Friday, July 23, 2010

Electric Universe: Everything I needed to know about science I learned from watching Star Trek?

or “How pseudo-science learns from Sci-fi technobabble”

Engineer: “Captain, we can stop the flow with a concentrated beam of chronoton particles”
First Officer: “Aren't chronoton particles notoriously unstable?”
Engineer: “Not if we modulate it with a high-frequency pulse of tachyons.”

Anyone who's a fan of television or movie science fiction has doubtless seen a similar scene.  A catastrophe is averted by judicious manipulation of terminology.  Those of us familiar with the science snicker a little at scenes like these.

Many of these types of shows have inspired this author, and many others, to pursue careers in the sciences and engineering.  But while television science fiction has inspired some to actually learn more science, it seems to have convinced others that most of science is manipulation of sophisticated-sounding terminology.

In dealing with pseudo-scientific claims, I have frequently encountered this kind terminology manipulation, usually with present-day scientific terms.  However, using the terminology does not mean the speaker understands the concepts and implications behind the terminology.

As an example, I'll take a close look at a comment recently posted in this blog under the post “Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background".  Any reasonable response would be way to long for the comments so I decided to make it a regular posting.
Commenter: "Is it to be assumed that electrons within a Birkeland current move in circular and spiraling motions? A circular motion at least, would indicate that the internally induced magnetic fields are more important than the ones driving the Birkeland current in the first place. Now, the Birkeland currents are per definition initially field alligned, and the additional induced magnetic fields (a collective cylindrical one), would be surrounding the Birkeland current, seen from a classical point of view. However, it is the Debye shielding that prevents the effect you propose are happening (that otherwise would produce cyclotron radiation). For this reason, it seems likely that Birkeland currents can be in “dark mode“ until they interact with considerable densities of plasmas or gases, seen as glow mode in various wavelengths (double helix above Milkyway centre?) or as auroras."
In an attempt to salvage the Peratt galaxy model, the commenter has assembled an explanation which makes use of some real scientific terminology.  It reads really impressive, even logical, every bit as good as the techobabble on television sci-fi.  However, while they use the terms, I will now point out how they misuse the concepts that they represent as well as the consequences of those concepts.  Each of the errors has, at its root, the notion that the terms we use to describe physical processes are somehow isolated, like the 'black boxes' of engineering - that the processes do not depend on more fundamental processes - and that these underlying processes interact in ways that limit the applicability of 'black box' processes. 

The commenter's explanation has three major failures.

1) “electrons within a Birkeland current move in circular and spiraling motions? A circular motion at least, would indicate that the internally induced magnetic fields are more important than the ones driving the Birkeland current in the first place.”
Charged particles in ANY magnetic field move in circular/spiraling motions. Depending on the density, the particles may not complete a full circle before they scatter off a neighboring particle, but they still move in curving trajectories.

There are two sources of magnetic fields in the Birkeland current configuration.  There is the field component along the axis of the current path, usually labelled the z-axis.  This is the main field of the Birkeland current and has to come from some other source (rarely specified in EU literature).  As the charges flow along the z-axis, that current induces an additional magnetic field, called the azimuthal field. 

Another important thing to note is that for a current to exist, the charge carriers in the Birkeland current, ions and electrons, must travel at different speeds.  In an electric field, the force on an electron and proton are the same (but opposite in direction).  However, the electron will accelerate about 1800 times faster due to its proportionally smaller mass.   Therefore, electromagnetic, as well as thermal mechanisms, have ions and electrons traveling at different mean speeds.  If the electrons and protons travel at about the same velocity (magnitude AND direction), the net current flow becomes zero, and the entire system fails.  The plasma becomes indistinguishable from a hot cloud of plasma.

Birkeland currents still require a magnetic field to align along their direction of travel.  For the Earth & planetary magnetospheres, this field is provided by the planetary magnetic dipole field.  What is the source of this field in Peratt's galaxy model?  This would have to be a HUGE structure to be a source of magnetic field lines that can stretch across several hundred million light-years of the cosmos.  I've yet to find anything in EU or plasma cosmology literature identifying the nature of this large-scale magnetic field.

All known cosmic Birkeland currents are relatively low current density, they do not themselves produce a significant magnetic field relative to the field aligned along their axis.  If the current-induced field becomes large, the plasma confinement becomes unstable.  This is well established observationally and experimentally.  Therefore the commenter's claim that the induced (azimuthal) magnetic field is more important than the driving field (z-axis) immediately leads to an unstable configuration.

2) “it is the Debye shielding that prevents the effect you propose”. 
First, I didn't propose synchrotron radiation would occur in the configuration advocated by Dr. Peratt.  Peratt himself recognized that synchrotron radiation would be generated by the electrons moving in a magnetic field, as referenced in the original blog post.  This process is well established, observationally & experimentally.

Debye screening surrounds a positive charge center with more mobile negative charges to give a net charge of ZERO beyond some useful distance scale.  Debye screening relies on the light electrons having a roughly isotropic (uniform in all directions) velocity relative to the heavier, slower moving ions.  This configuration gives electrons a net velocity of zero with respect to the ions and therefore the system has NO net current flow.  But if your net current is zero, then so is your magnetic confinement mechanism, as noted above.  Your Birkeland current is no longer confined by the magnetic field and becomes nothing but a blob of hot plasma.

If electrons have a net relative velocity with respect to the ions, as is needed for a current, then they can no longer form a uniform cloud around the ions to screen them.  Debye screening no longer applies.  Peratt's galaxy model relies on 30keV electrons as part of the main current stream.  This is substantially above the ionization energies of even the innermost electrons in atoms with atomic numbers up to iron.  Hydrogen, the most abundant interstellar element, has a 13.6 eV ionization potential, while iron needs about 7keV to liberate the innermost electron.  The electrons in Peratt's current stream will barely feel any influence from the ions and therefore cannot change their motion substantially to screen them.

So suppose you want to claim that the electrons slow down around the ions and screen them?  To get electrons moving in a bulk current flow to an isotropic distribution relative to the ions requires the electrons loose energy.  This will occur by either collisions or scattering.  Both of these processes can generate photons, by either exciting atoms or bremsstrahlung(wikipedia).  I did a test calculation using Peratt's parameters which suggests there is very little energy loss via bremsstrahlung but I need to check this against other sources.

In fact there are numerous other processes, in addition to bremsstrahlung mentioned above, that can come into play that would make the Birkeland currents detectable.  Electrons interact strongly with photons.  If space were full of streams of electrons required by the Peratt model, they would Compton scatter (wikipedia),  or Thomson scatter (wikipedia) in the case of non-relativistic electrons, off background photons, changing their energy. 

The bottom line is that any interaction that alters the charged particle flows, results in energy being transferred between particles, which generates more emission.  This makes the mechanism fail or you see emission as the kinetic energy of the electrons is converted to photons (most likely in the radio, microwave to infrared regions of the spectrum). 

3) “Birkeland currents can be in 'dark mode' until they interact with considerable densities of plasmas or gases”
The “dark mode” term in regards to gas discharges is a laboratory description which refers to a lack of emission in the range of visible light.  But even in the 'dark current', electrons and ions are still moving in the gas, accelerating & colliding through this region, it is just their emission is not in the range of visible light.  These configurations emit in radio to infrared frequencies, depending on the gases and voltages involved.  The commenter uses the term as if “dark mode” is still a mysterious process (perhaps trying to draw an analogy with Dark Matter?).  These processes in gas discharges have been heavily studied in the laboratory and even computer simulations.  There is a large body of scientific literature on this topic which the EU supporters routinely ignore.

In the final analysis, any mechanism that can hide these Birkeland currents also basically kills them.  To hide behind the 'dark mode' claim ignores that fact known cosmic Birkeland currents emit in the radio band, such as the magnetosphere of Jupiter (Wikipedia),

15 comments:

Ivan3man said...

RE: "In an attempt to salvage the Peratt galaxy model, the commenter has assembled an explanation which makes use of some real scientific terminology." (Emphasis mine.)

The "Electric Universe" emblem.

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

I was a little confused on this comment until I clicked on the link. ;^)

Anonymous said...

Tom,
I've been reading your material for a few weeks, and I thought I'd comment with a few (admittedly somewhat disjointed) thoughts.

I've tried to talk to these EU folks, and creationists, and AIDS deniers and hordes of other fringe science people. I've never changed a single mind. I've got to wonder if anything could.

For example: I have odd ideas of my own but I keep them to myself because I don't want to give the appearance of the same bizarre fringe behavior. I look for stuff that supports my views in published papers, but tend not to be vocal. I'm very much convinced that I'm right, but at the same time, you guys are the ones with the telescopes and computers (and what little funding you are allowed), you could thrash my thinking in an instant. (In fact, I'd welcome it!) I have no place muddying the waters of inquiry with my ADHD-addled thought experiments.

I think a great many scientists are downright brilliant, but I think mainstream science advocates have an ability to concede when evidence proves them wrong. It's as if stubbornness or contrariness practically defines fringe supporters.

If, at any time, you want to hear my notions of galaxy formation, I'd welcome it, but do you think there's harm in staying quiet...yet doing the Happy Dance in my head when a bit of my own thinking is published by genuine researchers?

I do not feel like I have a background (information technology) that lends itself to being a voice of authority in astronomy.

Siggy_G said...

Tom, appreciating your extensive response (and sorry for this lengthy reply). First, I misinterpreted and commented on your scenario on electron movements as if you meant some collective spiraling drift within the Birkeland currents due to induced magnetic fields - and not as each individual electron's movement.

I did point out that we detect various strong emissions in interactive zones. Your referred images of radiation belts around Jupiter show just a part of the whole circuit, or a part of its nature. According to both Birkeland and Alfven, auroral currents originates from a closed circuit outside the the more intense emissive regions.

I was emphasizing how Birkeland currents can be in "dark mode"; as in "low density, low emissive, less distinct from background data", not just "invisible to the human eye". In vast regions they are expected to be in this mode. Their emissions would increase in intensity in the presence of a magnetosphere or an interactive gas/plasma. Double layers and Debye screening length is obviously of significance in a low density plasma current (I should have mentioned other dynamic screening effects as well). It is mainly when they pinch into becoming increasingly dense where strong synchrotron emissions are detected and even arc modes and jets occur. Any distribution of electric charge within a quasi-neutral plasma from one region to another (cosmic distances), due to an overall fall in potential between the regions, can be defined as an electric current.

"Although the electrons are primarily accelerated in the direction of the magnetic field, they will be scattered by magnetic inhomogeneities and spiral in such a way that they emit synchrotron radiation. The accelerated electrons will be more like an extremely hot gas than a beam. With increasing distance from the double layer [galaxy centre or planet] the electrons will spread and their energy, and hence their synchrotron emission, will decrease. This is in agreement with observations. It is possible that some of them will reach the central galaxy and produce radio emissions there. It is also possible that the observed radio emission from the central galaxy is due to some other effect produced by the current /there are several mechanisms possible. " Double Layers in Astrophysics, NASA Conference, 1987, p.14.

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19870013880_1987013880.pdf

Siggy_G said...

Tom, appreciating your extensive response (and sorry for this lengthy reply). First, I misinterpreted and commented on your scenario on electron movements as if you meant some collective spiraling drift within the Birkeland currents due to induced magnetic fields - and not as each individual electron's movement.

Your referred images of radiation belts around Jupiter show just a part of the whole circuit, or a part of its nature. According to both Birkeland and Alfven, auroral currents originates from a closed circuit outside the the more intense emissive regions.

I was emphasizing how Birkeland currents can be in "dark mode"; as in "low density, low emissive, less distinct from background data", not just "invisible to the human eye". In vast regions they are expected to be in this mode. Their emissions would increase in intensity in the presence of a magnetosphere or an interactive gas/plasma. Double layers and Debye screening length is obviously of significance in a low density plasma current (I should have mentioned other dynamic screening effects as well). It is mainly when they pinch into becoming increasingly dense where strong synchrotron emissions are detected and even arc modes and jets occur. Any distribution of electric charge within a quasi-neutral plasma from one region to another (cosmic distances), due to an overall fall in potential between the regions, can be defined as an electric current.

"Although the electrons are primarily accelerated in the direction of the magnetic field, they will be scattered by magnetic inhomogeneities and spiral in such a way that they emit synchrotron radiation. The accelerated electrons will be more like an extremely hot gas than a beam. With increasing distance from the double layer [galaxy centre or planet] the electrons will spread and their energy, and hence their synchrotron emission, will decrease. This is in agreement with observations. It is possible that some of them will reach the central galaxy and produce radio emissions there. It is also possible that the observed radio emission from the central galaxy is due to some other effect produced by the current /there are several mechanisms possible. " Double Layers in Astrophysics, NASA Conference, 1987, p.14.

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

To Anonymous:
Two podcasts you should listen to, summarized & linked here:
Doin' Astronomy (and Science in General)...

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

Your quote from "Double Layers in Astrophysics" is taken out of context as they are referring to Alfven's radio galaxy model, not Peratt's model which has a radically different configuration. Note Figure 9 of your reference on radio galaxy Cygnus A.

Your response also illustrates another aspect of the problem. You use a quote from a paper almost 25 years old. Did you bother to consider that in the past 25 years:

1) the object might have been examined with more sensitive instruments and some of the statements made in your citation are no longer true?
We can certainly track the beam back to the center in these more recent radio images of Cygnus A: greyscale, color, black-red-white>

2) the object might have been observed by instruments in other wavelengths which create more problems for the model you advocate?
APOD: Cygnus A,
Cygnus A: Catching a Galactic Football

If no one has any new results in the past 25 years, it is evidence that your model is dead.

Don't respond with "oh, electron beams can do that" or similar, unless you can actually point me to a reference where someone has computed the fluxes in radio, visible, and X-ray for the Alfven model. Here's a sample of the standards that real science requires. Such as Cygnus A or Resolving the radio-X-ray interaction in Cygnus A: an observation with Chandra
I have yet to see a demonstration that the Alfven configuration can produce the emission detected from Cygnus A from *anyone* in EU.

If you went around claiming to be a World-Class baseball player, yet refused every time someone insisted you demonstrate your skills on the field, you would quickly be suspected as a fraud. Yet this is exactly what EU wants to do in regards to science - to claim working theories of how the universe works which do not meet up to scientific standards - but to be treated as 'leading edge' scientists. They want the prestige and recognition for doing work that they have not actually done.

Siggy_G said...

The essence of the quotation was that electrons will emit proportionally less synchrotron radiation when viewing receding radial distance (spherically spread out) from a double layer center. That's an independent principal and points to electrons' radiation in the context of their density-of-flow through any given volume in space. This is of relevance for interpreting Birkeland currents.

It is the work of several great astrophysicists, electrical engineers and physicists (Tesla, Birkeland, C.E.R. Bruce, Alfven et al.) that have led to the build-up of the Electric Universe theory. These people were "World-Class" in the sense that they recognized evident electrical features of the universe, in contrast to the contemporary consensus at their time. Their claims have become increasingly apparent/demonstrated as more and more in situ measurements and examination of plasma physics were done in the following decades. The EU advocates' extension of the fore mentioned people's work is that electricity in space is a product of charge separation and double layers (with magnetic fields as the electric currents' co-product) and that stars are plasma discharge phenomena in arc glow mode. Further meaning that stars and galactic cores are sustained (externally) by the drift and pinching of vast low density electric currents. An alien thought to many, but really not that far fetched if one views space as plasma in various densities, where electric currents drift filamentary between regions and may pinch into denser objects (Bennet pinch, Marklund convection). See also Perrat's paper in this regard (1996):

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1996Ap%26SS.244...89P

Siggy_G said...

I agree, it would be great if more contemporary research was made on recognizing electric discharge configurations at galactic scales and further complex simulations were made to illustrate the dynamics. This requires a bit of state/private funding, like any other full-time dedicated scientific research, as well as astrophysicists being interested and liberated to do so. However, we probably won't see much of that happening anytime soon, as long as abstracts like 'galactic black hole ejecting hot gas accelerated by dark matter' are preferred and found to be satisfactory as scientific method.

On the other hand, it is interesting that mainstream astrophysics these days tend to study much of the same electrical effects within the Sun's atmosphere (extending beyond the planets and to the heliosphere) that Electric Universe theory have been advocating all along. Asking the right questions is a part of the process too, so we know what to look for. We may see some intriguing revelations by radio- and xray astronomy in the coming years.

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

Nonsense.

Electric stars fails on basic conservation constraints. Peratt and Alfven's models fail on numerous other observational constraints. Increased computational power solves problems in smaller-scale details of a process - it cannot fix model failures on a global scale. Considering how EU routinely dismisses mathematical models, how will computational power solve their problems?

As for funding, *most* scientists, such as myself, must do their research 'on the side', in addition to their day job, which might be anything from teaching, science support work or something totally different. If they're lucky, they might get grant funding to purchase a new desktop computer or buy time on a larger cluster. Often we cobble compute clusters together from older systems retrieved from Excess. Only a small fraction of researchers are fully-funded to do research.

As for recent discoveries 'confirming' EU, you have another misunderstanding of the science. Many of these are consequences of processes discovered YEARS ago (see The Real Electric Universe). They are finally being discovered not because their effects are large but because their effects are SMALL and difficult to detect. Some were below the resolution of simulations but researchers always knew they would have to include particle effects as computational power allowed processing at smaller physical scales.

For EU to claim these aspects of magnetospheric physics as 'theirs' is grossly dishonest as these are areas where every researcher in the field has been working towards the goal of including more detailed microphysics in their simulations. Where's the EU simulations of these processes (such as Reconstruction of a magnetic flux rope from THEMIS observations)? Without them, the EU claim is no different than supporters of ID latching onto new discoveries in biology as evidence of divine design.

The only things that are distinctively claims of EU (not hijacked from mainstream science) are the Electric Sun, the Peratt galaxy model, and similar claims - and they are DEAD - by pretty much the exact same processes that drive the THEMIS fluxropes.

Siggy_G said...

Realizing the comment field may become cluttered, I will let this be my last comment under this article. See related upcoming comments under your blog entry:
http://dealingwithcreationisminastronomy.blogspot.com/2010/06/electric-universe-do-i-have-any-readers.html

Somewhat acknowledging your points on research and funding, and much of it is certainly the case for EU research. However, NASA/ESA/LHC-project etc. obviously have a tremendous privilege with extreme funding and hordes of manpower.

I also meant to describe desired (EU) research/simulations as utilizing all the updated aspects of the Electric Sun and the galactic scale model using a low density plasma discharge approach (Marklund convection of dusty plasma included). This would be a fundamental and large-scale change/extension of Peratt's model, and not merely about higher cell resolution of the original simulation. Peratt demonstrated important features of interactive plasma dynamics. (PS: gravity-driven models have also changed since the 80s, including additional usage of hypothetical dynamic factors, without being thrown out the window for that reason).

As to electric currents recently being detected just because their effects are small, and their alleged overall insignificance at cosmic scales, we obviously disagree. It's a difference in approach and acknowledgment. Detection limitations is not synonymous with insignificance. When referring to discovered electrical effects within the solar system, that would include: finding that the lunar surface has electric features, planetary plasma tails, auroras and lightning on other planets, surprisingly strong atmospheric activity of the outer planets, the nature of comets [Thornhill] etc. They are observations in favour of EU theory, as it is assembeled, and in line with the historical predictions and minds which the theory is based upon. As to THEMIS "flux ropes", we're talking electric currents again / re-discovering Birkeland currents:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FluxRopes(BatteryInSpace).jpg

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

I look forward to an actual EU model with predictive power, though I'm not holding my breath for it.

If you plan to post in another topic, keep it relevant to that topic.

Though you might want to wait a month or so. I'm finishing up and staging a number of EU posts (interleaved with creationism issues) for release over the next month or so.

Siggy_G said...

Ok, in that case, I'll wait with my input comments as they may be more relevant to your upcoming posts. But why the linking to creationism? There are no creationist aspects within the Electric Universe model. It assumes a universe of unknown age and unknown extent, and any attempts of explaining origins (as creationists would) are irrelevant. (The somewhat similar Steady State model was once loosely associated with atheism.) There are certainly no theist pronouncements among the EU advocates. I suggest you create a separate blog site: "Dealing with the Electric Universe", since that seems to be your intention.

Anonymous said...

The link to creationists, and creationism, is, Siggy_G, the astonishing similarity of, um, discussion style.

On a very large number of internet discussion fora, proponents of EU ideas have *never*, AFAIK, presented anything quantified and testable (wrt stuff beyond the Earth's atmosphere), excepting Peratt's and Lerner's various papers, and some of Alfven's, published within the last 50 years (within the last, say, 20? None whatsoever).

Instead of discussing the science, they use the Gish gallop very skilfully, they pour vitriol and venom on professional scientists (and their critics), quote mine, obfuscate, lie, and generally behave in a manner not only antithetical to science, but also almost identical to the approach used by creationists.

APODNereid

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot: you do know, don't you Siggy_G, that wrt comets, Thornhill's major opus is an academic fraud?

If you don't, I'll gladly point you to sources which demonstrate the fraud beyond reasonable doubt ...

APODNereid