:21PM (#20412715)
    Do they give any reason that this might be so? Are the galaxies in the same area? Did they all form from some insanely massive rotating structure or something?
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

      by dashslotter (1093743) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:23PM (#20412747) Homepage
      Does it really matter? 200,000 elliptical galaxies can't be wrong!
      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:46PM (#20413095)
        From the paper:

        "A discussion of possible causes for these alignments is beyond the scope of this paper. "

        i.e. We don't know....
        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

          by yada21 (1042762) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @02:04PM (#20414257)
          You translated it wrong. A more accurate rendation is "can we have some more funding please?"
        • From TFA (Score:5, Informative)

          by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @03:57PM (#20415705)

          From the paper:

          "A discussion of possible causes for these alignments is beyond the scope of this paper. "

          The sentence abouve is followed by: "R. Buniy et al. (2006) discuss a universe that is not spherically symmetric due to magnetic fields or cosmic defects in the context of the CMB alignments. A large scale cosmic magnetic field acting on protogalaxies in the early stages of galaxy formation seems to provide a possible mechanism for explaining the elliptic and spiral spin alignments and has been proposed as a mechanism for causing the CMB alignments by Campanelli et al. 2006."

          i.e. We don't know....
          i.e. but here a couple of ideas.

        • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by bughunter (10093) <bughunter&earthlink,net> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:17PM (#20415925) Journal
          Well, beyond the scope or not, they did discuss it briefly, pointing out other papers that may lend insight.

          But one possible cause they did not address is selection bias. Have they shown that they did not introduce any selection bias in the sampling of galaxies? I would hope for at least a list of hypothetical sources of bias that they then shoot down.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by bcmm (768152)
            Is it much easier to see galaxies which are aligned such that the observed area of the sky they cover is greater?
      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

        by jimstapleton (999106) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:03PM (#20413333) Journal
        if 200,000 eliptical galaxies jumped off of a cliff... would you?
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

      by notque (636838) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:26PM (#20412775) Homepage Journal
      Because they are terrorists. From the article,

      "The axis of the CMB alignments has been referred to as the Axis of Evil"
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by iluvcapra (782887) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:32PM (#20412871)

      It might mean that the angular momentum of the universe is nonzero, if a majority of them are turning the same direction. Or, even if they all cancel out, that momentum in the early universe tended to be oriented in a plane. (IANAP, just a guess but seems logical)

      I'm curious if the Milky Way is a part of the alignment.

      • momentum in the early universe tended to be oriented in a plane
        A plane, or an M-brane?
      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ATMD (986401) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:30PM (#20413769) Journal
        OK, I may be making a fool of myself here, but how can the entire Universe's angular momentum be non-zero? Surely momentum can only ever be relative to your frame of reference - and by definition, any frame of reference you can think of will be within the system you're trying to measure.

        Although... thinking as I type here... say you were sitting on a massive spinning top, and all you could see was the spinning top. You'd still feel centrifugal force, as a result of its spinning. Could be an interesting explanation for dark energy?

        (and yes, now I remember that important word "inertial" from A-level Physics lessons. Meh...)
        • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

          by B'Trey (111263) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:56PM (#20414137)
          Your first thought was correct. You'd feel centrifugal force (actually centripetal force - centrifugal force [wikipedia.org] is actually a convenient fiction) only because of the mass outside the top which you're spinning in relation to. Unless there's a metauniverse outside the universe which influences this one in some fashion, and this universe is spinning relative to that one, then talking about the angular momentum of the universe seems as though it should be nonsensical.
        • Why would it (Score:5, Informative)

          by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @02:18PM (#20414449) Journal
          IANAAP either, but I see it like this: imagine you have 4 spinning tops in the corners of a square. (The spinning tops are the galaxies.) The square itself doesn't spin, but the round things in the corners do. If all 4 rotate in the same direction, the system has a decidedly non-zero angular momentum, namely the sum of the 4. You can also easily find a frame of reference (e.g., centered the centre of the square and with the X and Y axes aligned with the side of the square) that doesn't rotate, and measure everything relative to it.

          Or if it makes it easier to imagine, think of the science gag of having a very fast spinning flywheel in a suitcase. Ask someone to carry it for you, or leave it around and see if anyone tries to steal it. (Though these days it'll more likely be the blown up by the SWAT or whatever equivalent your country has.) If the suitcase is horizontal (lying on the side), someone's going to have a beast of a time trying to pick it up. Or if it's standing, they'll have a beast of a time taking a corner with it. Though the suitcase (universe) doesn't rotate, the flywheel (galaxy) in it does, and the angular momentum of it all is very much non-zero.

          Now think of a suitcase with 4 flywheels in it, or 200,000 little flywheels. The suitcase itself doesn't rotate, the centres of the wheels don't rotate around anything, but the total system has a total angular momentum. Anyone trying to mess with that piece of luggage is in for a bit of surprise.
        • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @02:20PM (#20414473) Homepage
          > but how can the entire Universe's angular momentum be non-zero?

          Excellent question. So excellent that it led to an entire alternate model of gravity. A trip to the wiki is always useful: Brans-Dicke theory

          So, anyone want to put odds on dark matter going the way of the cublical atom in, say, ten years?

          Maury
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by wanerious (712877)
            So, anyone want to put odds on dark matter going the way of the cublical atom in, say, ten years?

            What's the relationship between the angular momentum of the Universe and the rotational velocity anomalies of outlying material in galaxies or intra-cluster excess mass? How would that account for the dark matter gravitational lensing results from last year? I'm not seeing why one has such an effect on the other.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Kingrames (858416) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:58PM (#20414167)
        IANAP = I am not a planet?

        Pluto? is that you?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bromoseltzer (23292)

        I'm curious if the Milky Way is a part of the alignment.

        Yes, it is, more or less: (from the FA)

        Elliptic Galaxy Axis 183±8 deg 41±8 deg
        North Galactic Pole 192.9 deg 27.1 deg
        1st no. is right ascension (longitude for stars), second is declination (latitude).

        This is really an amazing result. The galaxies way over there on the "left" side of the Universe know what the galaxies on the "right" are doing! It's so amazing, it makes you wonder if it might be wrong. For example, it might real

    • Why Not? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NReitzel (77941) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:42PM (#20413041) Homepage
      Einstein did not say that there cannot be a center of the universe.

      What he did say is that for the purposes of measurement, there exists no privleged metric. All this says (All?!) is that there is no overall coordinate system that will be superior to all other coordinate systems.

      If things started out as a big bang, on some scale, we will find a "center" of the universe. Is this an astronomy-shaking discovery? No. Maybe a tremor or two, for diehard relativeists. We already know that for specific purposes, there is often a preferred metric for computational or navigational purposes. Remember back in the Apollo program when the physics guys tried to explain that at a specific point, the coordinate system for the spacecraft shifted over from Terra-centric to Luna-centric, and the reporters looked at the "jog" in the plot and asked if the spacecraft would feel a "lurch" as it passed this point?

      It's not nearly as big a deal as, say, whether Pluto is a "planet" or not. Pick a label, pin the sticker on the rock, except in this case, the rocks are superclusters of galaxies.
      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Informative)

        by mlewan (747328) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:12PM (#20413513) Homepage Journal
        "If things started out as a big bang, on some scale, we will find a "center" of the universe. "

        I thought that was not the case. The big bang started in a point, but a point that is equally far from every other point in the universe, so there is no "centre". It is not a very intuitive statement, but that is what I understood from some article or other on the subject.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by polar red (215081)

          but a point that is equally far from every other point in the universe
          I guess that means that at a center point in non-time/non-space, time and space just started ... which means that at that moment, ALL space was a single point, which means that that point is now smeared all over the universe ? something along those lines ? Any1 a physicist here ?

        • by JeanPaulBob (585149) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @02:14PM (#20414411)
          ...well, I have a MS in Physics, anyway. Well, Applied Physics. In semiconductors. Anyway...

          I think another poster said it a bit more intuitively, that the point is now smeared out everywhere. That sounds roughly right to me.

          Another thing to realize is that the Big Bang doesn't mean that an explosion happened in a single point in empty space, and then everything expanded outward. It's that space itself was compressed down into a single point, and then expanded. There was nothing outside the Big Bang for it to expand out into. Every point in the universe was infinitely closer together. All the energy was really close together--really dense--so it was really hot. Then as things got less dense, the temperature decreased. In one sense, everywhere is the center of the Big Bang.

          This is also why distant galaxies can be receding away from us faster than the speed of light. Because expansion doesn't mean that galaxies are moving through space. (In relativity, nothing can move through space faster than c.) Instead, the distance between us is increasing as space itself expands. (You can visualize that as making two marks with a pen on a deflated balloon, and then blowing up the balloon. The two marks don't move on the balloon, but they do get further apart.)
        • Re:Why Not? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by shma (863063) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @02:32PM (#20414639)
          Rather, the fact that the universe has no 'center' is a POSTULATE of big bang theory. The assumption is that the universe is isotropic and homogeneous, i.e. that the universe looks the same in any direction from any location. While this is obviously false on small scales (the center of the sun, for instance, does not look the same as a point on the surface of the earth), on scales large than the largest structures, on the order of hundreds of megaparsecs, you can begin to see evidence for it. The best evidence for isotropy comes from the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is the same in any direction up to one part in 10^5. These small inhomogeneities in the background imply small inhomogeneities in mass density at the time it was created, 600,000 years after the big bang. Those regions of increased mass eventually formed the galaxies we see today. Getting back to your original question, assuming isotropy and homogeneity, there can obviously be no center of the universe, because it would have to stand out from other points. Likewise, if there was a preferred axis of revolution for all galaxies, then the universe would not be isotropic. That's why this claim is a bit difficult to accept, given the massive success of big bang theory.
      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @02:49PM (#20414831) Homepage
        > If things started out as a big bang, on some scale,
        > we will find a "center" of the universe.

        But understanding why this is so is what makes all of this fun.

        Remember that modern metric theories, of which General Relativity is just one, posit that the universe is four dimensional. Three space dimensions and one time dimension make up a four dimensional "spacetime". Unless you have seen an explaination of exactly what this means, it's just words, like "the universe is gizifa". This can lead to misunderstandings.

        I'll try to explain what this means, using a model I'm sure you've seen before, but likely poorly explained. Consider a balloon, partially inflated. The surface of the balloon, the "skin", is effectively a two dimensional object. The balloon as a whole is three dimensional. You have a two dimensional surface enclosing a three dimensional volume. Still with me?

        The reason we use this model is because it is very similar to our model of the universe. In this model everything you see around you, the three dimensional world, is the "surface" of a larger four dimensional construct. Just as the skin of a balloon is a 2D surface of a 3D space, everything you see around you is in the 3D skin of a 4D space. Still with me?

        Consider the balloon again. Critically, there is no "center" to the surface. Where is the middle of the surface of a sphere? Where is the middle of the surface of the Earth? The question itself is just "wrong". In the case of the Earth we arbitrarily decided to draw lines on it in certain placed, latitude and longitude. You could do the same with a balloon, make the neck the "north pole" for instance. By the same token we could have chosen some other coordinate system entirely, let's put the "west pole" in Ecuador!

        There is a point of the balloon as a whole that can be thought of as the center, through. Its in the space "below" the surface that's filled with air. The same is true of the Earth, the center is down below us, about 6400 km away. But, critically, that point does not lie on the surface.

        Now one more thing to consider. Draw some dots on the outside of the balloon. Label one of them "milky way". Now start inflating the balloon. You'll notice that the dots will move away from each other as you inflate them. In fact, from the point of view of the "milky way", all the other dots are moving away from it. But the same is true of all the other dots too. No matter which one you pick to observe, you'll see that everything moves away from it. And that's because, for lack of a better way to put it, space itself is getting bigger. In fact, the dots aren't really moving at all relative to their original locations on the surface of the balloon, their real motion is along a line drawn into the middle of the volume, that "real center".

        In the case of the universe the same thing applies. We look out in space and we see that everything is moving away from us. This is surprising if the universe is a 3D space, but complete expected if it's 4D. So where is the center of the universe? It's "down" somewhere. And what is that missing direction? Well we already said it, it's time. So what does that mean?

        That means the center of the universe is a point in time, not space.

        As soon as you really grasp this model you'll see why everyone likes it. For one, it trivially answers lots of different questions:

        1) why is everything moving away from us?
          it's not, everything is just "inflating"
        2) why do we appear to be in the middle?
          its just the way it looks, and it looks the same way everywhere else too
        3) why are we moving apart at all?
          because time is going forward (just look at your watch)

        Hope this helps!

        Maury
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fygment (444210) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:44PM (#20413063)
      The author states that the reasons for the orientation are beyond the scope of the paper. But the implication of the orientations is that the universe is not spherical. I have had only one course in cosmogeny (origins of the universe) and all the models lead to symmetry. So any indication of a lack of symmetry implies that we are missing some big piece of the puzzle. Combine this with the tenousness of many of the theories of cosmology (eg. Big Bang ... far from perfect and getting further ) and the picture emerges that there is not a lot that is actually known about the structure of the universe. Despite all the bravado and pat statements in the media, all we have are half-baked guesses. Mind you, does it really matter? Given our very short lives in the grand scheme of things, the lack of knowledge probably isn't hurting us.
      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by WormholeFiend (674934) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:51PM (#20413163)
        Mind you, does it really matter? Given our very short lives in the grand scheme of things, the lack of knowledge probably isn't hurting us.

        We have short individual lives, but the knowledge that we discover outlives us.

        If one day our descendants find ways to travel beyond our solar system, this knowledge might prove useful to them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SQLGuru (980662)
        Or maybe the universe is spherical but with a much larger radius than we ever expected......two points, close together on the surface of a rather large sphrerical object would have almost parallel paths to that center.......

        Layne
    • I'd say Gravity. Our moon orbits around Earth, that orbits around the Sun, that orbits around the nucleus of the Milky way, that orbits around something we don't know is there yet, perhaps?
  • They all point outwards from the centre of the universe.

    Me.

    • by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:28PM (#20412805) Journal

      They all point outwards from the centre of the universe.

      Me.

      Actually, this has already been observed. [wikipedia.org]
    • by Erioll (229536)
      So where are the Rainbow Worlds then? Or do they only point toward the center of the Galaxy?
  • ...but why would God need a starship?
  • Holy Crap (Score:2, Funny)

    by everphilski (877346)
    WMAP spacecraft.

    They are running their spacecraft off of a Windows-MySQL-Apache-PHP stack? well I'll be ...
  • by massivefoot (922746) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:26PM (#20412769)
    Huh. I don't really have a great deal of specialist knowledge on cosmology, but this seems to put a lower bound on the distance over which we can assume the universe is isotropic (i.e. the same in all directions). The abstracts puts an upper bound on the redshift of the galaxies involved in the survey, which is presumably roughly equivalent to limiting the distance they are from us, but surely the fact that this net angular momentum axis is closely aligned with an axis identified in WMAP data indicates that this is a far larger scale phenomenon?
    • Isotropy just means the same in all directions. If they do point the same way, it's still isotropic. Now if some region had them aligned and other regions didn't then that would be more of a problem I feel.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by massivefoot (922746)
        I think we're confusing two slightly different terms here. If they all point the same way it is most definitely not "isotropic," as there is clearly something different about that direction. If, however, as you move through the galaxy you find that the direction the galaxies are locally pointing does not change, it's still "homogeneous."
        • Yes, from the point of sense of direction it's looking decidedly non isotropic... maybe Michealson and Morely were right and the aether lives....:-)
    • by pla (258480) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:35PM (#20412923) Journal
      this seems to put a lower bound on the distance over which we can assume the universe is isotropic

      I have to wonder - Could this particular anisotropy account for the Voyager paradox? That would set a much lower bound...

      Even if not, though, I really find this sort of anomaly fascinating. Almost everything cosmology has found since the dawn of modern science has pointed to a bleak, cold, basically empty univers that goes on identically forever in every direction. Even learning that the universe has some underlying structure would somehow seem a lot more comforting.
      • I have to agree, it is very fascinating. I'm afraid I'm not aware of what the Voyager paradox is, however when we have a lower bound we aren't trying to find a lower one (that wouldn't restrict any further the interval over which we could make such assumptions), we want a bigger lower bound!
        • To the best of my recollection, various probes we have shot outside of the solar system just aren't where we should be according to Newton and even Einstein. Even factoring in various factors that could have thrown off the trajectory, nothing really accounts for the discrepancy other than a possible misunderstanding of how things work.

          This is from memory, though, so it may have been resolved by now.
        • by SQLGuru (980662)
          Thanks to our friend Google: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2006/2005GL025437 .shtml [agu.org]

          Layne
  • which beam (Score:2, Interesting)

    by deopmix (965178)
    All i want to know is which beam is making them all align. I'm betting that it's shardik's beam, he's bad ass.
  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) * on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:26PM (#20412777) Journal
    They do. There's a monkey there with a bone as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Xonstantine (947614)
      It's either the doing of the Xeelee or the Photino birds. Now we just have to find a way to get to the Great Attractor before the sun burns out.
  • galaxyzoo.org (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kartoffel (30238) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:28PM (#20412813)
    It's been posted before, but if this sort of thing interests you, get over to Galaxy Zoo and help them classify galaxies.
  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:28PM (#20412815) Homepage
    It seems you do need 200,000 elliptical galaxies to know which way the wind blows.
  • by kisrael (134664) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:30PM (#20412845) Homepage
    So this might help explain in Star Trek how all ships are always keeping the same orientation / sense of "up"...
  • Um, no they don't (Score:2, Informative)

    The sample is 200,000 eliptical galaxies, and they showed a statistical tendency to point in a preferred direction. They most certainly do *not* all point the same way.
  • by Connie_Lingus (317691) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:33PM (#20412879) Homepage
    all your axis are belong to us.
  • I browsed the PDF and it's a bit more technical than I can currently handle; can someone give me the 'play by play' brief on the significance of the orientation of the galaxies and why the chance is so slim that they align as they do? Is this a case of, "this shouldn't be happening as we understand it, and the chances of it arising from random distribution are nearly 0"? Or am I missing something?
    • Re:Translation? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Vellmont (569020) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:12PM (#20413509)

      can someone give me the 'play by play' brief on the significance of the orientation of the galaxies and why the chance is so slim that they align as they do?


      I'm not a Cosmologist, but one would expect galaxy orientation to be pretty much random. As an example, think about if you threw a bunch of nails in the air. At any given time you'd expect the nails orientation to be pretty random (ignoring air effects, and any bias given by your throw). If they all aligned in a certain way though, you'd be surprised and start looking for a cause. (In this case say a strong magnetic field in the room).

      If this is true, there must be something orienting the alignment of galaxies. That could be either some bias in the big-bang, some outside force we don't understand, or something else.
  • A grain of salt (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stranger4U (153613) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:36PM (#20412937)
    I read the article, and there seem to be a few problems he doesn't really address. First, he assumes that all elliptical galaxies have a point-of-view from which they appear circular. I don't think anyone has determined this to be the case, and he doesn't really have a way to get this from his data. Secondly, he doesn't give much real discussion to the error in the measurements, which is significant. No preffered axis of alignment would fall well within his measurement uncertainties. Finally, the 13-standard deviations is not from any real sort of error propagation, but from some random computer generated results. Could be interesting, but to be taken with a grain of salt.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      > First, he assumes that all elliptical galaxies have a point-of-view from which they appear circular. So let's consider the alternative: elliptical galaxies are actually elliptical but they have their ellipses aligned in just such a way that from Earth they could be construed as being circles with a strong preference to align towards a particular axis. Does that not sound a little ridiculous to you? There are times when having a flawed methodology makes your results sronger - not weaker. This is one of
    • Re:A grain of salt (Score:5, Informative)

      by bperkins (12056) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:54PM (#20413207) Homepage Journal
      > First, he assumes that all elliptical galaxies have a point-of-view from which they appear circular.

      All ellipses have a point of view where they project as a circle. Are you saying that his elliptical galaxies aren't elliptical? Even if they weren't, how would that create a selection bias?

      > He doesn't give much real discussion to the error in the measurements, which is significant.

      How would "error in the measurements" cause a selection to a particular orientation?

      Random error wouldn't move the average, just make the distribution wider. In fact random error ought to make the distribution more isotropic.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Careful now, demonstrating a firm grasp of projective geometry and sampling/statistics is a good way to get a serious ass beating in certain parts of the US...

      • > All ellipses have a point of view where they project as a circle

        True, but the assumption is that that direction corresponds to the axis of rotation. I tend to think that failure of that to be true would tend to add noise rather than a spurious result. Unless of course there was some other systemic effect, but that would be even stranger.

        Interestingly his method does not distinguish up from down so it does not mean there is an excess of rotation in one direction. Also it would be real interesting to

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by davecl (233127)
        > First, he assumes that all elliptical galaxies have a point-of-view from which they appear circular.

        All ellipses have a point of view where they project as a circle. Are you saying that his elliptical galaxies aren't elliptical? Even if they weren't, how would that create a selection bias?


        Actually there's a fair bit of evidence that elliptical galaxies are in fact 'tri-axial' - they have different sizes in all three dimensions, like a rugby ball or an american football that's been squashed slightly. Th
    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      Larger elliptical galaxies can be tri-axial and this is indicated by boxy isophotes, but these are rarer that smaller eliptical galaxies which can be described as axially symmetric. His sample will be dominated by these smaller ellipitcals. Regardless, aligning the major axis of triaxial objects would yield a similar observational result so long as a/b > b/c where a, b and are axis lengths in decreasing order. I would also say that randomization is a pretty normal method to examine to significance of a
    • by pla (258480)
      First, he assumes that all elliptical galaxies have a point-of-view from which they appear circular.

      This would necessarily hold true purely by geometry (at least using the standard meaning of "elliptical galaxy"), even if his more rigorous condition (Earth happens to occupy that magic spot) has no cosmological basis.

      Although we can hypothesize the existance of some bizarre shape that always looks longer than its width from any angle, that seems a bit of a stretch (no topology-geek pun intended) when ju
    • Re:A grain of salt (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bazman (4849) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:19PM (#20413601) Journal
      His "random computer generated results" test is what we statisticians call a 'Monte-Carlo' test. Its perfectly valid, given the assumptions he is working under.

      Suppose you throw 10 possibly biased dice and score 50 in total (where the average score would be 30).

      You then get 10 definitely fair dice and throw them 100 times, counting the total each time. If these trials only score 50 or more once, then the chances of your possibly biased dice being fair are 1 in 99. That's pretty much what he's done.

      With dice its possible to compute the probability exactly without doing the trials, since the behaviour of uniform probabilities (ie even chance of scoring 1 to 6) are well known and easy to compute. But if you have a situation of elliptical galaxies and their apparent projection on a sphere viewed from the earth then I suspect the computations may be harder...

  • IIRC, there's somewhere between 100 billion and 500 billion galaxies. So, let's split the difference and say there is 200 billion galaxies. Now these guys say that 200,000 have the same or very close to same axis direction. That's 1 out of a million. Divide the sky up into 1 million directions. Now, 200,000 of them all point in one of those directions, and the other 199,999,800,000 are in the other 999,999 directions. OK. divide 199,999,800,000 by 999,999 and we get 200,000 galaxies aligned in every other o
    • by at_18 (224304) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:57PM (#20413245) Journal
      Now if these 200,000 galaxies are all in a particular region of the universe, THAT would be explosive news, but, unless I completely misread the article, this isn't the case.

      It is the case. They were specially selected to be close to us (redshift < 0.20). I suspect these 200,000 galaxies are a fairly significant fraction of all the galaxies near us.
      Of course, they are close to us because more distant galaxies would be too difficult to investigate, but this doesn't change the fact that they are all in the same particular region of the universe.

    • by BlueStraggler (765543) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:00PM (#20413293)
      My reading of the abstract is that he looked at a sample size of 200,000, and found a 13-SD bias to one direction in that sample size.
    • by mcmonkey (96054)

      Now if these 200,000 galaxies are all in a particular region of the universe, THAT would be explosive news, but, unless I completely misread the article, this isn't the case.

      You misread the article. If memory serves, by putting an upper limit on red shift the discussion is limited to galaxies in a particular region--namely closer to us. Galaxies further away would demonstrate higher red shift.

  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:41PM (#20413029) Homepage Journal
    god doesn't play dice

    he plays with magnets
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:08PM (#20413433)
    An initial anagular momentum for the universe might prejudice galaxy formation.
  • by BronsCon (927697) <social@bronstrup.com> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:32PM (#20413797) Journal
    We're all being sucked into the same black hole!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:46PM (#20414021)
    Let's note that:

    1) This guy is a high-energy physicist, not an astronomer.

    2) He has two published articles on extragalactic astronomy, both from the early 90s, which have picked up a grand total of 4 citations.

    3) He has put up 3 papers on the arXiv in the last few months, all on this subject. None of them are stated to have been submitted for review, and indeed they are not in the style of any of the major relevant journals.

    Yeah, yeah, ad hominem and all that. I'll read it more carefully later if I have time (but I'm a bit busy writing a paper of my own, like, for submission and peer review and all that). He does appear to enjoy abusing statistics, both here and in his earlier papers.

    I just kinda think that Slashdot could report on all the many scientific discoveries that are actually likely to be true, rather than grand claims based on a couple of preprints by someone with little experience in the field.
  • by JohnnyDanger (680986) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @01:47PM (#20414033)
    This paper has no discussion of the ellipticities caused by imperfections in the telescope optics. This is a well known problem for weak gravitational lensing and cosmic shear measurements, which also use measured ellipticities. This problem can be corrected by using the stars (which should be round at the telescope resolution) to figure out and fix the distortions in the image.

    I have little direct experience with this, but I suspect that optical distortions could be the cause of the effect he is seeing. The universe may very well have some weird features, but this paper is not a careful analysis.

  • by gregor-e (136142) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @11:40PM (#20420461) Homepage
    In an oscillating universe, intelligence that is around at the end of a 'big crunch' will, of course, attempt to arrange things so that out of the next 'big bang', intelligence will precipitate sooner and will have some sort of leg up on understanding what is going on. So, kind of like the guy in the movie 'Momento', they tattoo the universe in ways that they hope will ultimately be decipherable to a future naive intelligence. Communication via matter arrangement preceeding a 'big crunch' is a pretty tough thing to pull off. One doesn't know what the future precipitant intelligence will think like and I suspect it is pretty difficult to encode specific messages, the hardest perhaps being the message that prods the precipitants into reading your dammned message in the first place. Creating a fundamentally huge, glowing neon arrow telling the precipitants where to start might be as simple as creating unbelievably improbable arrangements of matter. As we look closer, we may find ever more statistically improbable arrangements, layered in a complex way.

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