How Giant Galaxies Bind The Milky Way’s Neighborhood With Gravity

Is it stretching it too far to think of a Lord of the Rings-esque “Entmoot” when reading the phrase “Council of Giants”? In this case, however, it’s not trees gathering in a circle, but galaxies.

A new map of the galactic neighborhood shows how the Milky Way may be restricted by a bunch of galaxies surrounding and constricting us with gravity.

“All bright galaxies within 20 million light years, including us, are organized in a ‘Local Sheet’ 34-million light years across and only 1.5 million light years thick,” stated Marshall McCall of York University in Canada, who is the sole author of a paper on the subject.

“The Milky Way and Andromeda are encircled by twelve large galaxies arranged in a ring about 24-million light years across. This ‘Council of Giants’ stands in gravitational judgment of the Local Group by restricting its range of influence.”

The “Council of Giants” is shown in this diagram based on 2014 research from York University. It shows the brightest galaxies within 20 million light-years of the Milky Way. The galaxies in yellow are the “Council.” (You can see a larger image if you click on this.) Credit: Marshall McCall / York University.

Here’s why McCall thinks this is the case. Most of the Local Sheet galaxies (the Milky Way, Andromeda, and 10 more of the 14 galaxies) are flattened spiral galaxies with stars still forming. The other other two galaxies are elliptical galaxies where star-forming ceased long ago, and of note, this pair lie on opposite sides of the “Council.”

“Winds expelled in the earliest phases of their development might have shepherded gas towards the Local Group, thereby helping to build the disks of the Milky Way and Andromeda,” the Royal Astronomical Society stated. The spin in this group of galaxies, it added, is unusually aligned, which could have occurred due to the influence of the Milky Way and Andromeda “when the universe was smaller.”

The larger implication is the Local Sheet and Council likely came to be in “a pre-existing sheet-like foundation composed primarily of dark matter”, or a mysterious substance that is not measurable by conventional instruments but detectable on how it influences other objects. McCall stated that on a small scale, this could help us understand more about how the universe is constructed.

You can read the study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Source: Royal Astronomical Society