Astronomical Fashion Flips

Active galaxies (red crosses)

Active galaxies (red crosses) in new study that disproves the proven theory of galaxy mergers. Credit: CFHT/IAP/Terapix/CNRS/ESO

Jan 03, 2011

Mergers are out. Vanity is in: active galaxies are self-absorbed.

For many years, the only acceptable explanation of high galactic x-ray output accompanied by high redshift was mergers of galaxies. The universe became a bumper-car arena where every presumed high-energy event was proof of a collision.

Proof has just collided with disproof in a new study that examined 600 high-redshift active galaxies. A team of astronomers identified the active galaxies from observations with the XMM-Newton x-ray telescope.

Next, they obtained spectra of the galaxies with ESO’s Very Large Telescope. They took liberties with the language and claimed to have “measure[d] the distances to the galaxies.” What they actually did was to measure each galaxy’s redshift and to calculate a number from it. They called this number “distance” in conformity with the consensus presumption that redshift is “how much the light has been stretched by the expansion of the Universe.”

With these numbers, they constructed a three-dimensional map—which was actually a four-dimensional map, since under the expanding-universe assumptions distance is also an indicator of time. Using the map as a guide (one recalls the saying about the blind leading the blind), they finally “studied” the changing distribution of galaxies that was assumed to have occurred during the early stages of the hypothetical Big Bang.

“The team found that most active nuclei reside in galaxies with masses about 20 times larger than the value predicted by merger theory.” Viola Allevato, the lead author of the paper reporting the results, said, “They indicate that black holes are usually fed by processes within the galaxy itself…, as opposed to galaxy collisions.”


The consensus reasoning begins with the proposition that redshift indicates distance, despite the by-now-tiresome quantities of evidence that falsify, disprove, contradict, question, and do other unpleasant things to it. A faint light that is far away can only mean that the light is actually very strong, as long as you don’t entertain any other possibility. A strong light requires a large quantity of mass (whatever that is) to produce it, assuming, of course, that you allow no other assumptions to be considered.

If redshift does not indicate distance…(the chain of logic is left as an exercise for the reader).

In the Electric Universe, a large part of the redshift of a body (quasar, galaxy, even a star) is intrinsic and probably due to the charge on the body. It is an indicator of the age since the body was formed or ejected, as distinguished from “age since the big bang.” High-redshift objects are fragments of violent, far-from-equilibrium plasma discharges from relatively nearby galaxies: they are small, faint, and nearby (compared to the “ultra” designations of the consensus theories).

Since they are electrical discharges, mass is of little concern and black-hole theory is unnecessary. They don’t “merge,” but neither do they “feed.” They are loads in an intergalactic circuit that is subject to instabilities and can discharge energy from the circuit—more than is available locally.

If a false proposition has no real-world adverse consequences—such as a building collapsing if a beam is wrongly sized—there’s no urgency in discarding it. If one is being rewarded—with money, reputation, or power—for advocating it, there is a strong incentive to deny its falsity. Whether the universe is expanding or turning into chicken soup has no noticeable effect on the price of gasoline.

For the layman, astronomy press releases have the same value as the latest gossip about Lady Gaga (or perhaps a bit less). With no anchor to consequential effects, fashion becomes the ultimate criterion of acceptability.

Mel Acheson

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