back to article Astroboffins perplexed by QUADRUPLE QUASAR CLUSTER find

Baffled astronomers at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii are scratching their heads after finding a group of four quasars, a gathering that current cosmological thinking rates as a ten million-to-one chance of occurring. quasars Four into one shouldn't go "If you discover something which, according to current scientific …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "a ten million-to-one chance of occurring."

    But it's a very very very very very big universe, so surely those odds aren't that high?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "a ten million-to-one chance of occurring."

      It's big enough that almost anything possible is probably happening somewhere and sometime - but we also see just a single time and a small amount of space (much of which we've yet to look at closely), so it can still be unlikely that we stumble across a rare entity.

    2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: "a ten million-to-one chance of occurring."

      Magicians have calculated that ten million-to-one chances crop up nine point nine times out of ten.

      (Apologies to TP.)

    3. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: "a ten million-to-one chance of occurring."

      Maybe so, but they're all in a straight line! I wonder if it's deliberate.

      1. fearnothing

        Re: "a ten million-to-one chance of occurring."

        When they zoom out, it will turn out to be the first diagonal in the phrase "We apologise for the inconvenience"

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "a ten million-to-one chance of occurring."

      You missed a couple of extra verys there.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a nice headline

    In science, business, politics or even theology [*] there's little so reassuring as hearing doubts being aired, rather than the usual dogmatic tub-thumping and shouting-down of alternative interpretations.

    [*] not to be confused with braying chauvinistic wilful ignorance...

  3. gerdesj Silver badge

    "... but more research is needed"

    "but more research grants are needed" is probably what was really meant.

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

      Re: "... but more research is needed"

      They say, "more research." You say "more grants." I say "road trip." Properly conjugated.

      I am not sure if you mean that the researchers should work for free or that basic science has no value, but I disagree with both statements.

  4. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

    ten million to one?

    Ten million to one in any given location, or in the entire Universe?

  5. Forget It

    The article says:

    Supermassive black holes can only shine as quasars if there is gas for them to swallow, and an environment that is gas rich could provide favorable conditions for fueling quasars.

    So they may be more quasar out there that are not shining - as they are out of gas.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      So they may be more quasar out there that are not shining - as they are out of gas.

      I'm no astrophysicist (nor do I play one on TV), but I think that would mean that, by definition, they're no longer quasars - just your common-or-garden supermassive black hole. It's the shining bit that makes one a quasar.

  6. Lars Silver badge

    Let me see

    What was the possibility to win in lotto.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: Let me see

      >What was the possibility to win in lotto.

      A lot less likely that four quasars, doing a dance, one wearing a morris-man hat.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wot! No red-shifts?

    Really need the relative red-shifts to know how far apart they may actually be.

    Olber's Paradox is worth recalling when thinking on this scale.

    1. Particle in a Box

      Re: Wot! No red-shifts?

      Page 54 of the Arxiv paper might assist in this regard.

  8. MysticMuse

    Time to rethink their theories? Haven't they heard of The Electric Universe!?! Or Plasma Cosmology? Stupid terms like "falling" are false and nonsensical and should be omitted. The Universe is a geometric fractal dichotomy of energy and information. Why waste time describing things with anthropocentric terms like "falling" which is unscientific when what we have here is an observation of high energy activity that will give us lots of information. Oh it is because the theories that as stated need to be reworked might as well just be thrown out the window to "fall" into an oblivion of error.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    I know this may not go over well.

    But personally I'm tired of theories being widely proclaimed as fact, only to be later shot down or significantly altered.

    Nothing to do with the matter at hand, by the way. I'm more than willing to believe that it may be a random, one-in-ten-million chance. But I'm also willing to think that the underlying theory could be full of holes.

    And the vicious shooting down of "doubters" seems highly problematic. Most science could use a very high level of skepticism and criticism, even in cases like climate change where the skepticism seems counter-productive to the health of the environment. The scientist-as-priest and critic-as-heretic narrative seems quite dangerous.

    1. dbtx Bronze badge

      Re: I know this may not go over well.

      I don't feel quite the same way but I think I know where you're coming from. Mongo calls this reassuring, and it is-- now if only they would stop putting things like this (the existing theory that needs worked over) into test questions for kids where they are implicitly presented as fact whenever the answer is marked correct but not explicitly presented as tentatively so. The proper escape-clause prefix "According to current theories" gets dropped all too often. What I find reassuring is rather the idea that the universe is not suggestible and reality is not made by consensus even while the "right answers" are. It will be nice if the kiddies were given proper introductions to skepticism & critical thinking quite a bit earlier... mine would probably be exceedingly skeptical in a bad way, if they had better than a ten-million to one chance of ever even existing-- which, according to current theories, they don't.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      If you want to believe things, pick a religion

      In science, the test of truth is an experiment. Newton's laws of motion were an excellent theory confirmed by every test up until the orbit of Uranus. The difference between the real orbit of Uranus and the one expected from Newton's laws could be explained by the existence of another planet. This planet - Neptune - was found. When a theory makes predictions that turn out to be true, it is a useful theory. It is tempting to talk of the theory as being true, but that is a lazy simplification so that non-scientists don't stop listening when the sentences become long and complicated.

      A few years after the discovery of Neptune, the orbit of Mercury was found not to fit perfectly with the predictions from Newton's Laws. Scientists knew the drill, and started calculating an orbit for Vulcan to explain the differences. Vulcan was never found. At some point, scientists should have accepted the absence of Vulcan proved Newton's laws of motion and his theory of gravity were wrong. Someone with a better knowledge of history and modern hind-sight might be able to put a date on that. In the mean time:

      Sound waves are travelling changes in air density/pressure. Ocean waves are travelling changes in water depth/speed. Seismic waves are travelling changes in rock position/velocity. Take away the air/water/rock and the waves cannot travel. Light waves are travelling changes in the electric/magnetic field of erm, err ... luminiferous aether. Take away the aether, and light cannot travel. A vacuum pump cannot suck luminiferous aether out of a bottle. Light waves can travel through the vacuum between galaxies.

      Michelson and Morley saw this as an opportunity to discover the grand universal system of co-ordinates. They devised and experiment to measure the velocity of Earth through the aether. They got the answer 0. They waited twelve hours for Earth's spin to get the velocity of their equipment in a different direction, measured again and got 0. Months later, with the Earth's orbit taking the lab in a new direction, the velocity of Earth was zero compared to that of the aether.

      At this point scientists could have proudly proclaimed they had _proved_ that the Earth was the centre of the universe, and everything rotated around us. The enormous centrifugal force on distant galaxies was countered by erm, err ... magic. Luckily, hammered in the face by experimental evidence, the theories of luminiferous aether and the grand universal system of co-ordinates were shoved in the dustbin and replaced by special relativity.

      Newtons laws of motion are wrong. They make excellent predictions for low velocities, but get worse and worse as velocity increases and are completely useless near the speed of light. Likewise Newton's law of gravity is completely wrong. It gives good results for the gravitational field of a planet that start to go a bit wonky near a star. When you get really strong gravitational fields near a neutron star or black hole, you need general relativity to calculate what happens.

      As I am a scientist, I would love to test climatology with an experiment. All I need is a million copies of Earth, and to be dictator of all of them for a few centuries. I would impose different carbon emission limits on each planet and draw some graphs showing how carbon emissions relate to climate. Anyone willing to provide a grant to fund my experiment?

      Without such an experiment, I am happy to reduce carbon emissions as a precaution against the possible effects predicted by simulations. Statements about inevitable doom based on climate _simulations_ wind me up. Luckily, certainty is not required as there are excellent reasons not to be completely dependent on fossil fuels that have nothing to do with the climate. Lets build a few windmills where they are cost effective, put in solar panels where the sun shines and build a pile of nuclear power stations so we do not need to burn mountains of coal, oil and gas bought at enormous expense from countries where we are not entirely popular.

      It would be nice if people's attention span could last long enough for 'this theory has not yet been proved wrong'. Until then, I am going to have to put up with 'this theory is true'. It would be great if climatology were a science based on experiments instead of simulation. No-one can afford the experiments. It would be astounding if the UK adopted an energy policy that actually added up but if we cannot have that aren't we lucky that anyone mentioning the problem online can be silenced by the state?

      1. peter_dtm

        @ Flocke Kroes

        I'd just refer you to the models on which the whole catestrophic anthromorphic climate change theory is based.

        All of which predict a tropospheric hot spot.

        Which is not there.

        Models falsified.

        Then I'd refer you to the lack of any measurable (statistically significant that is) warming recently - again the models on which CAGW is based; insisit that increasing CO2 concentration WILL result in increased warming. During the current lack of warming; CO2 concentration has continued to rise - at a not insignificant rate.

        Again the modles are falsified.

        Since the models on which the CAGW theory are falsified; it follows that the theory is falsified.

        Occams razor -- the null theory (current levels of observed climate change are natural) remains un sullied and unchallanged and it still remains for the proponents of CAGW to demonstrate an argument that provides falsifiable experiments that robustly back up their currently poorly evidenced theory. Until this is done CAGW remains an unsubstantiated theoretical exercise in bad science.

        1. Al Black

          Re: @ Flocke Kroes

          I agree with you that AGW is a busted theory, but this has very little to do with multiple Quasars!

          1. peter_dtm

            Re: @ Flocke Kroes

            don't blame me !

            Blame Flocke Kroes for the gratuitous hand wringing after claiming to be a scientist !

      2. DaddyHoggy

        Re: If you want to believe things, pick a religion

        I think you're doing Newton a disservice - Apollo 11 made it to the moon using only Newtonian derived motions, the Voyager probes made it to the outer planets doing the same, and we recently spent 10 years flying a space probe to comet using those 'laws' - so they're pretty good for most things.

        I'm also a scientist - ex-Experimental Particle Physicist at RAL, ex-Rocket Scientist with the UK MOD and I also have degrees in Computer Science and Modelling and Simulation and therefore I'll use this quote from George Box: "Essentially, all models are wrong, but some, are useful."

    3. Bunbury

      Re: I know this may not go over well.

      Agreed. It's a particular issue with this sort of stuff because the scientists can only observe rather than experiment and the new discoveries are often at the edge of the capabilities of their instruments. On the other hand "it's our best current model but here are the things that don't quite fit" can be a much lengthier, if perhaps more accurate, set of words.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: I know this may not go over well.

      I'm tired of theories being widely proclaimed as fact, only to be later shot down or significantly altered.

      Which theory was "being widely proclaimed as fact", and by whom, in this case?

      I haven't been paying the closest attention, but I must confess that no one's come knocking on my door to insist that quasars are the result of large amounts of matter falling into supermassive black holes and we shouldn't expect to see four of them hanging out together.

      Indeed, when I do take a gander at what some astrophysicists are saying, they seem rather fond of couching their statements in the usual flurry of qualifications, error bounds, and the like. Not readin' a whole lotta dogmatism when I skim the occasional paper on arXiv or what have you.

  10. Unicornpiss Silver badge


    Perhaps a truly advanced race was just doing a bit of landscaping?

  11. Dick Pountain

    May I be the first to use and copyright the name "The God Cluster" for this phenomenon, ready for when the tabloids latch onto it

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Since it does not involve slebs, sport or politics then it's unlikely to get reported on.

  12. Doctor_Wibble

    There can be only one

    It's a weather balloon. Singular. Everything else is a fake.

    Top right is an echo, immediately below left of the 'real' one is a refractively formed duplicate image as a result of the dust cloud, and the lower left one is a view of the back of it by virtue of gravitational lensing and a really big mirror. And magnets.

    Or I could say "this is evidence of dark matter interacting with dark energy" and everyone will just nod in agreement because until such time as someone figures out what either of those actually is, we can use them as excuses for anything.

    Corpuscles and phlogiston FTW

    1. Queasy Rider

      Re: There can be only one

      Although your comment seems to be tongue-in-cheek, the first thought that occurred to me upon viewing the picture was that I was looking at an example of gravitational lensing. The spacing and sizes of the quasars seemed to indicate (to me at least) that quasars one and three were the same item, as were two and four, and thus were really only two quasars, but I assumed that the boffins had considered that possibility and had for some reason discarded it.

      1. Doctor_Wibble

        Re: There can be only one

        This one did start out with thinking along the lines of any number of lensing, reflecting, echoing, resonating etc etc effects that might be discounted by someone in their enthusiasm. If something is so rare that it has not been seen before, what's the guarantee that it has been absolutely correctly identified with no margin of error?

        Though this really isn't my field so the vague hint at silliness was added to reduce the impact of being shot down in a humiliating storm of "ha ha you don't know how to use the three shells" because I'm a bit busy and don't have the time for a proper sulk...

  13. Zot

    You can't place odds in an infinite universe.

    Especially when you've only found something once!

    Typical humans, putting their own size and excepted scales on thing - there maybe Quasars that flash every 20 Earth years but they're not looking for those.

    1. DaddyHoggy

      Re: You can't place odds in an infinite universe.

      Scientists are looking for quasars that flash every 20 years because given what we theorise and can fit by observation a quasar that flashed every 20 years wouldn't be a quasar...

      1. DaddyHoggy

        Re: You can't place odds in an infinite universe.

        And having missed the editing window of opportunity - I realise that I think you meant and/or were referring to 'pulsars' not 'quasars' - a pulsar being a fast spinning neutron star (which 'flashes') and a quasar being a supermassive black hole that is indirectly visible due to the large amount of material being pulled into its inescapable gravity well.

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