Monday, November 30, 2009

Charge Separation in Space

One of my readers asked me about this post from August 2004 on the Thunderbolts site: Charge Separation in Space

Here EU is playing games with what is professional astronomers mean by charge separation.  In general, astrophysical plasmas are electrically neutral on large scales.  This graphic indicates what is actually happening in a predominantly neutral plasma.

In this case, the free charges (red and green dots) are sufficiently intermingled that any sample of the volume with a large number of charges will be essentially neutral.  If you examined on a sufficiently small scale, you could probably find small regions (on scales of the Debye length (Wikipedia: Debye Length), which might be charge imbalanced for a short time.

While electrostatic forces will still try to pull ions and electrons together to form neutral atoms, the thermal energy of particles is sufficient to overcome the ionization potential of the atoms.  These particles are always in motion.  Any imbalance in charge will create an electric field which will act to return the plasma back to a neutral state.  If losses due to collisions with neutral atoms or photon emission is too low, the motion can set up an oscillation with a frequency of the plasma frequency (Wikipedia: Plasma Frequency). 

For a discussion of some of the conditions where astronomers know charge separation/electric fields can take place, see my earlier post, “The REAL Electric Universe”.   For the case of the Pannekoek-Rosseland field mentioned in the linked article, the charges are held separated by the gravitational gradient.  In this case, the entire mass of the Sun can only support a charge separation of about 100 coulombs.  This is a very small quantity when compared to an object as large as the Sun.

When astronomers say there is no significant charge separation in space, we are talking about bulk charge separation, contrary to what EU advocates want to claim.  EU advocates usually mean large groups of the same charge (red vs. green) are separated by some distance, like this:

Here, the black arrows represent the direction of the electrostatic forces which will work to pull the separated charges back together.  Also note that the regions of the same charge (electrons and ions) the like-charged particles will be repelling each other! 

Explaining various astrophysical phenomena by these mechanisms requires charge separations and electric fields far larger than can be provided by known mechanims.  The energy to separate the charges (not just ionize the atoms) has to come from somewhere!  Irving Langmuir, (Wikipedia) understood why you cannot get significant, sustained charge separation unless something stronger than the attractive electrostatic force, like your lab equipment, is holding the charges apart.

Another item is that the EU article has interpreted the spectroscopic notation incorrectly.  The number of electrons missing is one less than the value of the roman numeral.  OVIII has one electron remaining (it is called hydrogenic, Wikipedia: Hydrogen-like Atom).  Neutral hydrogen is HI, while ionized hydrogen is HII.  Similarly, neutral helium is HeI, while singly-ionized helium is Hell and doubly-ionized is HeIII.  In some cases, modern notation is creeping in, so some more recent papers use the superscript ionization notation, so HII = $H^{+1}$ and CIV = $C^{+3}$.  An atom with all the electrons missing cannot generate spectral lines by atomic processes.

The issues of spectral line formation were first figured out in the 1920s and 1930s with the development of quantum mechanics.  It's a fairly advanced spectroscopy topic
Astrophysicists have developed software that solves the very complex system of equations, described at the sites above, used to describe atoms, ions and electrons under these conditions.  Two packages I have had some experience with are Chianti and XSTAR.  For a gas of some specified composition of chemical elements and a specified temperature, these programs compute the amount of ionization and intensity of the spectral lines.  These programs are used to determine characteristics of astrophysical environments but are also tested against laboratory experiments.

As usual, the EU crowd is playing fast-n-loose with their 'facts'.

Friday, November 27, 2009

From Cosmic Variance: The Alternative-Science Respectability Checklist

Here is another useful resource I found on the Cosmic Variance blog, a couple of years old, but still relevant for anyone who wants to complain that their revolutionary scientific idea is being ignored by the mainstream scientific community. 
The Alternative-Science Respectability Checklist

The primary points of this checklist:
  1. Acquire basic competency in whatever field of science your discovery belongs to.
  2. Understand, and make a good-faith effort to confront, the fundamental objections to your claims within established science.
  3. Present your discovery in a way that is complete, transparent, and unambiguous.
Consider it a follow-on to “Doin' Astronomy (and Science in General)...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Astronomers Didn't Know...

A popular tactic among pseudo-scientists, because they have little evidence actually in favor of their pet theory, is to harp on the 'problems', real or imagined, of the reigning theory with the claim that their theory is the solution to the problems.

Most responses to this argument approach it from the perspective that this is a false dichotomy, that our only choice is Theory A or Theory B.

But in addition to the false dichotomy aspect, this argument also exhibits a gross misunderstanding (or even arrogant ignorance) of how science actually works. 

Every new scientific understanding started with a problem.  This has been true for the past four hundred years of scientific history.

Consider this snapshot from history:

In 1912, if you asked the following questions, astronomers (and physicists) would have no answer, though they would have lots of speculation.
  • Why do atoms emit spectral lines?
  • What is the cause of radioactivity?
  • Why do atoms bind to form molecules?
  • Why does beta decay violate conservation of energy?
  • What causes the anomalous perihelion precession of the planet Mercury?  Despite numerous searches, no planet has been found to account for this.
  • Where are the elements nebulium and coronium in the periodic table?
  • What causes the unidentified spectral lines (the Pickering Series) of the star zeta Puppis?
  • What energy source powers the Sun and other stars?
  • Why are white dwarf stars so small and faint yet can be more massive than the the Sun?
  • No one has yet demonstrated that planets orbit due to gravity.  No one has been able to do the “Newton's Cannon” experiment.
  • The Moon is nearby, yet we do not understand its motion (See "The Problem of the Moon's Motion")
Yet 50 years later, all of them would be answered and we would actually have products based on the physical understanding that was part of solving the original questions.  The solution to many of these problems were, in fact, related.  I document some of these in my paper “The Cosmos in Your Pocket: How Cosmological Science Became Earth Technology”.  Of course, the solution of these problems would also refine our instruments and our understanding to the point that we could measure to higher precision and uncover new issues at the next level of detail.

When confronted with these earlier, now solved problems, pseudo-scientists will often try to claim that these earlier problems were not as big (how do you define the 'bigness' of a scientific problem?), or nowhere near as controversial, or not as difficult to solve as the scientific problems of the present.  Some go so far as to claim they were never really problems at all.

And yet, many of these problems would take at least a decade and sometimes more, to be solved by the best minds of the day.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Electric Sun Verified"?? - In your dreams...

Shortly after I had prepared the response above, I received news of the 'official' spin being placed on the IBEX skymap announcement (See IBEX Results cause even more problems for the Electric Sun model):

Electric Sun Verified by Wal Thornhill

Not surprisingly, Thornhill claims the 'ribbon' seen by IBEX fits the 'Electric Stars' model perfectly.  This mission has been flying for six months yet NOWHERE do we find the EU 'prediction' of the IBEX skymaps, particularly not with any estimates of the fluxes that the instrument would detect.  Why doesn't Mr. Thornhill demonstrate his computation of the neutral atom fluxes?  If his model actually works, then this should be a straightforward step.  The IBEX data are freely available at the IBEX data archive.

First, let's take a look at some of Thornhill's statements.
Thornhill: “IBEX has discovered that the heliosheath is dominated not by the Sun but by the Galaxy’s magnetic field.” 
No. IBEX discovered that the energetic neutral atom flux is dominated by the galactic magnetic field.  The heliosheath itself would not exist if not for the outflowing solar wind.
Thornhill: “Comets are an electrical phenomenon where the comet nucleus is a negative cathode in the Sun’s plasma discharge. Examples of cometary stars are uncommon because stars are normally a positive anode in the galactic discharge.”
Laboratory cathodes and anodes form part of a complete circuit.  Where is the return circuit between the Sun and the comet?  If we see the comet, why don't we see the return path of the particles?  In the lab, the return circuit corresponds to the wires connecting the discharge tube to the power source.  And just where is the battery or generator that keeps the system energized?
Thornhill: The “open” helical magnetic fields discovered high above the Sun’s poles by the Ulysses spacecraft are supportive of Alfvén’s stellar circuit model.
“Open” field lines are lines that don't connect back to the source of the field.  This means the 'open' field lines cannot form a complete circuit, contrary to Thornhill's claim.  Thornhill's invocation of 'open' magnetic field lines puts him in contradiction with Don Scott who claims that there is no such thing as an 'open' magnetic field  (See Scott Rebuttal. IV.  'Open' Magnetic Fields).
Thornhill: Given the detail in this model we should expect, as more data comes in, that
researchers may find in the ENA “ribbon,” bright spots, filamentary structures,
and movement of the bright spots consistent with rotation of Birkeland current
filament pairs and their possible coalescence.
This is a pretty weak prediction.  Tabloid psychics can do this.  Features that could be 'bright spots' are already visible in the IBEX map.

Now consider Thornhill's quote of Alfvén:
In 1984 Alfvén predicted from his circuit model of the Sun there are two
double layers, one connected to each pole at some unknown distance from the
Sun or heliosphere. He wrote, “As neither double layer nor circuit can be
derived from magnetofluid models of a plasma, such models are useless for
treating energy transfer by means of double layers. They must be replaced by
particle models and circuit theory... Application to the heliospheric current
systems leads to the prediction of two double layers on the sun's axis which
may give radiations detectable from Earth. Double layers in space should be
classified as a new type of celestial object.” — H. Alfvén, Double Layers and
Circuits in Astrophysics, IEEE Transactions On Plasma Science, Vol. PS-14, No.
6, December 1986.
But Alfvén's 'circuit model of the Sun' is NOT the same as EU's Electric Sun model, for Alfvén was not suggesting that his circuit mechanism was the source of solar luminosity.  Alfvén described it as a possible mechanism for heliospheric plasma flows.  Alfvén fully understood that stars were powered by nuclear energy and that stellar astrophysics had a major role in the study of laboratory plasmas.  Consider this quote by Alfvén from his paper “Cosmical Electrodynamics”  H. Alfven. Cosmical Electrodynamics. American Journal of Physics, 28:613–618, October 1960. doi: 10.1119/1.1935919.
“Even if Birkeland's experiments were as good as could be made in his time, he could not produce a high-temperature dense plasma, and it is only by studying this state of matter that we really can draw certain conclusions about cosmical phenomena.  This technique has not been available until the last few years and is a result of the so-called thermonuclear research.  This research got its start from astrophysics - as is illustrated not only by the term “Stellarator”, but also by the name of Spitzer - and it still gets much inspiration from cosmical electrodynamics.'”
Clearly Alfvén was NOT a supporter of Electric Sun claims.  Why do the Electric Universe supporters insist on implying that he was?

But the real gem of the EU article is the graphic about halfway down the page titled “The Sun's Environment”.  Here's just a few of the issues and questions this model raises.
  • Central z-pinch current column is single current.  This configuration has the same problems as the 'Solar Resistor Model' discussed before such as the instability of this configuration along with the fact that any current sufficient to explain solar luminosity creates a magnetic field far stronger than observed.  In the Thunderbolts thread, they seem to deny that they use this configuration, instead favoring the 'spherical capacitor configuration'. 
  • This z-pinch current column is inconsistent with the description in “The Electric Sky”, page 112, Figure 21, which has two currents directed into the Sun from the north and south poles. 
  • Thornhill's interstellar magnetic field is in the vertical direction in this graphic.  This is inconsistent with field produced by the z-pinch currents which are directed around the current.  Clearly, someone at EU forgot the rules for magnetic field formation by currents.
  • So what creates the 'vertical' interstellar magnetic field?  This field must be much stronger than field created by z-pinch in order to keep the z-pinch stable.  All values predicted for this configuration are far larger than any measured values.  If the claim is this field is generated by the intergalactic current streams, the direction is still inconsistent.
  • Consider the disk of charged particles from Sun.  Is this protons AND electrons from Sun?  If so, this is radically different from outward proton flow and in the inward electron flow of  'spherical capacitor model' described in some EU forums and "The Electric Sky".
  • What confines the 'disk of charged particles from the Sun' to a disk structure?
  • What holds the 'double layers' in place?  All known laboratory & astrophysical double layers are 'anchored' to some structure (in astrophysical cases, this is often by gravitational stratification, see "The Real Electric Universe" ) so the double layer does not collapse due to the attraction of its own opposite charges.  Without this 'anchor', the double layer collapses on a timescale on the order of the inverse of the plasma frequency.
  • If all of these z-pinch currents powering stars are from filamentation of a galaxy-forming current stream, wouldn't this preferentially align the northern & southern magnetic poles of stars in the galaxy with the galactic spin axis?
  • If the stellar magnetic field is driven by these external currents, how can this mechanism explain the 11-year cycle of the solar magnetic reversals?  Do the galactic currents periodically change direction (perhaps they are A/C?).  If that is the case, wouldn't all stars in a given galaxy exhibit the same magnetic cycles (in period if not necessarily in phase)?
  • The current streams depicted in Thornhill's model should be strong emitters of synchrotron radiation.  No radio skymap sees these structures from nearby stars dominating the general structure created by the galactic magnetic field.
  • In the model defined by Thornhill's graphic, in which direction is the Sun moving to explain the IBEX observation?  That is, in what direction is the solar apex?
Like many of the other EU models, this current configuration can be plugged into Maxwell's equations to determine:
  1. Electric & magnetic field strengths to compare with measured field values
  2. Forces the E & B field configurations will produce on charged particles at any point.  This will tell you if the configuration is stable, or if unstable, on what time scale it will disintegrate.
  3. Effective charge densities created by differences in speeds of ions and free electrons.
Has any Electric Universe advocate done this?  I suspect not.

I suspect Mr. Thornhill doesn't understand the IBEX data projection (which is either Aitoff or Hammer), since the imprint of his 'disk' on the sky, or even of a current stream crossing a disk, is inconsistent with the shape of the IBEX ribbon structure (it is actually much more consistent with the shape examined by Schwadron, mentioned before).   It also creates problems for his interpretation of the 'hot spot' in the apparent direction of the heliotail being one of his 'double layers' that powers the solar z-pinch.

But the real demonstration that Thornhill does not understand what he is talking about is revealed in this quote:
Thornhill: Already there has been a report of an unexplained high-energy cosmic ray “hot spot” roughly in the direction of the inferred “heliotail.” The energies of the cosmic rays are in the range possible by acceleration in a galactic double layer (Carlqvist). Confirmation may soon come from observations of high-energy cosmic-ray electrons. The electrons undergo synchrotron and inverse Compton scattering losses and thus cannot travel very far from their sources, which makes them sensitive probes of nearby galactic sources and propagation.
First, the last sentence in the quote above is almost an exact quote from the report, though Thornhill did not note it as such, making it look like this statement is his thoughts.  Second, he notes that the electrons cannot travel far from their sources due to "synchrotron and inverse Compton scattering losses".  Thornhill doesn't understand that these very same processes will act on his star-powering z-pinch!!  What does it say about how far these currents can propagate???

I'll give Mr. Thornhill a few months to assemble and publish his detailed results answering these questions.  I may include the implications of this new EU model as part of my presentation at the American Astronomical Society this coming January.

I also welcome constructive comments to address these questions.