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Undermining The Foundations of Modern Cosmology

Previously we looked at the history behind the discovery of extraterrestrial life; that is, its discovery by scientific means, within the realm of astronomy. The pioneering work of Sir Fred Hoyle and Dr Chandra Wickramasinghe came from humble attempts to identify the material that made up interstellar dust; and it would eventually lead to the discovery of a fossil record of microorganisms found in meteorites and even evidence of living microbial life reaching the Earth.

It comes as no surprise that this raised a huge challenge to orthodox science. Had Sir Fred Hoyle not been held in such high regard in the fields of astronomy and physics, then these two pioneers may well have been unable to continue to conduct this work in their academic fields.

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe are not alone in having experienced their work challenged by peers using unscientific and moreover politically motivated rebuttals.

In the case of American Astronomer Dr Halton Arp, his work led to the undermining of a major tenet of the big bang theory. This tenet was an assumption – a particular interpretation of an observation originally made by the famous astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1929.

Hubble had seen that objects outside of our galaxy exhibited a shift in their light spectra towards red. He interpreted this as a doppler shift. This interpretation had led Hubble to think of galaxies as islands of stars moving away from us with speeds that increase with their distance. The assumption was that the redshift seen in light spectra for astronomical objects could be used to determine their recession from us, and thus their distance. 

Adoption of this idea lay waste to Einstein’s earlier concept of a static universe. It gave the impression that the universe would have been hotter and denser in the past. And the idea of an initial warm phase is the basis of the big bang theory with its initial matter creation out of nothing event.

Despite newspaper articles reporting that Einstein had conceded to Hubble’s view, after visiting Hubble at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, the truth was that Einstein had not done so and was cautiously avoiding coming to premature conclusions about it. He was open to ideas that the redshift could be a doppler effect, however, he also suggested that it may be that the change could be a property of the astronomical objects that were being observed; a property that he did not yet understand. When asked at a convention on red shift what he thought caused it Einstein has humbly conceded and said simply “I do not know”.

It is perhaps ironic that it was Dr Halton Arp who would challenge this paradigm years later, well after the resulting Big Bang Theory had come to widespread acceptance as the Standard Cosmological Model.

Arp had been an assistant to Edwin Hubble and as such he was uniquely placed, as a young astronomer, to see a huge amount of data being gathered about objects beyond our galaxy.

His work, cataloguing unusual galaxies that did not fit neatly into existing classifications, led him to unintentionally and perhaps naively challenge a fundamental underpinning of modern cosmology. The assumption underlying the big bang theory was that redshift seen in light spectra for astronomical objects could only be of a cosmological nature.

However, there was a growing, quiet discontent among some astronomers.

An unexpected and seemingly innocuous discovery by Hubble’s former assistant, Astronomer Dr Halton Arp, had suggested that there was an association between certain galaxies and quasars found in their vicinity.

Arp had published a book in 1966 called the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. It included a collection of galaxies that had been found to have companion objects. The following year he noticed that some of these companion objects appeared on lists of quasi stellar objects – or quasars.

Quasi Stellar Objects as companions to a galaxy

The redshift values measured for the quasars indicated that they were at an appreciable distance behind the galaxy; according to the redshift they were not associated objects.

Using the red shift values for objects and the expanding universe model allows distances to be calculated for these objects based on the amount of redshift they exhibit. The redshift is considered to be proportional to its velocity away from the observer on the Earth. 

Now, Halton Arp has catalogued hundreds of unusual looking galaxies and published them with many objects named after him. Amongst this data Arp noticed a pattern emerge. Quasars would often appear in pairs, on opposite sides of galaxies. Not all the time. But often.

The unusual thing here is that quasars are, according to the Standard Model, much more distant objects than the galaxies that he found in photographs; with their high redshift values indicating that they are much farther away than the galaxy – in the background. Any apparent proximity to the galaxy was, according to the Standard Model, just an illusion.

The implication was that, regardless of the statistical coincidence of pairs of quasars being found next to galaxies in Arp’s photographs, it was just that; a coincidence. 

Arp then went on to discover that quasars generally appeared to have alignments with the minor plane of galaxies.

A problem with viewing distant objects from the Earth is that it is not easy to tell if two objects appearing next to each other in space are in fact at a similar distance from Earth. In two-dimensional photographic images of astronomical objects such as galaxies, the galaxy’s position in the third dimension, perpendicular to the photograph, is a line between the Earth and the distant galaxy Arp was observing. The unexpected association of quasars with galaxies was problematic because the quasars had much higher redshift value than their supposed counterpart galaxy.

Even more unexpectedly, the pair of quasars would be found to have very similar redshift values to each other. Had these two quasars been two unrelated objects, their redshifts would be expected to indicate a more random positioning in the depths of space behind the galaxy (the dimension not shown in photographic images). The quasars would be expected to be found at different distances behind the galaxy being observed.

That the quasars redshift values were so similar was another indication that these circumstances were not random. It was beginning to look like quasars were in fact associated with these galaxies.

This evidence for associated objects meant that their redshift values were failing to indicate distance (recession) behind the galaxy.

This led Arp to consider that the redshift shown by these intergalactic objects was an intrinsic part of what these objects are; rather than the standard model’s view that the redshift indicates recessional velocity and thus a specific distance in space.

Remember, as I said earlier, it had been assumed that the cause of red shift was a doppler effect caused by these objects moving away from us; as predicted by General Relativity’s requirement for expanding space.

Dr Halton Arp and his colleagues ran into enormous hostility when they proposed these ideas and getting work published was very difficult.

Arp was threatened with his job should he continue to do this work after submitting one paper to a particular journal. The paper was never even sent for peer review. Instead, the editor of the journal, the Astrophysical Journal, chose to write the comment “This exceeds my imagination” on the paper and he sent it back to the director of the Carnegie Institute of Astrophysics where Dr Arp worked. Like a chastised schoolboy, Dr Arp was spoken to about the incident by the director and words were had regarding Arp’s career prospects.

While his career did in fact survive that encounter, Arp would eventually resign from his position rather than conform. Eventually being denied telescope time was the final straw after all the problems in publishing his work. The letter from Caltech to his institute stated “The committee feels that it is no longer reasonable to assign time to Arp to pursue researches aimed at establishing the association of quasars with nearby galaxies”.

The association between these quasars and galaxies was claimed to be only a coincidence by proponents of the Standard Cosmological Model. And that was that.

The evidence found by Arp showed circumstantially and statistically at least that these quasars could be in close association to galaxies.

While compelling, it was not considered proof.

As time passed however, astronomers, using more advanced telescopes, began finding examples of quasars showing much clearer evidence of proximity to galaxies.

In some photographs quasars could now be seen to have filaments of material (dust particles or perhaps plasma) connecting it to the observed galaxy.

In one strange case NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute issued a press release that claimed to refute the notion that a galaxy (in this case NGC 4319) was in any way associated with a quasar (Markarian 205).

Their press release, with the heading “Odd couple widely separated by time and space”, stated that “NGC 4319 and a quasar called Markarian 205, appear to be neighbors. In reality, the two objects don’t even live in the same city. They are separated by time and space.”

This had seemingly been in response to work by observational astronomer Jack Sulentic, work he had published in The Astrophysical Journal. His detailed analysis had shown that there was a clear connection that could be seen in the photographs of these two objects.

In addition to the visual image, Sulentic had used some advanced image processing technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (originally designed for use in the Voyager Spacecraft mission). He used a high pass filter during image processing that had revealed a curved line tracing the quasar back to the galaxy. 1

Quite why this NASA group, who were the research group for the Hubble Space Telescope, would see it as being appropriate to issue a press release to refute a scientific claim in the first place is not known. It is a very unusual practice and it is not how science is supposed to work.

The press release which supported the Standard Cosmological Model claimed that “[the] apparent close alignment of Mrk 205 and NGC 4319 is simply a matter of chance.” 

Some astronomers saw this as fear on the part of NASA scientists whose preferred cosmological model was in peril and was in need of protection. There was nothing to support this claim by NASA that it was a matter of chance; nothing scientific at least. 

There was however evidence supporting the spatial connection of a galaxy with a redshift value of r = 0.006 and a quasar with a red shift of r = 0.070. 

The implication of this is that these were, in part at least, non-cosmological redshifts. 

These objects could also be seen to be connected in the Hubble Space Telescope photograph presented by NASA in its press release. It was seen as unlikely that NASA’s scientists had been unaware of this. Had they simply chosen to ignore it?

In the Standard Model, given that quasars are greatly redshifted from other astronomical objects such as galaxies, we are told that quasars are much more remote and in the background of all observations of galaxies. 

However, the apparent brightness of quasars can be comparable to that of other stellar objects such as galaxies.

This problem in the Standard Model is explained away by considering quasars to be ultrabright objects. If however, the redshift is an intrinsic property of a quasar, then there is no need to assume that they are so incredibly bright compared to other stellar objects.

Further work led Arp to find patterns among the redshift values for quasars that related to their position from the, apparently, associated galaxy.

He formulated the idea that quasars were objects that were actually being ejected from the parent galaxy.

In retrospect, a clue to the origin of quasars was perhaps, that these galaxies were generally of an active type (known as Seyfert galaxies) and were already believed to be ejecting material.

The ejected quasar, in Arp’s model, would initially be of low mass and high speed (approaching the speed of light). The redshift values we observe, Arp suggests, changed with age from a high redshift value for the ejected quasar that would eventually decrease over time as the object slows.

Active galaxies are known within the standard model to eject dwarf galaxies, and this work began to suggest that these ejected quasars would end up as lower energy companion galaxies to the parent.

There is a particular group of compact galaxies in the constellation of pegasus called HCG 92; these types of clusters are known as a Hickson Compact Group.

And within the group are five galaxies as seen in this image.

HCG 92 ~ Stephan’s Quintet
NGC 7318A and NGC7318B (centre); NGC 7319 (top left); NGC 7320 (bottom left)

Two of them, NGC 7318A and NGC 7318B, are partially merged twin galaxies (astronomers refer to them as being ‘mashed together’).

They, and galaxy NGC 7319, have an unusual distorted shape and they show faint wisps, filaments and tails. It has been suggested that these galaxies are interacting with each other and it is tidal forces at work between them that are causing these effects.

However, galaxy NGC 7320 has a much lower redshift than the other four – as can be seen visually in this image (above) with the galaxy looking less red in colour.

Controversy has been rife with this compact group called the Stephan’s Quintet, named after its discoverer Edouard Stephan in 1877.

The discordant galaxy with regards to the redshift values here is clearly NGC 7320. It appears to be a foreground object given its lower red shift.

However, claims had been made historically that NGC 7320 shows interaction with the supposedly more distant galaxies NGC 7318A, NGC 7318B and NGC 7319.

It was supposed that these latter three galaxies are close to each other indicated by their very similar redshift values. Interaction between them could be expected. However, interactions with them and NGC 7320 is not expected in the Standard Model due to the perceived distance between them.

In 2000, images taken using the Hubble Space Telescope of this compact galaxy group led astronomers to argue that NGC 7320 was clearly a foreground object. This, astronomers explained, was because much more detail can be seen of individual stars in that galaxy.

This however didn’t dampen the controversy because this level of detail seen with NGC 7320 can, if you take a closer look, also strangely be seen partially encircling NGC 7318A and NGC 7318B.2

The debate in this issue was not over.

However, a separate observation of galaxy NGC 7319 gave further, near conclusive evidence, that redshift values recorded for quasars cannot be cosmological in nature.

The red shift value for NGC 7319 is 0.02 [z = 0.0225].

Near one arm of a developing spiral arm of this galaxy is a quasi stellar object; found in front of it with a red shift value of 2 [z = 2.11].

This, it is argued, is clear evidence that, in this case at least, the quasar cannot be in the background behind the galaxy because of the amount of dust particles that are blocking out the light behind the galaxy. 

The correlation of the object with the spiral arm has also been noted and this is consistent with the theory that active galaxies eject quasars.

Another galaxy, NGC 7603 and quasar Mrk 530 was first shown to have an anomalous redshift association by Halton Arp in 1971. In a 2002 paper by two Spanish astronomers this association was confirmed. They found that the galaxy and its associated quasar not only had a filament joining the two objects, but within that filament were two other objects, each with very different redshift values.

The parent galaxy NGC 7603 had a red shift of 0.03 [z = 0.029] and its quasar Mrk 530 had a redshift of 0.06 [z = 0.057]. Between them was a filament like a faint, curved spiral arm.

This filament was found to have a redshift similar to the redshift of the parent galaxy at 0.03 [z = 0.030]. And upon this filament were the two new objects, not previously seen by Halton Arp.

The one closest to the parent galaxy has a redshift of 0.4 [z = 0.391] and the one much closer to the quasar Mrk 530 had a redshift of 0.3 [z = 0.342].

It began to appear likely that these were in fact objects ejected from the parent galaxy, whose redshifts were dropping away as they moved away from the parent galaxy along the spiral arm.3

The implications for this were profound to say the least.

The basic assumption that the universe is expanding is predicated on the notion that redshifts are indicative of recession and can be used to gauge distances between the Earth and astronomical objects.

If Arp and his colleague’s premise regarding the birth of quasars in galaxies is correct, the bang that supposedly occurred a long time ago in non-existent space now seems more likely to be occurring with regularity within the core of galaxies. 

Maybe a dynamic process of matter creation does exist.

Interestingly, it just so happens that Sir Fred Hoyle’s Quasi Steady State Cosmology, which was a theoretical model that came about to resolve the issues of the Steady State Cosmology which had not predicted the so-called Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, incorporates matter creation.

In the Big Bang Cosmology matter creation occurs once in non-existent time and space. In the Steady State Cosmology matter creation is a continuous process factored in to account for an expanding universe. Hoyle had originally considered that this would occur in the space between galaxies. In the revised Quasi Steady State Model, matter creation, to account for an expanding universe, occurs, according to the model, in quasars.  

Arp showed us that redshift can be an innate property of astronomical objects, as Einstein had foreseen. This discovery of intrinsic redshift falsifies the assumption that cosmic distances and rates of recession away from us can be determined by an object’s redshift. The Big Bang cosmology had lost its yardstick and, as a result, the assumption that the universe is expanding became unhinged.

Edwin Hubble, whose name is given to the constant that defines the hypothetical rate of expansion of the universe, was, ironically, among the first to point out the problems of assuming that the redshift was a doppler effect.

Hubble had written in the Royal Astronomical Society monthly notices in 1937:

“If the redshifts are a Doppler shift… the observations as they stand lead to the anomaly of a closed universe, curiously small and dense, and, it may be added, suspiciously young. On the other hand, if redshifts are not Doppler effects, these anomalies disappear and the region observed appears as a small, homogeneous, but insignificant portion of a universe extended indefinitely both in space and time.”

His protege, Halton Arp, had really proven that Hubble had been correct in this view all along.


  1. “Confirmation of the Luminous Connection Between NGC 4319 and Markarian 205”, Jack W. Sulentic, Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Alabama – published in The Astrophysical Journal, 265:L49-L53, 1983.
  3. “Two emission line objects with z > 0.2 in the optical filament apparently connecting the Seyfert galaxy NGC 7603 to its companion”, M. Lopez-Corredoira, Carlos M. Gutierrez, Instituto de Astrofısica de Canarias, E-38200 La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain and Astronomisches Institut der Universit¨at Basel, Venusstrasse 7, CH-4102 Binningen, Switzerland.

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