Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 29: Sep-Oct 1993

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Another Quasar Enigma

Astronomer A.P. Fairall has reported an "impossible" physical situation -- a strong scientific anomaly. It seems that a Seyfert galaxy (a very low-luminosity quasar) emits forbidden spectral lines that vary in intensity about every 30 minutes. It is not the "forbidden" character of the spectral likes that disturb the astronomers. ("Forbidden" simply means "improbable" in spectroscopy!) Rather, it is the half-hour variations that pose the dilemma. This is because most astronomers are convinced that the said forbidden lines are emitted by regions of the quasar that are 100-10,000 light years across.

A disturbance or physical change leading to a variation in intensity, even travelling at the speed of light, could not begin to move across this huge region in half an hour. Yet, the changes in intensity seem to be there, inferring a physical change that travels perhaps a million times faster than physics permits. Variations in intensity decades long would be acceptable, but half an hour is out-of-the-question! The author of this referenced comment in Nature believes that the observational procedures employed must be at fault.

(Gaskell, C. Martin; "Spectra That Defy Explanation," Nature, 304:212, 1983.)

Comment. This possible anomaly is closely related to the so-called superluminal velocities also observed in quasars, in which physical effects seem to travel faster than light. Apparently something is very wrong in our model of a quasar, or our distance scale, or even our basic physics.

From Science Frontiers #29, SEP-OCT 1983. 1983-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987