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.