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Weird Physics

Section 5 – Red Shift-iness – Expanding Universe?

Hubble was an astronomer, honored by having the massive orbital telescope named after him. He is most famous for discovering the “Hubble Red-Shift”.  He established the distance to other galaxies by looking at known start types and using observed intensity to calculate how far away they must be.  The interesting thing is that he notice that the spectrum of these distant stars was shifted to the red, and the further away they were, the more they were shifted to the red, or lower energy side.

We know that waves emitted by moving objects are frequency-shifted due to the relative velocity.  This is called a Doppler shift.  The sound frequency of engine noise is higher for a vehicle rushing towards you, then drops very low after it passes and begins rushing away.  It works just as well for light; we see a doppler shift in the frequency or color of light sources that are moving.  In 1929 Hubble made the leap that the red-shift he was observing in distant stars was a Doppler effect, and that therefore distant stars are moving away from us.  The farther away they were, the faster they were moving.  This is the basis for the Expanding Universe theory, and ultimately the origins of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

That’s a lot riding on the unproven assumption that the observed red shift is a Doppler phenomenon.

For context, we do see Doppler shifts, up and down the spectrum, due to stellar motion.  We can get the exact distance to nearby stars by parallax, the same way your two eyes work to give you depth perception (unless you’re like me, but that’s another story).  By taking a peek at each extreme swing of the Earth’s orbit, we can get a solid fix out to about 10 light-years, and these stars are zipping in every direction.  Yes, randomly, not all away from us.  You have to get out beyond about 100 light-years before you can see the Hubble Red-Shift statistically significant above the background effects of local motion.

The picture that they want you to buy here is that a photon of light is emitted by that star 100+ light years away, dodges every collision possibility along the way, and then impacts your eye unchanged from when it was created, 100+ years previously.

Well, if you read the previous chapters, you know what is wrong with this picture.  This light not only passes through an ionized hydrogen atom every meter or so for 100+ light years, its very existence is passed from one atom to the next in the form of distortions in the electron’s orbitals.  Every interaction gives a chance that something will shift inside the atom, either taking or adding a bit of energy to the passing light.  This does not have to be a large-energy exchange like shifting electrons between orbitals.  It can be any sort of energy process, vibrations and rotations for more complex molecules, but certainly down to translational kinetic energy of the atom.  These can be quite tiny energy changes compared to the energy of the photon passing through.

Now space is cold and stars are hot.  We’re talking 4 degrees above absolute zero vs. ten thousand degrees.  All things being equal, a passing photon should be just as likely to add energy as to sap it off as it passes through an atom.  But things are not equal.  At that cold temperature, the lower energy states are more highly populated than the higher ones, so losing energy to the atom is going to be the overall average result.  Another way to think of it, interacting systems are going to tend to equilibrate temperature, meaning the energy the star is losing is going to be warming up space, and the photons are going to get weaker, less energetic.

Bingo, there you have it.  Photons traveling over hundreds of light years should be losing energy as they go.  The Red Shift can be explained by simple reference to quantum mechanics.  We can forget about the Doppler shift; we don’t need to make the huge paranoid leap of saying the universe is rushing away from us.  The expanding universe theory is just a fantasy, and all that campfire stuff about the Big Bang… well, you get my point.

Point of interest, for a large number of light fly-by events, we’ll say “N”, with a skewed probability of going up or down the energy scale, the resulting distribution would look like a skewed bell curve. The average shifted proportionally to N, while the spread should be increasing proportional to the square root of N.  That’s the way the appropriate statistics work (Poisson distribution, like counting radiation events).  In this case, N is a very, very large number, so square root of N is much smaller than N itself.  This means the spread of red-shifted light should be small compared to the red shift, but real and measurable.  In fact the spectrum of red-shifted stars really do have fatter lines.  Somebody needs to run the numbers about actual density of atoms in deep space, the probability of energy transfer of all different kinds, and use this fattening to determine exactly which process is dominating the energy-drain effect.  I have no doubt it’s real.

There is another point that gets talked about, but not enough.  The number of stars inside a given spherical volume goes up as the cube of the radius, while the surface of that sphere only goes up as the square.  As R gets bigger, the fraction of the sky that is blotted out by a star should diverge.  In other words, pick any direction and you’ll eventually run into a star.  The night sky should be a solid shining surface with thousand-degree thermal radiation coming off of it, but it is not.  Theoreticians really stretch to explain this one with extreme expanded universe theories and dark matter and such.  The answer is simple – the energy is being absorbed by the depths of space before it gets here, so we see a dark night sky.

Bottom line, the Hubble Red Shift is not a Doppler effect, and the universe is not expanding.

[© Copyright 2016 by Gerald Keep.  All Rights Reserved.]

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