20 The Quasar Situation

CHAPTER 20

The Quasar Situation

The existence of quasars strongly suggests that we are dealing with phenomena that present-day physics is at a loss to explain. Perhaps we are making fundamentally wrong interpretations of some data or it might indicate that there are laws of physics about which we know nothing yet.230 (Gerrit Verschuur)

The most obvious and most striking feature of the quasars, the point that has focused so much attention on them, is that they simply do not fit into the conventional picture of the universe. They are “mysterious,” “surprising,” “enigmatic,” “baffling,” and so on. Thus far it has not even been possible to formulate a hypothesis as to the nature or mechanism of these objects that is not in open and serious conflict with one segment or other of the observed facts. R. J. Weymann makes this comment:

The history of the our knowledge of the quasi-stellar sources has been one surprise after another. Indeed, almost without exception, every new line of observational investigation has disclosed something unexpected.231

The irony of this situation is that long before the quasars were discovered, there was in existence a physical theory that predicted the existence of the class of objects to which the quasars belong, and produced an explanation of the major features of these objects, those features that are now so puzzling to those who are trying to fit them into the conventional structure of physical and astronomical thought. Although the application of the theory of the universe of motion to astronomical phenomena was still in a very early stage at that time, nearly a quarter century ago, the existence of galactic explosions had already been deduced from the basic premises of the theory, together with the general nature of the explosion products.

Observational knowledge was far behind the theory. At the time the first edition of this work was published in 1959 the study of extra-galactic radio sources was still in its infancy. Indeed, only five of these sources had yet been located. The galactic collision hypothesis was still the favored explanation of the generation of the energy of this radiation. The first tentative suggestions of galactic explosions were not to be made public for another year or two, and it would be three more years before any actual evidence of such an explosion would be recognized. The existence of quasars was unknown and unsuspected.

Under these circumstances, the extension of a physical theory to the prediction of the existence of exploding galaxies, and a description of the general characteristics of these galaxies and their explosion products was an unprecedented step. It is almost impossible to extend traditional scientific theory into an unknown field in this manner, as the formulation of the conventional type of theory requires some experimental or observational facts on which to build, and where the phenomena are entirely unknown, as in this case, there are no known facts that can be utilized.

These theoretical steps have to be founded on observational data. Where no data base exists, the logic of theory alone provides no help.232 (Martin Harwit).

A comprehensive general theory, one that derives all of its conclusions from a single set of basic premises, without introducing anything from any other source, is not limited in this manner. It is, of course, convenient to have observational data available for comparison, so that the successive steps in the development of theory can be verified as the work proceeds, but this is not actually essential. There are some practical limitations on the extent to which a theory can be developed without this concurrent verification, as human imagination is limited and human reasoning is not infallible, yet it is entirely possible to get a good general picture of observationally unknown regions by appropriate extensions of an accurate theory. The subject matter of the next six chapters of this volume, the phenomena of the final stages of the life of material galaxies, provides a very striking example of this kind of theoretical penetration into the unknown, and before we undertake a survey of this field as it now stands, it will be appropriate to examine just what the theory of the universe of motion was able to tell us in 1959 about phenomena that had not yet been discovered.

We have seen in the preceding pages of this and the earlier volumes that the structure of matter is such that it is subject to an age limit, the attainment of which results in the disintegration of the material structure and the conversion of a portion of its mass into energy. Inasmuch as aggregation is a continuing process in any region of the universe in which gravitation is the controlling factor (that is, exceeds the recession due to the progression of the natural reference system), the oldest matter. in the universe is located where the process of aggregation has been operating for the longest period of time, in the centers of the largest galaxies. Ultimately, therefore, each of the giant old galaxies must reach the destructive age limit and undergo a violent explosion or series of explosions.

At a time when there was no definite supporting evidence, this was a bold conclusion, particularly when coming from one who is not an astronomer, and id reasoning entirely from basic physical premises. As expressed in the 1959 edition:

While this is apparently an inescapable deduction from the principles previously established, it must be conceded that it seems rather incredible on first consideration. The explosion of a single star is a tremendous event; the concept of an explosion involving billions of stars seems fantastic, and certainly there is no evidence of any gigantic variety of supernova with which the hypothetical explosion can be identified.

The text then goes on to point out that some evidence of explosive activity might be available, as there was a known phenomenon that could well be the result of a galactic explosion, even though contemporary astronomical thought did not regard it in that light.

In the galaxy M 87, which we have already recognized as possessing some of the characteristics that could be expected in the last stage of galactic existence, we find just the kind of a phenomenon which theory predicts, a jet issuing from the vicinity of the galactic center, and it would be in order to identify this galaxy, at least tentatively, as one which is now undergoing a cosmic explosion, or strictly speaking, was undergoing such an explosion at the time the light now reaching us left the galaxy.

In addition to predicting the existence of the galactic explosions, the 1959 publication also forecast correctly that the discovery of these explosions would come about mainly as the result of the large amount of radiation that would be generated at radio wavelengths by reason of the isotopic adjustment process. The conclusion reached was that

Objects which are undergoing or have recently (in the astronomical sense) undergone such [extremely violent! processes are therefore the principal sources of the localized long wave radiations which are now being studied in the relatively new science of radio astronomy.

Altogether, the theoretical study published in 1959 made the following predictions:

  1. That exploding galaxies exist, and would presumably be discovered sooner or later.
  2. That radio astronomy would be the most probable source through which the discovery would be made.
  3. That the distribution of energies in the radiation at radio wavelengths would be non-thermal.
  4. That the exploding galaxies would be giants, the oldest and largest galaxies in existence.
  5. That two distinct kinds of products would be ejected from these exploding galaxies.
  6. That one product would move outward in space at a normal low speed.
  7. That the other, containing the larger part of the ejected material, would move outward at a speed in excess of that of light.
  8. That this product would disappear from view.
  9. That the explosions would resemble radioactive disintegrations, in that they would consist of separate events extending over a long period of time.
  10. That because of the long time scale of the explosions it should be possible to detect many galaxies in the process of exploding.

In the quarter century that has elapsed since these predictions were published, the first three have been confirmed observationally. Evidence confirming the next five is presented in this work. The information now available indicates that the last two are valid only in a somewhat limited sense. We now find that the predicted long series of separate explosions are supernovae in the galactic interiors preceding the final explosion of the galaxy. and that the latter is an event resembling a boiler explosion. There is evidence that the products of the supernova explosions do actually build up in the central regions of the galaxies over a long period of time, as suggested in item 10. This evidence will be discussed at appropriate points in the pages that follow.

In one respect the 1959 study stopped just short of reaching an additional conclusion of considerable importance. Inasmuch as one of the products of the galactic explosion is accelerated to speeds in excess of that of light. it was concluded that this component of the explosions products would be invisible. This is the ultimate fate of almost all material ejected with ultra high speeds, including the galactic explosion products. However, the subsequent finding that the galactic explosion occurs when the internal pressure in the galaxy becomes great enough to break through the overlying structure means that the ejected material comes out in the form of fragments of the galaxy—aggregates of stars—rather than as fine debris. These fragments are subject to strong gravitational forces. and even though the speeds imparted to them by the explosion exceed the speed of light, the net speeds after overcoming the oppositely directed gravitational motion are less than that of light for a finite period of time. It follows that, although the fast-moving component of the explosion products will finally escape from the gravitational limitations and move off into the unobservable regions, there is a substantial interim period in which these objects are accessible to observation. Here, of course, are the quasars, and this is how close the theoretical study came to identifying them years before they were found by observation; a point that is all the more worthy of note in view of the fact that conventional theory still has no plausible explanation of their existence.

As pointed out in the discussion of the pulsars in Chapter 17, what was actually accomplished in this area in the original investigation reported in 1959 was to predict the existence and properties of the class of objects to which both the pulsars and quasars belong. The properties defined in that publication are those which are shared by all objects of this class. All are explosion products. All have speeds in the upper ranges, above the speed of light. All are moving outward, rather than being stationary in space like the related intermediate speed objects, the white dwarfs. Except for the few, such as those discussed in Chapter 17, that lose enough speed to reverse direction and return to the material status, all ultimately disappear into the cosmic sector. What the original investigation failed to do was to carry the theoretical development far enough to disclose the existence of two different kinds of objects of this class, one originating from the explosion of a star, the other from the explosion of a galaxy.

The special features of each type of object are due to the differences between stars and galaxies. The quasar is long lived because it is ejected from a giant galaxy and is subject to powerful gravitational forces. The pulsar, on the other hand, is ejected from a relatively small object, a star, and is initially subject to little gravitational restraint. It is therefore short lived. The many evolutionary features of the quasars have no counterparts in the life of the pulsar because that life is too short for much evolution. Conversely, although the pulsed radiation that is the most distinguishing feature of the pulsars undoubtedly exists in the quasars as well, it is unobservable because the individual pulsations are lost in the radiation from millions of stars that have entered the pulsation zone at different times.

As the information in the foregoing paragraphs demonstrates, the theoretical exploration of the galactic explosion phenomenon carried out prior to 1959 and reported in the book published in that year, well in advance of any observational discoveries in this area. supplied us with a large amount of information which, as nearly as we can now determine on the basis of existing knowledge’ is essentially correct. This is a very impressive performance. and it demonstrates the significant advantage of having access to a theory of the universe as a whole, one that is independent of the accuracy—and even of the existence—of observational data in the area under consideration.

Meanwhile, conventional astronomy has been baffled. It has been unable to arrive at any definite conclusions as to what the quasars are, where they are, or how their unusual properties originate. The following is an assessment of the existing situation taken from a current textbook on astronomy:

The most accurate assessment of the quasar problem is that no satisfactory explanation has been found for the existence of these objects, whose puzzling properties place them beyond the limits of current astronomical knowledge.233

In this connection, it should be noted that the difficulties which conventional theory is having with the quasars—those difficulties that have made “quasar” almost synonymous with “mystery”—are not due to any lack of knowledge about these objects, but to too much knowledge; that is, more knowledge than can be accommodated within the limits of the existing concept of the nature of the universe. It is easy to fit a theory to a few bits of information, and the scientific community currently claims to have a sound theoretical understanding of a number of phenomena about which very little is actually known—even about some phenomena that we now find are totally non-existent. But by this time a great many facts about the quasars have accumulated. As a consequence, orthodox theory is currently in a position where any explanation that is devised to account for one of the observed features of the quasars is promptly contradicted by some other known fact.

There is no light on the horizon to indicate that a solution of the existing difficulties is on the way. More and more data are being gathered, but a basic understanding still eludes the astronomers. A review of the situation in 1976 by Stritimatter and Williams included this comment, which is equally appropriate today:

In general this [the large amount of information accumulated in the past seven years] has led to new problems related to the QSO’s, rather than to solution of the many long-standing problems associated with these objects. The QSO’s remain among the most exciting but least well-understood astronomical phenomena.234

Ironically, the principal obstacles that have stood in the way of an understanding of the quasar phenomena are not difficult and esoteric aspects of nature; they are barriers that the investigators themselves have erected. In the search for scientific truth, a complicated and difficult undertaking that needs the utmost breadth of vision of which the human race is capable, these investigators have gratuitously handicapped themselves by placing totally unnecessary and unwarranted restrictions on the allowed thinking about the subject matter under consideration. The existing inability to understand the quasars is simply the result of trying to fit these objects into a narrow and arbitrary framework in which they do not belong.

Most of these crippling restrictions on thinking result from a widespread practice of generalizing conclusions reached from single purpose theories. This practice is one of the most serious weaknesses of present-day physical science. Many of our current theories, both in physics and in astronomy, are in this single-purpose category, each of them having been devised solely for the purpose of explaining a single set of observed facts. This very limited objective imposes only a minimum of requirements that must be met by the theory, and hence it is not very difficult to formulate something that will serve the purpose, particularly when the prevailing attitude toward the free use of ad hoc assumptions is as liberal as it is in present-day practice. This means, of course, that the probability that the theory is correct is correspondingly low. Such a theory is not, in the usual case, a true representation of the physical facts. It is merely a model that represents some of the facts of the physical situation to which it applies. When conclusions derived from such a theory are applied to phenomena in related fields, the inevitable result is a distortion of the true relations.

The most damaging of these generalizations based on far-reaching extrapolations of conclusions derived from very limited data is the pronouncement that there can be no speeds greater than that of light. For some strange reason, the scientific Establishment has decreed that this product of a totally unsubstantiated assumption must be treated as Holy Writ, and accepted without question. “Thou shall not think of speeds greater than that of light,” is the dictum. The conservation laws may be questioned, causality may be thrown overboard, the rules of logic may be defied, and so on, but one must not suggest that the speed of light can be exceeded in any straightforward way.

Using a theory of this highly questionable nature as a basis for laying down a limiting principle of universal significance is simply absurd, and it is hard to understand why competent scientists allow themselves to be intimidated by anything of this kind. But the “iron curtain” is almost impenetrable. There are a few signs of a coming revolt against strict orthodoxy. Some investigators are beginning to chafe under the arbitrary restrictions on speed, and are trying to find some way of circumventing the alleged limit without offering a direct challenge to relativity theory. ”Tachyons,” hypothetical particles that move faster than light, but have some very peculiar ad hoc properties that enable them to be reconciled with relativity theory. are now accepted as legitimate subjects for scientific speculation and experiment. But such halfway measures will not suffice. What science needs to do is to cut the Gordian knot and to recognize that there is no adequate justification for the assertion that speeds in excess of the speed of light are impossible.

By an unfortunate coincidence, a universal principle, recognition of which would have avoided this costly mistake, has never been accepted by physical science. Most other branches of thought recognize what they call the Law of Diminishing Returns. which states that the ratio of the output of any physical process to the input does not remain constant indefinitely, but ultimately decreases to zero. The basis for the existence of such a law has not been clear, and this is probably one of the principal reasons why scientists have not accepted it. In the light of the theory of the universe of motion it is now evident that the law is merely an expression of the fact that the status of unity as the datum for physical activity precludes the existence of infinity. Zero may exist as a difference between two finite quantities, but there is no simple zero, and there are no infinities in nature.

Present-day physicists realize that they are dealing with too many infinities. “If we put all these principles [the ‘known’ principles of physical] together… we get inconsistency, because we get infinity for various things when we calculate them,”235 says Richard Feynman. But the physicists have not conceded the existence of the universal law that bars all infinities, and they have allowed Einstein to assume that the relation F = ma extends to infinity. (This, of course, is the assumption on which he bases his conclusion that the limiting zero value of a corresponds to an infinite value of m.)

Meanwhile, conclusions derived from other single purpose theories have compounded the difficulties due to the arbitrary exclusion of speeds greater than that of light from scientific thought. The accepted explanation of the high density of the white dwarfs cannot be extended to aggregates of stars, and therefore stands in the way of a realization that the high density of the quasars results from exactly the same cause. Acceptance of the Big Bang theory. of the recession of the distant galaxies, a theory designed to explain one observed fact only, prevents recognition of the scalar nature of motion of the recession type, and so on.

An unfortunate result of the proliferation of these single purpose theories is that it places a barrier in the way of correcting errors individually. the step by step way in which scientific knowledge normally advances. Each of these erroneous theories applicable to individual phenomena rests in part on equally erroneous theories of other phenomena, and has been forced into agreement with those other theories by means of ad hoc assumptions and other expedients. Correction of the error or errors in any one of these interlocking theories is unacceptable because it leaves that theory in conflict with all others in the network. Scientists are naturally reluctant to make a wholesale change in their theories and concepts. But when they have maneuvered themselves into the kind of a theoretical position that they now occupy in the area that we are discussing, there is no alternative. Elimination of errors must take place on a wholesale scale if it to be done at all. The broad scope of the revisions of astronomical thought required by the theory of the universe of motion should therefore be no surprise.

It is true that correction of a multitude of errors in one operation leads to theoretical descriptions of some phenomena that are so different from previous views that it might almost seem as if we are dealing with a different world. But it should be remembered, as we begin consideration of the quasar phenomena, the terra incognito of modern astronomy, that the criterion of scientific validity is agreement with the observed facts. Furthermore, the acid test of a theory, or system of theories, is whether that agreement, once established, continues to hold good as observation and experiment disclose new facts. Of course, if the theory can predict the observational discoveries, as the theory of the universe of motion did in the case of the galactic explosions and a number of the features of the products thereof, this emphasizes the agreement, but prediction is not essential. The requirement that a theory must be prepared to meet is that it must be consistent with all empirical knowledge, including the new information continually being accumulated. This is the rock on which so many once promising theories have foundered.

Many other theories have survived only with the help of ad hoc assumptions to evade conflicts. This currently fashionable expedient is not available to the Reciprocal System of theory, which, by definition, is barred from introducing anything from outside the system; that is, anything that cannot be derived from its fundamental postulates. But, as can be seen in the pages of this volume, this new system of theory has no need for such an expedient. The principal elements of the new observational information acquired by the astronomers during the last few decades have all been identified with corresponding elements of the theoretical structure without any serious difficulty, and there is good reason to believe that the minor details will likewise be accounted for when someone has time to examine them systematically.

It has been necessary to extend the theoretical development very substantially, not only to account for the facts disclosed by the new observations, but also to deal with areas not covered in the original investigation. That original study was not primarily concerned with astronomical phenomena as such, but rather as physical processes in which the physical principles derived from the theory could be tested in application under extreme conditions. In this present volume the objectives have been broadened. In addition to using astronomy as a proving ground for the laws and principles of fundamental physics, we are using these laws and principles, now firmly established, to explain and correlate the astronomical observations.