Saturday, April 24, 2010

Electric Universe: Lunar electric fields

NASA recently released video podcast about electric fields in the polar regions of the Moon, "Lunar Polar Craters May Be Electrified"

The basic model is that as the solar wind  flows by the limb of the Moon, the light electrons are more mobile and can diffuse away from the solar wind protons and into the shadow of craters.  This electron-ion separation process, called ambipolar diffusion, can generate an electric field of several hundred volts in the lunar environment.  It is one of the basic plasma physics processes that was identified by Irving Langmuir in 1929[1].

Naturally, the story was picked up by the Electric Universe (EU) supporters and mentioned on the Thunderbolts Forum: Polar Moon Craters Electrified?

Note that EU supporters regard this discovery as some kind of success for EU claims.  But there are a number of items one should note about the release and the EU response.
  • The electric fields mentioned in the story were determined by mathematical models.  EU supporters routinely dismiss mathematical models, particularly when it conflicts with their claims such as stars or galaxies being powered by external electric currents.
  • The model requires the solar wind to consist of outbound electrons and ions, contrary to the Electric Sun models (such as the one I call the Solar Capacitor model).
  • The planetary scientists knew to look for this process in the solar wind's interaction with the Moon, which is why they were using a mathematical model.  This contradicts the popular EU claim that astronomers ignore electrical effects in space.  Astronomers have known of numerous astrophysical scenarios where electric fields can form since the 1920s (see The REAL Electric Universe).
  • EU supporters make no mention of the work done by planetary scientists as far back as the early 1970s about electric fields induced in the lunar surface [2,3,4,5,6,7].  Instead EU supporters seem to focus on recent announcements, spinning the story as if the mainstream astronomical community is finally coming around to their point of view, when in fact these newer studies properly reference the older work.
While the Thunderbolts Forum is not the official home of Electric Universe theoretical work (actually, I'm still trying to determine where THAT is :^), it has been a few days now and I've not yet seen a post from any 'professional' EU theorists clarifying any of these points to their supporters.

In addition to ambipolar diffusion, mentioned in the podcast, that becomes important near the lunar terminator, solar ultraviolet photons and solar wind protons readily ionize lunar surface material.  When this happens to light dust particles, the electrostatic repulsion between the dust and the surface can be sufficient to levitate the dust into a small lunar atmosphere.  The electric fields from this process are rather small, producing electrostatic potential differences between the lunar surface and 'infinity' on the order of hundreds of volts.  However, this is more than enough to damage semiconductor electronics in sensitive equipment.
  1. I. Langmuir. The Interaction of Electron and Positive Ion Space Charges in Cathode Sheaths.  Physical Review, 33:954–989, June 1929. doi: 10.1103/PhysRev.33.954.
  2. K. Knott. Electrostatic charging of the lunar surface and possible consequences. Journal of Geophysical Research, 78:3172–3175, 1973. doi: 10.1029/JA078i016p03172
  3. R. H. Manka and F. C. Michel. Lunar ion energy spectra and surface potential. In Lunar and Planetary Science Conference Proceedings, volume 4 of Lunar and Planetary Science Conference Proceedings, pages 2897–2908, 1973.
  4. J. W. Freeman and M. Ibrahim. Lunar electric fields, surface potential and associated plasma sheaths. Moon, 14:103–114, September 1975. doi: 10.1007/BF00562976
  5. N. Borisov and U. Mall. The structure of the double layer behind the Moon. Journal of Plasma Physics, 67:277–299, May 2002. doi: 10.1017/S0022377802001654. 
  6. J. S. Halekas, R. P. Lin, and D. L. Mitchell. Inferring the scale height of the lunar nightside double layer. Geophysical Research Letters, 30(21):210000–1, November 2003. doi: 10.1029/2003GL018421.
  7. J. S. Halekas, S. D. Bale, D. L. Mitchell, and R. P. Lin. Electrons and magnetic fields in the lunar plasma wake. Journal of Geophysical Research (Space Physics), 110:7222–+, July 2005. doi: 10.1029/2004JA010991.
Among the authors listed above, EU supporters might find some of the graphics on F.C. Michel's page rather interesting and more evidence that astronomers have been examining the effects of electric fields in space for quite some time, contrary to claims of EU supporters.  Another author, R.P. Lin, currently does solar physics (for a NUCLEAR-powered sun) and is the Principal Investigator for the RHESSI solar x-ray satellite.

In other words, here is another example, going back several decades, where astronomers have examined electric fields in space, and are still considering them today, contrary to the claims of the EU supporters.

I've yet to find any evidence that any EU supporter has predicted the mechanism, or estimated values of the currents and/or voltages created, prior to these publications.  Without such documentation, it would appear the EU 'theorists' are simply trying to take credit for the work of others.


Anonymous said...

I don't think that Electric Universe supporters claim that "astronomers ignore [ALL] electrical effects in space", only that they are marginalized, or described in other terms (eg. changing magnetic fields). But this criticism is not unique to EU proponents. See for example: Alfvén, H., "On the Importance of Electric Fields in the Magnetosphere and Interplanetary Space", Space Science Reviews, vol. 7, p.140, 1967.

EU supporters have made mention of the work done by planetary scientists, see for example, the dozens of papers mentioned in "
Electricity throughout the Universe".

See also mention of various paper on lunar charging in this thread (and there are others).

Ivan3man said...

Q: How many "Electric Universe" proponents does it take to change a light bulb?

A: NONE -- they just sit around, twiddling their thumbs, while waiting for somebody else to do the bloody work, and then subsequently proclaim: "SEE THAT...?! BIRKELAND CURRENTS!!!11!1!"

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Anonymous:

The Electric Sky by Donald E. Scott, pg 53, concerning astronomers and astronomy, Dr. Scott says: "All these shortcomings are shrouded in a fortress-like collective mentality that rejects anything electrical."
along with statements along similar lines throughout the book. So are you saying that EU supporters knew this statement to be false or that planetary scientists are not astronomers and therefore their work should not be included in the category?

Planetary scientists are still considered astronomers, but combine the astronomy study with more geophysics and chemistry. Solar physicists are still considered astronomers even though they usually attend American Geophysical Union meetings.

As for 'marginalizing' electric fields, according to Maxwell's equations, there are two ways to generate an electric field - non-uniform charge distribution or changing magnetic fields.

Charge separation is difficult to maintain over large distances and/or times as the charge carriers are light and will move quickly in free space into a minimum energy configuration which will be largely electrically neutral. Dusty plasmas can generate larger fields in part because the greater mass of the dust particle slows the acceleration towards the opposite charge. How Sandstorms Generate Spectacular Lightning Displays

Changing magnetic fields, while they need a current of some form to get them started (antennas), once started, they can generate feedback systems with electric fields that can maintain them (electromagnetic waves, induction). Best of all, they can operate in a region with neutral and quasi-neutral plasmas and they are easy to detect.

So if you detect a magnetic field in a region of plasma where the charge carriers can move freely, which would you bet on as the source, charge separation or induction?

How many EU supporters have actually done the calculations that were done by these planetary scientists in the lunar fields article above? I have yet to find evidence that EU supporters have done ANY actual work, instead relying on others to do the work and then claim it is a success of THEIR theory. This is regarded as a most despicable behavior in science and it has ruined some careers.

Where EU supporters talk about many of the electric fields known in the geophysical environments (see The REAL Electric Universe), they are redundant. The planetary scientists are actually producing models with computable predictive capability whereas the EUers just give hand-waving excuses and say the computations of others support their theory. Again, real physicists, plasma physicists too, use computational models, much to the denial of EU supporters. In that case, EUers are the equivalent of Fanboys.

Beyond these issues, the only things left which EU supporters have which distinguishes them are clinging onto some failed ideas of Alfven and others as well as the whole "Electric Sun" and related silliness.

If a theory produces nothing more than statements like "it looks like a current, therefore it must be a current", then it is useless.

Anonymous said...

There are many many peer-reviewed papers which provide the math supporting electric currents in space plasma.

In addition to the link above, see also the citations in "Electric currents in space plasmas".

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

Which again emphasizes my point. I have a long list of references going back to the 1920s by astronomers/astrophysicists on electric fields in space. I summarize many of these mechanisms in The REAL Electric Universe, covering mechanisms for producing electric fields that might drive cosmic rays to cosmologies with net charge. Astronomers are well-versed on the importance of plasmas in space. It is part of our training.

Your response adds even more documentation to the fact that astronomers have known about space plasmas for years. Still the only difference I find between EU and mainstream astronomy are claims like electric stars and galaxies which flunk basic observational and in situ tests. So my first question is:

1) What does EU actually contribute to astronomy? Just what is their point? Or is it all a ploy to sell books?

My second question: What does it mean when an EU 'theorist' claims that astrophysicists deny electrical influences in space? Are they:

2a) Knowingly making false statements?

2b) Are totally clueless to the contradictions in their statements?

2c) perhaps a third option not covered by a or b?

To the wisecrackers whose comments I've been rejecting - I will continue to reject them in this thread unless they are particularly witty. I really want an answer from the EU supporters.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, that it does not help when EU proponents claim that all astronomers/astrophysicists deny plasma/electricity in space. To me, it's a poor over-generalization.

But conversely, when astronomers tend to use the word "gas" when they mean plasma, and tend to mention the more easily detectable magnetic fields, but not electric fields, again, I think is a poor over-generalization.

Of course astronomers all know what they all mean. But in a subject where accuracy is all important, gases and plasmas are wholly different beasts.

I think that most EU proponents have done little science, but likewise, the same with many people interested in astronomy.

In my opinion, most of the differences boil down to a different use of vocabulary, or an under-appreciation of the opposing view.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

At lot of the terminology in question is from press releases for the general public rather than actual scientific papers. I work with a number of science writers and have asked about this. Some say they prefer to use 'ionized gas' as 'plasma' implies a more medical interpretation to the general public.

As for the interest in astronomy, I suspect there are far more professional astronomers on forums such as JREF or UniverseToday than there are on Thunderbolts.

ND said...


I don't see an equivalence between generalization of Astronomers and usage of 'gas' and 'plasma' by Astronomers. In the latter there is an understood scientific context. In the first, EUers are often times demeaning and insulting a group of people stemming from their ignorance of the science and how those scientists do their work.

The EU point of view has been appreciated in the multitude of online debates started by EU proponents. Often times, these debates involve professional scientists pointing out the flaws in EU. The only way to debate in depth is by appreciating the other view.

Anonymous said...

But often, "gas" or "hot gas" is used instead of even "ionized gas" (meaning plasma). eg.

*"The sun is made of gases"
*"The sun is merely a big ball of gas"
*"A star is a huge, spinning ball of hot gas"
*"The star is modelled as a self-gravitating ball of gas"
*"Interstellar and intergalactic gas in the direction of SN 1993J in M81"

I acknowledge that the Sun and stars can be modelled as gases, and that plasmas may behave like gases. But anyone familiar with plasmas will know that compared to gases, plasmas can do so much more.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Anonymous,

Your links are to popularizations or to papers where the systems are in an equilibrium where treating it as a gas (based on the total number of electrons and ions) is equivalent.

You exhibit an almost 'legalistic' obsession with terminology, but only when it doesn't please you. The 'currentists' and the 'magnetic reconnectionists' who have no working models spend their time arguing over terminology.

If I'm interested in the bulk behavior of the Sun with local thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE) throughout, 'gas' is a suitable description and nothing is lost by its use. Neither would anything be gained by using the term 'plasma' though it would be acceptable. Near the surface of the Sun, where LTE breaks down, it becomes more problematic but that would depend on the audience and the goal.

Anonymous said...

The big bang is creationism, and coincidentally proposed by a Belgian priest in 1927.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

to Anonymous

By that argument, orbital mechanics is astrology (Kepler). Congratulations! You've proved space flight is a hoax!

More at
Is Big Bang Cosmology a 'Creationist' Model?