Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chilean telescope finds a "mysterious" 2.5-sigma alignment of black holes

I think it's unlikely that there's something really new in the observations

Two days ago, the Daily Mail (plus colleagues) has excited many readers by the following esoteric article:
Mystery of the 'spooky' pattern in the universe: Scientists find that supermassive black holes are ALIGNED
The Very Large Telescope has found some weird pattern in the locations of quasars and the rotation of the central supermassive black holes. And these patterns are far-reaching – seem to correlate objects that are billions of light years away from each other, i.e. distances comparable to the size of the visible Universe.

This is just an artist's depiction of an alignment.

The probability that such patterns emerge by chance – according to the current models with their probability distributions defining chance – is said to be 1 percent.

A Belgian team has used the VLT to look at 93 quasars as they existed almost 10 billion years ago. The quasars seem to belong to lines – which shouldn't be the case according to the current theories of structure formation, they say. And the direction of the large black holes' angular momenta seem to coincide despite their cosmological distances.

It's said to be "very unlikely" (1%) that such patterns emerge by chance. I find this claim a bit controversial and requiring verification. After all, the usual pictures of the "webs" associated with the structure formation don't look too different. Our state-of-the-art models of structure formation surely imply non-uniformities of the distribution of galaxies and some filaments and voids in the structure. The apparent fact that the researchers seem to be silent – and maybe even ignorant – about this elementary insight seems to reduce their credibility in my eyes.

I feel that the observation that the angular momentum of distant black holes has the same direction could also follow from a realistic emulation, after all. Note that almost all the celestial objects' spin as well as the orbital angular momentum (around the Sun) in the Solar System have the same direction; Venus' spin is the famous exception. This is not shocking: the material from which the Solar System was born had some angular momentum and this conserved angular momentum had to be divided to various terms, and it's not shocking that they were proportional to each other i.e. equally directed.

The research was described in a September 2014 preprint
Alignment of quasar polarizations with large-scale structures
which was accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics (therefore the media hype now) even though it has 0 citations at this moment. For those numerous reasons, I don't really think that they have discovered something really new. But if they have and there's something important than I am missing, you could think that the explanation has something to do with some mysterious long-distance entanglement, breakup of cosmic strings, or e.g. a nontrivial topology of the Universe.

And just the nearly infinitesimal probability that some of these things could be right was enough for me to write this blog post.

The paper – even its abstract – is more accurate than the media echoes and says that the quasar polarization vectors seem to be surprisingly orthogonal to the surrounding large-scale structure. And if that's not the case and the directions are (nearly) parallel, the emission line width seems to be significantly smaller than for the prevailing orthogonal ones. These two comments may possibly imply that the quasar spins are parallel to the host large-scale structures. In other words, the quasars seem to be spinning around the axes that are drawn in the sky with these quasar dots.

Well, that's nice if true but I don't find it shocking at all. These "lines" result from the gravitational clumping of material close to an axis. This clumping eliminates most of the orbital angular momentum and puts almost all the angular momentum to the spin. And the vanishing of the orbital angular momentum is of course mathematically equivalent to the statement that the surviving spinning objects (quasars) are sitting on the axis of the spin! ;-)

You know, if you want \(\vec L=\vec r \times p\) to carry no contribution in the direction of \(\vec S\), you want \(\vec L \cdot \vec S = 0\) and \(\vec r = \alpha \vec S\) is a solution! I don't believe that the structure formation models (or modelers) don't realize this obvious fact.


  1. anti-higgs is evilNov 22, 2014, 8:45:00 AM

    I only hope all these 2.5 sigma results get a similar media show when they're finally killed.

    What's stopping them from analyzing more data to make a more conclusive statement? Oh, right, more data means no paper, means no grants, means no phds..

    Will anyone publish said more conclusive paper? Or is the general consensus to let these types of papers rot, and hopefully collect some citations/maggots over the eons?

  2. Hi, I doubt that the calculation of the 1% level is legit by itself, respecting the actual distributions that follow from the theory of structure formation.

    But even if it were right, it's undoubtedly true that most of the 2-sigma bumps are bogus discoveries, and it's been so for quite some time. The percentage of the actual correct ones is given by how much new science Nature is offering right now. If we knew the theory of everything, there would be no genuine new effects - but there would still be flukes, and 100% of them would be false positives. On the other hand, if there's a lot of new things to be discovered, the p-value may approach the actual chance that the discovery is right.

    I don't think it's possible or desirable to "un-announce" all these 2-sigma hints, especially because the process of "disproving them" is gradual as well.

    You are missing the point that the discoveries are being done in a way that is qualitatively the same as these hints. Indeed, journals publish not just "definitive and rock-solid and revolutionary at the same moment" discoveries - if they had this filter, they would publish something like 1 paper per decade. ;-)

  3. anti-higgs is evilNov 22, 2014, 9:18:00 AM

    But this is basically reporting false results. To people who are ultimately paying for this research, and who are likely not able to fully understand that these days in science 2.5sigma means 99% false, not 99.9...% whatever likely true.

    I also think it's very important to know exactly why they haven't used more data. If more data (and some extra time, I guess) were available, but they didn't include it because it killed their result, this is akin to fraud.

    I'm not accusing these people, but I'm pretty that this is the case for a least a bunch of these 1,2,3 sigma results. These things should be investigated.

    Maybe I'm being overly cynical.

  4. I agree. Things like that - which experts know to "probably go away" - should not be referred to as "probably right" as the media almost always do.

  5. This is a confirmation of what is known as the "Hutsemekers effect", which has a probability of being random smaller than 1 in a thousand. See, and numerous related studies.
    And it is the first time it seems possible to interpret this effect as an alignment of axes. This may be expected in LSS, but was never observed before.

  6. Given a sample of 93 quasars, "some of the quasars’ rotation axes were aligned with each other." For 19/93, looking at emitted light polarization, " The direction of this polarisation, combined with other information, could be used to deduce the angle of the accretion disc and hence the direction of the spin axis of the quasar.."

    That is a third order correlation over a small sample wherein "alignment" is a fuzzy acceptance cone. This is mildly interesting. Compare with

  7. Agreed!

    But frankly the only reason I'd want to be emperor is so that I could exact bloody revenge. Incidentally, right now that bliar still holds pole position on my very very long list. He's a real stayer, that one.

    Anyhow, it would keep be busy for some time, but having I hope achieved great success in this primary noble endeavour of mine I'd be very happy to just let things ride and concentrate on my second noble endeavour, namely constructing an anti-imperium bomb which would snuff out all imperia at the conception stage. I'd then light the fuse, immediately retire and live happily ever after.

    Job done! :)

  8. I sort of sympathise with Johnson. However, it seems to be his own fault that he never got round to renouncing his US citizenship. If he has broken US federal law by refusing to pay US tax he could find himself subject to extradition proceedings. And British courts might well comply with an extradition request.


  10. Parkinson's law of bureaucracy along with the empires rise and fall adage.

  11. The Johnson thing: I missed it earlier.

    While I'd agree with the your take on this if it were (almost) anyone else, in Johnson's case I hope the IRS throws the book at him and bangs him for life. The two are suited to each other.

    He's not what he appears. That "lovable mop-headed dishevelled schoolboy charm" of his is not only a cultivated shallow self-obsessed obvious repulsive fake but he's another blow-with-the-wind tory chameleon who'd stab Britain in the back at the drop of a hat. He currently pretends to be anti-EU but he's a syphilitic europhiliac through and through just like the rest of them.

    Moreover, he's part turk (and proud of it!) and would like to see turkey join the EU. Right! That would be the EU with its open borders and sacred nation-destroying "freedom of movement" for all "its citizens". He'd quite happily have millions of turkoids dump themselves here, no problem.

    He's just another peecee spouter. You can't trust him further any than you can spit.

    Oddly enough he had a piece in the Telegraph the other day on that Matt-Taylor shirt issue with the feminazis. On the face of it you'd think he was on the right side here. But it's just a front. Most are fooled by it though. But plenty see straight through him too. The best comment on the piece, by a fellow going by the name of 'Tokyonagaremono', ripped Johnson a new arsehole on his utter hypocrisy, but the mods removed it. They also queered up my response seconding Mr T's post by removing some further pertinent invective and even removing a "not" so it appears I wrote the opposite. It seems they were unhappy at my suggestion that boris do the Mussolini Dangle.

  12. Just checking on you ;-)

  13. That'sh OK then. :)

  14. America, the "New Rome", will die a slow death by a thousand cuts. Its legions scattered across the globe battling with barbarians to forcibly bring the false light of democratic civilization while its people at home, oblivious to the mayhem and destruction abroad, are entertained on a steady diet of bread and circuses. Who to pity more? The poor bastards shot or blown to bits for "their own good" or those sitting slavishly before televisions with their ever downward spiraling liberties while being lied to about how "free" they are?

  15. You might get bored after a while ;)

  16. But you see my analysis is on the lines of "bees build hives, humans build imperiums" . Even the ones that start, like the soviets anti tzar imperium, end up creating another imperium. The same with China.

    The US started with "no taxation without representation", a lovely slogan, and ends up taxing half of the world with ingenious ploys.

    I think you would have to eliminate the human race to eliminate the urge of the top humans to reign over the hoi polloi.

    Maybe you w

  17. You probably didn't like Boris use word allowed either. We are the norm, but we should tolerate eccentrics. Very magnanimous eh?

  18. The US don't give a sh*t about their relationships with individual countries in Europe. They will use each of them as cannon fodder when war happens with Russia. Soon Ukraine will join NATO and might turn their guns both North and West.

  19. No, I fully agree with you. Actually I did catch your 'law of human society' the first time but, having nothing useful to add, just went on to indulge in a little light reverie.

    Yes, it's a real pity though about the US. It would be a hell of a shame if that beacon it once was finally flickered out. A very sad day.

    "I think you would have to eliminate the human race to eliminate the urge of the top humans to reign over the hoi polloi."

    One does wonder about that. The only way around it is to ensure the hoi polloi keep tabs on these potential 'toppers'. But judging by how easy it is to gull the masses everywhere that seems a task ultimately doomed to failure.

    I wonder how today will appear to those living a thousand years hence, if there is anyone around then that is. It surely won't take a thousand years to develop nicely tailored gene-targeted bio weapons in the kitchen, for example. The prisoner's dilemma for home brewers everywhere. The prize: to become the lonely master race. What fun!

    But back to the real reverie: I'm still going to execute them all. :)

  20. No problem. I'd get others to do the work and carry on as I am now.

    Christ! I'm bored already! :)

  21. I skimmed his piece. I didn't read the fucker properly. No need for every detail with him. Besides it's bad for my blood pressure.

    I'm not quite sure what you mean (typos?) but if it means me having to look at his piece again, forget it. I think I get your drift though.

    P.S. I don't like anything about that c.... So you can drop the "probably".

  22. Anna, what do you mean by "top humans" ?

  23. You need to ask?

    The latter bunch of course. They're the biggest losers having by far the most to lose. See, it's quite simple when you think about. :)

    But it isn't just the US. The rest of us have climbed into very similar badly caulked boats, all destined to sink.

    Pity really, because there was no need to 'go sailing' anywhere in the first place.

  24. WTF are you slinging such unfounded accusations around, can you please stop trolling like this?

    There is absolutely nothing wrong about the physics community reporting such results to each other.

    What is wrong today is that knownothings pick random papers from the ArXiv or from journals and make a huge wave about them in popular media channels. This is what should be prevented: dimwits called science journalists, philosophers, or others opening their big mouths to talk misleadingly about things that are only meant to be seen by people in the know!

    Keeping the too general public out of the ArXiv and journals would also prevent a lot of the omnipresent anti-science trolling we observe today, done by people who have no clue what they are talking about but a negaive opinion anyway ... as you!

  25. LOL, when reading about the alignement it made me immediately thi.k about cosmic strings too :-D

  26. I don't know about Ukraine doing this or that, it is clearly a failed state. The first part is correct, however, not even considering any specific administration. I don't get it where delusional ideas about some 'friendship' come from in this corpocratic, banksters controlled world.

  27. C'mon Dilaton. Having ArXiv open to everyone is the reason it exists. Who would you want to administer acces rights? If anything is going to make stupidity less dangerous, regulations are not it.

  28. The ones who convince themselves and others follow them that they are top. Crowd psychology is a fascinating subject.

    Look at Alexander the Great who at 18 started building his empire and the effects still resonate in the structure of the area. (he is current due to archeological finds in the north of Greece of the macedonian empire). Some of it must be genes, and some of it human instinct to follow a leader ( a great survival trait at the stone age I guess)., and some of it serendipity.

    Even after so many years of reading a Solzhenitsyn novel ( do not remember the name) I remember how he classified how people react and display the best and the worst : we all have everything inside us, it depends on the environment whether goodness and how much of it will be expressed ( a bit like genes :) )., or the worst of human traits will come out.

  29. Dear Tony, it's complete bullshit. The arXiv was created for the reason to be a tool for faster exchange of preprints between a close group of high-energy physicists where everyone knows everyone else and everyone has one of the Academic affiliations that are explicitly listed.

    The belonging to the right group or affiliation has been used as the major filter from the beginning, along with some ad hoc explicit fast decisions by the moderators.

  30. My readings implied that it was largely a reaction to Elsevier, Springer an such. Did I just stumble upon the phony blogs and articles or am I mixing/confusing the issues?

  31. The arXiv - and the e-mail system that was used before that - may be viewed as a reaction to Elsevier and pals.

    But the problem with Elsevier and pals wasn't that it was closed to the broad public. The problem was that it wanted the users to pay lots of money!

  32. I think Tony refers to reading, not writing.
    Dilaton seemed to be advocating to limit access reading to broad public.

  33. IMHO, It could become shocking, if the system is related to a non standard model Big Bang, without a standard inflation epoch, but based on travelling and splitting dark matter black hole point sources located in between these Nuclei, also as the base for the Lyman Alpha forest.

  34. That all kinds of thugs made it into the communist leadership in the various afflicted countries is not evidence against the state being a dictatorship. And with lines like "All power in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic belongs to the working people." in versions of the constitution, it's just a matter of terminological quibbles versus my original posting.

  35. Dear Frank, propagandist lines in a communist constitution are not evidence of anything. The real life and power balance in the country differed from what the commies wrote somewhere.

  36. It's just the funny Czech Simulantenbande. A predecessor of him could have easily flattened two Czech villages after a similar incident. ;-) <.i>
    Excellent this one
    Lubos you have a quite sure grasp on some minute details that actualy define history and cultures,
    Diese tschechische Simulantenbande predates the brave Soldat Svejk and when one thinks about it defines quite well what we really are :)
    As our Germanic cousins rightly thought, it is one of the irritating features that makes of us the ultimate survivors.
    It has always been a (pleasant) surprise to me how somebody who belongs to the far post 68 generation can find and deeply understand those things

  37. Dear Tom, thanks for these nice comments. It's fun to think about our being special - in our self-criticism, tricky ways to sail through potential problems, and other things.

    But at the end, at least in this story, I would claim that Czechs weren't shown as being too different. There are various angry rallies in Germany (and Ukraine and most other countries) as well. So the anti-Zeman rally was just another rally seen almost anywhere in the world.

    If it differed in some way, it differed by its being "less hateful", relaxed, partly humorous than elsewhere - and it's the Czech authorities that differed because in other countries, a similar meeting of the president with 4 other presidents would probably be screened from the critics.

    Gauck and others are surely used to more serious problems, so getting an egg to his head on such a rally is relaxing to some extent. And he may appreciate our democracy that really allows similar critics to get this close to politicians.

  38. I think you have your reasoning wrong. This president doesn't mind so much surrendering to Russia, except for their anti-gay law, and perhaps personal insults Putin has made towards Obama.
    He is a man of the Left stuck in the 1970s. He made a mess when Honduras evicted their Communist leader. He is upset with the Czech because their leader is against the Left. Similarly, he refused to let Lech Walesa accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of his countryman.

  39. Yes you are right Lubos. The egg throwers were not different.
    But isn't this the very definition of a Simulantenbande ? :)
    The point of this is that we (the Czechs) are NOT different in a quite superior way :)
    Do you think that these very same guys would throw eggs on comrade Breznev (not even imagining comrade Stalin who would let nobody close enough anyway) ?
    These comrades would have been able to do much worse than only flatten 2 villages.
    Oh no, they would wave red rags and happily shout "Hura" !
    Simulantenbande I tell you :)

  40. If I understand all your meanings and hidden meanings, I totally agree, Tom.

    We're not too special and we're not showing any surplus of courage and other things. Those folks are the typical ones who would wave parade sticks to Brezhnev.

    Yesterday I was reading the essays in the Klaus Institute newsletter

    about the Velvet Revolution and whether the post-November era has ended, and so on. Klaus Jr says - and I totally agree with that - we shouldn't idealize the moral qualities in 1989.

    Even in 1989, people who really wanted freedom and perhaps do something for that were very rare. Some others point out how qualitatively better the current prosperous free era is; others talk about the gradual, non-constitutional replacement of proper democracy by oligarchs etc. And speculations whether things will be worse or better, whether the revolution will be totally undone or it hasn't started yet etc. ;-) Pretty interesting reading.

  41. The biggest difference between Slovakian govt and Ukrainian govt is that Slovakian govt consists of human beings, as opposed to superhuman skinhead imbeciles.
    Czechia and Slovakia separated peacefully. Much better that what Cro-Magnons are doing in Ukraine. To solve problems one should diagnose them first, and to diagnose one should call things by real names, to begin with.