Alignment of Black Holes

Many galaxies host supermassive black holes (SMBHs) at their centres, which are often characterized by bright jets of ionised material being accelerated along powerful jets. Researchers at UCT and UWC have discovered that the jets emanating from galaxies in a specific area of the universe are aligned - possibly due to mass fluctuations that were produced in the primordial universe. These jets are often much larger in extent than the host galaxy itself - which are studied in detail by radio astronomers.

Prof Russ Taylor, joint UCT/UWC SKA Chair and Director of IDIA, is the principle author of the study along with Preshanth Jagannathan - who is a UCT PhD student currently working at the NRAO in Socorro, NM, USA. Prof. Taylor says that “The jets are produced by the supermassive black holes at the centres of these galaxies, and the only way for this alignment to exist if supermassive black holes are all spinning in the same direction.”

The implication is that the alignment must be due to the broader influence of the primordial mass fluctuations that ultimately lead to the structure of the universe, as we know it, and suggests a deeper contribution to the evolution of galaxies - beyond their large scale assembly into the conglomerations that we know - walls, filaments, groups and clusters.

Early observations pointed towards “isotropy” or randomness in the orientation of galaxies, but deep observations of the ELAIS-N1 region of the sky with the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope (GMRT) paints a different picture - one in which cosmological broad strokes play a role in the microscopic detail of individual galaxy evolution.

Researchers are puzzled by these mysterious results which seem to contradict the results of simulations. However, these observations only reveal a tip of the iceberg, and deep follow-up observations with the MeerKAT telescope will play an important role in unveiling further details behind the alignment of radio jets in galaxies in ELAIS-N1.

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