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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Young Earth" Battle in the "Amazon"?

Dr. Jellison has been maintaining a long-running series of 'dueling reviews' over the revised version of creationist John Morris' book, "Young Earth",  in the comments section at Amazon.

I mentioned Dr. Jellison's initial review back in January (Review of "The Young Earth" by John Morris).  Since then, some of the discussion has continued in comments to the review and Dr. Jellison has continued to respond.

A few other notes I'll add based the content of the comments so far:

1) The Cosmology Statement ( signers are a mish-mash of supporters of various alternative cosmologies, ranging from supporters of Steady-State and Plasma cosmology to young-Earth creationists, and other more bizarre personal theories.  The only unifying concept among all the signatories is they disapprove of Big Bang cosmology.  Only a few of the signatories have actually presented cosmological models that can be tested outside of their own imagination.  Those who have presented testable models usually find their model can match a few basic observations but seriously fail on many others (such as shown in Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background).

2) Dr. Jellison is responding to a commenter who claims that their laundry list of cosmological problems could all be solved by just assuming that the Universe is actually young.  This is the classic "God of the Gaps" argument and the list of these "problems" just shrinks into smaller, more obscure sections of science.  Twenty years ago, creationists were arguing that the solar neutrino problem was evidence that the Sun was less than billions of years old, yet that 'unsolvable problem' has since vanished.  I'm reminded of a comment at a talk I attended where it was pointed out that those who argue that the Big Bang can't be correct because we don't understand all the details about how galaxies formed is equivalent to arguing that the Earth can't be round because we don't understand all the details about how tornadoes form.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Science: Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted from NSF Report

It seems kind of strange that this item was left out.

More at the Science magazine site
Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Real" Science vs. "Cosmological" and "Origins" Science

Pseudo-sciences that try to undermine physical sciences tread a fine line.  They attempt to sell their flawed thinking to a general public which, while not necessarily very scientifically literate, still understands that the physical sciences have provided technologies that improve their quality of life.  Even the not-very-scientifically literate public understands that most of these technologies are the product of modern science.  Should the pseudo-scientists try to attack all of physical sciences, they would risk alienating the public who might realize that it would undermine technology that contributes to their high standard of living, which could backfire on them.

To reduce the chance of losing support from those who recognize the science-technology connection,  some pseudo-scientists try to erect a barrier between science that can be seen contributing to technology and science that has implications for topics which the pseudo-scientists wish to reject.

Creationists such as Ken Ham have tried to argue that there is a 'real science' or 'operational science' that exists in the laboratory, contributing to developing technology, and an 'origins science' that attempts to describe the origin of the universe in general and life in particular.  Mr. Ham then argues that 'origins science' is not a reliable as 'operational science' since 'origins science' can't make technologies and therefore allows for other interpretations of the data, particularly various claims attempting to make the universe less than 10,000 years old.  I've written about this before (Technology from Cosmology, or “Can Creation Science Do That?”).  Some creationists push this barrier even further, claiming that the processes we can test in the laboratory have no connection to the behavior and processes in Nature.

Electric Universe (EU) supporters adopt a similar tactic, trying to separate 'classical science' for technology and 'cosmological science' as anything beyond the Earth which they don't like.  They then try to claim that their cosmological claims are just as valid as mainstream science.  EU plays on  shakier ground as their 'classical science' is a category that appears to exclude developments in the 20th century such as relativity and quantum mechanics, both backed by significant laboratory experiments and technology applications.

The BIG problem with this division strategy is that there is NO such barrier between the physical sciences.

Fundamental Physical Theories
Physicists actually have a handful of theories that could be regarded as truly foundational or fundamental.  Here's my list that comes to mind, but I don't regard it as complete and there is significant overlap between some topic:
  • Mechanics or Dynamics (Wikipedia)/Kinematics (Wikipedia):  The physics of motions under the actions of forces, or no forces.
  • Gravitation (Wikipedia)/General Relativity (Wikipedia): The physics of motion of particles with mass.
  • Electromagnetism (Wikipedia): The physics of motion of particles with electric charges.
  • Quantum Mechanics (Wikipedia): Quantum mechanics can be considered as dynamics and kinematics on a sub-atomic level.  As we apply it to larger systems, its predictions become equivalent to those of dynamics and kinematics. 
  • Quantum electrodynamics (Wikipedia): The physics of motion in cases where relativity and quantum mechanics are important.
  • Quantum chromodynamics (Wikipedia):The physics of motion for particles which feel the 'color' force.
An interesting aspect of these theories is they all describe interactions between objects and particles, not so much the objects or particles themselves.  The particles themselves are described in the Standard Model (Wikipedia).  They describe how the particles move in relation to each other if the particle respond to a specific force.  Many of these theories are built around a few fundamental relationships, expressed mathematically, whose implications are studied in a variety of physical scenarios.  From these theories, we can develop mathematical models for more complex, multi-atom/multi-particle systems, such as fluid dynamics, magnetohydrodynamics, solid state physics, etc.

All of the theories above have been subjected to significant testing, through experiment and observation.  Many of them have critical connections in our technologies: semiconductor electronics is critical for everything from computers to cellphones; gravity and relativity play crucial roles in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS), all satellites, and interplanetary flight.  Some of these theories were tested to a higher-level of precision by observations in space than they could be tested in the laboratory.

Pushing Physical Theories Over the Edge?
In spite of all the testing of the physical theories described above, they can still make predictions that are beyond our current laboratory capabilities to test! 

What do you do then? 

I see three options:
  1. Some experimental tests would require a only small improvements in current technology in order to actually perform them.  This can sometimes take just a few years, or it could take many decades. 
  2. If the predictions are far beyond the capability of current, or even near-future technology, one can find other ways to test the theory that may not be as direct.  The general practice is to assume the theory is valid until real evidence can be found to the contrary.  This gets more difficult if there are more than one theory where both agree in the tested range, but exhibit disagreement outside that range.
  3. Declare any aspect of the theory beyond those immediately testable in the laboratory as unknowable and open to any explanations that can be dreamed up.
Mainstream science generally chooses option (1) & (2), though sometimes the boundary between them can be fuzzy.  Most pseudo-science insists the only choice is option (3).

Are there other options?  I'd be interested if there are other possibilities I've missed here.

Update: January 28, 2014: Fixed broken links

Saturday, April 3, 2010

OEC Hugh Ross debates YEC Jason Lisle

[ Revised April 5, 2010 - details at bottom of page ]

On the evening of Wednesday, March 31, 2010, the Frank Pastore Show hosted a debate between Old-Earth Creationist (OEC) Hugh Ross, of “Reasons To Believe“ (RTB) and Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) Jason Lisle of “Answers in Genesis“.   Radio station, KKLA in Los Angeles, California, broadcast the debate.

Since both participants had a background in astrophysics, I was interested and had the time to listen to the streaming feed.  The show is currently available as a podcast (page, mp3).  Some show notes are available as well on Frank Pastore's Run Sheets.

The Participants:
Dr. Hugh Ross: I have a few of Dr. Ross' books, but have so far have only read “A Matter of Days“.  I picked up two others when I attended the RTB conference “What Darwin Didn't Know“ in October of 2008.

Dr. Jason Lisle:  Dr. Lisle is rather new on the YEC scene (he apparently obtained his Ph.D. in 2004 in solar physics).   I've not seen any significant contributions to YEC astronomy & cosmology beyond the occasional popular-level articles on the AiG site so I've had no strong incentive to buy any of his books. 

The debate was split into four sections by the host, each section opening with specific themes to address.  Here's some of my notes from the debate.  I've highlighted my comments.

Title: Thousands or Billions?
1) Where do you start?
Jason Lisle
  • Holds to a literal 6-day interpretation of Genesis
  • The individual's World View is the basis on which evidence is interpreted
  • The Bible has only one origin story.  One can't refer to passages in Job, Psalm 104, etc.  as creation accounts
Hugh Ross
  • The Hebrew word 'Yom' has multiple interpretations, and the Genesis interpretation is consistent with the notion of a long period of time, not a 24-hour day (I've found some more about this interpretation of 'Yom' at Yom with a Number.)
  • The long time interpretation is consistent with multiple creation accounts.  Job 38, 39, Proverbs, others.  This allows one to read bible without contradiction.
  • Newton advocated an old Earth in interpreting Genesis (I'll have to track down a reference for this.)
2) What do you see when you look through a telescope, do you see thousands or billions?
Hugh Ross
  • YEC & OEC agree there is an actual beginning to the Universe, but the Bible says the Universe is 'constant' (i.e. the laws of the Universe).  Otherwise there would be no supernova remnants.
  • Laws of physics don't change implies that the Universe must be billions of years old.
Jason Lisle
  • Insists the Universe is the product of supernatural creation <10,000 years ago.
  • General Revelation reveals there is a God.
  • The distances between galaxies are real, but this does not mean they are necessarily old.  (Lisle presented no real justification for this.)
The host raises questions about the speed of light vs. the 'appearance of age'.  Does 'appearance of age' make God deceiver?

3) What would Adam look like?
Would Adam be a 30-something adult or something else?
Would there be tree rings?  Why not created with appearance of age?

Jason Lisle
  • Lisle accuses Ross of the fallacy of proving statement that we start with (but don't YECs make the same fallacy in asserting literal truth in the Bible as justified by their interpretation of nature?).  
  • Stars were created on Day 4.
  • Challenges Ross' interpretation of Psalm 19.
Hugh Ross
  • Psalm 19.  Interpret the record of nature as book and trustworthy.  God would not be deceptive on appearance of age.
  • Astronomers can see time in the past when stars did not exist.  We can witness cosmic creation event (Cosmic Microwave Background radiation).
4) Dinosaurs & the Flood.  Why is age of Earth even an issue?
Hugh Ross
  • Christian astronomers came out in favor of an old universe, making a statement on a debate between Ross & Danny Faulkner.
  • At the Fall, death became an issue for humans, not all life (death existed for animals before the Fall).  Referenced by Paul?  Romans 5:12?
  • The Flood was world-wide but not global.  Earth can never be moved.
  • Dinosaurs created on Day 5 but they became extinct before humans were on the scene.
Jason Lisle
  • Received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado.  He was a YEC then, but not that open about it.  Claims astronomy does not require billions of years.
  • Biblical inerrancy is at stake.
  • Dinosaurs were created on the 6th day.  Dinosaurs survived up until the flood.  The Flood was global.
My Closing Thoughts
I've been following some of the RTB podcasts for a while now.  Ross' “Testable Creation Theory” seems to be nothing of the sort, relying heavily on very subjective interpretations of data.  As part of Dr. Ross' debate with Michael Shermer, cosmologist Sean Carroll provided a list of potentially useful predictions for such a "Testable Creation Theory", which RTB's theory does not satisfy.  You can read more about this debate at  “Reasons to Believe”...or not.

Dr. Lisle seems to quietly fall back on the notion that Astronomy is an 'unprovable' science.  He never describes the cosmos in an internally consistent picture, saying he believes the distances, but never explaining how light can make the trip in just thousands of years.  I am not the only one who has noticed this, as a similar avoidance is described in Chris Sharp's writeup "Jason Lisle's Visit to Tuscon".  Perhaps I should arrange a visit to the Creation Museum to meet Dr. Lisle for myself.  Much of astronomy depends on the proper synchronization of distances and times.  While these types of tests have large uncertainties, many of them are of sufficiently accuracy that we can infer atomic and nuclear properties that can be measured in the earth-based laboratories.

Dr. Lisle never addresses the testability of his claims with objective experimental tests, insisting that the difference only depends on one's World View.  But the physical laws which make the Universe old are the same physical laws which make our Earth technology.  Your cell phone or laptop does not operate differently based on your World View.  The only 'technology' that operates dependent on your World View would be called sorcery.  I've documented some of the cosmology/technology connections:  Technology from Cosmology, or “Can Creation Science Do That?” and
The Cosmos in Your Pocket: How Cosmological Science Became Earth Technology. I

These types of debates between Christians reinforces my suspicion that creationism is a doctrinal ploy.  Such heavy emphasis on minor details of belief and ritual was a practice for which the pharisees were regularly condemned by Jesus.  Creationism seems to be an 'easy' issue designed to distract Believers from living the hard work of Christ's real commandments, such as "Love Thy Neighbor" and The Golden Rule.

"The Bible tells how to go to Heaven, not how the Heavens go."  -- Caesar Baronius (Wikipedia)

[Note: In the earlier version of this post, I referenced an AAS presentation which I attended.  However the presenter has asked that I keep their work out of this particular topic.  I will limit my discussions of this presentation to what is available in the literature.

In the earlier version of this post, I recounted the story of a meeting where I described Dr. Lisle as 'apparently a no-show'.  It has been clarified this was due to an overbooking error and the appropriate parties were notified.  'No-show' would be a technically incorrect term in this case.  My apologies to Dr. Lisle for the misstatement.]