Jumping For Joy

“Peculiar galaxy” Arp 273.

April 15, 2020

Halton Christian “Chip” Arp (March 21, 1927 – December 28, 2013)

When our son was 2 and 3 and 4, he liked to climb up on high objects-the table, the refrigerator, the roof-and jump into our arms. When we weren’t available to “play catch”, he would climb up on the chest of drawers and jump onto the bed.

He had practiced the bureau-to-bed jump quite a lot when a couple of his friends visited. He persuaded them to climb up on the bureau with him. Firmly taking each one by the hand, he jumped. We took a photo of all three in midair: Our son looked exuberant; one friend looked startled; the other friend looked horrified.

What brings this to mind is Halton Arp’s mention of telling friends about his discovery of the connected universe: Some were “horrified”; one was “angry.” Arp had jumped, and his friends suddenly found themselves falling.

Paradigm shifts do that.

But talking about paradigms shifting is a cop-out. What’s really happening is learning: not the brain-washing that established pedagogy calls learning, but a primal, emotionally-charged, creative process. You experience something you’ve never felt before. You wrack your brain trying to make sense of it. As you develop each successive idea, you decide it doesn’t work. You go back to wracking. It’s all highly emotional: You feel sad and glad and mad.

In Quasars, Redshifts, and Controversies, Arp showed that some quasars were connected to certain active galaxies. In Seeing Red, he adds evidence, more evidence, and much more evidence until nearly every object in the sky is connected, forming two extensive spiral structures.

What once were clusters of galaxies and quasars sprinkled into the distance have become the interacting parts of a couple of cosmic swirls in our backyard. The Expanding Universe is cancelled. The Hubble Constant is trashed. The redshift-distance relationship is divorced. The Big Bang is blown away. And clusters of galaxies are illusions spawned by a failure of imagination. (“What else but a Doppler effect,” the blind astronomer said, “could redshift be?”)

It’s understandable this could cause surprise or horror or anger. But it can also cause exhilaration, zest, joy. Learning-especially on the level of paradigms-can be fun. All you need do is stand at the edge of all you know and believe. Then jump.

Mel Acheson

The Thunderbolts Picture of the Day is generously supported by the Mainwaring Archive Foundation.

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