Thursday, October 29, 2009

IBEX Results Cause Even More Problems for Electric Sun Model

The Mission and the Results
NASA recently released a 'first light' total skymap of data collected by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission (Wikipedia: IBEX).
NASA Release: Giant Ribbon Discovered at the Edge of the Solar System
IBEX News: IBEX Explores Galactic Frontier, Releases First-Ever All-Sky Map

IBEX measures the flux of high-energy, i.e. energies of kilo-electron volts,  NEUTRAL atoms that propagate to the inner solar system from regions at or near the heliopause (Wikipedia: Electron Volt, Wikipedia: Heliosphere).


Figure 1: One energy band of the IBEX all-sky map, corresponding to atoms with an energy of around 1,100 electron volts.  The different colors correspond to different counts of atoms from the different directions in the sky (note the color bar at bottom).  The 'nose' of the heliosphere, the direction of the Sun's motion relative to the local interstellar medium, corresponds to the center of the map.  This map, A, is the entire sky projected into 2-dimensions, using an Aitoff projection (Wikipedia: Aitoff Projection).  The inset, B, reveals bright knots in the ribbon.  Credit: SwRI.  More images from the NASA press release.

IBEX sees a clear enhancement in the direction of the Sun's motion through the interstellar medium (ISM).  In the skymap, this flux appears as blue, corresponding to a value of about 100 particles per square centimeter/second/steradian/keV.  This enhancement was expected by the standard model of the Sun's magnetic field interacting with the interstellar medium, much the same way as the Earth's magnetic field interacts with the solar wind to form the magnetosphere (Wikipedia: Magnetosphere). 

The unexpected result is the 'ribbon'-like structure seen to stretch across the maps.  This enhancement corresponds to a particle flux up to three times higher than the regular flux in the Sun's direction of motion.

This feature, which appears on a full sky survey, was undetected by the two Voyager spacecraft which just happened to pass to each side of the 'ribbon'.  This illustrates the limitations of in situ measurements when compared to large-scale, surveys.   This is why real science tries to incorporate both types of measurements. 

The press releases emphasizes the surprising aspects of the result:
"This is a shocking new result," says IBEX principal investigator Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute. "We had no idea this ribbon existed--or what has created it. Our previous ideas about the outer heliosphere are going to have to be revised."
"We're missing some fundamental aspect of the interaction between the heliosphere and the rest of the galaxy. Theorists are working like crazy to figure this out."

Interpretations
But the problem for heliospheric physics not as big as the enthusiastic wording of a NASA press release might suggest.  Such phrasing is popular among public affairs offices as it promotes science as an exciting field, but such phrasing is also fodder for crank science groups, who always like to claim their model predicted the result all along.  More on this aspect below.

The region of the ribbon on the sky agrees well with predictions of existing 3-D heliospheric models, if there is an additional interaction of the current, induced in the plasma by the interstellar magnetic field, with the magnetic field itself.  This is called the JxB current (see “Comparison of Interstellar Boundary Explorer Observations with 3D Global Heliospheric Models”, Schwandron et al.).  That the inclusion of the JxB term (which has units of a pressure) exhibits such excellent agreement with the intensity profile of the ribbon suggests there is an additional particle interaction at play which has not been included in standard heliospheric models.  This is possibly another indicator that magnetospheric MHD models have reached the limits of their ability to generate robust predictions in the era of modern instruments and more effort should be directed in developing models which more accurately treat the particle kinetics (see "Hybrid Simulation Codes: Past, Present and Future - A Tutorial").

IBEX Implications for Electric Sun Models
There was some early reaction from the Electric Universe forum at Thunderbolts Forum (link).  (For those newcomers interested in other problems with Electric Sun models I've explored, see The Electric Sky: Short-Circuited, Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model, Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model I, II, III, and entries under the tag "Electric Universe" on this blog.)

As usual, the comments from the EU fan club are scientifically useless, resembling a form of electrophilic pareidolia (Wikipedia: pareidolia).  Everything looks like some type of current to them.

So let's go into the reasons why the IBEX result creates more problems for the EU claims that the Sun is powered by external electrical energy.

1) IBEX reports a flux of Sunward-bound NEUTRAL atoms.  Not charged atoms, and not electrons (as required by many Electric Sun models).  In the forty years that humans have sent satellites ranging between the orbit of Mercury to the termination shock, no space plasma detector has detected Sunward-bound electrons at anywhere near the flux and energies needed to provide significant power the Sun by this method.

2) This result indicates the heliopause is not a uniform region on fairly large scales.  So how can a flux of electrons from the heliopause create a sun that radiates so uniformly?  Consider the three possibilities:
  • Electrons on direct radial paths from the heliopause to the photosphere would imprint this 'ribbon' structure on the phosphere.  The flux difference is a factor of two or three, so we would see an 'imprint' of this feature on the photosphere.  Why don't we see this enhancement in solar brightness?
  • Suppose the electrons have their directions slightly randomized during their infall, so they hit the photosphere in a uniform flow, washing out the imprint of the IBEX 'ribbon'.  In that case, sunward electron fluxes should be about the same from any direction centered on the Sun.  This means the measured electrons fluxes from spacecraft would be consistent with values mentioned in my analysis of the "Solar Capacitor Model" (see 1, 2, 3).
  • The infalling electron flow, through randomization and electromagnetic focusing,  gets confined to streamers.  The popular plasma lamp configuration (Wikipedia: Plasma Lamp) illustrates how such energetic streamers will create localized heating regions on surface, again, contrary to our observations of the Sun.
The only way the Sun could receive its energy from external particle flows, electrons or otherwise, is if electrons have some physics-defying properties yet to be detected in laboratories in our 100+ years of experience with them in scientific and engineering applications.

An 'Official Word' from the Electric Universe Priesthood?
Shortly after I had prepared the response above, I received news of the 'official' spin being placed on the IBEX results by advocates of the 'Electric Universe': "Electric Sun Verified" by Wal Thornhill

Thornhill claims the 'ribbon' seen by IBEX fits the 'Electric Stars' model perfectly?  He includes several 'predictions' that are about as insightful and precise as a tabloid psychic.

As part of this article, Thornhill included an interesting graphic about halfway down the page titled “The Sun's Environment”.  Close examination of this graphic and the accompanying text reveals that it is yet another Electric Sun model, with a some features, or at least ambiguities, substantially different than those presented in the Electric Sun models of “The Electric Sky” and other EU resources. 

Of course, if EU was really doing science, they would apply Maxwell's equations to the current systems they propose and see what happens for themselves.  But that might be expecting too much of them.  Plus, it's much more entertaining to demonstrate how they don't understand the basics of the physics in which they claim expertise!

More to come...

Thanks to Nathan Schwadron (Boston U & Southwest Research Institute) for clarifying some of my questions in interpreting their paper.

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