Event Horizon

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Editor’s note: Galactic Sandbox’s Event Horizon feature is dedicated to the late John Dobson, evangelist astronomer and telescope innovator extraordinaire, whose life and work influenced a generation of amateur star gazers as well as revolutionized the commercial telescope industry. Contributing columnist Tom Chargin was a protege and friend of this cosmic “Johnny Appleseed,” and sheds light on a lesser known (though no lesser aspect) of Dobson’s role as torch-bearer of the “steady state” theory of the universe with no beginning or end.  While the mainstream scientific community has declared this torch snuffed out, Galactic Sandbox offers this forum as an opportunity for serious thinkers to be presented with information that may not be readily available to the general public. Mr. Chargin welcomes all comments, observations, and thoughtful rebuttals, Enjoy! — Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor

Post Note: Also, please check out our Introduction to the series here if you need some background material on the subjects discussed by Mr. Chargin.

October 26, 2015

A S T R O N O M Y  O F  T H E  A B S U R D

&  T H E  N E W  C O S M O L O G Y  OF

J O H N  D O B S O N  &  H A L T O N  A R P

(Part 1)

The first time I met John Dobson, he woke me up by pulling on my leg in the middle of the night in a small tent next to the Grand Canyon…. ”You must come see the rings of Saturn,” he implored.  That was around 1973, I think.  “You can sleep anytime, you must see the rings,” Dobson urged as I stumbled outside my humble shelter and adjusted my eyes from sleep to gaze through brightly-colored telescopes operated by an animated, ponytailed Dobson decked in baggy, hand-me-downs over his small frame. His aged yellow school bus, which was parked nearby and adorned with the words, “San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers,” contributed to the party atmosphere of star-struck devotees being egged on by this Ken Kesey of the cosmological world.

Tommy & Dobson '81 Death Valley

Death Valley 1981 – John Dobson, far left standing and the author to his right. The “cannon” in the background is a 24.5″ Dobsonian John built in the late 60’s named “Delphinium” and was the largest portable telescope on the planet. Dobson’s son Loren is on the middle right.

While many are familiar with Dobson’s legacy as the godfather of modern amateur astronomy, few are aware of his contribution to 20th Century cosmology and his quixotic battle against that discipline’s present day  sacred cow – the Big Bang model of the universe. “The universe is mostly made up of hydrogen and ignorance,” Dobson once quipped on camera.   He would complain that the Big Bang had “too many problems” (i.e., everything created out of nothing), and that cosmologists now change the physics to match the model instead of changing the model to match the physics.(1)

Dobson’s own “pastoral” view of the cosmos envisioned a  recycled,  bounded system. “If the stuff recycles from the border [of the universe], we don’t have to have a beginning. It could be going like this all the time,” he explained. “The whole universe is alive,” he preached, adding that “since the Universe is made out of energy, it cannot have arisen by transformation, except from energy. It cannot arise from nothing. (2)

Fortunately for Dobson, he was not alone in his rage against the machine of entrenched scientific thinking. His cosmology had a coincidental and simultaneous connection to the work of American Astronomer Halton C. Arp, who like DobArp's book coverson had no love lost for the Big Bang theory, which he said could not account for abnormalities he observed in quasars and galaxies.  Both Dobson and Arp came to the conclusion that gravitational redshift as Dobson would say, “falls all over the paper,” and was no longer accurate in determining the distance and velocity of galaxies and stars.  (Before one quickly dismisses these arguments, it’s good to remember I’m not talking about lightweight guys – Dobson has an internationally marketed telescope named after him, and Arp,who published the seminal Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies in 1966,  was a personal assistant to Sir Edwin Hubble!)

S m o g  T e s t

einstein cross close-up

Einstein’s Cross/Lyman Alpha: Emission spectrum of atomic hydrogen is used in calculating red shifts.

These two old lions of astronomy cast a leery eye on Hubble’s redshift observation that galaxies from all directions appear to be moving, or expanding away, from us. Redshift, for those who might think it’s some kind of party dress, is the main cornerstone of how cosmologists measure the age of a Big Bang universe in which the displacement of known spectral lines moves towards the red-end of a galaxy’s visible spectrum.  (This is similar to the Doppler Effect in which a police siren rises in pitch as it approaches you and lowers in pitch as the sound trails away). This redshift idea was suggested by Hubble to explain why galaxies and stars seem to be moving away from us, forming an infinitely expanding cosmic balloon. Little did Hubble know that his musings would become commandments.  This process is still referred to as the Hubble Constant or Hubble’s Law.  Arp said that Hubble himself was not convinced that he even had it right, that maybe they were misunderstanding the interpretation of the redshift altogether. In fact, it has been argued that if Hubble had first seen the plots for quasars, he and other astronomers would never have concluded that the universe was expanding.

S t u m p  t h e  F r u m p s

Dobson S.F. #2

John Dobson, 1988 San Francisco – Photo: Tom Chargin

Dobson himself, who had the opportunity to show the granddaddy of Quantum Mechanics Werner Heisenberg (3) some stellar wonders through his homemade telescope back in the day,  also attempted to convince Stephen Hawking that cosmological “flies in the ointment” existed. Asking the revered physicist about the possibility of whether a “pre-geometry” could have existed instead of “nothing” (as the Big bangers maintain), a confused Hawking replied “I’m not sure it’s a meaningful question.”

It’s interesting to note that when Arp tried to publish and explain redshift anomalies in a paper submitted to the The Astronomical Journal back in 1977,  the editor at the time, Chandrasekhar, rejected the paper — un-refereed, like a professional ballgame having no umpire — scribbling in the left hand corner to this work of genius, “This is beyond my imagination.”  (Editor’s Note:  Probably beyond his small-mindedness, as well…)

They eventually gave Chandrasekhar the Nobel Prize and Arp a mop and a bucket.

U n i v e r s e  A c c o r d i n g  T o  A r p

“It is embarrassing, and by now a little boring, to constantly read announcements about ever more distant and luminous high redshift objects, blacker holes and higher and higher percentages of undetectable matter. (Past 90% it begins to make observations irrelevant.)”
Halton C. Arp

Halton Arp (NY Times)

Halton C. Arp – Photo, New York TImes

Arp’s revolutionary discovery of the cosmos was one in which high redshift objects that should be rapidly receding away are surprisingly next to low redshift celestial bodies closer to us . While this unconventional view of the universe threw the baby out with the bathwater on the established orthodoxy that redshift meant ‘fast and far away’  or recessional velocity, it did little to alter the minds of those clinging to older edicts believed to be carved in stone.  The academic world which Arp had so much disdain for, and ironically was a part of, just dragged the redshift baby back in, washed it off, gave it another name.  After all, Arp’s observations, if correct, would have pulverized the foundations on which most modern cosmology was built.  The mainstream scientific community was not going to stand for that in the same way the Church of the 17th century would not stand for Galileo’s observations and scientific inquiry.  Consequently, the modern-day high priests took Arp’s telescopes away and refused to have him published.(4)  Ultimately, the scientific powers that be conveniently forgot about Arp’s Discordant Redshift theories, blackballed him from major observatory access, belched fire out of their mouths and said “The Big Bang has spoken,” and went on teaching the same old flawed cosmology to a generation of scientists who never even bothered to ask who the man behind the curtain was.(5)

Arp probably could see the irony of it all; he just took it like Stan Laurel, staring down at his shoelaces being once again chided by Oliver Hardy, “Well Stanley this is another fine mess you have gotten us into ,,, Now we’ll be lucky if they let us look through a pair of binoculars.”

“It is sometimes said that nothing is known from astronomy which goes outside the range of currently known physics…if one accepts…the origin of the universe at some moment in time.  Then it is the phenomenon of ‘origin,’ which lies outside currently-known physics.”
Fred Hoyle – British Astronomer who coined the term, “Big Bang”

P r o x y  W a r s


Halton C. Arp – Photo, New York Times

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Hubble pic of Stephan’s Quintet

This did not slow Arp down, however, as he turned to lesser known foreign observatories and amateur astronomers — once even getting a shot at Hubble Telescope “viewing” from a government ‘blue light special’ allowing 10% of time on Hubble out to amateur astronomers.  One lucky winner was a student of Arp’s and aimed the scope at Stephan’s Quintet (above) at Arp’s request. (I believe the powers that be got wind of that little subterfuge and NASA cancelled the whole amateur hour!)

C r o s s – E y e d


Bridge Over Hubble Water: Galaxy NGC 7603 clearly connected to its smaller companion galaxy NGC 7603B via a curved bridge of matter.

Despite these professional road blocks, Arp was able to determine that celestial bodies such as  Quasi Stellar Objects (QSOs) are not extremely distant high-redshifted objects as believed, but that they are in fact coming out of the nucleus of a nearby parent galaxy causing excited hydrogen filaments connecting these two objects comprised of vastly different redshifts.  Arp eventually found hundreds of these examples (see NGC 7603 to the right). (6).

Arp rejected the widely-held thought that observable phenomena such as Einstein’s Cross (see below) was a product of “gravitational lensing” in which one object appeared to be many instead of multiple objects (in this case quasars) surrounding a galaxy.  In fact,  British Astronomer Fred Hoyle, a leading critic of the Big Bang and an early proponent of a “Steady State” universe, computed the probability of such a lensing event to be less than two chances in a million.  In fact, Einstein’s Cross is just one in many instances where pairs and multiple quasars are associated with hundreds of low redshift galaxies, and taken as a whole, the chance of these occurring by pure coincidence (something the big bangers claim) Hoyle said would have exceeded one in a billion.  At the time Hoyle crunched these numbers, Arp was studying approximately 190 QSO’s, and decades later in 2010, The Royal Observatory in Edinburgh examined a survey of over 900 QSO’s, and found nothing contradicting Arp’s “Discordant Redshift Theory,” also now referred to as “Redshift Quantization.” In the meantime, NASA and the rest of the scientific community have accepted redshift as gospel, and have calculated these (or should I say ‘the’) quasars at more than a billion light years further away

Einstein’s Cross (above): You will be lucky to find any explanation of these Quasars from any scientific source other than they were “gravitationally lensed,” a fact Halton Arp disproved ages ago. – Tom Chargin

Meanwhile, John Dobson, who to the end (7) tirelessly defended Arp’s findings regarding what he thought were absurd assumptions on the part of Big Bang cheerleaders, would often say,

“The Big Bang cannot explain the existence of galaxies and stars, now that’s considered a very bad defect!  For a cosmological model that cannot explain the existence of what we see, well, that is considered very bad.”

Little did these two gentlemen realize the can of worms they had opened.

(To Be Continued) …

(1) Quotes from “A Sidewalk Astronomer,” a film by Jeffery Fox Jacobs, www.telescopepictures.com.
(2) From the the essay “Origins”  by John Dobson.
(3) Heisenberg, as in “Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty,” was a major cosmological figure, friend and contemporary of Albert Einstein, as well as one of the main fathers that ushered in the era of Quantum Mechanics
(4) Arp  was rejected again and again, by prestigious scientific journals across the board.  Nonetheless, he was eventually published, but not after many “illegal motion” calls by editorial referees who determine which ‘ideas and data’  get to play in the big game, i,e. published in journals like Nature and The Astronomical Journal.
(5) Arp was banned from using most large telescopes including Palomar and Mt. Wilson where he was once a staff researcher.
(6) Sources: Seeing Red, and Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies, both written by H. Arp.
(7) Both Dobson and Arp passed away just weeks apart from each other in 2014 and 2013 respectively.

October 19, 2015

I N  T H E  B E G I N N I N G . . .

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Illustrated “Big Bang”

Most of us take for granted that our universe started at an infinitely short moment almost 14 billion years ago with what is known as the “Big Bang.” However, few are aware that a controversy raged for decades during the 20th Century between two opposing camps regarding the past, present, and future of the cosmos. Centuries before that time, the birth of the universe was relegated to myth, religion, and philosophy; however during the period between 1920 and 1970 when cosmology was transformed into a bona fide branch of physics, scientists debated whether the universe originated billions of years ago as an explosion from an infinitely dense and infinitely small “superatomic” kernel of energy, or if we live in a “Steady State” infinite universe with no beginning and no end, in which matter is continuously being replenished in the space between galaxies.

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Edwin Hubble

Both theories explained the outward expansion of the galaxies as discovered by luminaries including Edwin Hubble, and both theories had their strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Big Bang successfully accounted for the known bounty of hydrogen and helium in the cosmos, however it introduced the notion that creation seemingly popped out of nothing. The Steady State thesis avoided this stumbling block but replaced it with many little unexplained beginnings (those pesky matter particles spontaneously appearing out of thin air). In its favor, the Big Bang camp made one testable prediction: if the universe began in a super-sized hot blast, the cooled remnant of that radiation should still lurk in the metagalactic background, and scientists should be able to accurately calculate its microwave spectral distribution.

Map of cosmic microwave background radiation from data gathered by the Cosmic Background Explorer craft.

This is precisely what was discovered in the 1960s, and with the debut of the Hubble Telescope and other sophisticated space-based instruments in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, the Big Bang theory prevailed over Steady State in this cosmological survival of the fittest. However, while almost all astronomers now adhere to the Big Bang (most to the point of being “gospel”), some nagging questions linger. Currently, however, there’s little incentive to rock the boat given the Big Bang theory is viewed as working “pretty well,”and that there is little professional challenge (either by attrition or design) to the status quo.

“Sleeping Beauty” or Black Eye Galaxy comprised of two counter-rotating disks. The celestial object is thought to have been created via a collision with a gas-rich satellite galaxy in a retrograde orbit, or the collection of gas clouds from intergalactic space.

In the upcoming “Event Horizon” articles, contributing columnist Tom Chargin will address these questions as he fleshes out some of the stories and personalities (some of whom he knew personally, including John Dobson of the Dobsonian telescope fame) behind this Big Bang/Steady State “Battle of the Cosmos.” In addition, Mr. Chargin will explore some of the sticky wickets that have threatened to derail the Big Bang juggernaut:

  • 1) Do redshifts1, or cosmological “recession” velocities, exist? If not, scientists could call into question the evolutionary aspect of the Big Bang.
  • 2) Hot potatoes such as the “Horizon Problem2” and the “Flatness Problem3”, while being explained away by “inflation,” still cast a shadow over Big Bang dominance.

Stay tuned next week ….

1 When wavelengths of the light are stretched by the expansion of space.
2 Scientists have struggled with the Horizon Problem in which different areas of the universe share the same temperature and other physical properties even though the transfer of energy can’t occur faster than the speed of light. 
3 Our universe apparently is flat, with a matter density and expansion rate that appears to be nearly perfectly balanced. This begs the question why minor variations haven’t increased dramatically over 14 billion years.


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