The standard cosmological model is the frame of reference for generations of scientists but some question its ability to accurately reproduce what is observed in the nearby universe.
Dwarf galaxies that orbit the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies defy the accepted model of galaxy formation, according to an international team of astrophysicists, and recent attempts to wedge them into the model are flawed, they believe.
David Merritt, professor of astrophysics at Rochester Institute of Technology, says their work pokes holes in the accepted model of the origin and evolution of the universe. According to the standard paradigm, 23 percent of the mass of the universe is shaped by invisible (insert your definition here) known as dark matter.
"The model predicts that dwarf galaxies should form inside of small clumps of dark matter and that these clumps should be distributed randomly about their parent galaxy," Merritt said. "But what is observed is very different. The dwarf galaxies belonging to the Milky Way and Andromeda are seen to be orbiting in huge, thin disk-like structures."
The paper critiques three recent papers by different international teams, all of which concluded that the satellite galaxies support the standard model. The critique by Merritt and colleagues found "serious issues" with all three studies. The team of 14 scientists from six different countries replicated the earlier analyses using the same data and cosmological simulations and came up with much lower probabilities—roughly one tenth of a percent—that such structures would be seen in the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy.
"The earlier papers found structures in the simulations that no one would say really looked very much like the observed planar structures," said Merritt.
In their paper, Merritt and his co-authors write that, "Either the selection of model satellites is different from that of the observed ones, or an incomplete set of observational constraints has been considered, or the observed satellite distribution is inconsistent with basic assumptions. Once these issues have been addressed, the conclusions are different: Features like the observed planar structures are very rare."
"Our conclusion tends to favor an alternate, and much older, model: that the satellites were pulled out from another galaxy when it interacted with the Local Group galaxies in the distant past," he said. "This 'tidal' model can naturally explain why the observed satellites are orbiting in thin disks.
"When you have a clear contradiction like this, you ought to focus on it," Merritt said. "This is how progress in science is made."