There’s something wrong with the universe

Why deeply religious people aren’t all drawn to cosmology, I have no idea. That’s where some of the answers are. And from that field come a fascinating finding from a team of astronomers, incidentally using software written by the 15 year-old son of one of them:

Astronomy Mag — The study reveals almost 30 dwarf galaxies orbiting the larger Andromeda Galaxy in this regular, solar system-like plane. The astronomers’ expectations were that these smaller galaxies should be buzzing around randomly like bees around a hive.

“This was completely unexpected,” said Geraint Lewis from the University of Sydney. “The chance of this happening randomly is next to nothing.” The fact that astronomers now see that a majority of these little systems in fact contrive to map out an immensely large — approximately 1 million light-years across — but extremely flattened structure implies that this understanding is grossly incorrect. Either something about how these galaxies formed or subsequently evolved must have led them to trace out this peculiar coherent structure.

We could go chicken and egg on that all day. Did the seeds for the dwarf galaxies grow with the seed for Andromeda like big giant planets? Or did the dwarf material get slung out during ancient mergers? Or some combo of both?

What makes it super interesting is there’s a lot of dark matter around, we knows it’s an important influence on galaxies, and it’s not easy to see what kind of shape the dark matter might make because it’s completely invisible. But what if — and believe me this is hypothetical — there’s some sort of real planar or geometric structure to it?

Suppose we find out when we graph all the planes of a bunch of nearby galactic system — maybe we should call them each a galatcia? — they trace out the surface of a three-d … hexagonal array or something well ordered like that? That would tell us we’re missing out on a very important factor in the large scale evolution of the universe. You’d think just the possibility would be right up there on Fundie road before you get to Bullshit mountain, but it’s not.


  1. says

    Interesting speculation Steve. I have been nagged by the feeling that physicists are just a little too self-congratulatory about the Higgs discovery. (It is, of course, a genuine BFD.) Since only about 30% of the matter and energy in the universe is explained by the existing Standard model, there is clearly need for some additional theorizing.

  2. says

    One thing I’ve always wondered about..

    You know string Theory and M-Theory, right? That our universe is one of many existing on a membrane billowing in 11(+?)-dimensional space, and that universes are created when two of these possibly infinite number of membranes clash?

    If such is actually true, then wouldn’t dark matter be the membrane itself (and dark energy would be nothing more than the dissipation of the energy given off by the collision, which is our universe)?

    In that case, maybe the shape of the dark matter is the membrane, because that’s what the dark matter is?

    Conjecture, obviously… but still fun to think about…

    (And damn my lack of mathematical abilities! :( )

  3. anubisprime says

    # OP

    “The chance of this happening randomly is next to nothing.”

    I just wish some folks would think how their words will be interpreted depending on bias!
    It just gives the quote miners a lucrative vein to dig glory from!

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    But what if — and believe me this is hypothetical — there’s some sort of real planar or geometric structure to it?

    So if there is a plane, there must be a planar? Right?

    …I’ll get my coat.

  5. davidct says

    What’s your problem? We already have the answer – god did it. Did you know that god was the first headmaster at Hogwarts just after he invented magic. That should explain everything. Feel free to stop thinking now.

    The thing about all the natural weirdness of reality is that we will always come up against “we don’t know”. We may some day figure out how some things work but that just leads to new questions. When faced with unknowns one never knows if or when new understanding will come. Unfortunately the only way to have “certainty” is to make things up and stop questioning.

  6. Paul W., OM says

    Why deeply religious people aren’t all drawn to cosmology, I have no idea.

    If you mean this seriously, you should definitely read Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer. He really does give a good basic explanation of the psychology and sociology of religion—why it exists, and why it is the way it is in terms of basic cognitive psychology and cognitive anthropology. Really a great book, and the one book I would most recommend to every New Atheist or old atheist. (All the “New Atheist” books are mostly popularizations of things that have been said a zillion times by previous atheists. Religion Explained is not. IMO it is easily the best New Atheist book, though it’s not generally thought of or marketed as such.)

    One of Boyer’s major points is that religion isn’t about “ultimate” explanations—“theology” like that has little to do with how religion actually works in the minds of earnest believers, and even hifalutin’ theology generally embodies the very same essentialist assumptions, e.g., of naive dualism, Religion has always been about its about pragmatic explanations in terms of preexisting categories that are just assumed, and those explanations are generally in terms of something useful. The basic concepts that make religion work are actually simple, and kinda intuitively reasonable because they’re slight variations on everyday concepts that are generally not questioned.

    For anybody who’s interested, the basic ideas are explained pretty well in comments by Sastra (the ur-OM) and me (if I do say so myself) in a recent thread over at Pharyngula, starting here:

  7. robb says

    if you want good info on dark energy and dark matter and the origin/structure of the universe, check out Starts with a Bang blog by Ethan Siegel, over at Science Blogs.

  8. blindrobin says

    It’s all about the crystals man, foamy crystals in space… yeah that’s the ticket.

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