Sunday, September 2, 2012

Death by Electric Universe. I. EU's Unsolvable Problem

I've often made the point in this blog that real science, even cosmological science, has implications for technology much closer to home.  I have made this point when dealing with creationist claims - describing how we have found evidence of new physics in the distant cosmos which we subsequently verify in laboratory experiments.  Some of this science even makes its way into everyday technology (see The Cosmos In Your Pocket).

The problem with pseudoscience is that it can never create new WORKING technologies, though you can find cases where cranks try to 'reinterpret' working technologies as supporting their 'theories' or the cranks build technologies that never seem to quite come to fruition or live up to their hype (free/cheap energy devices, medical 'breakthroughs', etc).

Creationists try to get around this problem by making the implications of their claims far away in time and space.  But advocates of Electric Universe (EU) are far more brazen.  Many of their claims, such as Electric Sun and Electric Comets, have significant implications less than 100 miles above our heads.  Yet, like biblical geocentrists, they evade the real life implications of their own claims.

Consider EU's notions about the Sun.

In the standard solar model, the energy generated within the Sun generates photons at the surface that stream outward from the photosphere.  In addition, the solar wind is essentially boiling or evaporating off the sun and streaming out into the solar system in the form of electrons and ions.  The solar wind is traveling at speeds between 300-800 km/s, with higher speeds for eruptive events such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).  BTW, that electric fields have a role in the solar interior and atmosphere is something that has been known for decades and which I have documented (365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe), in spite of EU's chronic whines that astronomers ignore electric fields.

However, Electric Sun (ES) models claim a VERY different environment for the space between the surface of the sun and the heliopause, which includes the region around the Earth.   In the Electric Sun models, the same region between the photosphere and heliopause is part of the power source that drives the Sun, and this incoming power is in the form of charged particles.  Thornhill's Z-pinch (see Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model) and Scott's solar cathode (see Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. I, Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. II) can be seen as limiting cases of any type of externally powered model for the Sun or stars.  Thornhill's model has driving currents flowing along an axis through the Sun while the Scott model has the currents flowing sunward from all around it.  There are a few others with some distinct differences which get invoked when fatal flaws with the dominant models are exposed.  Note that EU advocates have NO consensus model for powering the Sun - there are multiple DIFFERENT models pushed by the dominant egos of EU 'theology'

These two dominant ES models require a very different environment in the space between the solar photosphere and heliopause.  The problem for Electric Sun models is that we now routinely send spacecraft through this region, from Mercury, out to Neptune, and beyond, and even over the poles of the Sun (NASA: Ulysses).  We have active in situ measurements of the field intensities and particle populations at many locations throughout this region.  Yet none of these spacecraft have detected a particle population with the total energy sufficient to explain the Sun's total luminosity.

Now this is not just an academic question.

Why it Matters

If you're designing a satellite to send into a region of the solar system that no satellite has been prior, you need a reasonable estimate of the level of radiation, both in particles and photons, in order to design a satellite that has a reasonable chance of surviving the region long enough to accomplish the mission.  You can't just make a guess.  Guess not enough radiation shielding, and you risk losing the satellite from radiation damage (perhaps a $100 million+ investment of company assets or taxpayer dollars).  Guess too much shielding, and you might need a larger launch vehicle to handle the extra weight or you need to scale back the mission.   To optimize mission success, you need a reliable algorithm for estimating this quantity.

Consider the recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probe pair of satellites.  Since they will patrol routinely through the Earth's radiation belts, they require extra shielding from the radiation (Space.com).  They needed to not only estimate the amount of radiation the probe would encounter during its lifetime, but also compute the amount of shielding needed to protect the interior electronics during the mission.

Using the standard model, satellites have been successfully sent closer to the Sun than Mercury (Wikipedia: Helios probes) to 0.29 AU) and as far from the Sun as the heliopause and beyond - and the standard model has worked very well.  While we discover new details, the basic model has not changed significantly in over 50 years (just as discovering a new mountain or undersea trench does not invalidate the round Earth model).   How do engineers prepare satellites to survive this range of environments?  The standard model of the solar wind is good enough that it allowed Mariner 10 to use the solar wind for orientation control (NASA: Solar System Exploration).

If you were an aerospace firm contracted to build a satellite to travel into a region of the solar system never travelled before, you would need a way to get a reasonable estimate of the radiation exposure of the satellite.  If your scientists and/or engineers could not provide you with a reliable estimate, and cost, you'd fire them for incompetence. 

A Challenge to Electric Sun Supporters

Electric Sun models propose a radically different particle environment in the interplanetary medium than the standard solar models.  Therefore the particle radiation environment will be very different. 

I have repeatedly challenged EU supporters and 'theorists' to demonstrate how details of the heliosphere environment are calculated, but have received nothing but excuses (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists').  Perhaps this would be a good project for EU's new "scholarship" program (see Electric Universe 2013—Expanding our Scholarship Outreach)!

If Electric Sun theorists can't tell us how to estimate these important quantities, how can they be competent to build satellites to travel to these frontiers of the solar system?

Let's imagine an EU theorist is hired by a company which wants to compete for the contract of building a satellite to travel into a previously unexplored region of the solar system, either closer or further from the Sun.  How will they estimate the radiation flux to which the satellite will be exposed in order to determine how much shielding the satellite will need?

For that matter, let's use an upcoming REAL example.  Two new solar missions are under development by NASA and ESA, Solar Probe Plus (Wikipedia) and Solar Orbiter (Wikipedia), respectively.  Solar Orbiter will occupy a circular orbit inside the orbit of Mercury (at 0.284AU).  Solar Probe Plus will have a highly elliptical orbit, from between the orbit of Earth and Venus, down to about 10 solar radii from the Sun (0.034AU)

These are things that scientists and engineers who REALLY build satellites must be able to do to have these types of jobs.  Real engineers can build real things.

What do the cosmic electricians of EU tell us about these issues?  Are they going to claim it is all guesswork?  Are they going to claim it is all made up?  Perhaps they will invoke magically undetectable electrons and ions?  Can our hypothetical EU theorist demonstrate to his employer the type and amount of shielding that will be needed for these missions, or are they going to be fired for incompetence?

Next up, we'll explore what conditions would be like for astronauts traveling in the wind of an electrically-powered Sun.

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