Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website, www.rhysy.net



Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Omega Man

An epilogue to the press release on the long gas stream, or part 4 in the trilogy if you like. Actually this will form the first part of another trilogy, dealing with alternative ideas and pseudoscience. This one makes for a nice, gentle introduction - in the next post we'll go to far stranger places, where triangles don't exist...


Here is an email I received a few days after the press release. The author (name withheld, referred to only as "k", presumably for dramatic effect) presents, very politely, their ideas regarding galaxy formation. Some of it is not so different from standard theories, but there are a few... (ahem) anomalies.

My commentary on the original text is in square brackets and in blue. Here's the main figure from the press release again, as a reminder of what we're talking about.
Dr. Rhys Taylor.
Dr. Robert Minchikn [sic - but now I'm finding hard to avoid mentally replacing "Minchin" with "Munchkin", or possibly "MinChicken", Robert's not going to like that...], et al, great work.
[Thanks !]

Source of this cloud of gas?
I am reluctant to say [No you're not, you've written a whole book about this, but we'll get to that later] (because no one will believe this).  Your discovery supports my contention that all the galaxies associated with these streams of gas were once closely associated, that is, all have a common antecedent or origin.  Those streamers point roughly back to that common origination point.

[Well, certainly the stream of gas itself most likely originates with the galaxies in question, and in all probability those galaxies were once close enough to interact and draw out the gas gravitationally (or possibly via ram pressure stripping). So this part seems fine, though the "common origin of galaxies" idea is worrying. The mainstream idea is "hierarchical merging" - lots of small objects form first, then merge - pretty much the exact opposite of this "hierarchical fragmentation", as I guess you'd call it. That's not too outlandish though.

In conventional astronomy, the galaxies are continually moving through space. At some point in the past they happened to move past each other, and during the short time they were close enough, some of their gas got removed. Now they're far apart again.  

As I wrote in an interview for Vice.com, an alternative explanation is that the gas in the stream is primordial - that is, left over from the formation of the Universe and condensing along dark matter filaments. This is an extremely controversial idea, and doesn't seem very likely to me (see link for details).]

The original proposition was -
At some stage of universal development early universe filaments segmented into what became, called here, Omega bodies [Oh dear, that sounds like an unfortunate attack of drama. Just call them proto-galaxies or proto-clusters. Dramatic names are a turn-off]. Notable is that these segmented ‘chunks’ were nearly equal in mass size [to each other ?] (check the math) [err, what math ??].  (That process is described very simply here.) [Poor use of brackets and ambiguous statements aren't helping credibility at this stage. If you're smart enough to create a revolutionary theory, you're smart enough to use brackets sensibly, dammit.]
 Most of these primordial objects had spin and angular momentum, plus other qualities not discussed here.
Some, during their high velocity passage through space, acquired a a sizable volume of dark and other matter.  To illustrate this feature see Kappa Cassiopeiae, HD 2905, star bow shock wave,Credit NASA, JPL, Caltech


Measuring many light years across, this ‘baggage’ acted to slow the passage of the Omega body.  
[Well, that's perfectly reasonable - acquiring more mass means the shock will slow down due to conservation of momentum.]
Shocks formed by contact passage through varying densities of mostly dark matter were transmitted through the dark matter bubble to the Omega body causing it ultimately to disintegrate.  Plus, other processes not described here were instrumental in the breakup of these high density objects.
[All well and good as alternative cosmologies go. Doesn't bear any resemblance whatsoever to conventional ideas, but that's OK, let's run with it. More about this later.]

The constrained matter surrounding the object was instrumental later for the formation of galaxies.
[What prevented them forming stars immediately ?]
(As per the discoveries of Minchin, et al [which ones ?], streamers and batches of gas lost along the way mark the journey’s path of the Omega ‘fragments’  to their ultimate destination.)
[If this means, "current" destination, then that's OK. If it literally means the place at which they will reside until the end of time, then it's impossible. In a gravitational field you can never be at rest. Also, we know galaxies are moving through space because we can measure this directly.
It's especially important to avoid colourful language when presenting unconventional ideas - I've had emails of various levels of crazy, so I've no way of knowing what sort of idea (genuinely plausible or downright impossible) I'm dealing with from a new contact. Throughout the rest of this post, I'll give the benefit of the doubt and assume the least crazy idea whenever things are ambiguous.]
Those Omega bodies that had little spin loosened their parts more or less omnidirectionally, not very distant.  The galaxies that developed from these were later very prone to collide and merge with each other.
[More or less self-consistent, I guess, but let's wait a minute.]

Most of these primordial ‘rocks’ [Benefit of the doubt that this is colourful language again] had high spin rates [Why ? This is important, because the following text makes it clear we're dealing with rotational energies orders of magnitude greater than what we observe in galaxies today].  The first fragments to come off were flung a great distance.  Each taking with it a share of the accumulated dark matter.  (Dark matter in these cases was like the yolk of an egg.) [Perhaps it was a laid by a MinChicken...] See the chart by Dr. McCall. (To whom I am most grateful. Note that he does not agree with the scenario described here.)      
'Council' sheet views, McCall [Original, entirely respectable article here] 

[Thing is, objects don't get "flung" a specific distance in a gravitational field in a vacuum. They can only be put on different orbits - or, if they are sent off fast enough, they escape entirely. They can be flung at different velocities, but that's quite different to sending them a set maximum distance due to their initial speed. The point is they won't ever stop - they'll keep moving on curved paths through space.]


The first sibling pieces in our family to come off the progenitor Omega body, each weighing multiple [many hundreds of billions of] solar masses, were M83, M64, NGC 253.  

[OK, I guess he's saying that the more distant galaxies from us formed first because they seem to trace a ring. In this scenario, a giant spinning cloud flung out galaxies to produce the distribution we see today.]

At the same time many smaller units were launched.   Each loss of mass to the Omega body reduced the forces of angular momentum.  Until finally we have the last division that gave us our Milky Way and Andromeda [presumably since we seem to be at the center of the ring].  In that manner Omega had sacrificed itself to seed more than a hundred new galaxies. [Is this poetic or was Omega literally sentient ? Again, colourful language doesn't help. There really are people out there crazy enough to believe in giant sentient gas clouds as the origin of the Galaxy.]
It was spin that caused these units to detach along a plane.  (The process or morphology of how these ‘bits and pieces’ of mass developed into galaxies is described elsewhere.)  

[Actually though, the fact we see small satellite galaxies in planes around giant galaxies is really interesting. It wasn't predicted by standard simulations, and there have been claims that this is something modifying our theory of gravity explains better than invoking dark matter. Most people think it's a problem with our lack of understanding of the complicated physical processes at work in the gas (which the simulations don't deal with). I think it's very intriguing, but not yet enough to convince me we should throw out the dark matter model.

The dispute in contemporary, mainstream science is not as to whether small galaxies can be formed by larger galaxies tearing off pieces of each other - everyone accepts that - but how common this is. Unfortunately, k is talking not about small galaxies forming this way, but giant ones (as in the press release that prompted the email, and in McCall's paper). And he's not talking about the galaxies being in a plane because it's easier, gravitationally, to remove gas this way (the mainstream view), but because the Omega thing was spinning really fast. To a normal astronomer this sounds very strange indeed - but does it make any sense ?

Let's start with that that ring of galaxies. The claim appears to be that the galaxies furthest from the center were formed earliest. k strongly implies that he believes galaxies can get flung to certain distances by their initial speed, after which they just sit there. As already mentioned, we know that's not true. For the sake of benefit of the doubt, let's see if we can salvage the claim anyway.

Is the ring even real ? Well, here's McCall's image stripped of annotations. Judge for yourself - but remember, McCall was deliberately restricting his analysis to galaxies within a fixed, radial distance. The fact the corners are empty doesn't mean anything, because galaxies there were excluded from the study (to be absolutely clear, McCall wasn't trying to make any of the claims k is; his work is entirely mainstream research).



Even if those dozen-odd galaxies really are distributed in a neat ring, does that really mean anything ? Context may help. Here's the distribution of 11,000 galaxies on a very much larger scale, fifty times that of McCall's selection :


Image credit : me.
You can certainly see plenty of structures in there, though they're very much larger than in the McCall study. Here's another large-scale schematic, from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The scale here is twice as big again as the last one.



That intricate network of filaments, sheets and voids has been reproduced extremely well by standard models - it's one of the great triumphs of modern cosmology (regardless of all its other problems). Even those who dispute the existence of dark matter cannot question its success in reproducing these structures. While, as I mentioned, there are problems producing the correct structures on the scale of a single galaxy, on the scale of giant sheets and filaments, there aren't. 

Since this result is not at odds with standard theory, it can hardly be used as evidence for an alternative model. At most, all it says is that the alternative model is not ruled out. To have evidence that the alternative is better, you'd have to find a configuration of galaxies that the standard model doesn't predict but the alternative does. That is categorically not the case here.

Furthermore, to me it seems like a heck of an inference to invoke a radically different alternative model based on the distribution of a handful of galaxies... even if they were in a much more obviously weird configuration, like a cube. Small number statistics are at work. That is, if you pick only a dozen of so galaxies at random in a small region, and it would be easy to find a ring-like distribution - particularly if you select galaxies in a spherical volume. The ring distribution, real or not, is therefore completely and utterly meaningless.

Further-furthermore, the whole model of some primordial gas cloud spinning apart and sending huge galaxy-size chunks that formed the current distribution seems deeply flawed to me. Spinning a gas cloud is going to cause the entire thing to expand, not rip chunks out of it*. As it expands, it
might fragment - but this is complicated. To suggest that this would produce a nice configuration of galaxies wherein we can infer their formation history merely by their distance is fantastically unlikely at best. That's just not how orbital motion (or even, more generally, motion in a vacuum) works - things keep moving.

* To be fair, k says that the cloud disintegrates due to shocks with the dark matter and "other processes not described here". Obviously, I can't comment on the other processes. Dark matter halos, however, could not cause a cloud to disintegrate into discrete chunks - they, like the gas clouds, have a smooth distribution. They could distort the cloud due to tidal forces, but not cause it to fragment. Nor could they be responsible for causing the cloud to spin-up (unless it happens to move past two dark matter halos in just the right way) - and if the cloud was previously spinning so fast, it would have broken up beforehand anyway.
As you'll have no doubt gathered, I think this whole idea is wrong every which way.

Specifically, what goes up, must come down - or escape forever. When something is sent on an orbit that moves it radially outwards, then unless it's going so fast it escapes completely, it eventually falls back again. Interplanetary spacecraft, for example, can be sent on Hohman transfer orbits to reach their destination. This requires not only that they fire their rockets to leave Earth, but also that they fire them again to enter the same orbit as their target planet is moving around the Sun. If they didn't do this, they'd end up falling back to their starting point. 

The point is they need to exert some force to get themselves into a nice circular orbit. Energy must be expended, you can't just change from an elliptical to circular orbit whenever you feel like it - that's just as bad as saying that things get flung a specific distance. Since the galaxies can neither be static nor thrown into stable circular orbits, I can't see any way to make this work.


DeltaV means the spacecraft must fire its rockets to generate
a change in velocity at these points to follow the green transfer orbit
(deltaV1) and enter the red circular orbit (deltaV2).
(I've been assuming here (for the sake of generosity) that most of Omega's dark matter remains at the center. If it disintegrates along with the galaxies it flings out, things will be even worse - there'll be nothing holding the galaxies in orbit at all, so they'll just fly apart.)

But wait ! Galaxies don't have rockets, it's true... but what if they keep detaching parts of themselves as they go ? When you get right down to it, losing mass is what makes rockets go faster (Rocket science ? Easy. Rocket engineering... not so much). The problem is the galaxies would have to preferentially shoot bits of themselves off in only one direction, otherwise, like a Catherine wheel, they're not going anywhere. And if they're shredding themselves by spinning, well, that basically is a Catherine wheel writ large. 


OK, so if we can't deduce the formation history of the galaxies just by measuring their distance away from us, could we do something more complicated ? Perhaps the galaxies will preserve their original formation in the pattern of their relative positions ?
No. If and when our giant galaxies return to their point of origin... well, you'll have a whole bunch of galaxies crashing together (or at the very least, strongly interacting with one another and the dark matter remaining in the center). That is not going to result in the galaxies moving apart again neatly, to say the least. After that first return, the positions of the galaxies (assuming they even survive, which is unlikely) won't tell you a darn thing about their formation history.]

If you take a volume of space encompassing a radius of 20 to 50 million light years, most likely you will find some discernable structure to the arrangements of galaxies therein. But, not in all areas of this universe. [Which is perfectly consistent with standard cosmology, so can't be taken as evidence for the Omega bodies.]  Some of those Omega bodies are still out there just waiting for something to happen (dark galaxies).[Not if they have the mass of a hundred galaxies they're not - we would easily have detected hydrogen masses this large by now. Believe me, I've looked.]  A few others exploded; galaxies formed but no structured order was established.

Those that had the right amount of spin, plus other opportunities, much like ours, formed a planar pattern of galaxy formation.  The large galaxies, mostly spiral, in turn followed the example of their progenitor by producing satellite galaxies in a similar manner.  (That subject is covered thoroughly elsewhere.) [Same problems as before - what makes the galaxy spin up ? Will conditions be right in the expanded gas for fragmentation and star formation ? How can this produce galaxies on the correct orbits ? Too many things...]

The depth or width of the ‘super galactic plane’ is governed by the amount of wobble the Omega body had.  In our case there was not much.  Increased wobble can cause the Omega fragments to be dispersed over a wider range.  The resulting galaxies are arranged in a broader plane.
[Self-consistent, I guess. I still don't see how you'd form a staggeringly massive cloud of hydrogen without it forming stars though.]
It can happen that a primordial object has/had a secondary spin axis.  This causes its loosened parts to be scattered all around.  Galaxies, usually elliptical, form in a random pattern.
[Well, that's just not true. The morphology-density is very well-known. Most elliptical galaxies are found in the center of clusters, while most spiral galaxies dominate the population outside clusters.]

This Omega model of sibling galaxy structure is quite simple, even simplistic.  Others can do a much better job of explaining it.  So much research needs to be done. 


[The book description from amazon :]

How do galaxies get started? How do they change and morph from one design to another? Be forewarned – The story as told here departs quite a bit from the accepted view of the nature and behavior of what is called a black hole, and specifically the nucleus of a galaxy.
Conventional science claims that you can only know the mass size or weight of a black hole and its relative spin rate. Stuff can enter a black hole, but nothing can leave. Called a singularity – scientists claim black holes have unique properties; which if explained to you, you would not understand; so don’t ask [??? Yer whaaa.... ????]. A few seem to treat the black hole as some kind of unknowable Quantum Deity. Others think of them as giant macrophages [I had to look that up in a dictionary, it means "white blood cell"] that go around gobbling up waste and useless material, gorging on worn-out stars and used up matter [Nonsense, pure and simple - black holes will consume anything that gets too close, they don't have a preference for "waste matter". That's not a remotely scientific idea]. Taken to the extreme, given enough time black holes will gobble up everything that exists. Then what? Do they go around gulping down each other, until there is just one big black hole left? “That’s all, Folks.” Can that be the ultimate fate of ‘all there is’? Quoting TV’s Judge Judy – “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.” [There are too many things wrong with that. No further comment]. Applying that rule [!], does it make sense that possibly galaxies have a definite birth followed by growth, and eventually give birth to new galaxies?
Cover image credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
The cover image captures the overlapping galaxies 2MASX J00482185-2507365 in the act of separation. In the scenario described here the larger galaxy has given birth to the smaller. Could instead as claimed by scientists the smaller came from outer space and is approaching the larger? There are ways to tell the difference.

For the daring few of you that are tolerant of contrarian concepts, read on – k
[I read the sample available on amazon. Suffice to say the text is erroneous, and, like most pseudoscience, full of terrible English, and more unusually, repeated (use of multiple) (brackets for some reason). Come on, if you must invent dreadful theories, at least learn correct punctuation.]



I was initially sympathetic when I read this. In some ways, it's not such a silly idea  - the fact that the satellite galaxies of the Milky Way and Andromeda are found in planes is a subject of genuine intense controversy. Indeed, some, though a minority, argue that those structures are best reproduced by interactions, with one galaxy interacting with the other in the same plane. That's close to saying a galaxy got spun-up and smaller ones broke off. Sort of. Maybe. Not really.

But the idea that the distribution of a dozen nearby giant galaxies somehow supports this Omega model is simply wrong. The observed distribution of giant galaxies into filaments, sheets, and voids, is very well-reproduced by standard theory. Moreover, predicting which galaxies formed first based on their spatial position doesn't work either, because, as we know, galaxies are continually moving through space. The whole "everything was flung out of something else and has a common origin" idea, as we've seen, just doesn't work at all.

I lost 
patience on reading the book sample. The thing basically amounts to "revisionist science" - taking accepted ideas to mean something completely different, then saying everything else is also wrong to fit his idea. A polite way to put it would be, as Jon von Neumann reportedly said, "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk." If you have enough unknown variables, you can make your model do anything. In this case the author is deciding that some variable are unknown when they're really not... so a less polite version would be, "you're making stuff up."

As we'll see in the concluding part of this trilogy, this has nothing to do with being tolerant of "contrarian" ideas. Science does not permit tolerance of things which are demonstrably wrong - that's what pseudoscience is for. Stay tuned for the next exciting (and much more fun) installment, wherein I disprove the existence of a giant space mirror by means of triangles.

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