Sunday, June 30, 2013

Old Earth Creationism meets the Electric Universe?

I follow a number of podcasts on science and pseudo-science topics.  Many of the science and skepticism podcasts are linked in the sidebar.

One of the 'guilty pleasures' is the "I Didn't Know That" podcast distributed by Reasons To Believe, an Old Earth Creationism organization.  I follow it because they do report the astronomy and geology issues with good accuracy, even if I find some of their interpretations questionable.  I also find it useful as they field questions from listeners and it's good to hear the kinds of questions being asked.   Some years ago, I attended one of their gatherings in my area.

In a recent podcast, Episode #269 (see Do we live in an electric universe?;...), they received a question from a listener about the Electric Universe (EU).  The questioner was apparently intrigued by the idea (I believe they did say they were an engineer) and described EU as "New Age" (Wikipedia).    I was rather surprised that the 'resident scholars' as they are called on the program, were apparently unaware of Electric Universe astronomy claims.  I found it even more surprising when one considers what a large fraction of EU supporters are Young Earth creationists, basically backing anything anti-Big Bang Cosmology (see Is Big Bang Cosmology a 'Creationist' Model?) and supported by people who claim to have some technological background, primarily electrical engineering.

I'll summarize a few links below as an "Essential Electric Universe Introduction" for those Old Earth Creationists who've not heard of the Electric Universe and their claims.

Yet Another Delay...
I am still battling a number of real-life interrruptions at home and work (travel, car problems, household repairs, violent weather), and polishing up some posts which should start going online NEXT week (he says hopefully)...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Other topics of possible interest

I've now pretty much closed out the content on discordant redshifts, but I am still assembling content for several other articles.  A number of recent astronomy announcements which are being exploited and distorted by Electric Universe advocates have been brought to my attention.

I've also had a number of Real Life interventions which have diverted my efforts - a leaking hot water heater, along with some strong storms including power outages and a nearby tornado.

So I'll take this delay as an excuse to bring attention to work by others dealing with bad/crank/pseudo astronomy

Stuart Robbins podcast on geocentrism (Podcast #78: Historic and Modern Geocentrism).  He goes into more details of some of the history than I did in my explorations of this topic.

Mario Livio is promoting his new book, "Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein" (Barnes and Noble) on various podcasts (Science Friday, Point of Inquiry).  The point of the book is that all scientists, even the great ones, make mistakes.  Some of these mistakes also contribute to new insights. 

Many cranks adopt the position of unquestioning correctness of their heroes (Alfven, Birkland, etc.), using things these researchers got right as basis for why we should not question things which they clearly got wrong.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Discordant Redshifts: A Post-Mortem

I've waited many years to accumulate the information I needed to write this series of articles dealing with the claims of discordant redshifts (DZ) so it's only appropriate to create a one-page quick reference of what we've learned. 

I have contacted some of the amateur sites advocating discordant redshifts, so I may be hearing from some of them which may add to a final project list.   I doubt this will be the last I write on this topic as I still have a couple of demonstrations I'd like to complete.  Right now that list includes a demonstration of how extended objects in a field of view can have apparent 'connections' and how it is we can see through galaxies to what is beyond.  

Their 'prime' piece of evidence was that the connections and associations were low probability.  Back at the start of the claims about discordant redshifts, Halton Arp and others claimed that chance alignments were very low probability in the standard cosmological model.

I've found no evidence that anyone amongst that community bothered to investigate, or even ask, if that statement were really true!

As we see in sections (Discord for Discordant Redshifts. I., Discord for Discordant Redshifts. II.), in a universe full of galaxies roughly uniform in space, you will see many more high-redshift objects in a given area of sky, the number increasing as the square of redshift.  The 'low probability of chance alignment' fails based on simple 3-D geometry and projection effects.  

Once that fails, all the other associations and connections become chance alignments and irrevelant (Discordant Redshift Excuses: But the Galaxies Show Connections!).  

Even worse is that this fact was recognized and documented back in 1975 (Reexamination of the correlation of galaxies and QSO's).  With the small catalogs of galaxies and quasars (a few thousand entries) of the 1970s, Noerdlinger's conclusions become pretty definitive with todays catalogs containing on the order of a million of galaxies.  It is no longer statistics of small numbers creating a bottleneck.

To be fair, for researchers who learned cosmology in the 1950s, when values of the Hubble constant were thought to be about five times larger than today (see CfA: The Hubble Constant), and the Universe was consequently much smaller, chance alignments would have had a lower probability.  In that picture of the universe, investigation of discordant redshift pairs made a lot more sense.  But as the value of the Hubble constant was refined, and smaller, the universe got larger, and full of galaxies, and chance alignments became unavoidable.

The only way to rescue discordant redshift claims from the simple geometrical effect is for them to retreat to a small, geocentric universe (which decreases the probability of chance alignments at high-redshift).

There are still a number of motivated amateurs identifying 'discordant' objects in some of the large galaxy surveys.  Of course, as we've seen in this series, it's a rather easy task with the new deep surveys such as SDSS and others.  Not that those results would change any of the facts, and conclusions, of this series.

Although I have heard some stories of advocates of discordant redshifts actually realizing their error, it's sad that a lot of professionals have wasted a large part of their career in pursuit of the claims.  I suspect when the current generation of professional astronomers advocating discordant redshifts are gone, there will be no more, and this notion will move completely into the realm of crank science.


Discordant Redshifts: RIP

Some Amateur Sites Advocating Discordant Redshifts
Update, June 18, 2013:  After some correspondence with the operator of the site Anomalous Redshift Investigator (see correspondence in the comments), I have concluded (preliminary and subject to change) that what they are calling 'discordant' is not the extreme cases pushed by Arp and similar supporters.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Discordant Redshift Excuses: But the Galaxies Show Connections!

As I demonstrated in the earlier posts in this series (see Discord for Discordant Redshifts. I., Discord for Discordant Redshifts. II.), the major geometrical arguments used by advocates of discordant redshifts are simply a result of perspective acting on a distribution of random points in
3-dimensional space, where redshift measurement of the point is proportional to its distance from the observer.

But the other major piece of evidence cited by discordant redshift advocates is that some of these apparently associated objects show actual connections between them.


Just how good are the 'connections' between discordant redshift objects, especially if we compare them to far more conclusive examples of connections between astronomical objects? 

Could the connections between the discordant objects be yet another example of coincidental alignment?

First of all, many of the objects show no connection at all, but below we'll take a look at some of the claimed cases for connections.

Arp 220

The image above, from "X-Ray-emitting QSOS Ejected from Arp 220", is an X-ray image generated from the ROSAT PSPC.  Here, the two high-z quasars (z=1.26 and z=1.25) are claimed to be ejected from Arp 220 (at z=0.018).  The 'trail' of X-ray spots is claimed to connect the high-redshift objects to Arp 220.  Note that the z=0.09 object, apparently part of this 'trail' seems to violate the theta-z = constant pattern.  If that makes it not part of the trail, then discordant reshift supporters are stuck with the claim that it is another of those 'low-probability' events, a chance alignment.  So either way, this configuration creates a problem.  We can view the optical region around the object at one of the sky survey sites.  You can retrieve a list of the objects in the field and optionally plot them.
Field around Arp 220 (at center).  Click to Enlarge
NGC 4258

Here's another image combining optical data with the ROSAT PSPC X-ray data, from "The pair of X-ray sources across NGC 4258: Its relation to intrinsic redshifts, ejection and quantization".  The claimed connection is the two quasars (concentric circular contours) to the left and right of the galaxy.

Another version of this graphic at Halton Arp's site.
Is there ANY hint of an actual connection between these three objects?

NGC 4319 & Markarian 205
One of the claimed strongest cases of connections between objects with radically different redshifts is the case of NGC 4319 and Markarian 205.  NGC 4319 is the barred-spiral galaxy in the center.  Markarian 205 is the brighter 'spot' in the upper right corner. 

You can see more images at the Hubble Heritage Project.  Additional material on this pair is available at NGC 4319 and Markarian 205 by Roger Knacke (Penn State Erie).

However, the claimed 'bridge' between the quasar and the galaxy appears only after significant image processing, such as in the image at the Discordancy Report web site.  The site even describes the technique used for generating this 'connection'.  The strange part about the detection of the 'bridge' above is that the image manipulation was apparently done on a 24-bit image in JPEG format of the earlier version of the image!  Application of the 24-bit color table reduces the sampling of intensities compared to the original data.  In addition, the JPEG image format compresses the image to a smaller file size by removing high-frequency, small-scale structures in the image, averaging them into larger scales.  This creates numerous artifacts that can become the basis of many strange claims after sufficient processing.  A lot has been written about the dangers of over-interpreting information in JPEG images due to the artifacts created by the compression:
To see even more examples of how cranks and crackpots 'discover' things in various images, check out Stuart Robbins' blog and podcasts covering the topic.

The bottom line is if you are doing detailed image analyses on JPEGs, odds are high that fine detail 'features' are artifacts of the compression and analysis.

I retrieved the dataset of the June 28, 1993 observation of these objects from the Hubble archive and viewed them in SAO Image DS9.  Note that these observations were made before the first Hubble servicing mission that repaired a number of optical problems with the telescope.  Below, I plot the upper right quadrant of the image from file w1940102t_c0f.fits, trying to stretch the color range sufficient to reveal any details between the galaxy and quasar.  I'll plot with two different color tables which should hopefully make it clear just how much detail there is in the pixel intensities alone.

 Rainbow color table applied to logarithmic+zscale mapping.   Click to view the full 800x800 image

Rainbow color table applied to logarithmic+zscale mapping.  This time data range is rescaled to 10-200.  Click to view the full 800x800 image.
Here I've applied the color table after weighting the original data with the zscale algorithm.  With the halo of random noise around the the galaxy (lower left) and quasar (upper middle) one sees a slight enhancement in the region between them, but you'd be hard pressed to claim an actual connection.  Both of these objects are extended, and for the galaxy it is especially noticeable as the blue 'speckles' against the violet background.  There may also be some additional enhancement created by the additional bright galaxy next to Markarian 205 (more easily visible in the second image).  With an overlap of fuzzy, extended objects (not point sources which would generate a gaussian distributed region), we expect to see an enhancement along the line between them, where the extended structure of both objects overlaps in the line-of-sight.  

Update: 6/10/2013:  I've been informed by the operator of Discordancy Report that their image analysis was performed on an uncompressed TIFF image of the 2002 observation.  However, even this does not make the observations immune from artifacts, or even over-interpretation of the data with sufficient processing.

As an additional example of how the feature in my experiment above may exist purely due to a judicious choice of color scaling, I'll add a screenshot raw plot of image intensity along a slice (green line) through the image that cuts between the quasar and the galaxy.  The high spikes in the graph below the image are either cosmic ray hits or hot pixels in the CCD.  If the connection between the two objects were real, you'd expect to see some kind of 'bump' or  rise in the graph above the noise where the feature crosses the green line.   However, it looks to be about the same level but for a slight increase on the left side as the slice gets closer to the galaxy.  Again, the reality of this 'connection' is questionable.
Screenshot of the data in DS9 with annotations.  Click to see full view.

Funny how the 'connections' between galaxies with these 'discordant redshift' quasars take so much work to see! 

Also consider that the space between galaxies is not completely empty.  When these objects are moving out from the parent galaxy, we should see evidence of some additional interaction along the path of motion.  Why don't we?  Why are so many of the 'connections' touted by Discordant Redshift advocates always at the limit of detectability?

Compare these claimed connections with...

REAL Stuff Ejecting from Galaxies
When we see stuff ejecting from galaxies, we really SEE STUFF.  Consider these cases where we combine the optical image of the galaxy with the radio image constructed from the synchrotron jets emission from the galactic center.  Compare the barely visible 'connections' claimed by supporters of discordant redshifts to real evidence of ejecting material in other wavelengths.
Centaurus A
APOD: Centaurus A: X-Rays from an Active Galaxy
APOD: Jets from Unusual Galaxy Centaurus A

Hercules A
APOD: Plasma Jets from Radio Galaxy Hercules A  

Not only are these jets obvious, we see they show very obvious interactions with their surroundings.  They are turbulent and twisted and as they move further from the galactic center, they spread and are slowed by interaction with the surrounding intergalactic medium.

These outflows of ionized plasma make an incredible impact on their surroundings as they move through the intergalactic medium.  The two examples above are strong evidence of actual material ejecting from galactic centers.

The discordant redshifts supporters have interactions between their objects, that are barely visible, when there is any interaction at all. 

So just how real can these claimed connections be?  Or are they, again, just the result of chance alignments?

Additional References
  • Bill Keel's galaxy resources.  I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Keel at the CosmoQuest table at the recent Balticon where my talk included much of the content in this series of posts.  I especially enjoyed his story about a (former?) discordant redshift supporter.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Discord for Discordant Redshifts. II.

In the first post on this topic (Discord for Discordant Redshifts. I.), I demonstrated algebraically that the cosmological model produces the high-probability associations of high-redshift objects with low-redshift foreground objects.  I also pointed out that this was recognized in 1975, still the early days of this redshift controversy (Noerdlinger, 1975).

In this part,  I present a more concrete, visual example.  We can write a simulation using the simple cosmology simulator that I wrote for the quantized redshift analyses (see Quantized Redshifts. IX. Testing the Null Hypothesis, Quantized Redshifts. X. Testing Our "Designer Universe", Quantized Redshifts XI. My Designer Universe Meets Some Data and What's Next...).

For the simulation, we generate a volume filled with a random, but uniform, distribution of points in 3-dimensional space.  We'll build this set of points in Cartesian space (we'll ignore spatial distortions created by General Relativity for now) around the observer, which, for convenience, we'll place at (0,0,0).  Each point represents a galaxy.

For the observer at (0,0,0), we'll select a field-of-view of a few degrees.  This represents the region of the sky we see.

Next, for the observer at (0,0,0), we compute the distance between the observer and each of the galaxies in the model and mark each position with a dot, giving them a color based on the distance proportional to their redshift.  In this case, we'll make blue close and red furthest away.  If we make a slice through the field of view, it would look something like this:
Click to enlarge
The observer is positioned on the left.  The two lines making the wedge represents a fixed angular size on the sky representing the observer's field of view.  We see that the further away the galaxies are, the more there are in the field of view.  This is just perspective.

Next, we look at how these points would be projected on the sky.  Run the simulation and concentrate on a bright, low-Z objects (large and blue), then examine region around it.  We see many more objects with higher z (small and red) in background. 
Click to enlarge for a better view
Note some of the features we can see in this 'image.
  • high redshift objects (orange and red) very close to low redshift objects (blue and aqua)?
  • How many objects in a line of three or more do you see? 
  • What about high-redshift objects lined up with low-redshift objects?
Here's a couple more sample runs to view:
Click to enlarge for a better view
Click to enlarge for a better view

A large number of characteristics of  the 'evidence' for quasar-galaxy discordant redshift associations can be created via random number generator!

Effects that I have not included in this analysis:
  1. Orientation effects for quasars in the Unified model of AGN (Pierre Auger Observatory).  This means the number of dots above that represent high-redshift quasars is actually a fraction of those in the graphic above.  However, if our telescope is sufficiently sensitive, we would see these high-redshift objects as regular galaxies.
  2. Evolutionary effects on quasars.  There might be a different density of quasars formed in the early universe.
  3. Don't include grouping or voids of galaxies or quasars.   This would create regions of high and low alignment probabilities.
  4. Don't include changing size of co-moving volumes in relativistic cosmology.  This is a reasonable approximation for redshifts significantly less than one.
Consider point 1.  Even if we weren't just interested in quasars, what it implies is we should generally see a large number of galaxies in the background for any reasonable sized field-of view with a nearby galaxy.

Do we see this?


Consider these older survey images, created from the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS) (wikipedia) imagery of the Tadpole galaxy from Aladin.
I've rotated the image above for easier comparison to the Hubble image below.  Now look at  Hubble image which not only exhibits higher resolution, but penetrates to deeper (higher) magnitudes.
In addition to the foreground Tadpole galaxy, we see many more distant galaxies in the background.  To see more galaxies, check the image at full resolution at the Hubble website.

I remember the first time I saw this image, shortly after the ACS camera was installed on Hubble.  I was astonished, not so much by the incredible foreground 'Tadpole galaxy', but by all the galaxies which we could see beyond it!  If any of those galaxies were turned near face-on to us, it would very possibly appear as a quasar!

You can explore many of the images from the newer cameras on HST of bright foreground galaxies and see many fainter, more distant galaxies in larger numbers.  Here are links to the stories and full-resolution images at the Space Telescope Science Institute:
Food for thought…
Now one of the key assumptions in this model is that the universe is fairly uniform on large scale and BIG.  So big that even our most powerful telescopes must really work to see further and further.  And when they do, we see more and more stuff…

If we want to rescue Arp's probablility calculations, we would not only have to make the Universe smaller (to reduce the probability of chance alignments), but we would kinda have to be center of it.  This is probably why Creationists and Biblical Geocentrists often invoke Arp's claims to support their notion that the Universe is small and centered on us.

Who the frak do I think I am...
to challenge someone of Arp's reputation?  If you're defending discordant redshift claims, you're probably thinking exactly that.  We'll ignore the fact that this is the fallacy of Argument from Authority (Wikipedia).

But note that in this post I'm not presenting my original work.  I had figured this out independently, but I wasn't willing to assemble the posts on this topic until I was able to determine if anyone before me had this same realization, as it was so simple.  It turned out that others had, but the discordant redshift supporters avoided these issues for over thirty years to keep their fantasy alive!