picture of the day
A trio of interacting galaxies known as “The Bird”.
Credit: Henri Boffin European Space Agency (ESO)
Jun 10, 2008
The Bird is the Word
"Do astronomers really
prefer to elaborate obsolete theoretical assumptions rather
than make new discoveries?" Halton Arp in Seeing Red.
This object - or
these objects, depending on how you want to "see"
(understand) them - lies west of the teapot's handle in the
constellation of Sagittarius, at the edge of the Milky Way's
central bulge. The object has been named The Bird because
astronomers were looking for something familiar to see. If
you're looking for tidal distortion, you'll see it. If
you're looking for Birkeland current braiding, you'll see
redshift (z=0.049) means that the object (or objects) is 650
million light years away - if you believe (with the
astronomical consensus) that redshift is
proportional to distance.
Or it means that the object is young - if you believe (with
Halton Arp and collaborators) that redshift is
proportional to age.
Or it means that the object is the early stage of a
instability - if you believe (with plasma cosmologists) that
redshift is proportional to current density/electrical
If it is far
away and moving under gravitational forces alone, the
object is giving off heat, radiating energy far in
excess of what we know local matter can produce: It is an
ultra-luminous infrared galaxy (ULIRG). If it's
young and not so far away, it is again a ULIRG, but this
time an under-luminous infrared galaxy. If a
plasma discharge, it may be stupefyingly close.
It is on the
outskirts of the "big zap" of the Milky Way's central
plasmoid, where the driving Birkeland currents pinch
down and current densities become unstable. (One might well recall
Hannes Alfvén's description of the exploding
rectifiers in the Swedish power transmission lines that
filled the rectifier rooms with "fat sparks.") Because
plasma instabilities tend to produce similar forms at
all scales, plasma galaxies can be big or small,
thousands of light years across or thousands of
could be merging galaxies in the middle distance of the
universe, or it could be an unstable leakage current -
flying sparks - from the core of the Milky Way. In
daylight, with trees and buildings around, one still has
difficulty judging the distance of a pinpoint of light.
When staring into space in the blackness of midnight,
one can only guess at the distance based on what one
of belief determine the limits of vision, and fervency
separates the speculation that The Bird is far away from
the speculation that it is within our own galaxy.
Reasons and facts, excuses and analyses come afterward.
The initial choice of belief emerges from an underlying
attitude, either from allegiance to custom or from
willingness to risk unconventional speculation in hopes
of discovering a new world.
instruments are looking at objects that customary
beliefs did not expect to find. X-ray, radio, and
infrared telescopes have given astronomers new eyes with
which to look at the sky, but they still see with the
old visions. The Bird challenges astronomers to adjust
their attitudes, to be scientists instead of technicians
and to become pioneers instead of apologists.
Contributed by Mel Acheson
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