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back to article What did you see, Elder Galaxies? What made you age so quickly?

A group of astronomers has spotted 15 massive galaxies that were already mature just 1.6 billion years after the Big Bang. At that age, galaxies should be youthful entities, still gathering dust and gasses into stars. These 15, on the other hand, as observed today, were grown-ups filled with old stars and exhibited a lack of …

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Anonymous Coward

Maybe they were born mature and are getting "younger" much like the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

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Coat

Benjamin Button!

Benjamin Who?

Benjamin!

Who's there?

Knock Knock!

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"Mysterious Dr X Says"

Even the 'father' of the big bang said it was a HOAX in Time magazine interview, Dec 14, 1936.

Read all about it under the Cosmology tab at the Faux Science Slayer site....

and stop with the Cartesian linear expansion myth.

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ok everybody heads down, there's going to be theories flying thick and fast for a while. either somebody is going to find a flaw in the data or some beautiful theory is about to be murdered by ugly facts . . . again.

i love when anomalies show up in any field. it means interesting and educational times are coming.

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Actually, I'm waiting for the "Sky Fairy" theory to rear it's head and explain everything including dinosaurs.... again.

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"Actually, I'm waiting for the "Sky Fairy" theory to rear it's head and explain everything including dinosaurs.... again."

Now now, no need to be like that.

I'm waiting for the 'science can't tell you everything, there are somethings even science can't explain' (would you like a copy of the book now or buy it later when I'm on the book tour - a signed copy, even)

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Headmaster

Correction

Make that "there are some things even science can't explain -- yet".

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Joke

You want a crackpot theory? OK, I'll make one up for you: our universe is expanding and merging into the universe next door, so these old galaxies are from the next door universe which had its big bang earlier than ours.

No, I'm not being serious. I'll even add an icon to prove it.

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Joke

I blame bureaucracy

It makes everybody age prematurely.

According to the standard bureaucracy model of the universe, red shift is caused by red tape. Photons lose energy by having to fill out progress reports every 10,000 light years, and quality assurance questionnaires every 10 million light years. Galaxies need planning permissions at a galactic scale. If it is bad enough getting permission for three quarters of a shed, imagine how bad it is going to be to get permission to merge a nascent galaxy with the next-door dwarf.

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Yet another paper made meaningless in popular science coverage...

...although in this case the error lies squarely with the press office of the Carnegie Institution for Science rather than the re-reporting of it.

12 billion light years away? That'll be a little over 8 billion years ago then, when the universe was already 5 billion years old and fairly mature, not a mere 1.6 billion years. How did that get through peer review? DID it get through peer review? No: let's have a look at the paper and we see they quote a redshift of 4, which correlates to 12 billion years ago but a distance of almost double that, once you correct for expansion during the interim.

Sigh. How much work went into this? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars? And then at the final hurdle the publicly announced results are Bowdlerized by some English or Media Studies graduate working at the press office.

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Paris Hilton

Run that by me again...

12 billion light years = 8 billion years?

Is that right? If so, why?

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Re: Run that by me again...

12 billion light years = 8 billion years?

Is that right? If so, why?

Because the Universe is constantly expanding, which affects how far the light must travel even while it is en route, and the effect gets ever more pronounced the further away you look. If you take the galaxy in question here it has a redshift of 4. That means we are seeing it as it was 12 billion years ago, because the light has had to travel that many light years. However when that light set off we were only 3 billion light years away. The galaxy itself is now roughly 23.6 billion light years away.

Don't worry if it makes your head hurt - at these kinds of distances astrophysicists use redshifts almost exclusively, in part because it's a single metric that avoids these kinds of ambiguities.

One final point to clarify my original post - the actual paper is perfectly correct, it's the press release that is wrong.

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Re: Run that by me again...

"Don't worry if it makes your head hurt - at these kinds of distances astrophysicists use redshifts almost exclusively, in part because it's a single metric that avoids these kinds of ambiguities."

True enough, the real headaches comes in with gravitational lensing shifting the already red shifted light.

For this, I consider the age, the time scale involved since the big bang, then consider initial density, increasing rarification, toss in a ton of supernovae from supergiants, hypergiants and likely, ridiculous-giants altering star growth via their extinction.

Anybody have time on a supercomputer? I have some interesting modeling to play about with.

If my guesstimate is right, you take the credit, I'll take 10% of the prize money. ;)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Run that by me again...

See

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_expansion_of_space

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Re: "the actual paper is perfectly correct, it's the press release that is wrong."

... so a lesson for scientists - check that press release drafted by the institutional PR department, and make sure it's right (or at least not-wrong ... they're doing their best but they aren't experts). In my case, we rewrote it substantially. That said, you have very little control over what gets bootstrapped by journalists off the back of the release - or worse, of a press-agency remangled precis of the press release.

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Re: Run that by me again...

Gravitational lensing doesn't change the red shift - it merely bends the light. Once its reached the same gravitational level on this side of the lens its back to where it was - ignoring the small expansion of the space it came through.

Which begs the question - does the universe expand linearly or does it expand more in gravity wells?

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Headmaster

Re: Run that by me again...

"begs the question"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

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Re: Run that by me again...

"12 billion light years = 8 billion years?

Is that right? If so, why?"

No, because light always travels at the same speed relative to the viewer. If space is expanding as it crosses then rather than the speed dropping the wavelength changes. So, if the galaxies appear to be 12b ly away today the light left them 12b years ago.

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Re: Run that by me again...

No, because light always travels at the same speed relative to the viewer. If space is expanding as it crosses then rather than the speed dropping the wavelength changes. So, if the galaxies appear to be 12b ly away today the light left them 12b years ago.

But it still takes longer because it has further to travel, and the expansion covers the ground already covered as well as that yet to cover. For a gross simplification reduce the continuous expansion to a single event: light is emitted from a source that is at that point 2 billion light years away. Halfway through its journey the Universe expands so that distance becomes 3 billion light years, meaning the light has another 1½ billion light years to travel. When it finally reaches us we see the object as it was 2½ billion years previously, even though the object is by then 3 billion light years away.

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Mushroom

Re: Run that by me again...

Some of the confusion comes from the unit of measurement, light 'year', that measures distance, not time.

At the risk of making it even more confusing, time dilation implies that (subjective) time progressively slows down, relative to the rest of the universe, as an object travels at ever increasing speed (hence the twin paradox). For photons traveling at light speed, it took very little (subjective) time to travel all those light years.

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Re: Yet another paper made meaningless in popular science coverage... + Re: Run that by me again...

In short, "mad physicist Fiona" is right about the following where she says:

"Because the Universe is constantly expanding, which affects how far the light must travel even while it is en route, and the effect gets ever more pronounced the further away you look. If you take the galaxy in question here it has a redshift of 4. That means we are seeing it as it was 12 billion years ago, because the light has had to travel that many light years. However when that light set off we were only 3 billion light years away. The galaxy itself is now roughly 23.6 billion light years away."

light travel time distance = 12 billion light years = time it took for the image of the galaxies to reach us

angular diameter distance = 3 billion light years = distance the galaxies were when the image began propagating

co-moving distance = 23.6 billion light years = distance the galaxies are when the image reached Earth

These differences in distance are due to expansion not only between the galaxies and the Earth [thus co-moving distance > angular diameter distance], but as well as between the propagating image and the Earth [thus light travel time distance > angular diameter distance].

However, the complaint she is raising is as follows:

- - - - - -

"Yet another paper made meaningless in popular science coverage..."

."..although in this case the error lies squarely with the press office of the Carnegie Institution for Science rather than the re-reporting of it."

"12 billion light years away? That'll be a little over 8 billion years ago then, when the universe was already 5 billion years old and fairly mature, not a mere 1.6 billion years. How did that get through peer review? DID it get through peer review? No: let's have a look at the paper and we see they quote a redshift of 4, which correlates to 12 billion years ago but a distance of almost double that, once you correct for expansion during the interim."

"Sigh. How much work went into this? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars? And then at the final hurdle the publicly announced results are Bowdlerized by some English or Media Studies graduate working at the press office."

- - - - - -

It is very common to report the "light travel time distance" as simply "distance" because most people will relate a "light year" to "the distance that light travels in a single year". Over cosmological spans "the distance that light travels in a single year" isn't uniquely defined because the distance itself affected by the expansion of the universe.

Straight from the press release we find the following sentence, "Fifteen mature galaxies were found at a record-breaking average distance of 12 billion light years, when the universe was just 1.6 billion years old." The Lambda-CDM concordance model puts the age of the universe at 13.798±0.037 billion years based on data gathered from the Planck and WMAP satellites.

If you insist that "distance" refers to "angular diameter distance", you will have a problem saying what is "further" because beyond a redshift of 4 or thereabouts, the "angular diameter distance" actually decreases with increasing "light travel time distance". So taking distance to mean "light travel time distance" is a perfectly sensible thing to do, and it is one that the article does.

If you insist that "distance" refers to "co-moving distance", which appears to me you are because you say, "No: let's have a look at the paper and we see they quote a redshift of 4, which correlates to 12 billion years ago but a distance of almost double that, once you correct for expansion during the interim." then you have to realize that the image does not show these galaxies as they are now, but rather it shows them as they were. At 23.6 billion light years away, the galaxies no longer look like what the image shows, and for all we know they could have merged into an even larger galaxy or black hole!

"12 billion light years away? That'll be a little over 8 billion years ago then, when the universe was already 5 billion years old and fairly mature"

You seem to be inconsistent with your arguments. If 12 billion light years is the "co-moving distance", then yes it would be an image from "8 billion years ago" or "8 billion light years away" when the universe was "5 billion years old", but this is not what they claim. It's not even the same as what you claimed in your following post where you say: "However when that light set off we were only 3 billion light years away. The galaxy itself is now roughly 23.6 billion light years away." Obviously you correct yourself in the second post "Re: Run that by me again...", disproving your own argument that the press release is "wrong".

The "12 billion light years" they talk about does not refer to the "co-moving distance" but rather the "light travel time distance", so it's not an image from "8 billion years ago", but rather it's just as they say "12 billion light years away [= 12 billion years ago]". So therefore, the article is correct, and you are wrong for saying that is wrong. Don't believe me? Look up what the age of the universe is at a "redshift of 4". It's about "1.5 billion years" after the Big Bang, in corroboration with the article, and not with your argument. You know that anyway, based on your comment "Re: Run that by me again...", where you say:

"If you take the galaxy in question here it has a redshift of 4. That means we are seeing it as it was 12 billion years ago, because the light has had to travel that many light years. However when that light set off we were only 3 billion light years away."

Conclusion: The press release is not "made meaningless", and it actually does highlight a significant, cosmological discovery which brings science one step closer to upsetting the apple cart of cosmology.

Signed,

Author of the Cyclic Multiverse Hypothesis

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Yet another paper made meaningless in popular science coverage...

Please for the love of all you hold dear, please email corrections@theregister.co.uk with any problems you spot. We get those emails immediately whereas here I am, a day after publication, catching up with comments and finding a disagreement.

C.

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Re: Run that by me again...

"But it still takes longer because it has further to travel, and the expansion covers the ground already covered as well as that yet to cover. "

You're not grasping the implications of time dilation on light. The light left point A and arrived at point B. Point A and B were 12billion light years apart, and always were from the PoV of the light. The expansion of the universe was included from the instant of the photons' creation as spacetime is 4D, not "3D+a sequence of events".

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None of these is really measured

The distances are not measured using a tape measure, trigonometry, or something that everyone else would do in a real world distance measurement.

These galactic "measurements" are spat out of mathematical models. When the numbers don't stack up, it is worth thinking about whether the models are broken, or are used outside their application.

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Re: None of these is really measured

Have you ever seen thin steel or aluminum stretch? Done with a bit of care, you can stretch those things quite far and it's rather disturbing to look at. You can compress thin metals quite a bit as well and it is really disturbing to look at. You'd think they would crumple or bow, and eventually they will, but not before you've compressed them a significant amount. Temperature also plays big FU's on materials as well.

I only ask because when we first put out 16 billion light year tape measure on the market we were able to observe all those things and other interesting behavior such as standing wave formation and collapse and the development of 'null' space around the most active parts of the rule. Parallax was a real bitch, but we worked that out. The biggest problems was the hook on the end wasn't very suitable for anything but galaxies/planets with at least one 90 degree angle on the back and the rewind spring. I'm sure you've seen common 30' tape measures whip around when unimpeded, the forces at work across billions of light years of rule caused catastrophic rewind spring every time.

It's a bummer for sure, but until the materials guys hit on something better, theoretical models is all we've got.

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Re: None of these is really measured

On a more serious note.

If the model doesn't work that doesn't mean it is broken. It means that we've got definitive evidence that there's more to learn. Ideally, any and all models will be found lacking as we continue to learn about the world around use.

Models and findings are only broken when they are not improved to reflect new information. At its core, science is about using previously collected information to figure out the next question(s) to ask, not to establish definitive answers. The only science that is definitive and not subject to improvement/change is bad science.

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Re: None of these is really measured

It is broken in the sense it is not working.

Good old Newtonian physics works fine at normal day-to-day scales, but it breaks down when you go very fast, very small or very heavy. Then some of Einstein's magic, or quantum physics, step in.

The same happens here: those galactic distance models (eg. red shift) probably work fine over (relatively) short distances etc and with various assumptions, but when you're probing the boundaries and violate the assumptions they don't work any more.

So when you find a galaxy is older than the universe you need to find something to fiddle with until it all makes sense again.

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Re: None of these is really measured

The relation between distance and red shift is based on a mathematical model, namely that our universe is Euclidean or flat over cosmological distances. However, that mathematical model is based on the cosmological distance ladder, which in turn is based on the observation of objects for which trigonometry/parallax does apply on the bottom rung.

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Re: None of these is really measured @Charles

I guess there's some level of tomato tomato with things like this. I see where you're coming from, and if we were using the model to determine how much fuel to put in our spacecraft I would agree with you 100%, the model would most certainly broken. But this is, quite literally, exploratory research and finding the model needs improvement is, arguably, the best success case possible.

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Headmaster

Re: None of these is really measured @Charles

You say təˈmeɪtoʊ!, I say təˈmɑːtəʊ!

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Childcatcher

The article is justified in flailing its arms about.

"On a more serious note."

"If the model doesn't work that doesn't mean it is broken. It means that we've got definitive evidence that there's more to learn. Ideally, any and all models will be found lacking as we continue to learn about the world around use."

"Models and findings are only broken when they are not improved to reflect new information. At its core, science is about using previously collected information to figure out the next question(s) to ask, not to establish definitive answers. The only science that is definitive and not subject to improvement/change is bad science."

You can be the common, REactive kind of scientist who only tests the dominant theories (e.g. Big Bang, Inflationary Theory) until it fails completely, or you can be the PROactive kind of scientist who, decades before the REactive kind of scientist, tests alongside the dominant theories the lesser acknowledged, alternative models (e.g. Electric Universe, Big Bounce, and Fractal Cosmologies), which in some areas never encounter the speed bumps that the dominant theories are forced to deal with.

The advantage that the REactive scientists have over the PROactive scientists is that they are less likely to be seen as crackpots, are more likely to be published in journals of repute (by other REactive scientists), and more likely to make a living as scientists (i.e. receiving grants and contracts). They are also more conservative with their science, choosing to avoid discussions about existing trailer-sized fusion systems which have already achieved C.O.P.>1, galactic Birkeland currents, electrical discharge on comets, hydrinos, and the abundance of "Holocene impact" events.

In many ways, REactive scientists are like Emmet, the main character in the Lego movie. However, I prefer PROactive scientists such as Barbara McClintock, who are like Lucy from the Lego movie. Not "everything is awesome" about this scientific epoch, specifically in the way it effectively defunds research into major alternatives which require a change of paradigm, forcing them to publish in less reputable journals.

It's funny, because in the end it is likely that the REactive scientists will accept the strange, new ideas as if it was theirs, just like they did with Fritz Zwicky's "Dark Matter", and once again these "Emmets" of the science industry will become the "model" of the proper portrayal of science.

SIGH. It's one thing to evolve the current "epoch" of science, but I have much more interest in the science which takes us closer to the next scientific epoch. Let's emphasize that instead!

Conclusion: Popular excitement of discoveries on this level IS warranted and will put us on a transition to a new scientific epoch, just there had been in the Victorian Era when knowledge of electricity and chemistry grew massively. The article is justified in flailing its arms about and is contributing to this change in the field of cosmology.

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Re: None of these is really measured

Despite the down votes, your original post was spot on. Astronomers frequently assert a good bit more certainty about their facts than would a nuclear physics guy. In the case of red shifts Astronomers are in AWG territory. We can measure certain things by parallax, and we've found ways to extend the baseline for that parallax by what seem to be a great amount, but which still only give us what you might call real measurements for a small percentage of our galaxy, in the range of 1-3%. When red shifts were studied more after Einstein's papers we realized that spectra were being red shifted. That allowed us to work out chemical compositions of stars. That in turn helped us establish probable ages and probable masses for stars. With probable masses we were able to deduce estimated distance to the stars. This gets you up around 10%. Within this 10% range the amount of the red shift agrees well with all of the estimated distances. From there it is assumed the distances necessarily correlate with the red shift.

I can work with those assumptions and they are the best data we have, but the reality is that with all the hand offs from one estimation to the next assumption, a small change in one of the initial assumptions that isn't easily verified by independent methods can make large changes in later assumptions. It's why you shouldn't be married to red shift will give you the distance away. You always need to be able to drop that theory like you might a blind date.

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I'm going to say their premature aging is a combination of high pressure work, sleep deprivation, perpetual jet lag, consumption of too much alcohol, use of other 'stuff', a four pack a day smoking habit and marriage. Worked for me.

I realize that variances in the effects of cosmic radiation and poorly understood gravitational forces could skew the causation assumptions a bit, but not enough to completely invalidate them.

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Terminator

Faulty simulation

Apparently, this whole universe might be a simulation, so there are bound to be these anomalies along with dark matter, dark energy etc...

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Sun damage

Sun damage cause premature aging. Moisturiser helps.

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Re: Sun damage

Hypernovae cause *really* bad aging, moisturizer won't help at all, might as well use petrol.

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Typical big bang religion - trying to force the facts to fit the fantasy. The universe is far to large to have come from a singularity. These galaxies are far to old to have developed from a big bang 13.8 billion years ago. Yet the observed facts need to be massaged or ignored if they don't fit the metaphysics.

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How do you know?

Everything we know know has come from observed 'facts' -- things we see that we can explain to ourselves through mathematics which, when tested by further observation, appear to 'work'. We can then make hypotheses on what we don't know, standing on the 'facts' we do know. When something doesn't fit the facts, we are cautious and slow to jettison what has worked so far. Only with overwhelming proof do we move to a new or refined set of facts.

How you know the universe can't have come from a singularity? It appears that your opinion rests on nothing observed. Unusual and unexpected observations do not undermine well-observed and mathematically-validated facts in one swoop. It's like saying 'my cheery tree bloomed a week early this year, so all of climate change is utter rubbish' or 'we seem to have sent a sub-atomic particle to Italy faster than light -- all of Einstein is now trashed'.

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WTF?

@ Aquatyger

Quote: "The universe is far to[sic] large to have come from a singularity."

What? Do you even know what a singularity is?

Singularity = A point in spacetime in which gravitational forces cause matter to have an infinite density and zero volume.

Therefore how large the universe is, is irrelevant, as any amount of matter could be fitted into a singularity.

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I'm sticking* with the Great Green Arkleseizure theory!

*pardon the pun

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Re: @ Aquatyger

Ignorance alert: I have no knowledge of how it all might work.

I think what Aquatyger make be attempting to convey re the singularity point is that there are parts of the big bang model that seem weak, albeit that it's the best model we have. For example, if you put the mass of the universe in a small space you get an enormous black hole. So if you start from there you have to expand that matter at considerably faster than the speed of light to reach escape velocity. Granted, the model does include a period of extremely rapid inflation at greater than light speed. But it's always struck me that that's a little like me saying I can run the 100 metres in 5 seconds. I might be able to but the actual mechanism is hard to work out.

I imagine when better telescopes are available that can peer back further we might start getting a better understanding.

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pun pardoned

beware the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief.

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Re: @ Aquatyger

What aquatyger is trying to imply is that the universe is too large to have travelled all that distance to encompass the universe at the speed of light in 13.8 billion years. Big bangers get over this by saying that matter exceeded the speed of light then slowed to the observed expansion. That has thermodynamic implications that the observed microwave background should be far hotter than 2.8C.

Another work-around is the singularity was not a singularity but inflation occurred diffusely but it just really means that the big bang hypothesis is not a good predictor and provides epicyclic explanations to prop up innacurate predictions. It is more a religion than a science. Some even say it is creationism by stealth.

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Re: @ Aquatyger

"Singularity = A point in spacetime in which gravitational forces cause matter to have an infinite density and zero volume."

Interestingly, electrons are also assumed to have infinite density and zero volume.

Singularities are perhaps mathematical conveniences (mere "what if" objects dreamed up in thought experiments) or mathematical nightmares (full of infinities and divisions by zero which may indicate fundamental gaps in human knowledge).

However totally exciting, new things could be uncovered by pursing models beyond notion of a singularity. Relatively established examples include "Loop quantum gravity" and "Einstein-Cartan-Sciama-Kibble theory of gravity", but there other examples on the verge of acceptance, such as the "Orbitsphere" and "Lamina Disc" models of fundamental particles which are based on overlapping ellipses/circles of charge "elements" enclosing a non-zero, finite volume or area.

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Re: @ Aquatyger

Technically, the Schwarzschild radius is where you are dividing by 0. Inside of that you are probably dividing by an imaginary number. And that's when you get to find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes!

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Joke

"It is an enigma that these galaxies seem to come out of nowhere,"

didn't everything?

Whilst I'm in a questioning mood, "they are easily measured" and "it can be inferred..." Which is it then, measured or inferred?

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Re: "It is an enigma that these galaxies seem to come out of nowhere,"

I understand how you might think everything comes out of nowhere. The fact of the matter is it all comes out of China and some people, continue, despite increased regulatory pressure, to remove the origin labels. It's a shady practice to be sure, but what can we do?

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Occam's razor

Whether or not the PR department has got the numbers wrong, it seems that the paper is contending that the galaxies seem too mature for the age they were when the light was produced.

The abstract suggests that they must have had a sped up version of the ageing seen in other galaxies. While that may well be the case, that's interpreting the observation to fit with the wider model. Sureley it's better to say that they seem at variance to the model. I do hope the paper at least suggested other options. They might possibly have started out from a different composition (sounds unlikely). But the simplest route would be that they had more time to mature because they starter a lot earlier than the others.

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Re: Occam's razor

Even that seemingly simpler explanation opens up a host of uncomfortable questions.

If they started earlier, why don't we see more galaxies like that?

And what are the implications for our theories about the life cycles of Type I and II stars? Certainly if this galaxy is that much more mature because it started earlier, that means type II stars made available higher atomic weight elements for type I stars earlier than we assumed.

Or perhaps the most disturbing question of all: what if this means the red shift, the expansion or both aren't homogenous?

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Re: Occam's razor

I think I'd rather have the uncomfortable questions and possible explanations mentioned even if only as bullet points than just bending things to fit a model. Particularly when that model, while perhaps the least bad model, does have some creaky bits.

It does seem, from what more qualified posters have said, that the PR department have 'over egged the pudding' here and that the galaxy is not quite so 'dawn of time' as they suggest. So perhaps it needs less bending to fit the model. However, if someone working in a related field takes this paper as hard evidence that galaxies can mature more quickly as a result then it's shaky foundations.

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