The Picture that Won’t Go
Only in the rarest
instances has a single picture altered the direction of a
scientific discipline. But in the case of the galaxy NGC
7319 and the "misplaced" quasar in front of it, the message
Today we return
to an image we have seen before. On October 1, 2004, our
Picture of the Day included a high-resolution photograph of
the nearby galaxy NGC 7319, taken by the Hubble Telescope.
Seen in front of the dense galactic core was a quasar.
Prevailing ideology did not permit a quasar to occupy that
position, and its presence threatened to shatter one of the
most cherished themes of mainstream astronomy: the Big Bang.
For those who
wonder what all the commotion was about, we offer this brief
for the Big Bang rests substantially on an interpretation of
a well-known phenomenon called “redshift”. The term refers
to the shift of light from distant galaxies toward red on
the light spectrum.
Many years ago,
astronomers decided that redshifted objects must be moving
away from the observer, stretching out their lightwaves.
This “Doppler interpretation” of redshift enabled
astronomers, based on the degree of redshift, to calculate
both the distances and velocities of the objects. From these
calculations, certain conclusions were inescapable. If all
redshifted objects are moving farther away, the universe
must be expanding. If the universe is expanding, the
expansion must have had a starting point—an unimaginable
explosion producing a universe of galaxies receding in every
direction from the observer.
The Hubble Space
Telescope “Key Project” has recently placed this event 13.7
billion years ago.
universe was not always so large. A sudden leap in its
official size occurred with the discovery of quasars,
the most "redshifted" objects in the heavens. These
objects are so strongly shifted towards the red that the
astronomers' scale put them outside the previously imagined
boundaries. And being so far away, they must be vastly more
luminous than any objects in existence today.
conclusions were, by the astronomers' own admissions,
inescapable. And they became the foundation for modern
cosmology—the so-called “Queen of the Sciences”.
dissenters, however. Astronomer Halton Arp, the leading
authority on peculiar galaxies, presented evidence that
quasars are not extraordinarily bright objects at the outer
edges of the universe. They are physically and energetically
connected to the closest galaxies. Arp claimed that the
universe is not expanding and there never was a Big Bang.
For his dissent, he lost his telescope time and had to move
to Germany to continue his work.
Yet as we gained
a better picture of remote space, evidence against the Big
Bang continued to accumulate. When distant galaxies were
plotted according to their redshift-determined distances,
they appeared to be arranged in lines that pointed at
Earth—the so-called “Fingers
of God”. Galaxies with greatly
different redshifts but otherwise having similar forms
increased tremendously in
size with increasing
redshift. And almost every nearby active galaxy was
discovered to have a greater-than-average number of
Then came the
Hubble photograph (above right), taken on October 3, 2003.
The picture showed a galaxy (NGC 7319) known for its dense
clouds that obstruct all objects behind its core. In front
of the galaxy's core is a strongly redshifted quasar. In
fact, under the prevailing assumptions, the redshift of the
quasar would put it more than 90 times farther away from us
than the big galaxy behind it.
Also, as noted
in our earlier Picture of the Day, Arp and his colleagues
show that the quasar is interacting energetically with the
material in front of the galaxy. The paper by Arp, et al.,
that announced the discovery may be viewed at:
standard suppositions about redshift do not work: The
quasar’s redshift cannot be the effect of a “velocity of
recession” or an “expansion of the universe”—it is just an
intrinsic, and yet unexplained, quality of the quasar.
One might have
expected alarm bells to go off within the astronomical
community, since much of its funding rests on the assumed
credibility of its theoretical starting point. But the
responses have ranged from nonchalance to outright denial.
Leading scientific institutions still issue news releases
telling us that all is well in modern cosmology. One
scientific publication after another continues to discuss
the Big Bang as if it were an established fact.
in the sciences did not always work this way. A
quarter-century ago, when America’s favorite astronomer,
Carl Sagan, published his book, Cosmos, he addressed
the redshift question:
nevertheless a nagging suspicion among some astronomers,
that all may not be right with the deduction, from the
redshift of galaxies via the Doppler effect, that the
universe is expanding. The astronomer Halton Arp has found
enigmatic and disturbing cases where a galaxy and a quasar,
or a pair of galaxies, that are in apparent physical
association have very different redshifts...."
acknowledgment here showed a candor rarely found in standard
treatments of astronomy today. He continued, "If Arp is
right, the exotic mechanisms proposed to explain the energy
source of distant quasars—supernova chain reactions,
supermassive black holes and the like —would prove
unnecessary. Quasars need not then be very distant. But some
other exotic mechanism will be required to explain the
redshift. In either case, something very strange is going on
in the depths of space."
astonishing to realize that, for a quarter century after
Sagan wrote these words, an ideological interpretation
astronomy, even in the face of growing evidence to the
Critics point to
the demands of funding as the primary culprit. Recently,
dozens of top scientists, including Halton Arp, Eric J.
Lerner, and Michael Ibison authored an open letter to the
scientific community, arguing that the dominance of big bang
theory "rests more on funding decision than on the
scientific method." They wrote: "Today, virtually all
financial and experimental resources in cosmology are
devoted to big bang studies. Funding comes from only a few
sources, and all the peer-review committees that control
them are dominated by supporters of the big bang. As a
result, the dominance of the big bang within the field has
become self-sustaining, irrespective of the scientific
validity of the theory.
only to projects within the big bang framework undermines a
fundamental element of the scientific method—the constant
testing of theory against observation. Such a restriction
makes unbiased discussion and research impossible...."
This image of a
high-redshift quasar in front of an opaque low-redshift
galaxy marks a crossroads in modern astronomy. If ideology
prevails, astronomy as a science will die; if funding and
journals are opened to empirical testing and questioning of
assumptions, the big bang will die. For the time being,
science must wait on the sidelines while the game of power
politics plays itself out.
Oct 26, 2004
Another Active Ejecting Galaxy
July 26, 2004
Sep 21, 2004
Nov 01, 2004
Halton Arp: Modern Day Galileo
Nov 09, 2004
Having Faith in Edwin Hubble
Oct 28, 2004
Redshift Rosetta Stone
Jun 01, 2005
The Pleiades Problem
Sep 03, 2004
The Search for Two Numbers
Jan 06, 2005
The Universe According to Arp
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