Mad Teddy's musings about quasars

Mad Teddy's web-pages

Quasars: some thoughts...

The day - should it ever come - when we know everything there is to know about the universe will be a very sad day, because with nothing to wonder about, and no more chance to "do science", it will be a very boring old world.

Fortunately, it doesn't look as though this will happen any time soon.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), who is increasingly honoured by those who understand as "the man who invented the 20th century", was a strange, tortured man. There is no question, even among those who think his importance may be somewhat over-exaggerated, that he was a genius. Like most geniuses, he was (or at least appeared to be) "flawed"; being over-endowed mentally does not sit easily in a world in which half the population are of below average intelligence.   (People who are "special", either by being super-intelligent or sadly lacking in that regard, frequently don't have stress-free lives, because they don't fit in easily with society's mores.)

You can download Tesla's autobiography here.

To be fair, Tesla did receive accolades during his lifetime, much of which coincided with the exciting romantic era, when new ideas - in both the arts and the sciences - were having an enormous impact. His numerous inventions, including the induction motor, the speedometer, early versions of fluorescent lights, and the humble spark plug - as well as his championing of AC power - were in many ways set to make the world a better place to live.

Tesla was also one of the early researchers into radio. Indeed, in 1943, his great contribution was recognized (posthumously) when the US Supreme Patent Court finally acknowledged that he was the true pioneer, rather than his rival Marconi. To read more, visit this page, which also contains links to further information on the matter.

So, even though somewhat of an oddball, Tesla commanded respect - at first. However, one of the things that may well have led to his later being regarded as a "mad scientist" was his statement that he was receiving messages from Mars.

Let's not get into the debate about what the signals really were that Tesla was picking up. Instead, let's "fast forward" to 1967, some 24 years after his death, to an incident which had my Dad eagerly following the news broadcasts, as well as being of interest to a teenaged Mad Teddy.

By the mid-to-late 20th century, radio astronomy was an established science. No longer was anybody calling anyone a "mad scientist" who was picking up signals from space. However, there were plenty of surprises still in store.

A graduate student named Jocelyn Bell Burnell had found a radio source "out there" which had a definite regular pulse. The object, whatever it was, was very sensibly dubbed a "pulsar". Nearly four decades on, most astronomers agree that pulsars are actually spinning neutron stars.

To hear the noise of some pulsars as their beams sweep past the Earth, click on this link. Really freaky stuff...

To read about different types of pulsars, as well as other possibly related objects, click on this Wikipedia link.

In the intervening time, science has addressed many of the details about the weird things that inhabit the universe. Most people have at least heard of black holes. The intriguing properties of neutron stars and black holes have been addressed in numerous science fiction stories since the 1970's, or even earlier (see this link, and this one, for example); so to that extent these concepts are fairly well-known.

*      *      *      *      *

UPDATE, Saturday, 11th September 2010

Today, while doing a bit of house-cleaning, to my horror I found in the duster cupboard my old "BLACK HOLES ARE OUT OF SIGHT" T-shirt, which I'd had since the late 1970's. (I'd been wondering for ages where it had got to.) You may bet I immediately rescued it...!  

I decided to try it on. (It fitted like a tight sausage-skin.) I persuaded my wife to take a picture of me in it for this website; she agreed only on condition that I allow her to take pics from four different perspectives and feature them all here, for the record. Here they are (you can click on them to see bigger versions if you really want to):

(She remarked that my head looked rather small compared to the rest of me. I replied that that was okay, because good things often come in small packages.)

*      *      *      *      *

- Which brings us to quasars.

        Whatever are they?        

Neutron stars and black holes have a certain appeal, because of their obviously interesting characteristics. It's not too hard to get one's head around the concepts; people such as myself who like ideas for their own sake enjoy the mental exercise involved in thinking about them.

Quasars, however, are another matter altogether. If you carefully read the excellent Wikipedia article about them (see the link above), you may feel - as I do - that there is still a great deal of confusion about what these peculiar beasts really are.

Quasars made their appearance in radio telescopes in the late 1950's, before there was any news of either neutron stars or black holes . Something "out there" was generating high-energy radio emissions; but the nature and distance from Earth of such objects were not clear. The term "quasar" is generated from the words "quasi stellar" - meaning somewhat starlike, but not a star. There is more than a hint of uncertainty inherent in the very word.

So why am I raising quasars as an issue?

A few weeks ago I bought, in a secondhand bookshop, a copy of Arthur C. Clarke's book "Report on Planet Three and other speculations" (Pan SF, 1984, originally published by Victor Gollancz in 1972). This book is a series of essays on various topics in a format that appeals to the kind of person who likes quirky ideas and/or science fiction.

One of the essays (Chapter 7 in the book), written in 1968, is entitled "Next - the Planets!". In this essay, Clarke addresses the possibility of space travel not only to the moon (which would happen in the following year, 1969), but also to the other planets in the solar system - and, ultimately, to other star systems. As he says in his introduction, this was originally presented as a paper at a conference in 1968. In the final paragraph of this introduction, he says:

"The suggestion, at the end of the essay, that we are observing new sources of energy which may far exceed those of the atomic nucleus now seems more and more probable, thanks to recent researches on 'quasars'. The Universe can provide all the power that we shall ever need to drive real star ships - if we are clever enough to tap it..."

Toward the end of the essay itself, as promised in the introduction, Clarke quotes Professor C.F.Powell, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, as saying:

It seems to me that the evidence from astronomy and particle physics which I have described makes it possible that we are on the threshold of great and far-reaching discoveries. I have spoken of processes which, mass for mass, would be at least a thousand times more productive of energy than nuclear energy ... it seems to me that there are prodigious sources of energy in the interior regions of some galaxies, and possibly in the "quasars", far greater than those produced by the carbon cycle occurring in the stars. ... And we may one day learn how to employ them.

Now, if you've had a bit of a look around this website, you may have noticed that a recurring theme is something called "Zero-Point Energy" (ZPE). Indeed, there is a page devoted to this very topic (click here to see it).

As soon as I read this essay, I decided that it was necessary for me to follow up the matter of whether there is some connection between quasars and ZPE. So I started hunting around on the WWW to see what I could find out about it.

This link popped up (have a look):

Well, if that's piqued your interest, have a look at this one!

I must say that I was delighted to find, in that page, a challenge to the notion of "dark matter" (mentioned briefly in my earlier page on metals) - which has always seemed to me to be in the nature of a colossal, obfuscating "fudge factor", with no possible justification in scientific terms. (How can the absence of something which, by definition, is not observable, be used to prop up any self-respecting theory?)

On the other hand, there may be a classic irony in this: perhaps the emergence of such a idea is, in itself, evidence for the existence of super-massive black holes after all - between the ears of those who subscribe to it. (Pardon me; that's a cheap shot, I know, and unworthy of me - especially since the idea is not even original, a similar joke having been used by Larry Niven in his story "The Hole Man" - but I couldn't resist it... )

Note that the "fingers of God" link, in the "bbang" page whose link appears above, doesn't work. However, not to worry - the URL of the article has changed, that's all. It's now here - check it out!

Whew! What are we to make of that?

Here are another couple of links on this topic: - about Halton Arp's research on redshift. The "fingers of God", featured in the last link, are also presented here; in addition, the very existence of neutron stars, black holes, and again (YAY!) "dark matter", is called into question. - a Wikipedia article about Halton Arp, which (it seems to me) attempts to steer a "middle course" and be fair to both sides of the debate.

Okay? Now have a look at one of Dr. Arp's own web-pages and see what he has to say about redshift, quasars, and related matters:

(Check out other pages on his site too, while you're about it. In particular, have a good, hard look at this one.)

UPDATE, Thursday, 4th November 2010 (and long overdue!)

When I first wrote this page in mid-2006, those two links in Dr. Arp's website did work. However, not long thereafter, some major changes were made to that website, and those links - among others to various other pages in the site that I'd found interesting - no longer worked.

At one point, I contacted the webmaster in an attempt to find if the pages were perhaps still there under different URL's; but, because I hadn't noted their original URL's (which I always do now, if I find something interesting!), I wasn't able to provide enough information about specifics to enable a fruitful search. I decided to leave the above links there in the hope that they might come back at some stage; but it hasn't happened - and at this point, over four years later, I think I have to accept the fact that they probably never will.

HOWEVER! All is not lost. Dr. Arp's website, although radically modified, still exists - and is still well worth a visit. What I suggest is that you visit his home page,, and just follow your nose. The relevant information is still there, in one form or another.

Dr. Arp has written a book entitled "Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science" (Apeiron, 1998). I found out about this book when first researching this page, and ordered a copy from a Launceston bookshop. (The "fingers of God" issue is discussed on page 69.)

The book isn't exactly an easy read. It's packed with technical, highly specific astronomical information, much of which is over my head (pun not intended). But it's not too hard to get the gist of what he's saying, in terms of the way much of "mainstream science" conducts itself these days.

I've just done a bit of Googling about this book. I suggest you do the same; there's no shortage of web-pages which discuss it in one way or another. I'd like to draw attention to one such page - a review of the book - which is notable because of the characteristic vehemence with which opinions are expressed therein:

(In July last year I posted a page in this site entitled Science, scientific method, and ZPE: some thoughts in which I've had a few choice words of my own to say about the way science is done, all too often, in these troubling times. I do hope you'll have a look at it at some stage, along with some of my other pages on the subject of zero-point energy, which has come to be perhaps the main thrust of what I'm trying to convey via this website.)

I'd like to include here just one link to a page in Dr. Arp's revamped website, which I think is well worth a read. In this article, he tells of his experience of working with British astronomer and science-fiction writer Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), with whom he shared an exasperation of the way things are so often done in the scientific arena:

*       *       *       *       *

UPDATE-WITHIN-AN-UPDATE, Friday, 11th March 2011

Bummer - now that link has disappeared!!! - along, apparently, with Dr. Arp's entire site. Cheek of some people - how dare they have the temerity to close their web-pages when I've taken the trouble to link to them? (Or could there be an "e-black hole" on the web somewhere which is simply swallowing all this stuff?)

“Look out, Mad Teddy - I'm comin' to gitcha...”

Well - look on the bright side. While searching (unsuccessfully) for a new page which might contain that same information, I've come across this very interesting page. While I don't agree with the "religious" views expressed within the website in which that page occurs, I do give the page a cheer for referring to the work of Dr. Arp and calling into question the existence of black holes and the historicity of the Big Bang. (I wonder how long that link will last??!)

Come on - you've got to give old Teddy credit for at least making a genuine attempt to stay on top of the comings-and-goings of these links!

*       *       *       *       *


YIPPEE!!! That "research with Fred" link has come back!  

I'll admit I find material like this refreshing. I've reached a point in my life where I find myself challenging accepted wisdom in all sorts of areas. I believe that a true scientific attitude demands that we should - indeed, must do this. As reported in the "big bang" page mentioned above, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Percy Williams Bridgman once said:

"There is no adequate defense, except stupidity, against the impact of a new idea."

Yes, I'm deliberately being provocative - just as I have been elsewhere in these pages. But I'm not doing it just for the sake of it. I'm trying my best to encourage people to think, because that is the only way any of us will ever really understand anything - which, in turn, gives us the chance to make the world a better place to live.

I believe that the true scientific minds in history - heroes like Faraday and Tesla, among several others mentioned elsewhere in this website - would have adopted a similar point of view.

I don't know what quasars are. I don't know if they have anything to do with zero-point energy. I may never know. But it's nice to know that I'm not the only person who wonders about it.

UPDATE, Thursday, 19th February 2009

A couple of months ago I bought, in a Launceston "op shop", a chemistry textbook entitled "CHEMISTRY - AN EXPERIMENTAL SCIENCE", co-written by several authors under the auspices of the Chemical Education Material Study (often referred to simply as "CHEM Study"), and published by W.H. Freeman and Company in 1963. (It cost me three dollars - how about that for good value?!!)

It's one of those delightful textbooks that are fun to read. Although the content is first-rate, the book doesn't take itself so seriously as to become dry and boring. It's full of humorous, witty remarks which serve to make the content memorable - to reinforce the main message by "sweetening the pill" a little.

Each chapter begins with a quote from a noted scientific thinker. Chapter 2, "A Scientific Model: The Atomic Theory", begins with the following 1689 quote from Isaac Newton:

“. . . hypotheses ought to be fitted merely to explain the
properties of things and not attempt to predetermine them
except in so far as they can be an aid to experiments.”

- and if that isn't one in the eye for the "dark matter" brigade, I don't know what is!   

By way of closing this page, let's allow Arthur C. Clarke to have the final say.

In the first of those two links above which I found while hunting on the WWW for a link between quasars and ZPE, at the end of the page are references to two papers both by (or partly by) H.E.Puthoff.

In his book "Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!" (Harper Collins Publishers, 1999), in Chapter 30: "When Will the Real Space Age Begin?", Arthur C. Clarke refers to a paper by Dr. Hal Puthoff and colleagues in the February 1994 Physical Review which suggests that gravity and inertia are both "functions of the vacuum or zero point energy, which pervades the whole universe and is the real residue of the Big Bang".

In the following paragraph, Clarke writes:

Physics may be about to face a revolution similar to that which occurred just a century ago. Don't be surprised if the fossil-fuel and nuclear age comes to a screeching halt in the very near future.

I can't wait...

Return to Astronomical stuff menu

My home page     Preliminaries (Copyright, Safety)