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 Galaxy DLA-3C286. Credit: H.W. Chen/University of Chicago

A Magnetic Problem with “Protogalaxies”
Jul 02, 2009

It seems that it doesn’t matter how far out in space we choose to observe, there are galaxies, fully formed galaxies organized in higher level structures that stretch for billions of parsecs.

As if this hasn’t been enough evidence to undermine the standard model, there was new information gathered in 2008 that must create even further misgivings. The issue involves galactic magnetic fields.

The accepted "mean-field-dynamo" theory held by establishment astronomers asserts that a magnetic field in a galaxy evolves from a “magnetic seed” and builds over the course of billions of years. Young galaxies have no coherent magnetic fields, but over time, a magnetic field “spins up” that spans the galaxy. The mechanism by which this occurs is not well formulated. However, this model predicts that galaxies observed at sufficient distances should have weak magnetic fields compared to our own galaxy.

This assumes a Universe that is about 13.7 billion years old, so that if we look at galaxies 6 to 8 billion light years away, they are comparatively young. Over the course of 2008 there were two separate reports (one in July, the other in early October) of galaxies 6-8 billion light years away with magnetic fields at least as powerful as that found in our own galaxy. In one report, the magnetic field in the distant “young” galaxy was about ten times the strength of that in the Milky Way. As usual, the reporting scientists expressed surprise at their findings.

The research teams actually used different approaches for measuring the magnetic field strength in the different galaxies. Simon Lilly’s group reporting in July performed analyses on a number of galaxies using Faraday Rotation data derived from the polarization of light from quasars behind the galaxies in question. Lilly used FR quasar measurements generated by Philipp Kronberg from the University of Toronto.

Alternatively, the group led by Arthur Wolfe measured the magnetic field in a single galaxy using the Zeeman Effect, where an absorbing gas in a magnetic field splits absorption lines symmetrically.
Some of Wolfe’s comments are interesting and indicative of a general mindset in the astronomical community. Here are excerpts from the October report:

Astronomers have made the first direct measurement of the magnetic field in a young, distant galaxy, and the result is a big surprise.

Looking at a faraway protogalaxy seen as it was 6.5 billion years ago, the scientists measured a magnetic field at least 10 times stronger than that of our own Milky Way. They had expected just the opposite.

The authors assume this is a “protogalaxy” simply because of its distance. However, the relative strength of the magnetic field (10x) is interesting. In reading some source data elsewhere the exact number is a magnetic field of B = 84 μG in DLA-3C286 (the galaxy in question) at z =0.692, using the same Zeeman-splitting technique that revealed an average value of B = 6 μG in the interstellar gas of the Milky Way. So, actually the value is >10x the Milky Way's magnetic field measurement. In the picture credited to HW Chen above, it is tempting to infer that there are prominent jets emitted by DLA-3C286 consistent with the magnetic field findings.

"This new measurement indicates that magnetic fields may play a more important role in the formation and evolution of galaxies than we have realized," said Arthur Wolfe, of the University of California-San Diego (UCSD). "Our results present a challenge to the dynamo model, but they do not rule it out."

There are other possible explanations for the strong magnetic field seen in the one protogalaxy Wolfe's team studied. "We may be seeing the field close to the central region of a massive galaxy, and we know such fields are stronger toward the centers of nearby galaxies. Also, the field we see may have been amplified by a shock wave caused by the collision of two galaxies."

It is clear that observations have directly contradicted the mean-field-dynamo model, yet investigators have trouble letting go of the theory in the face of data. The argument about shock waves and galaxy collision is just embarrassing and perhaps can be forgiven in the light of the sheer usefulness of the data.

In a New Scientist report the language is more balanced.

Magnetic fields are difficult to model, so they tend not to be incorporated into cosmological simulations. But if it turns out more such galaxies are scattered about the early universe, "it might mean we have to rewrite all the models of galaxy evolution because magnetic fields play a big role", Beck says.

The quote is from Rainer Beck, not involved in the research but an astronomer at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany. Beck is clearly allowing the observations to shape his logical assessment of the mean-field-dynamo model.

The team next plans to measure the magnetic field of an even more distant backlit galaxy - one that would have had just 1 billion years or so to spin up its field. If the galaxy has a similarly strong field, "I'd say that would be very difficult for the dynamo theory," Wolfe says.

According to the Electric Universe theory, the observations were predictable. Galaxies are formed along immensely powerful Birkeland currents where magnetic z-pinches play a critical role in shaping galaxies and, in turn, the star systems within them. Therefore, all galaxies will have magnetic fields whose strengths will vary depending on the Birkeland currents that power them. So the observation of galaxies 6-8 billion light years away with powerful magnetic fields is completely in keeping with the Electric Universe model, because magnetic fields are integral to galaxy formation and their ongoing dynamics.

This research should be closely monitored, but the EU model makes a clear prediction. Wolfe and his colleagues will find a magnetic field spanning the next galaxy they directly measure with the Zeeman effect. Galaxies do not “spin up” magnetic fields, it’s the other way around.

As long as astronomers and astrophysicists continue with a conceptual framework that does not include electrical forces acting at the cosmological scale, they will continue to be surprised by their observations. Ultimately, the really interesting phenomenon to observe in all this is the human ability to cling to belief systems in the face of overwhelming data. The Electric Universe movement is an exciting opportunity to witness a single explanatory framework driving paradigm shifts across multiple disciplines.

Contributed by Thomas Wilson



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