Friday, December 26, 2008

Electric Cosmos: Predictions

Hope everyone had a good holiday.

I'll make a few general comments here about the Electric Universe issue before getting back to my regular creationism topics. I apologize for the 'shotgun' scatter of the topics. I do reserve the right to return to this topic in the future, should something pique my interest or if something interesting happens with my “To Do” topics listed at the end of this post.

Of late, I have examined some of the posts and blogs on Thunderbolts forum. There are loads of flashy claims, but nothing of sufficient rigor that could really be called a 'prediction' in the scientific sense. The EU community seems to think that every astronomical image is something you make up a story to explain. For the EU community, 'you'll get a bright flash' seems to qualify as a 'prediction'. Their research does not consist of collecting data from the huge numbers of public archives and actually analyzing it, but of 'spinning' the latest astronomy press releases to their liking. They naturally hype the small scale stuff since the large scale predictions implied by their models fail so miserably.

Astronomy has long past the stage of taking pictures for aesthetic reasons. Modern CCD imagers record photon counts in specific spectral bands and coordinates that tie back to fluxes emitted by distant objects. Modern theories actually compute those fluxes to match to these observations. In modern astronomy, a rigorous prediction would be: expect a flux between x and y photons/cm^2/s between wavelengths of 300-400 nanometers when the object is at a distance of 2 kiloparsecs. Where are the equivalent predictions from the EU community, with the analysis of how they got the numbers?

The Thunderbolts forum allegedly hosts the 'brains' of the EU community - yet few of them seem be able to handle anything beyond the simplest analyses, most of which are below the level of high-school physics, and even then they are woefully incomplete. Many of the problems in the EU model could be examined at a level of high-school math and physics, yet these Ph.D. electrical engineers can't seem to figure it out!

Consider this video from the EU crowd on YouTube.

Most of their 'predictions' seem to come from misrepresenting well-established science, much like the creationists. Here's a summary of the predictions (bold) mentioned in this video, followed by some of my observations:
  1. Electric flash precedes explosion and more energetic than anticipated. I suspect this event has not been confirmed as an 'electric' event.
  2. No increase in water production in coma. Comets in the inner solar system (short-period comets), because they are more regularly heated by the Sun, may have lost much more of their water than long-period comets which receive much less solar heating.
  3. Surface with craters not expected for 'dirty snowball' model. Where is this claimed in standard model for comets?,
  4. Both of Saturn's poles are 'hot'. Not one hot, the other cold. Hot spot created by flow of electric current along magnetic field lines. A similar process happens on the Earth, just apparently not as persistent as on Saturn.
  5. Io volcanic plumes are actually electric arcs and would be hotter than lava. Claims the flows are too hot to be measured by Galileo's instruments? Moving volcanic plumes? Volcanic plumes move on the Earth but much slower. This is how the island chain of Hawaii was built. Volcanism on Io was predicted before discovery based on the tidal flexing by Jupiter. The temperatures and colors of the lava are consistent with the various forms of sulfur, spectroscopically confirmed on Io.
  6. Martian dust storms from dust devils? Frankly, this prediction makes no sense to me and I suspect it is probably a 'problem' manufactured by the EU community.
There is also a 'predictions' list on the Thunderbolts forum website: Some of these claims overlap the list above, but the one I am already the most familiar with is in regards to supernova SN 1987A.

Here's two predictions from the standard supernova model that are unexplainable in the electric star model:

- Spectral lines of Cobalt & Nickel in ejecta as predicted by SN nucleosynthesis models. Here's some links to the references and original papers.
- neutrino burst from SN 1987A, as predicted in core-collapse nucleosynthesis models
How do 'electric stars' produce cobalt and neutrinos?

Next, I'll summarize the failures of EU model predictions covered in the previous entries in this series:

An "Electric Sky" Response?

Solar Resistor Model:
Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model
  • predicts magnetic fields 1000-1,000,000 times larger than measured.
  • ignores that current streams of ions and electrons are subject to numerous instabilities which make them break up in short timescales.
Solar Capacitor Model:
Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. I.
Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. II.
  • predicts a solar proton wind 200 times faster than observed.
  • predicts energetic particle fluxes far in excess of what we observe. (protons a billion times larger). They are also far higher than the most deadly regions of the Earth radiation belts, meaning that interplanetary travel would be sure death for astronauts.
  • in situ measurements do not show a high-energy stream of electrons heading towards the Sun.
  • Without an external EMF maintaining the potential between the photosphere and heliopause, the Electric Sun will shut down due to charge neutralization in a very tiny fraction of a second.
So the big problem for the EU advocates is where is the 'battery' or AC generator that drives the Sun and other stars? Their response seems to be “Pay no attention to the EMF behind the curtain!”

Some final comments on the original Thunderbolts thread.

M5k says: “he raises a number of interesting points, especially in the “General Complaints“ section.” M5k is referring to my original document: “The Electric Sky: Short-Circuited”. I can find no followup to any of the issues I raise in this section, such as:
- Where are the robust numerical predictions from the EU community that others can test?
- Can the Electric Sun model reproduce the far-side imagery from helioseismology data that the Standard Solar model has achieved? I have seen no demonstration of this from them. These models are utilized to monitor solar activity for the protection of astronauts and satellites.
- and many others...

Heftruck says: “I never liked deducing “facts” from theory ..”
This statement ignores the fact that these facts are then tested against observations. This process works very well in areas where the science is well understood and even in many cases where the science is not well understood. It is this prediction capability that makes engineering possible. It was this process that helped discover the neutrino before it was detected experimentally, and was even contributed to the development of the atomic bomb - consider that the major players in the U.S. nuclear program, such as Hans Bethe and Edward Teller, were applying nuclear physics to understand the power source of the stars before they participated in the development of nuclear weapons.

So what was actually accomplished by the EU community in discussing my analysis?
  • They have failed to demonstrate any real errors in my analysis.
  • They have failed to demonstrate rigorously that the any revisions they suggest in my analysis will in any way solve the problems I point out in their model.
Finally, here's my current (sic) Electric Universe “To Do List”, subject to change:
  • Complete the Solar Capacitor problem, integrating the Maxwell field equations for the spherically symmetric steady-state case and the spherically-symmetric time-dependent case. Consider asymmetric models if time permits.
  • Read some of the papers by C.E.R. Bruce & H. Zanstra, referenced in the EU page on supernovae. Many of these papers are available freely online through the ADS.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled creationism topics...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. II

Now we continue an examination of the Solar Capacitor model, concentrating on the particle fluxes implied by the model.

One of the most fundamental principles in this question is the continuity equation. We assume that electrons and protons make the complete trip between the solar photosphere and the heliopause. Any losses due to impacts with planets are small enough to be ignored in the total solar budget (though the impact on the planets themselves could be substantial) due to their small size. Therefore, it is simple to show that the flux of electrons, j_e, and of protons, j_p, at any radial position, r, other than the origin of the particles, can be found by:

We also know that from the current density, j, and the mean particle speed, v, we can determine the charge density for electrons and protons by the fact that

From these relations, and the input parameters we've defined in the previous post, i.e.

Electron flux density at heliopause = 1e+9 electrons/m^2/s
Proton flux density at solar photosphere = 4.6e17 protons/m^2/s

Note that integrated over the area of their respective source surfaces, the total current will be the same for electrons and protons, a constraint that Dr. Scott claims will maintain charge neutrality.

From these boundary conditions and the physical relationships defined above, we can determine a number of characteristics of the particle fluxes at Earth orbit. They are summarized in the table below.

Speed (v/c):0.9999400.874387
Speed (m/s):2.998e+082.621e+08
Energy (MeV):4.606995.394
Density (m^-3):3.331e+043.810e+04
Flux (m^-2 s^-1):9.986e+129.986e+12
Flux (cm^-2 s^-1):9.986e+089.986e+08

Again, note that the fluxes are equal because they were chosen to pass the same total current at their respective sources. But also note that because the two flows have different speeds at the Earth's orbit, the charge densities will be different, a consequence of the continuity relationship above. With a surplus of protons, there is an excess positive charge density at this location of +4.8e3/m^3. We can use the same techniques to plot the charge distribution from the solar surface to the heliopause. The results are plotted in the figures below. To avoid the dramatic changes in scale because the flow density increases with decreasing radius, instead we scale the charge density by the charge density times the square of the radial distance. This gives us a measure of the amount of charge in each concentric spherical shell around the Sun.

Figure 1a (top) shows the charge density distribution of electrons and protons individually in the solar capacitor model. The density is multiplied by r^2 to better illustrate the relative density of the two charge carriers.

Figure 1b(bottom) illustrates the net charge density in the solar capacitor model. Again, the value is multiplied by r^2 to better illustrate the relative contribution of positive and negative charges.

One of the first results that jumps out at you is that over a large range of the distance within the heliopause, there is a NET POSITIVE CHARGE from 0.01AU to over 10AU.This is due to the fact that the fixed potential between the two electrodes (the Sun and the heliopause) create electron and proton streams that travel at different speeds. This keeps the charge densities different all along the path and the net charge does not balance to zero!

To be fair, one could tune the current emitted at the photosphere so that it more completely balances the electron charge density over this range.However, this requires extreme fine tuning. Matching the current densities of the electrons and protons does not guarantee a net charge density of zero, in contradiction to Dr. Scott's claim.

Next, let's compare these predictions of the Solar Capacitor model with some actual observations.

Plenty of satellites patrol the region between the Earth and the Sun: SOHO, ACE, Wind, more recently, STEREO A and B. They measure solar wind speed, composition, magnetic field, even electron energies. The data are all public. You can find some of it in places like the online archives and virtual observatories

If I examine some recent ACE data (December 14, 2008), we get fluxes for protons with energies greater than 10MeV protons of about 2 protons/cm^2/s. At energies above 30MeV, the flux drops to about half this value.

The solar capacitor model requires a flux of about 1e9 protons/cm^2/s at energies of around 990 MeV, nearly a billion times larger than the measured flux at this energy!

Next, we look at the low-energy (velocity) protons, such as from Table 1 of "Space Weather: The Solar Perspective" by Rainer Schwenn
Here, we see that the low energy flux is very large, but those don't help Scott's model.

For solar wind electrons, we can check "Kinetic Physics of the Solar Corona and Solar Wind" by Eckart Marsch:
which shows that the electron velocity distribution in the solar wind at 1AU is not towards the Sun, as required in the solar capacitor model, but largely isotropic (with some enhancement along the magnetic field direction).

We can also examine the 27-day history of the solar electron flux at geostationary orbit
Here, we see that in situ measurements demonstrate there is no stream of electrons inbound towards the Sun, contrary to the predictions of the solar capacitor model!

So why aren't the EU advocates talking about it?

Next, let's compare the particle flux predicted for the Solar capacitor to the flux of particles trapped in the Earth's radiation belts

What do we find? Protons with an energy greater than 10MeV have a flux of 1e5/cm^2/s. Electrons with energies greater than 1MeV have a flux of 1e6/cm^2/s

These peak fluxes at these energies are fatal doses for astronauts! They also do a notorious amount of damage to spacecraft electronics unless the electronics are radiation hardened.

Yet the steady electron and proton fluxes of the solar wind predicted to power the solar capacitor model is 100-1000 times higher than the flux in the Earth's radiation belts!

Note that this is the STEADY flux in the solar capacitor model. What does it imply about the radiation shielding required to protect astronauts for interplanetary travel? What does it say for the prospects of humans going to other planets? Remember also, that the Moon is outside the Earth's magnetosphere, exposed to this flow, for most of its orbit. What chances do astronauts have on the Moon?

There are a number of interesting predictions by this model with the EU advocates don't talk about. Here's a couple off the top of my head.
  1. What is the total energy in the outbound proton flow?
  2. If you examine these results closely, you may find that they reveal another physical inconsistency in Scott's model. Can you identify it? Can you setup how you would solve it and show the results?

Can you think of more?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. I

Here I'll continue my response to Thunderbolts Forum (TBF) critique of my critique of Don Scott's “The Electric Sky”. In this post, I'll focus on their response to my calculations of the deficiencies of another one of their proposed models for externally powering the Sun.

In this model, presented graphically in figure 1, the sun is powered by radially inbound electrons streaming from the heliopause which acts like a cathode. The photosphere of the Sun acts as the anode for the system, receiving the electrons and converting them to thermal or optical energy by their impacts. The solar photosphere also acts as a source for solar protons and ions as part of the solar wind. The electrons are accelerated inward, and the ions outward by a large potential drop between the heliopause and the solar surface. A first examination of this model resembles the popular spherical capacitor models often examined in the electromagnetism chapters in physics classes, so I will call it the Solar Capacitor model. This model does not have an obvious integration with the larger cosmos, unlike the Solar Resistor model discussed in the previous post, but I'll deal with those issues later.
Figure 1: Components of Electric Sun model

Later in the TBF thread, Don Scott reports a number of values for electrons at the heliopause to explain the solar power source in this model. I'll ignore some of the math errors Dr. Scott seems to make as we're just interested in order-of-magnitude agreement.

* interstellar electron speed of 1e5 m/s
* electron density of 10,000 electrons/m^3

These give an electron current density of 1.6e-10 amp/m^2 which with the heliopause assumed at 100AU (1.49e13 m) places a current across this boundary of 4.5e17 amps. With a voltage drop of 1e9, this yields a power of 4.5e26 watts, a little more than the observed solar luminosity. (Note that we could fiddle with a range of values here to get the same luminosity - 1e10 volts for 4e16 amps would work as well.) We'll use these as our input values to the model. Let's also note that Dr. Scott specifies that the solar wind speed measured by spacecraft runs between 2e5 and 1e6 m/s.

First, I'll outline the basics of the analysis at a level which might be called a first-order approximation - it lays the basic framework while ignoring some of the interactions which would complicate a first analysis. The goal is to get an idea of magnitudes of other quantities we can determine from such a configuration using fundamental physical principles such as energy and charge conservation.

- radial symmetry. The Sun looks roughly the same regardless of the direction we look at it.
- time independence. We're interested in the bulk steady production of energy, not episodic events like flares and CMEs.
- the motion of electrons & protons are controlled purely by potential at photosphere & heliopause. We can use conservation of energy to determine the particle energy all along the trajectory.

'i' indicated the initial potential and kinetic energy and 'f' index indicates the final potential and kinetic energy values. The kinetic energy of a particle, E_k, is related to the particle velocity by

Here q is the charge of the particle m is the rest mass of the particle, Phi is the electric potential field value at radial position r.
- potential in the space between the Sun and the heliopause is assumed coulombic. This is also a consequence of the radial symmetry of the problem and assumed charge neutrality in the intervening space.

Using this equation, we can solve for the charge necessary to produce a 1e9 volt drop between the heliopause (100AU) and the solar surface (~0.003AU). We see that it requires a net charge a the Sun of +77.44e6 coulombs.

Note that all of the above equations should be familiar to anyone who has taken a competent high-school level physics class.

What are we not including?
- We assume counter-streaming electrons and ions are not interacting. This ignores energy losses due to scattering as well as nuclear processes such as pair production (electron-positrons and muons). All these processes are well-studied in particle accelerators.
- We assume the electromagnetic fields generated by the streaming electrons and ions are small enough to be ignored. Such fields would alter the flows, diverting their energy from going to the solar photosphere.

The advantage of this approximation is that both of the ignored effects described above would reduce the energy of the electrons reaching the solar photosphere by distributing the energy in the intervening space. This means that we get an upper bound, or maximum amount of energy that can possibly reach the solar surface. Inclusions of any of these refined processes will make agreement for the Electric Sun model even worse than we are about to see.

Using the equations above, we can plot the energies, and therefore the velocities of electrons, protons and alpha particles in the region between the photosphere and the heliopause (Figures 2 & 3). The horizontal distance scale is logarithmic for clarity. Note that the Earth is located at 1AU.

The protons and positive ions, repelled by the positive charge of the Sun, are accelerated as they move out. The electrons accelerate on the way towards the Sun.

Figure 2: Energy of particles vs. radial distance from the Sun. We also plot the potential (voltage) of the solar field. The radial distance is plotted logarithmically in astronomical units (AU).

Figure 3: Particle radial velocities vs. Radial distance from the Sun. Speeds based on energies from Figure 2. The radial distance is plotted logarithmically in astronomical units (AU).

With a closer examination of the actual values, we see that things start to fall apart for this model very quickly.

* The inbound electrons accelerate to relativistic speeds and are close to the speed-of-light by the time they reach 10AU from the Sun. By the time they reach Earth orbit (1 AU), they have energies of about 4.6 MeV (million electron volts). This is well above the pair-production threshold energy for electrons. Any matter they strike can generate showers of secondary electron-positron pairs. This includes planets, moon, and spacecraft (with and without crews).

* The outbound protons, starting close to the Sun and the strongest gradient in the potential, accelerate to near 1GeV (gigaelectron volts) by 0.1 AU. In velocities, this translates to over 0.87c (=2.6e8 m/s) for protons. Alpha particles (helium nuclei) reach nearly 2 GeV and a speed of 0.75c (2.3e8 m/s). Compare this to the solar wind speed Dr. Scott reports above. The Electric Sun model predicts a solar wind speed that is a factor of over 200 higher than the measured outbound solar wind speed!

Next, let's examine the particle fluxes implied by this model. At the heliopause, an electron current density of 1.6e-10 amp/m^2 corresponds to an electron flux of 1e+9 electrons/m^2/s and a total current through the surface of 4.5e17 amps. Dr. Scott claims that the outbound proton current matches the electron current, keeping the charge density neutral (we'll also see why the charge density will not remain neutral in this configuration), so for this next step, we assume a total number of protons emitted at the Sun is equivalent to 4.5e17 amps. At the photosphere, this corresponds to a proton flux of 4.6e17 protons/m^2/s.

But wait, the charge on the Sun to maintain the billion volt potential drop is only 77.44e6 coulombs! If the outgoing proton flux is 4.5e17 amps, the Sun will lose its entire positive charge in only 77.44e6 coulombs/4.5e17amps = 1.7e-10 seconds! Without an external source maintaining the solar potential, the Electric Sun will shut down in about 170 picoseconds! Remember, we have not yet included the effects of the net charge reduction due to the same amount of incoming electrons! If we include these electrons, the shutdown time for the Sun is even short (i.e. HALF the current estimate).

What maintains this potential?? Where is the incredible power source that maintains it??? That is the REAL mystery of the Electric Cosmos and its advocates never talk about that!

Would you trust an electrical engineer who designed his lighting system (in this case, the Sun) without an EMF to drive it?

In the next post on this model, we'll see even more implications of the Electric Sun model that fail when compared to observations.
(Author's note: realized I had reversed cathode & anode. Fixed 1/4/2009)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model

Here I'll continue my response to the Thunderbolts Forum (TBF) critique of my critique of Don Scott's book, "The Electric Sky".

In this post, I'll focus on their response to my calculations of the deficiencies of one of their proposed models for externally powering the Sun. Because this particular model seems to suggest the Sun is powered as a resistive load along an interstellar 'current', I will label this the “Solar Resistor Model”. This model has the advantage that it integrates nicely with the Plasma Cosmology galaxy model advocated by Peratt et al. If galaxies form at the intersection of giant current streams, what does this look like on a solar system scale? The main current can consist of many small filaments which light individual stars. This at least exhibits some physical consistency, which is more than can be said about other EU models.

M5k asks: "I'd still like to see some commentary on Bridgman's calculations under "Powering the Sun from Outside" that start on page 17 of the pdf."

This request is seconded by other forum members such as 'upriver' and 'JohnW'. Some TBF members had the integrity to point out that I had raised issues in my analysis that must be addressed. However, the only issue that made it to the forum and received any feedback was my electric solar power computation based on the solar resistor model. Here I'll respond to some of their statements on this particular topic.

I outlined the full details of my analysis. It is a high-school physics problem that could be examined on something as simple as a spreadsheet program. Why are none of the TBF members able to do even this simple analysis and report on the result? Isn't the forum the home of the 'brains' of the EU community? Why do they seem so incapable of doing even this basic math/physics problem?

nick_c asks: "Is Bridgman taking into account the amount of the power output that can be attributed to nuclear fusion taking place on or above the surface of the Sun?"

No I did not. But again, it is so simple to demonstrate that it doesn't help and in many ways makes things much worse for EU claims.

Work the problem from other direction. Knowing the magnetic field value you can have, determine the maximum power you can put into the Sun from an electric current. The difference between this and the total solar luminosity is the amount of energy you must make up from other sources.

This resistor model is sufficiently simple that from the details I've presented, it is easy to produce a 'Current-Luminosity' relationship with simple high-school algebra. From the relations defined in "Powering the Sun from the Outside", pp 17-18 of "The Electric Sky: Short-Circuited", we find:

and a 'Magnetic Field-Luminosity' relationship

where I've replaced the power, P, with luminosity, L, in the same units of watts. The only free parameter remaining in these relationships is the electron mean kinetic energy, E_k.

From these equations, we see that for any given luminosity, if we want to reduce the magnetic field, we must increase the energy of the electrons, an issue that creates a host of additional problems.

For a given electron energy, to drop the magnetic field to an appropriate value on the solar surface requires a current reduction by a factor of about a thousand. For the adjustment at Earth's orbit, a factor of about a billion is required. To solve this, we reduce the luminosity from the current by an equivalent factor. Any reduction of the main current sufficient to solve the magnetic field problem will require the power difference to be made up in nuclear energy, which means that now their model requires the Sun to be predominantly nuclear-powered.

Other than ambiguous references to producing helium from hydrogen, the EU proponents do not specify which nuclear reactions are taking place on the solar surface. Once you know the specific reactions, there are plenty of resources to retrieve experimental and theoretical reaction-rate cross sections. Combined with information about composition, temperature, and density (and it's easy to compute this over some reasonable range of values), it's generally very easy to compute reaction rates and energy output. Many nuclear reaction networks can be run on something as simple as a spreadsheet. I used to do my nuclear astrophysics homework problems in graduate school this way, and that was using a computer from over fifteen years ago.

X- and gamma-rays from nuclear reactions at the Sun's surface will also be very visible, since there is less matter at the solar surface to down-scatter the photons to visible light. The RHESSI spectrometer routinely observes the Sun in gamma-rays. Some nuclear reactions have been identified on the surface but at nowhere near the intensity to explain a substantial fraction of the Sun's output (see the RHESSI web site:

David Talbott asks: "Does Bridgman realize that the subject is a glow discharge and that the electrons are drifting in ever-so-slowly (in aggregate, centimeters per hour?) along "transmission lines" following the direction of the magnetic field? Don't know, but let's find out."

Electrons carry energy via their motion. Low-speed electrons are low-energy electrons! If they're moving slowly, you need a lot more electrons to carry the same amount of energy. Note the relationships above. For a given luminosity, lowering the electron energy requires an increase in the current. It also generates an increase in the magnetic field.

And these 'transmission lines'? Carrying energy from where to where?

I don't see any demonstration from the EU advocates that a glow discharge (which is generally an emission spectrum) matches the spectrum observed in the solar corona (which varies between the regions known as the F- and K-corona).

MGmirkin asks: "Does he take into account that plasma / electrical processes can be non-linear processes?"

Since I spelled out the assumptions and equations used in my calculation sufficient for anyone to reproduce and/or extend them, you know exactly what non-linearities I'm including. However, if the EU advocates want to play in that ballpark, I invite them to spell out the non-linearities in mathematical form, with the appropriate physical justifications (Maxwell's equations, MHD, etc.).

Beyond that, I did a straight energy-budget calculation. Non-linearities may shift energy content between different modes, but it doesn't alter the overall amount of energy available vs. amount expended. Then again, I don't see any references or links to demonstrate that the EU community has actually done this calculation either.

This question also demonstrates a larger familiarity with buzzwords than physics. 'Non-linear' has become the new 'quantum indeterminancy' or 'zero-point energy', a term bandied about when someone wants to claim something is complex, mysterious and/or unknowable. Non-linear systems can tell you much, provided you ask the right questions. If you want to have fun with some simple non-linear systems, the Lorenz system and the Rikitake dynamo (lots of resources available through search engines with 'Rikitake dynamo') provide some interesting insights that are easily demonstrated on small computers.

This “Solar Resistor Model” raises a number of other questions which the EU proponents don't address but which I will ask here.
  1. Long current streams unconfined by wires are subject to a number of instabilities. How does the EU model prevent these instabilities from switching off the Sun in short timescales? Have they calculated the timescale for this process?
  2. Since the EU model rules out an internal mechanism for powering the Sun, what drives the 22-year solar magnetic cycle that is responsible for the 11-year solar sunspot cycle? How does an approximately steady current (driving a relatively constant luminosity) drive this mechanism?
  3. What is the origin of the current? I regard this as the true mystery of the Electric Cosmos that they never seem to talk about.
  4. If you can correct the problem of the magnetic field being too large, how do you solve the problem that the field is pointed in the wrong direction compared to the measured solar field?
  5. If you claim nuclear reactions are taking place on the solar surface, specify which reactions!
  6. I see no description of the optical effects due to Thomson scattering from the incoming electron streams. At the densities implied by these models, we should see bright columns from the north & south poles of the Sun during eclipses.

For my next entry on the Electric Sun, I'll demonstrate just some of the problems I encountered when working the spherical 'solar capacitor' problem using the same numbers Dr. Scott presents later in the TBF thread.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another failed creationist prediction?

I became re-engaged in the creationism 'debate' back in 1998 when a local creationist had contacted the astronomy club where I was serving as president. During that exchange, he sent me the Don DeYoung article, “New Stars, New Planets?” from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). This is an article about the extrasolar planet discoveries, which were fairly new back then, and was an attempt to place a 'young universe' spin on the topic. The original objects were discovered by indirect means, detecting the Doppler 'wobble' around the system center-of-mass. As of this writing, there are 326 objects detected that are regarded as extrasolar planets (The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia).

In addition to the many errors and misrepresentations in the article, there was the interesting statement that stuck in my mind since reading it:

“In recent months there has been a flurry of new planet reports. Computer and instrument improvements have greatly increased detection abilities. We will consider three stars that show evidence of having planetary companions. In each case, no actual planet has been seen. It is difficult enough to observe distant Pluto in our own solar system; the new planets under consideration are 500,000 times more distant than Pluto.”

Combined with the overall tone of the article, this statement seems to insinuate that these extrasolar planet discoveries will never be definitive and therefore the planets may not even be real.

Well, that 'limitation' has finally been crossed. Less than fifteen years later, we seem to have the first actual images:

Astronomy Picture of the Day
The story at Science@NASA

It's uncertain whether these detections will hold up under continued observations, but the history of science is such that even if these do not, we have reached the threshold for these types of detections. Instrument improvements will make these types of detections more common. Observing these objects over the course of an entire orbit will make their nature even more definitive.

BTW, as another example of out out of touch Dr. DeYoung is on astronomy, consider that the dwarf planet Pluto (, at magnitude 14, is visible by the human eye in telescopes with apertures as small as 12 inches - a backyard telescope class instrument. This type of instrument has been within the reach of serious amateur astronomers for DECADES.

Update: January 20, 2013: Fixed minor spelling error.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

An "Electric Sky" response?

While conducting a few searches on Google to see if any new information on Setterfield's adoption of components of Electric cosmology was scattered elsewhere on the web, I stumbled across:
"W.T. Bridgman's Critique of The Electric Sky" on the Thunderbolts forum.

Apparently the Electric Universe (EU( forum has had some discussion of my work "The Electric Sky: Short-Circuited". Over the past approximately six months since my analysis was released, I have occasionally conducted similar searches on the search engines to see if anything substantive would show up but they had come up empty.

This is the first I've seen of this response even though it appears to be from the March-April 2008 time frame. Apparently no one on the forum felt any need to contact me directly, or indirectly, for clarification of anything in my paper. Looking at the weakness of their 'rebuttal', I can guess why. For a group that claims to be a bunch of electrical engineers, they seem incredibly ignorant of much of the physics (particularly quantum mechanics) that has driven their own field over the past 50 years. Most of their understanding of physics seems pre-1900!

Incidentally, in some of my previous searches for rebuttals to my 'Electric sky' work, I discovered two relevant posts in other forums, which predate my work and raise a number of the same issues:
In other words, my complaints are not new to the EU community. They are the SIMPLE problem issues and the EU advocates have still not addressed them in any substantial way.

First I'll examine some of the 'lighter' complaints mentioned in the forum thread.

davesmith_au asked: "He then goes on the use the term "crank" in describing Don Scott, this is an insulting ad hominem attack and there is ablolutely nothing scientific in this methodology."
I use the term 'crank' in my document seven times. I assume he is referring to page 7, where I say
"Like many creationists and other crank scientists, Dr. Scott tries to tap almost every astronomical anomaly as evidence of his claims."

Note the simile! I compare Dr. Scott to cranks and creationists based on a characteristic of their behavior. The forum poster 'M5k' gets it right when he points out
"Oh yes, that's a valid concern, because we EU advocates NEVER use a condescending tone in our posts and articles, and we are obviously all experts on the whole of astrophysics. </sarcasm>."

Note that M5k installed the sarcasm tag as part of his response, drawing attention to the fact that the EU community is far from immune to name-calling. With the foul accusations Dr. Scott makes against astronomers and astrophysicists in "Electric Sky", many pointed out in my analysis, a comparison to cranks is relatively minor, but I guess it provides Mr. Smith a convenient excuse to ignore the evidence presented.

In the generic case, I used 'Electric Universe/Plasma Cosmology (EU/PC) advocate' in many places (which sounds annoyingly Politically Correct).

davesmith_au asked: "This so-called debunker spends most of his free time fighting against creationsists, so why he has picked up on this topic is beyond me."
Mr. Smith obviously didn't read the introduction very carefully, as I state my prime reason for examining the model and claims. Beyond that, it was kind of a 'drive by debunking'. In addition to Electric Universe components being adopted by some creationists, I was also developing some additional tools to demonstrate errors in other creationist claims. I noticed that many of the tools I was developing could also be used to address EU claims. While most creationists try to hide their pseudo-science in the distant past, EU advocates make claims that have strong observational implications in the present. I added EU claims to my list because they were an easy (and relatively minor) detour on my way to other goals.

Even in some of their ads, they invoke their model's 'agreement' with ancient mythologies and evidenced in these videos on YouTube.
In that sense, they are another form of creationism, just not as well funded or organized.

davesmith_au says: "...even describes the “outer layers“ of a neutron star for goodness sake. I don't know of any other scientist who has even seen the layers of this questionable entity, let alone can describe it's outer layers like they're established, unadulterated facts."
No one has seen an atom, or electron, or proton, or any other subatomic particle either. Their reality is inferred by the ability to use these 'constructions' and mathematics to predict the outcome of everything from interactions in particle accelerators to the behavior of electrons in semiconductors. Note that the various technologies that 'see' atoms, such as scanning tunneling microscopes, are not direct viewing of atoms but inferring their presence through the changes in currents based on a quantum-mechanical model. I wonder how Mr. Smith thinks we measure the multi-million degree temperatures in experimental fusion reactors? These temperatures are high enough to ionize all known physical materials, so any material probe won't last long. Here we must also use indirect techniques, inferred from the physical properties of atoms.

The neutron-star equation of state, a 'first approximation' version of which is derived in my paper, is determined by applying many of the same physical principles used in semiconductors physics for determining the Fermi level but with electrons replaced by neutrons. This technique also integrates known principles of neutron formation and decay from nuclear physics.

In my next posts on this topic, I'll address some of the statements about the EU solar models, which I will label the "solar resistor" and "solar capacitor” models for reasons that should become apparent.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My November/Winter 2008 or 2009 'To Do' list

It has been a busy few weeks, some of which will be relevant to future posts here. I thought I'd post some notes on events and topics I hope to cover over the next few weeks. I just finished attending a small science workshop related to my day-job so my evenings are now a bit more open.
  • This past Saturday (October 25), I attended a conference in Washington DC sponsored by Reasons To Believe, titled “What Darwin Didn't Know”. Reasons to Believe is an organization of Old-Earth creationists (OEC). I'm not sure how I feel about OEC. In some regards, I think they are a sign of hope that more Christians can accept modern science with their theology. For the most part, I have few issues to argue with them on astrophysical evidence since they agree with modern astronomy and geology that the Earth and universe are billions of years old. However, even as someone with no professional training in biology, I found some of their claims in biology, particularly in regards to their version of 'Intelligent Design', to be very questionable. Some of the arguments they promoted are not that far from Young-Earth creationism claims. I've got many pages of notes from this day that I hope to add to this blog over the next few weeks. I just finished reading Hugh Ross' “A Matter of Days” and also purchased “The Creator and the Cosmos” and “Creation as Science”, also by Ross. I'll probably post a review sometime in the future.
  • I've actually been contacted by John Hartnett over my posts on his cosmology claims. He graciously sent me a copy of the latest version of one of his papers I'm commenting about and mentioned another paper under review. I need to follow-up on some of those issues. To reproduce Hartnett's work and examine other issues he does not mention, I've been rewriting my old time-series analysis codes. These programs were originally written in a programming language called IDL on a VAXStation under VMS. I'm re-writing them to run in Python on modern hardware. I'm also modifying them to handle spatial analyses (1-D and maybe even 3-D) and have encountered some discrepancies. I'm not yet certain of the cause of the discrepancies so I'm expanding my code testing scenarios. While the latest version of the Hartnett's paper seems to have backed away from a claim of strict redshift quantization, other creationists still invoke it. Once my software revisions are complete, I expect my software will still get some rather extensive use in this area. Some might ask why I don't use the same software as Dr. Hartnett, which he reports is Mathematica. The main reason is that science hinges on reproducibility. Since the algorithms should always be identical, in principle, it should not matter which tools are used. This provides additional validation of the analysis techniques and the tools.
  • In what is certainly the most interesting inquiry I've received in quite some time, I've had a creationist who presented at the '2008 International Conference on Creationism' ask me to examine his cosmological model and offer my criticisms. I may post some details on this discussion in the future.
  • When I heard about Barry Setterfield's revisions to his claims of a variable speed of light and integration with plasma cosmology (see my previous posts), I conducted a web search to see if others had posted on the topic. In the process, I stumbled across a response to my article, “The Electric Sky: Short-Circuited” on one of the Electric Cosmos forums. I hope to include responses to this in the near future.

So that's what's backlogged on my To Do list for November/Winter 2008/2009. I wonder if I'll complete it all...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Setterfield G

Here I'll continue my examination of Setterfield's new publication, “Reviewing A Plasma Universe With Zero Point Energy”, in the Journal of Vectorial Relativity 3, 1-29 (2008).

Fails to compare his model to data
In the last draft of the “Issues on Barry Setterfield's Claims of a Recently Decaying Speed of Light, 2nd Edition”, available here, I examined one of the latest functions Setterfield claimed represented the speed of light with cosmic (dynamical) age, which corresponded to his young-universe 'interpretation'. For bookkeeping purposes, I designated all the different functions from Setterfield by letters. I had labeled one of the latest functions Setterfield E.

where T ranges from [0...1] and represents the time relative to the total age of the Universe. T=1 corresponds to the time of creation and gives the speed of light as infinite. But T=0 corresponds to the present day, and gives the nonsensical result that the speed of light equals ZERO!

T is chosen to be dimensionless, but it would be useful to clarify it as scaled relative to the (young) dynamical age

where t is measured from the present time into the past and the greek letter τ is the total age of the universe.

Setterfield must have finally realized that blunder, since in his latest publication he has changed his function to

or, defining a constant of proportionality,

where c0 is the modern value for the speed of light, and we define the Greek letter ζ to be the dimensionless speed of light, chosen so that the value today is equal to unity or 1. I'll call this function 'Setterfield G'. (I had found an older function which I labeled 'Setterfield F' so that letter was already spoken for. Setterfield F appears on the graphs on the previous article.).

To compute the apparent age of the universe in Setterfield's new model, we must integrate the light travel time from the creation of the universe, T, to today, T=0. (Setterfield choses a mathematically reversed sense for time, increasing into the past, which creates a sign flip on our math.)


To get an apparent travel time assuming a modern speed of light, divide both sides by c0 to get

where K' is K τ and corresponds to Setterfield's equation 33. If we compute this for T=1 corresponding to the creation time, this gives the apparent age of the universe, in the atomic time scale:


Let's plug in some rough numbers using Setterfield's own prescription for computing the constant. If the (young) dynamical age of the universe, τ, is 7000 years in Setterfield's model, and the atomic age is 14 billion years, then K = 7.78e5.

But wait, K must be the exact same K value used for the speed of light earlier! If we use it in that equation, it tells us that the speed of light today (T=0) must be 778,000 times the current speed of light!

To get the correct value for the speed of light today, we must set K=1. But if we install that in the equation above, then we get the apparent age of Setterfield's universe is only about 18,000 years!

Setterfield's model is easily demonstrated to be mathematically and physically inconsistent!

This is a basic error that a high school physics or calculus student shouldn't make.

Did anyone do even a basic check of the math in this paper? Is such carelessness representative of the referee process at JVR?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Barry Setterfield joins the Electric Cosmos?

A reader of my work has recently pointed me to a major update in the work of Barry Setterfield. (I wonder if this also means that many of my links into Setterfield's site will now be broken?) It seems Mr. Setterfield has subjected his theory to a fairly major rewrite and in the process, has integrated many more aspects of the "Electric Universe" claims into his work. See Reviewing A Plasma Universe With Zero Point Energy? available at This means that my detour in dealing with some Electric Universe claims was fortuitous.

In Reviewing A Plasma Universe With Zero Point Energy, I see Setterfield repeats his same old errors.

Setterfield does not address any of the issues raised by myself or Dr. Jellison about his claims. I have found some reference to the issues raised elsewhere on his site. He mostly tries to dismiss the results as "conceptual errors" on my part. Let's see how many basic errors in math and data analysis Mr. Setterfield makes.

Fails to compare data to his model
Figures 1-5 of Setterfield's Review plots values of various physical constants subject to some variation in Setterfield's model. Yet none of these graphs display error bars on the points plotted. Nor does Setterfield plot the variation predicted by his model. For example, my Figures 1 & 2 below are plots of measurements of the speed of light (points with error bars) compared with plots of the various models for a changing speed of light which Setterfield has proposed over the years (lines). The data plotted here are collected from Setterfield's own site (History of Speed of Light Experiments).

Plot of Setterfield's 'data' from 1750 to the present.

Click image to see higher resolution
Figure 1: Plots of measured speed of light compared to Setterfield's models (1750s to the present)

Plot of Setterfield's 'data' from 1830 to the present.

Click image to see higher resolution
Figure 2: Plots of measured speed of light compared to Setterfield's models (1830s to the present) with tighter view on more recent measurements.

Notice that many of the measurements Setterfield chooses to ignore (black) lie above and below the model fit and give very poor agreement with Setterfield's models. Even more telling is the scatter above and below the modern accepted value in Figure 2. This behavior is more indicative of systematic errors in the measurment, not an actual trend. No wonder Setterfield is so reluctant to display his model fits with data!

On Setterfield's main page, he claims to "Let data lead to theory". Here we see a high-school math level example where he violates this claim.

Surprisingly, Setterfield makes no comments in this Review indicating that his theory would predict a variation of radioactive decay rates with Earth's orbital distance! Let's see if a revision includes this claim!

You might also note that I don't include Setterfield's latest model for the change in the speed of light in historical times. We'll see the problems with that in the next installment...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Creationist Astronomy debunking videos!

Here's some links to more YouTube videos debunking creationist astronomy claims.

Andromeda's Wake: Creation Astronomy Propaganda Debunked

cdk007: Why Young Earth Creationists Must Deny Gravity

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Creationist Junk Debunked

I'm making a slight diversion from my creationist astronomy activities to promote some excellent creationist busting by others.

Here is a link to a series of videos which examines creationist claims as violations of the Ninth Commandment. In case you're a little rusty, it's “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” in the Protestant tradition (see Ten Commandments).

Be sure to check out more of the videos in this series by Potholer54debunks.
Creationist Junk Debunked.

Now some creationists might claim that 'evolutionists' or 'Darwinists' aren't their 'neighbors'. What does Jesus say about who is and isn't your neighbor? Easy enough to check:

  • Matt 5:43-47.
    “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

    Note that Jesus is telling his followers that it is how you treat people different from yourself which determines if you are one of his followers. I suspect that those so-called christians who helped generate the recent statistic that atheists are the most despised group in America may be at the head of the pack leading into Hell.

  • Also consider Luke 10:25-37, aka the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Do you know what Jesus says about the status those who invoke his name while violating 'the will of the Father'? Check out Matt 7:15-23:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut own and thrown into the fire Thus you will know them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, 'Lord Lord did we not prophesy in you name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'
Jesus points out that it is your actions, far more than your words, that tell the true status of your faith.

Methinks Hell will be full of creationists!


  • The Harper Collins Study Bible. New Revised Standard Version. 1993.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

John Hartnett's Cosmos. 2. Methodologies

My original plans for the second entry in this series has undergone significant revision. I had originally planned to focus on a summary of Hartnett's general analysis errors, but in collecting references, I discovered how the problems I had identified with Hartnett's analysis were just the tip of the iceberg.

The quantized redshift (QR) 'community' has become increasingly insular and isolated - generally referencing only papers of other advocates and avoiding rigorous tests of their methodologies. Hartnett continues this 'tradition' by only referencing older works which have since been superceded. The 'tests' of his methods which he mentions in his papers are also particularly weak. The key issue is that a 1-D power spectrum installs an implicit assumption of spherical symmetry in a dataset, since is it only measuring radial separation. It is no surprise that such a method implies concentric shells centered on our galaxy.

The main astronomical community was initially curious about suggestions of a possible new property of the extragalactic redshift. However, they quickly abandoned interest in the idea when it was demonstrated that noise and clumping in the galaxy distributions could create large peaks in simple 1-D power spectra. These simulated peaks were equivalent to the peaks 'discovered' by the QR advocates (Newman Haynes & Terzian 1989, 1994, Kaiser & Peacock 1991, Newman & Terzian 1995, 1996).

One positive consequence of the quantization claims is that it did spur more research into determining just what information could be extracted from such analyses on the large extragalactic surveys which were being conducted. The ability to determine statistics of large-scale structure in the cosmos is important for comparing observations with large cosmological simulations which were also under development.

Kaiser & Peacock (1991) performed an extensive series of analyses developing simulated datasets which demonstrated how the power spectral peaks in works such as Broadhurst et al (1990) could be generated by clumping of otherwise random galaxy distributions. They also demonstrated how the one-dimensional sampling of a three-dimensional dataset can alias power into other frequencies, further confounding interpretations.

While Hartnett acknowledges the work of Kaiser & Peacock (1991), he claims the conclusion of this work, quoting Kaiser & Peacock, “did not prove that unconventional pictures for large-scale structures were ruled out.” Technically true, but deceptive. Kaiser & Peacock (1991) work really meant that the 1-D approach had insufficient sensitivity to identify real peaks in the distribution.

But this type of problem means is you look for a more powerful test...

Methodologies for analyzing these power spectra in full 3-dimensional form were quickly developed, Baumgart & Fry (1991) and Feldman, Kaiser & Peacock (1994) were some of the earliest in this efforts. One of the more important issues which these tests needed to deal with was the fact that even the most recent sky surveys did not uniformly sample the sky, in terms of direction, and even distance. This issue created 'window functions' which could alias power into other frequencies, creating problems for interpretation (Feldman Kaiser & Peacock 1994). More recently, tutorial-style publications have described more details of the 3-D analysis process (Hamilton, 2005a,b).

The basics of the proper methods have been around over a decade.

Hartnett completely ignores these modern tests. Why does Hartnett limit his work to a one dimensional analysis when he has read the documentation (Kaiser & Peacock 1991) of the flaws in his methodology??

Consider Hartnett's behavior from a more personal analogy: Would you go to a doctor who insisted on conducting tests that could not conclusively identify your ailment? Suppose they insisted on using the inconclusive tests even when better tests were available?

Others have completed these power spectra calculations on the 2dFRS and SDSS 5th data release using modern methods (Cole et al 2005, Percival et al. 2007). Not surprisingly, their results show no evidence of claimed periodicity.


Monday, September 22, 2008

John Hartnett's Cosmos. 1. Introduction

This is the first entry in what will certainly be a multi-part series of articles on the claims of Australian creationist John Hartnett (see Hartnett's entry in Conservapedia). Since my first piece on Hartnett's work appeared (My Visit to the Creation Forum at McLean Bible Church and a Review of "Hubble, Bubble, Big Bang in Trouble"), I have received a number of inquiries about his work.

In this series, I'll start with a discussion of Hartnett's claims of redshift periodicities. The claim that extragalactic redshifts are distributed in fixed steps, i.e. quantized, is not new. William Tifft of the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona is probably the originator of the modern redshift quantization movement back in the 1970s. If real, such periodicities or quantization would be very difficult to explain for conventional Big Bang cosmology. This is why you find redshift quantization supported by advocates of other alternative cosmologies such as the Electric Universe (see Electric Cosmos).

I choose to examine the redshift periodicities issue largely because my own graduate work focussed on time-series analysis of very noisy datasets and I accumulated a fair amount of experience working with Fourier series, transforms and power spectra.

Dr. Hartnett has published two papers on the Cornell Preprint server covering the topic of extragalactic redshift periodicities. I'll refer to them as Paper I and Paper II.

  • Paper I: "Galaxy redshift abundance periodicity from Fourier analysis of number counts $N(z)$ using SDSS and 2dF GRS galaxy surveys" by John G. Hartnett, Koichi Hirano (arXiv:0711.4885)

  • Paper II: "Redshift periodicity in quasar number counts from Sloan Digital Sky Survey" by John G. Hartnett (arXiv:0712.3833)

It's interesting that the recently posted third version (v3) of paper I not only has an additional author, but seems to advocate a radically different cosmological model than the second version (v2). In the v2 paper, Hartnett advocated Moshe Carmeli's 5-dimensional cosmological model where the Hubble expansion was made part of the metric. Hartnett published several additional papers based on this model claiming it could explain Dark Matter as well. In paper v3, Hartnett has switched to another model developed by Hirano, Kawabata, and Komiya. This may be because the Hirano et al. cosmology explicitly tries to explain alleged redshift periodicities. This is another reason for me to examine the quantization claims first, as Hartnett appears to be in the process of changing his cosmological model, but quantization is a common component in both of them.

Hartnett is apparently using these works to gain him credibility in the creationist community as a professionally-published cosmologist. In his creationist publications, he has invoked redshift quantization as evidence of Galactocentrism, a feature of his young-universe cosmology. Some graphics similar to those from earlier versions of Hartnett's papers appear in his book Starlight, Time and the New Physics.

Since the advent of the Fast Fourier Transform and the availability of fast personal computers, the ability to compute the power spectral density (PSD) of a dataset has become much easier. Unfortunately, this increased ease of use does not come with an increased understanding of just what the PSD does. In cases with large amounts of low noise data, the PSD can identify well-defined frequencies in the data with relative ease. In other cases, such 'intuitive' understandings of the PSD can easily lead one astray.

Hartnett makes numerous erroneous statements on properties of PSD, suggesting he is relying on his 'intuition' on how the PSD works instead of actually testing the claim. Most researchers, myself included, must demonstrate that our test protocols work for datasets of known content before making such grandiose claims when applying the test to datasets of unknown content. In the abstract for Paper I, Hartnett states that his results "indicate that this is a real effect and not some observational artifact." Yet he has apparently conducted no tests to determine which characteristics of his results are analysis artifacts.

In future entries in this series, I will present an overview of some of Dr. Hartnett's errors in these two papers. In later entries, I'll include some samples of how scientific tests are themselves tested. Some components may be difficult to communicate in this blog since there is limited support for graphics and mathematical notation. Some of these components may take a while to assemble as I may present code snippets (using Python, numpy, scipy, and similar tools) so the reader may explore the analysis themselves. Comments and feedback are certainly welcome.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Radioactive decay rates depend on Earth-Sun distance?

Reports are floating around the scientific blogs (such as at arXiv Blog) about a new paper recently published on the Cornell Preprint server. Evidence for Correlations Between Nuclear Decay Rates and Earth-Sun Distance, by Jenkins, Fischbach, et al., has created a stir in the physics community. It may eventually rank up there with the Pioneer Anomaly in the 1990s and reports of a Fifth Force in the 1980s.

The results are intriguing as they involve measurements conducted at two different sites, Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and Physikalisch-Technische-Bundesandstalt (PTB) in Germany, as well as two different isotopes, 32Si (a beta emitter) and 226 Ra (an alpha emitter), respectively. 36Cl (a beta emitter) was used as a calibration source in the BNL experiment. Two independent sites rule out a local variation at the experimental site. The BNL experiment also exhibits this annual variation in the ratio of 32Si to 36Cl, suggesting there must be an isotopic difference in the response of the nuclei to this effect. The authors suggest a solar effect, reported in another paper, Perturbation of Nuclear Decay Rates During the Solar Flare of 13 December 2006.

I've not yet heard of any Creation “Scientists” claiming that their theories predict this type of annual effect, but I suspect it is only a matter of time before they do. Reports of even the most miniscule changes in radioactive decay rates excite creationists a great deal since much of radioisotope dating depends on relatively constant rates of radioactive decay. I've examined a number of creationists claims of variation in radioactive decay rates (see Claims of Accelerated Radioactive Decay but have found none that specifically predict variation based on the Earth-Sun distance. Like psychics, such successful predictions by creationists will be ex post facto. Lest the creationists get too excited, it should be noted that both experiments exhibit this variation at the 0.2% level (above and below a constant value), nowhere near large enough to turn a 4.5 billion year old Earth into a 6000 year old Earth.

There are a number of interesting aspects of the Jenkins et al. analysis that hint this is a measuring systematic. One is that the amplitude of the variations seems to vary significantly from one year to the next. It is not perfectly correlated with the Earth-Sun distance. Another interesting issue is that the oscillation appears to cover the same range (0.2%) when examining the 226Ra decay as well as the ratio of the 32Si/36Cl decay. Is the 36Cl calibration source unaffected by this phenomenon? Perhaps 32Si is unaffected and 36Cl has an inverse correlation? If 32Si and 36Cl were identically affected, we would expect them to cancel out. As noted by the authors, there also appears to be a significant phase shift between the Earth-Sun distance and decay variation. This suggests an effect driven by another variable which may be coupled to the annual variation. Finally, the data are from the 1980s so it may be difficult to re-examine some of the techniques used to test for other systematics. Of course, the fact that this process seems to occur over a relatively short annual time scale will make it easier to verify today.

On a similar historical note, it was realized in the 1970s that no one had examined if the Newtonian inverse-square law operated at laboratory distances as well as it worked on solar system scales and larger. Previous researchers had determined the value of Newton's 'G' under the assumption that the inverse-square law was valid. When the historical data were finally examined with that assumption removed, the data suggested that at short ranges, gravity was not an inverse-square law (see Why do we believe Newtonian gravitation at laboratory dimensions? by Daniel R. Long). This launched a search in the 1980s and 1990s for a possible 'fifth force', in addition to the four fundamental forces known to physics.

It is interesting that the second author in the Jenkins paper, Ephraim Fischbach, is one of the researchers involved in the Fifth Force search (see Ten Years of the Fifth Force by Ephraim Fischbach). Interest in a fifth force died down as improvements in measurement technology seem to verify inverse-square at very short ranges (see Laboratory tests of gravity).

I suspect there are similar systematic measuring errors in the current Jenkins work as well. It is nonetheless an intriguing observation that definitely requires verification from other sources.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Moving libraries

The family move is finally complete, or at least the major furniture moving is complete. Currently, the house is loaded with stacks of boxes awaiting their distribution to cabinets and shelves. By the way, if you're ever looking for software to organize your furniture in a floor plan and don't want to spend major dollars or learning time on some overspecialized home planning application, I heartily recommend the Open Source program Sweet Home 3D. While not perfect, it was big help. Since we were moving to a radically different floor plan, we needed a way to test our furniture in the new home layout and Sweet Home 3D worked well for us. We were able to decide which pieces of furniture would fit in each floor and room well before the actual move, making things easier for the movers and ourselves.

My office moved from a basement den in a townhouse, to an upstairs bedroom in a single-family home. There was some sacrifice of total floor space in the move. During the moving process, even the movers expressed concern that the amount of weight in boxes of my books was getting excessive for the room. My main library consists of four sets of shelf wall units, 37"w x 12"d x 72"h, with five shelves each. (Sorry for the English units, but those are the common values of my furniture measurements.)

I've traditionally heard the claim that because modern homes must be able to support the weight of a waterbed, the weight of my books couldn't possibly exceed this. This is a simple physical claim to test and I decided to do a few simple calculations.

With a few searches on Google, I found that the weight of a water bed can be up to 1800 lbs.

I also discovered that modern homes are built to handle an average "live load" of 40 pounds per square foot. This is a theoretical average load. Your home may vary, but if it is built to many local codes, this should be a safe number to use. To compute the theoretical average load for the room, you must multiply the load average per area by the area of the floor. In my case, this comes out to 10ft x 12ft = 120 square feet. From this we compute a load limit of 40 lbs per square foot x 120 square feet = 4800 lbs. Clearly, my new office would not have a problem with a water bed, but would it have a problem with my library?

I didn't have easy access to a simple scale that could accurately measure the weight of some of my actual books from which I could compute a density. Another search on Google suggests the average density of paper is about 0.03 lbs per cubic inch. If the cabinet were completely full of paper, the weight of each shelf wall unit would be (37" x 12" x 72") x 0.03 lbs per cubic inch = 960 lbs. But the books do not uniformly fill the shelf space. There are small books, medium books, and a few large books and the shelves are spaced to accommodate the largest book on that shelf. There is a lot of empty space in each shelf. I'll approximate the effect of these size differences with the estimate that only about half the volume of each shelf is filled with actual book matter, reducing the total weight of each shelf to 480 lbs.

This gives a total estimated weight for my library of about 1900 lbs. Even here, it exceeds the weight of a water bed. This estimate is also well below the 4800 lbs theoretical design limit of the floor, but my estimated "live load" does not include the weight of a desk, a file cabinet, the computers, and other miscellaneous components (such as myself) in the office. If the shelves were fully packed with books, the total estimated weight comes to over 3800 lbs, which is much closer to the design limit.

I feel a little safer now about loading my shelves, but plans for any additional shelf units in this room will certainly be re-examined. It also may be time to start paring down my collection, perhaps discarding that collection of Scientific American that is (almost) complete back to around 1975. :^(

For more information on these topics, I found sites supporting aquarium hobbyists to be very useful. The most useful resource I found is Residential Wood Framed Floors and Aquarium Weights.

Ardent book collectors and home librarians might want to consider some of the potential limits in their passions. I've not heard of a home collapse due to the weight of a personal library, but I wonder if it has actually ever occurred.