According to astronomers at St. Andrews University led by Ph.D. student Indranil Banik, they have made a discovery that challenges Einstein‘s gravitational theory. They are referring to a 10 million light year-wide ring of galaxies that display ‘uncharacteristic’ properties. That means the galaxies are not behaving like they’re supposed to based on the known laws of physics, in this case, the laws governing gravity. Instead of being pulled by gravity towards us, the galaxies seem to be running away from us at a rate that’s much faster than expected — rapidly expanding, just like a ‘mini Big Bang’.
The team believes that Andromeda (our nearest galaxy neighbor) may have once darted past our own Milky Way galaxy, and this close-range passing may have resulted in the creation of a number of dwarf galaxies scattered along the same plane where the two massive galaxies are currently located.
As Dr. Hongsheng Zhao, one of the study’s authors, said: “If Einstein’s gravity were correct, our galaxy would never come close enough to Andromeda to scatter anything that fast.”
Following that train of thought, proving that the team’s theory is correct will mean that our perception about how gravity works will need some tweaking. Because a ‘close encounter’ with a galaxy will only make sense if gravity doesn’t weaken as fast as we believe it does as it gets farther from another galaxy.
Banik describes the ‘ring-like’ distribution of the galaxies as ‘very peculiar’. He says that the small galaxies are ‘like a string of raindrops flung out from a spinning umbrella’. And that there is ‘barely a 1 in 640 chance’ that scattered galaxies will line up in such manner. He further adds that the origin of such formation is probably a dynamic event when our universe was just half of its current age.
Banik also pointed out how Einstein’s model of gravity always involved the presence of ‘dark matter’.
“Such a high speed requires 60 times the mass we see in the stars of the Milky Way and Andromeda. However, the friction between their huge halos of dark matter would result in them merging rather than flying 2.5 million light-years apart, as they must have done.”
It might take some time and definitely more in-depth study before the rationale behind this latest discovery can be fully explained (if it can be explained at all, maybe if there’s another Einstein in our midst?) And while some are saying that this might require rewriting of the Relativity Theory, shouldn’t writing of an entirely new theory be considered too? The universe is one colossal entity after all, so maybe it’s simply too profound to be explained in one all-encompassing equation.
The paper was published in ‘Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society’.