Galaxies may be aligned across 1 billion light-years

Distant quasars raise questions about formation of large structures in the universe

quasar jets align with galaxies

GALACTIC LINEUP  Quasar jets (white lines) align with one another and the billion-light-year-long rivers of galaxies they inhabit (blue) in this artist’s illustration.

ESO/M. Kornmesser

The cores of several distant galaxies, spread out across roughly 1 billion light-years, appear to mysteriously align with one another. If confirmed, the new observations could be a hint of some unknown mechanism that shapes the largest structures in the universe.

Damien Hutsemékers, an astrophysicist at the University of Liège in Belgium, and colleagues used the Very Large Telescope in northern Chile to measure the orientations of 19 quasars, blazing disks of gas that swirl around supermassive black holes in the centers of some galaxies. Each of the quasars lives in one of four groups that are about 13 billion light-years away and centered on the constellation Leo. Within the groups, powerful jets of charged particles that spew from the quasars seem to point in nearly the same direction, the researchers report November 19 in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The conclusions are on shaky ground, says Mike DiPompeo, an astrophysicist at the University of Wyoming. With only 19 quasars, the alignments could be just a coincidence. But even with a small sample, he finds the results intriguing and worthy of further investigation. It would be surprising, he says, if quasars knew how their neighbors were aligned. 

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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