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No. 46: Jul-Aug 1986

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Cosmic Currents

A survey of 390 elliptical galaxies have identified an unexpected streaming effect superimposed on the (postulated) general outward expansion of the universe. A team of seven astronomers first measured the velocities of the elliptical galaxies relative to the earth. Next they subtracted out the velocities of universal expansion and, lastly, the velocity of the earth relative to the 3K cosmic background radiation. These subtractions enable us to determine how the 390 elliptical galaxies move relative to the cosmic background radiation -- which is about the best fixed reference frame we can come up with.

For roughly 50 million parsecs in all directions from earth, the clusters and superclusters of galaxies are streaming through the cosmos in a group. What's more, they lie in and move parallel to a fairly well-defined plane. Just what this coordinated motion means in terms of the origin and evolution of the universe is anyone's guess. There doesn't seem to be anything in the Big Bang theory that would explain these cosmic currents. Something set all these galaxies in motion -- but what?

(Waldrop, M. Mitchell; "The Currents of Space," Science, 232:26, 1986.)

Giant elliptical galaxy A giant elliptical galaxy containing many billions of stars. Hundreds of these immense assemblages are moving collectively though the cosmos.

From Science Frontiers #46, JUL-AUG 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss