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Massive Black Holes Are Mysteriously Spinning in Sync

Why do we love black holes despite their obvious desire to suck us and everything else into their black abyss? It may because the more we find out about them, the more mysterious and entertaining they become. Take the case of the new discovery by South African astronomers of 64 super-massive black holes emitting plasma or radio jets that are aligned and spinning in sync. It’s the first time this has ever been seen. What are the odds? We’ll find out.

Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope

Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope

The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society reports on this discovery by Andrew Russ Taylor, Director of the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy, and researchers at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of the West Cape (UWC). Using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), they spent three years observing radio waves from an area of space known as ELAIS-N1. The discovery of the large number of huge synchronized spinning black holes astounded Dr. Taylor.

Since these black holes don’t know about each other, or have any way of exchanging information or influencing each other directly over such vast scales, this spin alignment must have occurred during the formation of the galaxies in the early universe.

The synchronized spinning black holes (Photo credit: Andrew Russ Taylor)

The synchronized spinning black holes (Photo credit: Andrew Russ Taylor)

What are the odds of this happening naturally? Less than 0.1 percent. Could some alien force be controlling their rotation and alignment for their own purposes, such as energy generation or as signposts for space travelers? Well, that’s one theory.

The researchers present two others. They could be cosmic magnetic fields made up of axions – hypothetical particles in quantum chromodynamics that may be components of cold dark matter. Or they could be cosmic strings, which are hypothetical topological defects formed during a symmetry breaking (critical fluctuation) phase transition (transformation from one state of matter to another by heat transfer) in the early days of the universe.

So which one is it? The answer from the researchers is, “We’re gonna need a bigger telescope.” Specifically, they’re waiting for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the South African MeerKAT array, and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) – telescopes just completed or in development that are among the largest and most powerful radio telescopes ever built.

While we wait and ponder our love for them, wouldn’t the Synchronized Spinning Black Holes be a great name for a band?