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No. 38: Mar-Apr 1985

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Quasar, quasar, burning bright; what shifts your spectral light?

T. Heckman, of the University of Maryland, has ordained that the apostles of noncosmological redshifts must now recant. He and his colleagues believe that they now have the most convincing demonstration to date that quasar redshifts are of cosmological origin; that is, the larger the redshift, the faster the quasar is receding and the farther away it is.

"Availing themselves of the extraordinary new imaging and spectroscopic capabilities of charge-coupled-device (CCD) detectors, they have measured the redshifts of 19 nebulous objects that appear to be companion galaxies of 15 relatively low-redshift quasars. Observing at the Kitt Peak 4-meter telescope, they have determined that, in 18 of these 19 cases, the apparent companion has a redshift very close to that of the quasar. While Burbidge, Arp and their partisans may argue that quasars are so peculiar that they can generate redshifts of unknown origin, this position becomes difficult to maintain for companion galaxies that otherwise look perfectly ordinary."

H. Arp and G. Burbidge, chief among those ordered to recant, are not convinced. Arp points to many cases where bridges of luminous material connect high-redshift quasars with low redshift galaxies. Also, the clustering of quasars around nearby galaxies supports the nearness of quasars. As Burbidge has observed, if:

"...just one large redshift is not due to the universal expansion, Pandora's box is open. Much of our currently claimed knowledge of the extragalactic universe would be at risk, as would a number of scientific reputations."

Indeed, reputations are on the line as are scientific ethics. Telescope time has been cut off from those supporting noncosmological redshifts. The papers written by scientists who haven't recanted are held up, refereed forever, and rejected. Come to think of it, the theological overtones of the call for "recantation" fit the redshift situation very well.

(Anonymous; "Companion Galaxies Match Quasar Redshifts: The Debate Goes On," Physics Today, 37:17, December 1984.)

Reference. The "redshift controversy is discussed in more detail in our Stars, Galaxies, Cosmos. To order, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #38, MAR-APR 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss