Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Wrong With Modern Physics: Quasars

Be warned: this and upcoming posts contain much geeky science content.

There is one constant that has occurred throughout scientific history. Every theoretical breakthrough that has been made in the past few millennia has been met with skepticism and derision throughout the established scientific community. The earth is round? Preposterous! The earth spinning around the sun? Sacrilegious! The moon has craters? Insane! Yet these theories have all been confirmed, and each one of them has irrevocably altered the scientific paradigm and fundamentally changed how we think of the world.

What about current accepted scientific theory? Following history's pattern, it must all be wrong too, right?

Actually, that's right.

I'm not going to make any scientific breakthroughs here. I'm not nearly smart enough for that. What I am going to do in the next few posts is point out a few of the more obvious anomalies in our current understanding of cosmology and quantum mechanics that fundamentally call into question our understanding of how the universe works.

Note that these are all observations made by scientists smarter than me. These observations, at best, are considered to require a slight rethinking of our understanding of science, and at worst are being ignored altogether. But they all fly in the face of modern science. What we know is wrong, there will be a breakthrough soon that will confirm that what we know is wrong, and here is why:

The Problem With Quasars
This is my favorite tidbit of information commonly overlooked by the scientific community. Quasars, as you will read in most textbooks, are incredibly powerful objects found in the most distant reaches of the universe. When the universe began, the story goes, a lot of the matter coalesced into huge proto-galaxies with incredibly active, powerful black holes at their cores which shed an almost indescribably massive amount of energy. These are observed as quasars. Eventually, as the black holes sucked up much of the matter surrounding them, these quasars were reduced to the calmer galaxies that we see in the nearby universe.

However, there is one teeny, tiny problem with this story.

It is a little-known fact that most quasars, as observed, appear to be directly behind or in the vicinity of nearby foreground galaxies. Some quasars even seem to be associated with the spiral arms of these nearby galaxies.

Then, in 2006, a nail was hammered into the coffin of the scientific community's accepted explanation for quasars. Astronomers found a galaxy (NGC 7319) where a background quasar appears within its central bulge. The problem with this is that the center of the galaxy is so dense that there's no chance in the world that these astronomers should be able to observe a "background" quasar. Look, there's even a picture:

That arrow points to an object that has all the properties of your run-of-the-mill quasar, where it couldn't possibly exist according to the standard model.

There is other evidence as well, such as the fact that many quasars (APM 8279+5255, for example) have extremely high concentrations of iron. These concentrations couldn't possibly exist in the early universe under the Big Bang theory because there hadn't been enough of the right kind of supernovae to form that much iron. Also, many of the quasars have jets on either side that, at the distances suggested by the redshifts, would appear to be moving faster than the speed of light. Scientists have attempted to explain this away by saying that the jets are actually traveling toward us at relativistic speeds causing the appearance of faster-than-light motion, but it is hard to believe that there are two jets on opposite sides of these objects, both moving toward us. A nearby explanation for quasars would make those jets unremarkable. Furthermore, there is evidence of disturbed gasses in the "foreground" galaxies nearby to quasars, including the one discovered in 2006, that has not been explained by the standard model.

The Commonly-Accepted Assumptions
So if quasars are really nearby phenomena, where did modern science get it wrong? To find that out, we must examine how the standard model identifies an object as a quasar: What makes quasars special is their observed redshift. Let me explain.

Light passing through a gaseous element, for example the hydrogen of the outer layers of a star, will be partially absorbed by the hydrogen. In specific, certain colors of light will be absorbed. So when you put the resulting light through a prism (remember high school science?) a predictable pattern of gaps (called absorption lines) will appear in the rainbow due to the hydrogen having absorbed the light. According to the standard model, when an object is moving away very fast, those gaps will be shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, creating the "redshift". See this image as an example:

This is supposedly the same effect that causes the horn of a passing train to lower its tone. When the train is moving very fast away, the tone is shifted downward.

However, this only explains that quasars are moving away from us very fast. Why would this mean they are very far away? This is due to the commonly accepted expansion model of the universe. It has been observed that recognizable objects (spiral galaxies, for example) that appear smaller in the night sky have greater redshifts. It is assumed, then, that since more distant objects have greater redshifts and therefore tend to be moving away faster, the universe is expanding. Since quasars have extremely high redshifts, they must be very very far away, right?

I would suggest that most of the evidence of nearby quasars is incontrovertible enough to imply serious problems with the standard model, and most of the evidence that they are far away is based on assumptions piled on top of assumptions. These assumptions, however, are what have been accepted in the scientific community, and that quasar discovered in 2006 is generally considered an observational fluke; a curiosity at best. Some have suggested that there is a convenient "hole" in the gasses of the galaxy that lets the light from the quasar pass through, but that's a bit too convenient for my liking.

The Lyman-Alpha Problem
There is, however, one observation that seems to heavily favor the distant-quasar theory, and it is the reason that is most often given as evidence against nearby-quasar theories: the Lyman-alpha forests.

Remember the absorption lines described above? Lyman-alpha refers to one of the most well-defined and recognizable absorption lines in the hydrogen absorption spectrum. When light passes through a cloud containing hydrogen, this line is always apparent. Since hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, the Lyman-alpha line is most commonly used to determine redshifts. Furthermore, since light from distant objects in the universe passes through hundreds of clouds of gas and dust before reaching us, each one of those clouds leaves a Lyman-alpha line on the object's spectrum. These groupings of lines are collectively called a Lyman-alpha forest. The problem to nearby-quasar theories is this: the Lyman-alpha forests of quasars are as big and as dense as those of distant galaxies, suggesting that they are, indeed, distant objects.

I have seen conflicting data on the Lyman-alpha density of high- versus low-redshift quasars, so I'm going to ignore those potentially important arguments here. I will instead point out as a rebuttal that it seems to be shaky ground to use Lyman-alpha redshifts as evidence against a theory which casts into doubt the usefulness of redshifts as a measure of distance. If quasars are nearby objects and redshifts therefore do not accurately measure their distance, can't a quasar's Lyman-alpha forest simply be a feature caused by the structure of the quasar itself? For example, layers of hydrogen-rich clouds around the quasar that bear some of the the effect that causes the quasar's high redshift could easily explain the forests.

So let us assume that I am right, and that quasars are nearby objects. What does this mean for the standard model?

The most obvious consequence is that all current theory on galaxy formation needs to be rewritten. Since current theory starts off ancient galaxies as quasars, that must not at all be how they form.

However, there is a much bigger consequence. If we assume that A) quasars are nearby objects, and B) quasar redshifts are caused by objects moving away, then we would have to conclude that all quasars are moving away from us as soon as they form. This is inconceivably unlikely, so there is only one other conclusion that we can draw: Redshifts can be caused by something other than an object traveling away from us.

In fact, there is one other known mechanism that can cause redshifts. Light escaping an intense gravity well, such as that of a black hole, will appear redshifted. However, according to the standard model, a nearby quasar with enough mass to cause the observed redshifts would itself collapse into a black hole. That leaves us with one of two possibilities.

Either redshifts can be caused by some mechanism we don't know about, or our models of the collapse of massive celestial objects are flawed.

If I am right, and if this statement is eventually accepted, it will have dramatic repercussions for all of modern cosmology. If our understanding of redshifts is broken, we will have to rethink the positions of everything in the universe, and whether the universe is indeed expanding as we currently believe. Who knows? The concept of Dark Energy could conceivably be killed by quasars. However, if our understanding of the collapse of massive objects is broken, we will have to rethink the evolution of stars and the formation of a wide variety of phenomena from white dwarfs to black holes. Even the Big Bang theory may need to be reworked.

It all makes my head spin.

Next post: I will take apart the significance of the Planck Length.

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