Previously, I introduced a bizarre pseudoscience website that claimed to revolutionize modern astrophysics. It doesn’t actually do that. I thought I would show exactly why, and teach some cool astrophysics at the same time. This is part 2 of the series. You can follow along with what I’m debunking here.
So it’s been two months (exactly two months, although I didn’t plan that) since I posted part 1 of this series. I got kinda busy with life, so I put this on the back burner. Sorry! Anyway, let’s jump right in.
Modern astronomers claim that the only forces capable of forming and driving the galaxies that make up the universe are gravitational and magnetic fields. In order to judge whether this or any alternative explanations are reasonable, we have to be able to visualize the relative sizes of stars and the distances between them.
In order to do this, we need a scale model that humans can relate to. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for us to relate conceptually to how far something is from us when we are told its distance is, say 14 light years. We know that is a long way – but HOW long?
In his “Celestial Handbook”, Robert Burnham, Jr. presents a model that offers us a way to get an intuitive feel for some of these tremendous distances. The distance from the Sun to Earth is called an Astronomical Unit (AU); it is approximately 93 million miles. The model is based on the coincidental fact that the number of inches in a statute mile is approximately equal to the number of astronomical units in one light year. So, in our model, we sketch the orbit of the Earth around the Sun as a circle, two inches in diameter. That sets the scale of the model. One light year is one mile in the model.
The Sun is approximately 880,000 miles in diameter. In the model that scales to 880,000 / 93,000,000 = 0.009 inches; (Approximately 1/100 of an inch in diameter). A very fine pencil point is needed to place it at the center of the (one inch radius) circle that represents the Earth’s orbit.
In this model, Pluto is an invisibly small speck approximately three and a half feet from the Sun. All the other planets follow almost circular paths inside of this 3.5 foot orbit. If a person is quite tall, he or she may just be able to spread their hands far enough apart to encompass the orbit of this outer planet. That is the size of our model of our solar system. We can just about hold it in our extended arms.
The plasma sphere that contains the Sun, all planets, moons, and comets (called the heliosphere) is about 20 feet in diameter – centered on the pinpoint Sun.
The nearest star to us is over four light-years away.
In our model, a light year is scaled down to one mile. So the nearest star to us is four and a half MILES away in our model. So when we model our Sun and the nearest star to us, we have two specks of dust, each 1/100 inch in diameter, four and a half miles apart from one another. And this is in a moderately densely packed arm of our galaxy!
To quote Burnham, “All the stars are, on the average, as far from each other as the nearest ones are from us. Imagine, then, several hundred billion stars scattered throughout space, each one another Sun, each one separated by a distance of several light years (several miles in our model) from its nearest neighbor. Comprehend, if you can, the almost terrifying isolation of any one star in space” because each star is the size of a speck of dust, about 1/100 inch in diameter – and is miles from its nearest neighbor.
When viewing a photographic image of a galaxy or globular star cluster, we must remember that the stars that make up those objects are not as close together as they appear. A bright star will “bloom” on a photographic plate or CCD chip. Remember the two specks of dust, miles apart.
Even in our model, the collection of stars that makes up our Milky Way galaxy is about one hundred thousand miles in diameter. This is surrounded by many hundreds of thousand of miles of empty space, before we get to the next galaxy. And on a larger scale, we find that galaxies seem to be found in groups – galaxy clusters. On this gigantic scale even our model fails to give us an intuitive feeling for the vastness of those distances.
This is actually completely correct. It’s amazing to truly realize the scale of the cosmos, and how the nearest stars to us are incredibly far away. Our galaxy is huge, and it’s just one of millions. There are millions of stars in our galaxy, and millions of galaxies in the universe. Is it even possible, at this kind of scale, for Earth to be the only planet that supports life?
But of course, everything is so far away. Interstellar distances are gigantic, and it’s not likely we’ll get to see another star in our lifetimes. We haven’t even mastered the basics of moving around in our own solar system yet. It’ll be lifetimes before humanity ventures out into deep space.
On a side note, Burnham’s Celestial Handbook is the book for amateur astronomy. It’s beautifully written and contains an immense amount of information. If you’re interested at all in astronomy, I highly recommend reading it. It’s a three volume text, but well worth the price.
Because the stars are so small relative to their separation, they have only an extremely small gravitational pull on each other. However, it is now well known that the entire volume of our galaxy is permeated by plasma – huge diffuse clouds of ionized particles. These electrically charged particles are not relatively far from each other. And they respond to the extremely strong Maxwell / Lorentz electromagnetic forces (36 powers of 10 stronger than gravity). It is becoming clear that galaxies are not held together by gravity, but, rather, by dynamic electromagnetic forces.
Sorta true. Kinda. Well, not really.
It’s true that deep space is full of plasma. Plasma, if you don’t know, is the fourth state of matter, after gas. If you keep heating gas, eventually electrons will fly apart from their atomic nuclei, and you’re left with a bunch of free electrons and positively charged nuclei. The Sun, for instance, is made of plasma. In fact, plasma astrophysics is a totally legit branch of science. These people are a pretty good resource, although they actually have to say they “have no ties to the anti-science blogsites of the holoscience ‘electric universe’.” Just in case.
Now, the fact that Dr. Scott (the author of this bit of pseudoscience, in case you forgot) glosses over is that most plasmas are electrically neutral. There’s an equal number of protons and electrons in most plasmas, and they cancel each other out. What this means is that electric forces don’t have much of an effect on plasmas. So goodbye to Dr. Scott’s favorite theory.
Finally, it’s true that electromagnetism (or as Dr. Scott calls it, “Maxwell / Lorentz electromagnetic forces”) is much stronger than gravity. I haven’t done the actual calculations (mostly because I don’t really care) but a 1036 difference between the two is well within the ballpark. Electromagnetism is extremely strong. If you’ve ever played with magnets, you’ve noticed that a very small magnet can easily overpower the gravitational force of the entire Earth.
Now, the problem with his reasoning is the same one mentioned above: plasmas are electrically neutral. There’s no net electric charge, which means there’s no net electric force. The protons and electrons cancel each other out. The magnetic force doesn’t completely go away, but it’s much smaller than Dr. Scott pretends it is. Magnetism does play a role in modern astrophysics, but it generally takes a back seat to gravity.
As an application of the insight afforded by Burnham’s model let us consider the oft proclaimed phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. If a far distant object lines up precisely with Earth and an intermediate object that has enough mass, Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that the light from the farther object will be bent – producing multiple images of that distant object when it is observed from Earth. Gravitational lensing is now a standard explanation used by mainstream astronomy to discredit any observations of quasar pairs situated very near their parent galaxies. We are told that any images of this sort are “mirages” due to gravitational lensing. Once this explanation is accepted by a gullible public, the way is cleared for its continued use, no matter how improbable its repeated occurrence is.
Actually, gravitational lensing is a very well understood phenomenon. As Dr. Scott says, gravitational lensing occurs when light from a distant object is bent around a large object, such as a star or galaxy, before reaching us. This is actually a consequence of the fact that gravity warps spacetime. The classical picture of gravity is that objects with mass pull each other together. However, light doesn’t have mass, so according to classical theory, gravity shouldn’t affect it. And it doesn’t, not really. What happens instead is that space itself is curved, and the light follows that curved path.
If you want to know more about gravitational lensing, see this website. It goes into a lot more detail than I have. You can also see a bunch of pictures by googling it, which might make the whole concept a bit clearer.
Of course, all the insinuations Dr. Scott makes about gravitational lensing being wrong are complete bunk. We’ll get into that soon.
An image of the The “Einstein Cross” is shown below. [You can see the image at his site, I’m not reposting it here. -Avery] NASA claims that the four small quasi-stellar objects (QSOs) flanking the central bright core of the galaxy represent only a single quasar located in the far distance directly behind the center of the galaxy – they tell us that we are not seeing four separate quasars – this is only a “mirage”. The reason for their conclusion that the four small quasar images are in the deep background is that they have a vastly greater redshift value than does the central galaxy.
Spectral analysis of the region between the quasars indicates they are connected to the galaxy by streams of hydrogen gas (plasma). This plasma has the same extremely high redshift value as do the quasars. So, what we actually have are four newly formed quasars symmetrically positioned around the active nucleus of a barred spiral galaxy. There is no mirage. No relativistic magic is needed to explain what we see happening in front of our eyes.
Oh hey, do you remember what Dr. Scott wrote a chapter ago? Because I do. Like when he wrote this:
If two different theories predict a given phenomenon equally well, the simpler theory is probably the best one. This principle is called Occam’s Razor.
So. We have two competing theories to explain Einstein’s Cross. One, that it’s really one object that’s been gravitationally lensed, which happens fairly frequently. Or two, that it’s four nearly identical objects positioned nearly the same distance apart, entirely coincidentally, around the nucleus of a galaxy. I’ll let you be the judge.
Most important is the fact that for a foreground galaxy to gravitationally ‘lens’ a background QSO, the mass of the galaxy would have to act as if it were concentrated at the galaxy’s center. We know from the difficulties associated with galactic rotation profiles that this does not occur.
No, actually, that’s not true at all, and all the bold italicized text in the world won’t make it so. The mass of the galaxy can be distributed however the hell it wants. What matters is that space is curved in such a way that light gets bent and reaches us. Any manner of mass distributions could work. I could probably design a theoretical system where light gets bent around a dozen stars and heads back the way it came. Sorry Dr. Scott, but you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about here.
But what is ignored by astrophysicists is the statistical improbability of this line-up happening in the first place, let alone over and over again.
For example, astronomers recently announced they were going to look for gravitational lensing effects that might be occurring in the closely packed globular cluster, M 22. For such a gravitational lensing effect to be visible on Earth, two stars in the cluster and the Earth must line up – all three objects – on the same precise straight line. Let us calculate the probability of that happening with any two stars in M 22.
Ok, so Dr. Scott is going to go into a lot of stupid math off the assumption that Earth, the lensed star, and the lensing star (I’m just going to call it the “lens” from now on) must be on the same straight line. Again, that’s simply not true. The lens can be anywhere, as long as space is curved in such a way that light from the lensed star reaches us. In practice, this means that the lens can be a solid fraction of a light year away from that straight line. The further apart the two stars are, the heavier the lens, and the further away both are from us, the more leeway the lens has.
So with that said, on to the stupid math:
M 22 contains on the order of 500,000 stars and is approximately 50 light-years in diameter. Therefore, stars in the center of M22 are separated by distances in the order of 0.5 light year. (1/2 mile in Burnham’s model.) Assume that stars in the M 22 cluster are of the same general size as our Sun, a medium sized star, 880,000 miles in diameter (1/100 inch in the model). Put such a star at the center of one face of a cube that is 0.5 LY along each edge. Assume that Earth lies an infinite distance away on a line which is perpendicular to that face of the cube and which passes through the centered star.
First, ask the question, what is the probability, p, that another star lies directly on that line, at the center of the opposite face of the cube? Considering the average diameter of the typical star, there are approximately 10^13 non-overlapping possible star positions on that opposite face. So the answer to our question is: “One out of 10^13”. p = 10^ -13.
We have to remember that the center of the cluster is 50 LY (100 such cubes) deep. The probability that we will NOT get a match with a star in any of those deeper cubes is (1-p)^100. The first two terms of the expansion of this expression are 1 – 100p. So, (as an approximation) the probability that we WILL get a match is approximately the first probability multiplied by 100: 100p = 10^-11.
But there are 100×100 = 10^4 other lines of cubes that make up the visible face of M 22. So, we must multiply by 10^4. This yields an overall approximate probability of 10^ -11 x 10^4 = 10^ -7 which is one in ten million. This answer is, of course, an approximation. But it does reveal the futility of looking for gravitational lensing in M 22.
No it isn’t! Also bold, italic, and underline? Really?
When Dr. Scott says that this is “an approximation,” it’s a bit of an understatement. It’s about seven orders of magnitude off, actually, considering that astrophysicists already found gravitational lensing in M22. Whoops.
This means that if astronomers see anything ‘mysterious’ in M 22, they cannot, with any credibility, point to “gravitational lensing” as being the cause. And, if this is so in a dense cluster like M22, it is even less likely when discussing galaxies and supposedly far distant quasars – like the Einstein Cross.
Yeah, no. Actually, Dr. Scott severely underestimates the number of deep sky objects. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Hubble Deep Field? Basically, Hubble took a long exposure photograph of a tiny patch of dark sky. This happened. Look carefully at that first photograph. Every single object in that image is a galaxy. Now look at the actual size of the image. See if you can wrap your head around just how many galaxies there are. Hint: you can’t.
So even if Dr. Scott is correct in his calculation (he isn’t) we should still expect to see gravitational lensing somewhat frequently. In reality, it happens all the time, and results in some very stunning images.
So to recap: Dr. Scott got off to a strong start, but quickly veered into crazyland. Plasma is really awesome, but electrically neutral, and gravitational lensing does actually happen. See you for part 3! I promise it won’t take another two months.