Saturday, March 13, 2010

Setterfield & c-Decay: "Data and Creation: The ZPE-Plasma Model" III

Barring any new information, this should be my final post critiquing Barry Setterfield's “Data and Creation: The ZPE-Plasma Model".

One significant difference between Setterfield's earlier merging of c-decay with plasma cosmology and the Electric Universe  is in Setterfield's Section III: “The Origin of the Elements”.  In addition to some apparently distorted Electric Universe claims, Setterfield includes a claim from Ed Boudreaux (CreationWiki), a chemistry professor at the University of New Orleans, to the effect that all the elements at their present day abundances could have been created in 30 minutes at a temperature of 10-20 billion K.  The only proviso was that the plasma composition was such that the ratio of protons, neutrons, electrons and ions was the same as that found in water.

Since Setterfield published little details, I tried searching for additional information but found little that was helpful.  However, from even this short description, the process sounded very similar to a process known as Nuclear Statistical Equilibrium, or NSE.  I'll continue this analysis under that assumption.

What is Nuclear Statistical Equilibrium (NSE)?

Consider a very hot (temperature measured in billions of degrees) plasma consisting of free electrons, protons and neutrons.  At any given temperature and density (number of particles per unit volume), many types of reactions can take place. 
  • Forward reaction: Neutrons can decay into protons and electrons. 
  • Reverse reaction: Electrons and protons can combine to form neutrons (we'll ignore the neutrino to keep the analysis simple).
  • Forward reactions: The free neutrons and protons can combine to form nuclei.
  • Reverse reactions: Those nuclei formed in step 3 can also break back down into free neutrons and protons.
In equilibrium, the forward reactions will take place at the exact same rate as the reverse reactions.  Since these reaction rates will vary depending on the number of protons, neutrons, electrons, and the various nuclei which exist at any instant, an equilibrium distribution of the different nuclei will form.  This distribution for a specific temperature, density, and electron-to-baryon ratio, is called nuclear statistical equilibrium, or NSE.

The web site Cococubed has movies which illustrate how the composition can vary for different values of temperature, density, and electron-to-baryon ratio in NSE.  The WebNucleo site operated by Clemson University has some online tools for doing this calculation, Nuclear Statistical Equilibrium.   I'll use this tool in this analysis.

As a quick test, one can run the NSE calculator for the default values of nuclear partition functions (this uses the binding energies of the nucleus to determine a statistical 'weight' for the analysis) and for a temperature = 11,000,000,000K,  density=2,760,000,000 gram/cubic centimeter, and an electron-to-baryon ratio of 0.462 (this slightly favors the formation of nuclei with more neutrons than protons).  The computation takes only seconds on the remote servers and we get some data tables and options for plotting.  We choose to plot the atomic number (Z=number of protons) on the x-axis and the abundance on the y-axis.  A logarithmic y-axis scale enables us to examine the wide range of abundances

In this plot, we see peaks on the left where Z<2 which correspond to high abundances of hydrogen (Z=1) and helium (Z=2).  Moving to the right, we see a few more peaks around carbon (Z=6) and oxygen (Z=8) and a really broad peak near iron (Z=26).  I'm told this particular set of defaults is probably appropriate to some Type 1a supernovae (Wikipedia).
This plot, generated by the Solar Abundance Tool at WebNucleo, can be used for comparison.  We see that the NSE plot exhibits some characteristics of the chemical abundance of the elements (Wikipedia), but not everything.  One glaring distinction is that the NSE calculation suggests much more iron is formed than carbon and oxygen, in sharp difference to the solar abundances.

This is because abundances in our region of the galaxy have contributions not only from supernovae, but from the ambient interstellar medium (still heavily loaded with hydrogen and helium).  Supernovae not only explode with a range of different abundances, but they do not always eject all their material into the interstellar medium (ISM).  While Type Ia supernovae are believed to be a total disruption of a white dwarf star which would send everything into the ISM, other types of supernovae can lock up a substantial amount of the heavier elements in a black hole or neutron star.

Boudreaux's Equilibrium?

Now consider Boudreaux's claim that he gets solar abundances with nuclear reactions starting with the composition of water - two hydrogen atoms (1 proton + 1 electron each) and one oxygen atom (8 protons+ 8 neutrons + 8 electrons).  The number of electrons is 2*1 + 8 = 10 and the number of baryons is 2*1+8+8 = 18.  This gives an electron to baryon ratio = 10/18 = 0.555 (which would actually favor nuclei with more protons than neutrons).
Here is a sample run from the Webnucleo NSE calculator illustrating the change in abundances for several key elements for a range of temperatures between 10-20 billion K and a density of 2.76e10 grams per cubic centimeter.
We can also plot at a single density and temperature.  Here, we see the at 10 billion K, we get virtually no elements with Z>40 (zirconium). We can explore other temperatures in the 10-20 billion K range as well as higher densities, but it becomes clear that it is difficult for this process to generate any heavy nuclei.  I've investigated some of the astronomy & cosmology resources at Boudreaux's site, the Origins Resource Association but have not found any details that distinguish this claim from a story that Dr. Boudreaux made up for his convenience.

If Dr. Boudreau was to provide a reasonable justification, he would need to specify such things as:
  1. What is the site for this process?  What is the density?  Did it all happen at the instant of Creation?
  2. How did the elements get dispersed over the billions of cubic light-years of universe?
  3. Once dispersed, how did they collapse to form current day stars, planets, etc.  as some of the resources at Origins Resource Association suggest Dr. Beudreaux believes this process cannot happen in the the Big Bang scenario.  This is probably a problem for his scenario as well, unless he is invoking a Miracle here.
  4. If Dr. Boudreaux is using current day nuclear physics, we've demonstrated above that this process will not work.  If Dr. Boudreaux is using some alternative claim about nuclear physics, such as accelerated decay rates, etc. he would need to specify the details of this, along with any experimental or observational justification.
Thanks to Dr. Brad Meyer (Clemson University) for assistance with WebNucleo.

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