Strange Setup: Andromeda\'s Satellite Galaxies All Lined Up

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Strange Setup: Andromeda's Satellite Galaxies All Lined Up

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An unusually high number of galaxies are aligned along a single plane running through the center of the giant Andromeda galaxy. Scientists don’t have a theory to explain why.

Galactic cannibalism or dark matter may be responsible, researchers say.

The Andromeda galaxy is located at a distance of 2.5 million light-years away and is the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Like our own galaxy, Andromeda is surrounded by numerous dwarf galaxy satellites. Many of these satellites are within 1.3 million light-years or less of the galaxy’s main disk.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, Eva Grebel and Andrew Koch from the University of Basel in Switzerland found that nine out of Andromeda’s fourteen dwarf galaxy satellites reside in a single plane. The plane is about 52,000 light-years wide and is aligned perpendicular to Andromeda’s own galactic plane, within which the galaxy’s stars orbit about the center.

That nearly 80 percent of Andromeda’s satellite galaxy mass is located within a single plane is highly unusual and can’t be accounted for by traditional theories of galaxy formation, Grebel said.

The finding was announced recently at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

The Milky Way was found to contain two similar planes of satellite galaxies in the late 1980s, but with nothing to compare them to, astronomers couldn’t tell if such planes were a general property of galaxy formation or whether they were just a statistical fluke.

"One of the open questions was always ‘Do such planes of satellite galaxies exist around other galaxies?’" Grebel said. "If they do, it might indicate that it’s more than just chance."

The researchers aren’t sure what might be responsible for the strange alignment but they offered two possible scenarios.

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I'm sure there's a lot we don't know about how the universe was created. It does seem unusual for 80% of andromeda to be on one plane. Maybe the big bang did not blow in all directions, one direction with the spinning orbit would put most matter on one plane.

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andromeda.jpg - 4.55kb
By YCON: posted on 11-2-2006

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