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Location of the planetary nebulae in the outskirts of the giant galaxy Messier 87 and in the intergalactic space
around the centre of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2



Not Seeing What’s Not Believed
May 25, 2009

New observations to measure the outer halo of the galaxy M87 find that it isn’t there. Another unexpected result fails to elicit acknowledgement that the theory predicting the halo has been falsified.

“This is an unexpected result,” one observer commented. “Numerical models predict that the halo around Messier 87 should be several times larger than our observations have revealed. Clearly, something must have cut the halo off early on.” Clearly, another possibility is that the models are wrong. But modern astronomy doesn’t look for possibilities; it prescinds from them with excuses to defend dogma.

Missing stars are the least problem with M87. Missing—that is, ignored—observations make up much of the data. The increasing power of astronomical telescopes and institutions has been accompanied by a narrowing of fields of view, data sets, and minds. Since the Big Bang came to dominate astronomical theories, unexpected findings are updated with narrower-field observations that exclude the anomalous objects or the objects are omitted from maps and discussions. What can’t be believed in accordance with accepted theory is not to be seen.

M87 is a large, bright galaxy in the Virgo Cluster, which is the apparent center of the Local Supercluster. With the advent of radio astronomy in the 1960s, M87 stood out as the brightest radio galaxy in the cluster. To the south of it lies the brightest radio quasar in the sky, 3C273, with 40 times the redshift of M87. Almost exactly between them is the brightest galaxy in the cluster, the active elliptical M49. Along the line connecting these three bright objects are smaller galaxies, compact clusters, and quasars with higher redshifts. When x-ray telescopes came into use, they revealed an s-shaped filament of x-ray emission connecting M87, M49, 3C273, and the discrepant high-redshift objects sprinkled between them.

Both 3C273 and M87 have narrow jets of luminosity almost identical in length extending from them. A narrow filament of hydrogen with a redshift about the same as the Virgo Cluster’s extends beyond the end of 3C273’s jet. Aligned along M87’s jet are small elliptical galaxies, x-ray sources, and quasars with higher redshifts. Around the alignment is an oval of spiral galaxies with higher redshifts than M87. 

The “missing outer parts” region around M87 is actually filled with twisted threads of radio emission. This is shrugged off as an effect of “the small core…energizing its whole galactic neighborhood.” But in view of the x-ray connections throughout the entire Virgo Cluster, the opposite is true: the threads trace the electric currents that power the galaxy, its core, and its jet. (See the diagram illustrating electric galaxy development toward the end of “Cosmology in Crisis—Again.”) 

An ultraviolet survey of all quasars in the northern sky found them concentrated around the Virgo Cluster. The association went unnoticed. Astronomer Halton Arp remarks in his book Seeing Red, “This is primary observational data—simply catalogued positions of quasars—just photons as a function of x and y. And yet it seems to have made no impression on most astronomers who insist on believing that quasars are evenly spread out in the far reaches of the universe.” 

Measurements of their Faraday rotation, which is a rotation of polarized light in proportion to the amount of magnetized plasma it passes through, revealed that quasars with redshifts around 2 had a third as much rotation as quasars with redshifts around 1. (If redshift indicated distance, objects with twice the redshift should show twice the rotation.) This finding indicated that the higher redshift quasars were fainter and located closer (on the near side of the cluster) than the lower redshift ones.  In addition, the values were almost all negative, which meant that the intergalactic magnetic field was systematically oriented in one direction and that it had about the same strength as the field in galaxies. After initial surprise at this unexpected result, it “went missing.” 

The papers reporting and discussing these findings were rejected, delayed, or published in minor journals. Each observation was treated as a separate anomaly—set aside, dismissed with a makeshift excuse, or simply ignored. The systematic correlations and repetitions of the observations were disregarded. Certainly, one or two anomalies are not enough to cast doubt on a theory, but when anomalies preponderate and ad hocisms proliferate, the theory is apt to be wrong. “It seems the toughest thing for scientists to grasp—that a cherished paradigm like the big bang can be wrong.”

Arp wrote, “In view of all the other evidence known to show that quasars, and 3C273 in particular, belonged to the Virgo Cluster, I gloomily came to the ironic conclusion that if you take a highly intelligent person and give them the best possible, elite education, then you will most likely wind up with an academic who is completely impervious to reality.” [Emphasis in original.] The image of the fearless scientist dispassionately following the objective truths of careful observation into new regions of discovery turns out to be a pretense for timorous formalists whose observations and thoughts are fashioned to conform to peer opinion.


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