The apple falls from the tree because gravity on our planet follows precise rules. We feel sleepy after eating rice because it helps release calming hormones in our body. In nature, everything is organized and in its place. But every once in a while loves to throw in a wrench at work, seemingly just to play with the clueless scientists brave enough to study the laws of nature.
That’s exactly what’s happening with a particularly cheeky galaxy cluster called Abell 3266, whose recent bizarre tantrums have had astronomers and physicists tearing their hair out and digging through their books to try to explain its odd behavior.
But before we delve into the intricate (and grand) cosmic mess of these galaxy clusters, let’s try to understand it in terms everyone is very familiar with: fossils!
The fossils of ancient cosmic cities
We know that dinosaurs and other plants existed long before us because they left tangible evidence for us to study. Just as we have been able to date these ancient fossils to determine their exact ages, scientists are also using similar techniques to study radio emissions from dying black supermassive holes in space, which are essentially the “fossils” of these magnificent cosmic giants.
Radio emissions are a type of “invisible” light emitted by celestial bodies that radio astronomers study to understand, among other things, their composition and age. His study is unveiling some of the universe’s most amazing and best-kept mysteries, such as the origin of the Big Bang by examining the infamous cosmic microwave background radiation.
Much of what makes up a cluster is plasma — a chaotic state of matter that forms when gas is heated to 10 million degrees Celsius. When radio waves are generated by this plasma, some familiar patterns emerge that scientists categorize to provide insight into the galactic environment.
So what happens to Abell 3266?
While the essence of many of these radio relics from colliding clusters and supermassive black holes still eludes us, their very existence gives us fundamental answers to some simple questions. When there’s a shadow, we know something obscure exists to cast it. But Abell, the star cluster 800 million light-years away, was an enigma simply because it didn’t cast a proverbial shadow, despite all the conditions being met!
The cluster had no detectable radio relics until recently. And when Australian scientists tried to study it with the combined power of more than three separate powerful satellite arrays, they found that some of the extremely elusive emissions challenged everything they thought they knew about them.
The radio emissions emanating from part of the cluster formed a sonic boom-like arc, likely driven by shock waves traveling through the plasma from a massive cosmic crash. However, its highly unusual concave shape puzzled radio scientists as they had never seen anything like it. Additionally, its odd orientation, facing away from the center of the cluster, has earned it the nickname “Relic of the Wrong Path”.
“If it’s a shock wave, you’d think it would curve down like an arc around the edge, but this is flipped,” said one of the astrophysicists behind the study, Dr. Tessa Vernstrom. “So we don’t really understand what that’s telling us.”
A new kind of science?
dr Vernstrom adds that her team believes this is real and likely not an image processing error. In addition, the unexpected brightness of the relic also meant that there were massive gaps in understanding of how these radio fossils behave, and scientists had to go back to the drawing board to find explanations.
“Maybe there’s some kind of new physics there that we haven’t fully understood if our models can’t match the observations,” she added.
Colliding galaxy clusters, like some in Abell 3266, are frightening places in space that have scientists tingling with excitement but also shaking their bones. These environments have so much plasma and dark matter activity that they produce a whole range of data that would otherwise be impossible to collect in a laboratory.
Abell 3266, in particular, is a special cluster because there are tons of anomalies and rare phenomena that are missing or simply not yet discovered in most other observed clusters. However, this is also evidence of the growing power of radio telescopes and the exciting opportunity to study the remaining parts of the Universe.
“When you look into the radio, you see a kind of different physics than when you look into the other wavelengths,” explains Dr. mind current “We’re going to see a lot more of this type of stuff.”
The research was published in Monthly Bulletins of the Royal Astronomy Societyand can be accessed here.
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