Thunderblog - Michael Gmirkin
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Incorrect Assumptions in Astrophysics


Is all well within the field of astronomy, or have astronomers been misled by their trusting acceptance of a myriad of unproven foundational assumptions leading to extreme, bizarre (and possibly quite wrong) conclusions?

Cartoon - "I think you should be more explicit here in step two" Credit:
Image Credit:
Reproduced with permission.

In previous commentaries (Ultra Luminous Astronomy 1 and 2), it has been noted that there has been an increasing trend among astronomers in applying superlative terms to anomalous astronomical objects, such as "ultra-luminous," "beyond bright," "super-massive," among others.

These objects are so labeled due to their extraordinary brilliance, size, and other attributes. Or are they? On what foundational basis do these classifications rest? Are they based upon actual measurements of absolute luminosity, absolute size, or absolute mass? Or are they, on the other hand, based upon undisclosed assumptions?

In fact, many stars and galaxies are so distant that accurate absolute measurements of primary properties are nearly or completely beyond humanity’s current technological capability to assess. As such, several of astronomers' " absolute" measurements are in fact calculated measurements. They are extrapolated from related actual data based upon assumptions about how those data relate to properties that cannot be directly measured.

This, however, leaves astronomers in the unenviable and precarious situation of having a trust relationship with both the properties that can be directly measured and the assumptions about how those relate to the properties that cannot be directly measured.

As an example, astronomers can measure the "apparent luminosity" of stars and galaxies as received at Earth-based or space-based observatories (how much light the receiving apparatus was exposed to during a specific interval). Astronomers do not, however, know the absolute luminosity of the source (how much light was originally emitted from the source).

In order to calculate "absolute luminosity" (an estimation of the quantity of light originally emitted from a star or galaxy), astronomers must make calculations from the "apparent luminosity" based upon assumed distance to the source.

An article, from Sky and Telescope, appears to recognize the precarious situation that low-quality estimations of distance put astronomers in:

A bedrock problem in astronomy is simply figuring out how far away things are. Practically everything else about an object - its true size, its energy output - all the stuff you have to know to understand it - depends on simply knowing how far away it is. And even now, the poor quality of many astronomical distances remains a nagging problem. [Emphasis added]

However, a pitfall exists in the trust relationship astronomers have with assumptions used to calculate the data. They trust that they understand how to calculate the distance to an object based upon certain assumptions about stellar life cycles, color, apparent luminosity, etc.

But the question remains as to whether or not astronomers actually have a valid model of how to calculate the distance to those objects. One might also ask, what if they’re wrong? What would the result be in models based upon faulty assumptions?

In the prior articles mentioned above, it was stated that if the assumed distance was incorrect it would skew the results of calculations using said incorrect distance as a foundational assumption. If a normal star or galaxy is placed much further away than it actually exists due to incorrect assumptions, calculations based upon the distance will consequently exaggerate its size, mass, and luminosity. An otherwise "normal galaxy" will be seen as larger, brighter and more energetic than it actually is. If the incorrect assumptions are not recognized as such, then astronomers will continue to accept the larger values and label those objects "ultra-luminous," "super-massive" or otherwise "anomalous."

Albert Einstein gave the following sage advice:

"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."

Where astronomers currently see anomalous "super-massive" and "ultra-luminous" objects, we need a touch of genius and a bit of courage (like those suggested in Einstein’s quote) in order to move in the opposite direction.

A recent news release based upon data from Hubble exemplifies this principle perfectly, if inadvertently. It appears that researchers have had to significantly revise down the distance to a pair of interacting galaxies, from 65 million light years to 45 million light years distant (a 30% reduction in distance).

[T]he scientists found that the Antennae Galaxies are much closer to us than previously thought: residing at a distance of 45 million light-years instead of the previous best estimate of 65 million light-years.

This surprising conclusion also led to the downward revision of calculated properties of the interacting pair of galaxies, bringing them into line with more "normal " galaxies / mergers:

The previous larger distance required astronomers to invoke some quite exceptional physical characteristics to account for the spectacular system: very high star-formation rates, supermassive star clusters, ultraluminous X-ray sources etc. The new smaller distance makes the Antennae Galaxies less extreme in terms of the physics needed to explain the observed phenomena.

For instance, with the smaller distance its infrared radiation is now that expected of a "standard" early merging event rather than that of an ultraluminous infrared galaxy. The size of the star clusters formed as a consequence of the Antennae merger now agree with those of clusters created in other mergers instead of being 1.5 times as large.

It seems that the astronomers have been forced, by the data, to change the classification of the galaxies from " ultra-luminous," and "abnormally large" to "standard in luminosity" and "normal in size, " in line with other galaxies of similar characteristics assumed to be at their actual distances.

The implications, however, range further afield than this isolated case. If a single anomalous "ultra-luminous, " "super-massive" entity must be revised downward back to the "normal" range, what might that say of other "ultra-luminous," "super- massive" or otherwise "abnormal" / " unexpected" entities currently requiring a host of "exotic" unproven explanations?

As noted in the prior TPODs, there is something of a raging (if muted) debate in the sciences over the foundational assumption that underpins much of astronomy: redshift.

Halton Arp has amassed a collection of strong evidence (published in peer reviewed journals) that the Hubble relation (redshift ~= recessional velocity ~= distance), which Hubble himself admitted may not be the only viable explanation, is not the only interpretation of redshift and is not necessarily mutually exclusive with other interpretations (there may be both an intrinsic and a cosmological component to redshift, with the intrinsic component being dominant).

Arp’s assertion is that redshift is primarily a measure of the youth of an object with relation to other nearby less-redshifted objects, rather than a measure of its cosmological distance.

If the underpinning assumption of ultra-luminous astronomy (and much of the Big Bang model) is found to be incorrect, then it may be necessary for astronomers to radically revise their understanding of the universe. Objects currently assumed to be "extremely distant," "super- massive," "ultra-luminous," or " extraordinarily fast" based upon Hubble relation distance assumptions may in fact be found to be far more local, small, dim, and slow.

It is imperative to once again urge cognizance and caution with respect to the trust relationships developed with data and astronomers’ underpinning assumptions. If the assumptions turn out to be incorrect, the end results may suffer from "Garbage In, Garbage Out" syndrome and require significant revision based upon corrected findings.


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Michael Gmirkin
Michael Gmirkin is a technology enthusiast with a keen interest in exploring the electrical nature of the universe.

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