Today’s moment of WTF

For people who like puzzles, a little astronomy for your afternoon. Apparently a huge cluster of galaxies and dwarf galaxies rotate around Andromeda like they are painted on the surface of a very flat plate. Our own solar system, which seems like it ought to be more gravitationally connected than an entire largish neighborhood of the universe, has a sloppier plane of the ecliptic. The abstract’s final aside puts a nice exclamation point on the story.

Here we report the existence of a planar subgroup of satellites in the Andromeda galaxy (M 31), comprising about half of the population. The structure is at least 400 kiloparsecs in diameter, but also extremely thin, with a perpendicular scatter of less than 14.1 kiloparsecs. Radial velocity measurements reveal that the satellites in this structure have the same sense of rotation about their host. This shows conclusively that substantial numbers of dwarf satellite galaxies share the same dynamical orbital properties and direction of angular momentum. Intriguingly, the plane we identify is approximately aligned with the pole of the Milky Way’s disk and with the vector between the Milky Way and Andromeda.

Maybe it’s a glitch in the matrix?

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74 replies
  1. 1
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Timmeh to say it’s all fake in 3, 2, 1 …

  2. 2
    General Stuck says:

    Good Spock

    Bad Spock

    subspace flux capitur needs a tune up

  3. 3
    General Stuck says:

    So Einstein was wrong. God does play frisbee with the universe

  4. 4
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Those words are not a valid representation of reality. They aren’t even words. They are just electrons doing things on my iPhone.

  5. 5
    Chyron HR says:

    Or maybe astronomy is a big fat lie created by Satan to deceive you into thinking the universe has been around for longer than 6,000 years. (Tim McSpatula, 2013)

  6. 6
    anibundel says:

    I feel very dumb, because I don’t understand this. Can someone translate it into English?

  7. 7
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    I am a Leo. How does this affect me?

  8. 8
    Jewish Steel says:

    @anibundel: some enormous cosmic forces are suspiciously flat and weirdly aligned with our own galaxy.

  9. 9
    Culture of Truth says:

    Is that near the Kessel run?

  10. 10
    Jewish Steel says:

    @Culture of Truth: We’ll know in less than 12 parsecs.

  11. 11
    MattF says:

    Suggests that, once upon a time, Ms. Andromeda and Mr. Milky Way had a, um, relationship.

  12. 12
    anibundel says:

    @Jewish Steel: But isn’t the milky way a disc?

  13. 13
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    /shakes fist

    Curse you, you stole my line!

    May the fleas of a thousand Timmehs infest your camel.

  14. 14
    Culture of Truth says:

    Tom Friedman was right!!

  15. 15
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    We’ll know in six months if Ms. Andromeda and Mr. Milky Way did the wild thing?

  16. 16
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Our own solar system, which seems like it ought to be more gravitationally connected than an entire largish neighborhood of the universe, has a sloppier plane of the ecliptic.

    WTH is ecliptic? Do you mean elliptical? How can you really
    compare the solar system which is much much smaller to a cluster of galaxies. It is like comparing a point to a city or something even bigger.

  17. 17
    Politically Lost says:

    Are they saying that the dwarf galaxies surrounding Andromeda are essentially on almost entirely flat plain? That the distribution of matter around Andromeda has, for all practical purposes, two dimensions?

    That is fucking weird.

    I like weird.

    Edited to add: Not choked out by a strap-on level weird, but cosmically weird.

  18. 18
    Narcissus says:

    Just alien propaganda

  19. 19
    Jewish Steel says:

    @anibundel: It is. The dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda apparently do so in a way that conforms to a very flat disk. “Like they were painted on a plate,” as Tim F says. Our own solar system is not this flat. And you would expect it to be.

  20. 20
    Poopyman says:

    Well crap, that abstract is just a teaser, and I’m not gonna sunscribe to Nature, although I probably should.

    I’d like to see a better map than the thumbnail attached to the abstract to get a better idea of the distribution.

    And @anibundel: “The universe is big. Really big.” And weirder than our pathetic imaginations allow for. I think that’s the reason why Man invented God; lack of a bigger imagination.

  21. 21
    Poopyman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    I am a Leo. How does this affect me?

    Gravitationally.

  22. 22
    Culture of Truth says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: The galaxy is flat!

  23. 23
    FormerSwingVoter says:

    …Am I the only one who feels kinda dumb whenever Tim F. or Tom Levenson post? Anyone?

    …Just me, then? Okay.

  24. 24
    Poopyman says:

    @MattF:

    Suggests that, once upon a time, Ms. Andromeda and Mr. Milky Way had a, um, relationship.

    Actually, no. But they’d like to very much, and are rushing into each others arms (pardon the pun)real soon now.

  25. 25
    PeakVT says:

    Intriguingly, the plane we identify is approximately aligned with the pole of the Milky Way’s disk and with the vector between the Milky Way and Andromeda.

    My attempted translation of this jargon is that Andromeda and the Milky Way are rotating at 90 degrees to each other, and that Andromeda will buzz-saw through the MW in a couple of billion years. Correct?

  26. 26
    Garm says:

    We must have found the Puppeteers home world.

  27. 27
    Politically Lost says:

    “All through my life I’ve had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was.”
    “No,” said the old man, “that’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”
    ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    I’m sure there’s glitch in the matrix and I’ve seen it in action. I watch CSPAN.

  28. 28
    Poopyman says:

    @Poopyman: … Which. if you think about it, makes the planar satellite galaxies even weirder.

  29. 29
    Culture of Truth says:

    We should have given our galaxy a cooler name

  30. 30
    Sterling says:

    @Culture of Truth: Only because he found this out from a local cab driver while drinking a Coke on the way to his hotel.

  31. 31
    Cassidy says:

    @FormerSwingVoter: I did until yesterday. Then Special Timmeh came in and set the bar really low. Like @anibundel: I had no clue what was being said. MIght as well have been a Robot Chicken rant from a crazy homeless person.

    And dammit, all the good mocking has been done.

  32. 32
    Cermet says:

    This really proves – really, nothing! Two large but closely spaced galaxies having similar planes of rotation for themselves and their dwarf galaxies is not a big surprise at all since these galaxies are far too close to generalize to other systems (very likely what caused one to have this property also caused the other to, as well – interactions related to how these two systems formed is the far away most likely explaination. To draw any significance from this very limited data set is jumping the gun, big time. Observe other galactic systems and if they too show this property, then you are getting somewhere (relative to the nearby sub-set telescopes can image well; for general conclusions, not proven. This data set may be a fluke just like our planetary system is compared to nearby systems.)

  33. 33
    Mandalay says:

    @FormerSwingVoter:

    Am I the only one who feels kinda dumb whenever Tim F. or Tom Levenson post?

    I know exactly what you mean, but that is the glass-half-empty view. I feel that their posts usually make me a bit smarter/wiser/better informed.

  34. 34
    Anoniminous says:

    That’s what happens when you upload Apple Maps to the entire friggin’ Universe.

  35. 35
    Ed Drone says:

    The ecliptic is the plane that the planets’ orbits inhabit. The orbits of Sol’s planets are all in approximately the same plane; this is called the “plane of the ecliptic.” The Milky way is a huge gathering of stars, rotating in a spiral about a central mass, and it, too, has an ecliptic.

    There are masses of stars which do not occupy a circular or spiral group, but are in a spherical cluster. Such globular clusters do not have an ecliptic as such. (If they orbit a center, their orbital paths must be truly odd).

    And the Star Wars dialogue quoted here about the Kessel Run has always infuriated me. Han Solo says he made the Kessel Run in “12 parsecs,” which is equivalent to my saying “I drove to New York from DC in 250 miles.” A parsec is a measure of distance, not speed. AAAGH!

    Ed

  36. 36
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Gotta be quick. Or killing time waiting for a huge download to finish.

  37. 37
    eemom says:

    Pix or it didn’t happen.

    bwaaaahaaaahaaaahaaahaaaa

  38. 38
  39. 39
    Poopyman says:

    @Ed Drone: I’ve always taken the view that Lucas’ imagination of superluminal travel was the warping of space, like scrunching a 36-inch rug down to 9-inches and saying you made it from one end to the other in only nine-inches.

  40. 40
    Culture of Truth says:

    The Milky way is a huge gathering of stars, rotating in a spiral about a central mass

    Basically it’s like the Oscars during an earthquake.

  41. 41
    David in NY says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: The ecliptic is the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun. (Most often used to describe, and the same as, the observed path of the sun across what appears to be the starry sphere of the sky; that path goes through the star constellations of the Zodiac.) I take it that the immense plane of the dwarf galaxies is flatter than the smaller plane of our own orbit.

  42. 42
    Culture of Truth says:

    There are masses of stars which do not occupy a circular or spiral group, but are in a spherical cluster.

    Golden Globes

  43. 43
    Face says:

    Isn’t it politically incorrect to call them dwarf? Shouldn’t they be midget galaxies, or small-star galaxies, or short-stature-shiny-filled oceans of blackness?

  44. 44
    Anoniminous says:

    No. That was not today’s moment of WTF.

    Patent Trolls want $1,000 – for using scanners is today’s moment of WTF.

    When Steven Vicinanza got a letter in the mail earlier this year informing him that he needed to pay $1,000 per employee for a license to some “distributed computer architecture” patents, he didn’t quite believe it at first. The letter seemed to be saying anyone using a modern office scanner to scan documents to e-mail would have to pay—which is to say, just about any business, period.

  45. 45
    mapaghimagsik says:

    @Ed Drone:
    Even better, the sci-fi gymnastics done to justify the line.

  46. 46
    Laertes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    WTH is ecliptic? Do you mean elliptical?

    Indeed. If you see a word that you don’t recognize, in a passage written by someone who’s much smarter than you, it’s safe to assume that they just made it up.

  47. 47
    lol says:

    @Ed Drone:

    It’s a sign that Han’s a bullshit artist. Look at Obi-Wan’s face when he says it – he’s thinking as much.

    Of course, the EU had some nonsense about the Kessel Run relying on navigating a lot of black holes so distance was the metric for speed or something.

  48. 48
    cmorenc says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    WTH is ecliptic? Do you mean elliptical? How can you really compare the solar system which is much much smaller to a cluster of galaxies.

    The “ecliptic” is technically, the sun’s apparent path across the sky as seen from earth (which traces out the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun). It’s called the “ecliptic” because for an eclipse (solar or lunar) to occur, the moon must be momentarily crossing this plane, either between earth and sun or behind the earth from the sun. The other seven full-fledged planets (from Mercury out to Neptune) also have orbits roughly concentric to the earth’s, and therefore their position (as seen from earth) will always lie somewhere within the ecliptic band or plane.

    BTW: I use “concentric” very inexactly here, because the planets orbits are ellipses, not circles. But the ellipses are all, to a close approximation, within the same plane.

    Because of the earth/moon-centric derivation of the term “ecliptic”, it expands the meaning of the term beyond its original context to speak of dwarf galaxies as lying within the “ecliptic” of the dominant large galaxy they are gravitatonally bound to if they orbit along the same plane as the disc of the dominant galaxy. Nevertheless, if one expands the conception of “ecliptic” to mean the plane of a group of bodies rotating in concentric (i.e. “flat”) orbits around the dominant body, the way we do for the solar system’s planets, the conception does work consistently. If the view of the dominant galaxy was, from the perspective of one of the dwarf galaxies, to become momentarily “eclipsed” by another dwarf galaxy passing between it and the dominant galaxy, it would in a real sense be a galactic “eclipse”.

    Back to our solar system, other than the moon, the only two planets in position to also “eclipse” the sun from earth (because they lie in the ecliptic) are Mercury and Venus, which are further in toward the Sun than Earth, except we call such an event a “transit” rather than an “eclipse”, and the extent the disc of the sun is eclipsed is almost negligible as seen from earth. The fact that the various planetary orbits within the solar system are only approximately, rather than exactly ecliptic means that only infrequently does the orbit of Venus actually take it in front of the Sun’s disc as seen from earth. The fact that Andromeda’s dwarf galaxy satellites are in a “flatter” ecliptic means that the orbits are closer to a true concentric plane rather than an approximate one, as in the case of our solar system.

    BTW: among the reasons Pluto was de-classified as a full planet and reclassified as a “dwarf” body was not merely its small size relative to the rest of the planets, but also because its orbit is significantly skewed relative to the ecliptic, and is much further skewed from being concentric as well to the orbits of any of the other planets (again, I’m using the term “concentric very inexactly here since we’re dealing with elliptical orbits, not circular ones).

  49. 49
    Marc says:

    For what it’s worth, they’re chasing an interesting question in the formation of very large cosmic structures.

    We know that gravity tends to make initially smooth structures clumpy. In some regions self-gravity wins over other forces or effects, while it is too weak in others. The net effect is to create filamentary large scale structures, such as the ones seen in enormous galaxy surveys. For a nice set of simulations, see for example

    http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de.....illennium/

    Keep in mind that individual galaxies are tiny points in calculations like this. So we know that clusters of galaxies form along enormous cosmic structures. The open question is to what degree this matters on the scales of individual galaxies. Do satellites fall in and form in some preferred directions? Or are these scales so big that local physics is what actually matters? The latter is clearly true, for example, when looking at star formation within the galaxy.

    This work is an interesting piece of work suggesting that there may be preferred directions even on the scale of galaxies. There are a lot of ways that this could go wrong, of course, but it’s still nice and pretty work.

  50. 50
    Linda Featheringill says:

    The real question is:

    Does our loose and sloppy plane represent the norm, or is this tight and neatly wound plane closer to what you’d expect to find?

  51. 51
    Zifnab25 says:

    @FormerSwingVoter:

    …Am I the only one who feels kinda dumb whenever Tim F. or Tom Levenson post? Anyone?

    I feel like a seven foot tall guy in horn-rimmed glasses just flipped me over by my ankles and shook me till my nerd card and my milk money fell out.

  52. 52
    Trinity says:

    Fascinating.

    Of course I had to read the post three times and all of the comments to kind of wrap my head around it.

    It’s Miller time.

  53. 53
    Roger Moore says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    WTH is ecliptic?

    The plane of the ecliptic is the plane of the earth’s orbit. The other 7 major planets have orbital planes that are close to but not the same as the plane of the ecliptic. What Tim F is saying is that this planar structure of dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda is substantially flatter than the orbits of the major planets around the sun, which is unexpected because there’s a reason to expect the planets to be in a plane but not these dwarf galaxies.

  54. 54
    Roger Moore says:

    @mapaghimagsik:

    Even better, the sci-fi gymnastics done to justify the line.

    A much better explanation is that Solo was just making something up to try to impress people he thought were rubes.

  55. 55
    Culture of Truth says:

    @Roger Moore: That old fossil and the kid

  56. 56
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @Culture of Truth: Culture of Truth Says:

    “Is that near the Kessel run?”

    I dunno, but Barney always did some nice runs.

  57. 57
    Chris says:

    On the largest scales, there is indeed something strange about this reality. In fact…a matrix glitch seems as likely as anything else..

  58. 58
    Sad_Dem says:

    @Poopyman: I see on the linked page there’s the animation of what it will look like when the Milky Way and Andromeda collide. Worth viewing, folks, for its extraordinary beauty/terror. (The collision will be destructive to any frail, itty-bitty life-bearing planets that get too closely involved.)

    On a related note: http://www.sdss.org/

  59. 59
    Evan says:

    FWIW, I always thought the Kessel Run thing was more of a navigational feat just because of its distance – like saying you can run from Point A to Point B without having to go around the mountain in between. I realize it’s kind of been retconned away, but given a constant speed, doing a run close to the black holes (fewer parsecs) is both much more dangerous and much faster.

  60. 60
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Government lies and pretty pictures to keep the rubes enamored of sooper-seekrit DoD drone projects that NASA serves as the shell organization for.

    -Space Truther Special Timmeh, Caricaturist Fifth Class

  61. 61
    Mike in NC says:

    I enjoyed that “Star Trek” episode where Captain Kirk banged a chick from Andromeda.

  62. 62
    Svensker says:

    @Politically Lost:

    Or, as an earlier model had it:

    Mr. Natural: “The whole universe is completely insane!”

    Flakey Flount: “It is?”

  63. 63
    Svensker says:

    @Poopyman:

    This is supposed to start happening in 4 billion years according to the wikipage. But how long will it take the two systems to crash, rearrange themselves, and then merge into one new system?

  64. 64
    Splitting Image says:

    @Roger Moore:

    A much better explanation is that Solo was just making something up to try to impress people he thought were rubes.

    Lies. The sort of person who would lie about something like this is a man who would draw his blaster and shoot someone in the face for looking at him wrong.

    I have it straight from George Lucas that Han Solo would never, ever do such a thing. And the DVD version of the film bears him out.

  65. 65
    Poopyman says:

    @Svensker:

    English: This animation depicts the collision between our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. Hubble Space Telescope observations indicate that the two galaxies, pulled together by their mutual gravity, will crash together about 4 billion years from now. Around 6 billion years from now, the two galaxies will merge to form a single galaxy. The video also shows the Triangulum galaxy, which will join in the collision and perhaps later merge with the Andromeda/Milky Way pair.

  66. 66
    Splitting Image says:

    @Sad_Dem:

    The collision will be destructive to any frail, itty-bitty life-bearing planets that get too closely involved.

    No need to worry about that. By the time Andromeda slams into this galaxy, Earth will have long since stopped being a life-bearing planet.

  67. 67
    Sad_Dem says:

    @Splitting Image: Just to be on the safe side, I’ve stocked up on jerky and have a galactic collision insurance policy.

  68. 68
    Joey Giraud says:

    @FormerSwingVoter:

    Am I the only one who feels kinda dumb whenever Tim F. or Tom Levenson post? Anyone?

    This is why the media doesn’t run real science stories; it’s bad business to make your customers feel dumb.

  69. 69
    chopper says:

    @Poopyman:

    of course, Obama could fix this with a stroke of his pen. but he won’t.

  70. 70
    Baud says:

    @Poopyman:

    This is what gay marriage leads to. Galaxy three-ways.

  71. 71
    dmbeaster says:

    @Anoniminous:

    Patent Trolls want $1,000 – for using scanners

    As if we need more examples of the complete dysfunction of the patent system. Just pathetic

  72. 72
    Anthony says:

    This problem seems premised on the idea that 14,000 parsecs is ‘thin’

  73. 73
    Amusing Alias says:

    That gave me a physical chill. Spooky stuff.

  74. 74
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Thanks guys I stand corrected. Come for the politics, stay for the kitteh and learn some astronomy. Not a bad deal.

Comments are closed.