Sunday, December 29, 2013

More Geocentrism - and Conspiracy Theories...

It's been a while since I dealt with claims of geocentrists and there are a few outstanding issues which I hope to address in the future.  However, others have continued to be active in the topic.  David Palm has collected some of the material at Geocentrism Debunked (

David approaches the issue predominantly from the perspective of geocentrism being bad theology.    He also presents some profiles of the 'leading' geocentrists, profiling the personalities involved, which, of no surprise, intersects with various other conspiracy theories.  

Some of these conspiratorial beliefs I suspected from my earlier encounters with the geocentrists, since they would often evade direct questions about the impact of their beliefs on space flight.

There have been some interesting studies on the conspiratorial mindset of late.  You can find out more at:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Electric Comets: Failures of the Electric Comet Model

With the recent hubub over comets, provided by some Sun-grazers in the news (ISON, Pan-STARS, etc. NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign) I realized that I did not really have any well-established write-up on the claims about comets made by Electric Universe (EU) supporters.  I discovered that I had actually addressed some of these claims a number of times, but always as a part of other claims.  So I thought I'd take a quick break from my winter hiatus to assemble some of these into a single post.

Recently, a reader pointed me to some claims being made by the ThunderBolts project in some of their YouTube videos.  Most of them are recycled old stuff that keeps getting repeated on a variety of forums.

Periodically, the Electric Universe supporters repeat their claims that comets, like the stars, glow predominantly due to a cathode discharge-type interaction with the Sun.  They seem to tie this claim back to some work by Kristian Birkeland but the notion predates Birkeland, and was explored by mainstream astronomers in the late 1800s and early 1900s when electromagnetism was placed on a unified mathematical foundation by Maxwell's Equations and was still the new and exciting force in physics.

Let's collect and update the responses to some of these claims from some earlier posts:
Many of the 'Electric comet' claims are being repeated all over the web, with very little critical examination.  Here I'll just examine a few.

EU Claim: The evidence suggests that comets are highly negatively charged with respect to the Sun. As they rush toward the Sun, the voltage increases until at some point the comet nucleus begins to discharge. Electrons are stripped from a few points on the comet surface where the electric field is strongest. These “spark discharges” finely machine rocky material from the surface to form a “cathode jet” of negatively charged dust together with surface matter that has been torn apart to release ionized atoms and molecules, including oxygen.  
Prediction #3: Electric Comets and the "Domino Effect"

Laboratory cathodes and anodes form part of a complete circuit.  Where is the return circuit between the Sun and the comet?  If we see the comet, why don't we see the return path of the particles?  In the lab, the return circuit corresponds to the wires connecting the discharge tube to the power source.  And just where is the battery or generator that keeps the system energized?  To maintain the potential between the Sun and the comet, the return circuit would have to be isolated or insulated as it is in a laboratory environments.  Otherwise the comet would quickly 'discharge' and stop glowing.

But even without a solar-system scale voltage, charged particle interactions can take place at the boundary of the comet material moving out and the solar wind moving in.  Orbiting spacecraft experience a range of interactions, from ultraviolet solar photons liberating charges from the satellite metal components (photoelectric effect) to charge redistribution on the spacecraft as an otherwise neutral plasma flows around the satellite and the electrons can diffuse more quickly into the wake behind the satellite, generating a small charge separation. 

This boundary interaction, similar to the Earth's magnetosphere and the heliospheric termination shock, is common when two different flows meet.  Even electrically neutral flows such as the wake of ships moving through water, or aircraft moving through the air, can form these boundary layers where more complex interactions can take place.

EU Claim: While moving between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus (14 times farther from the Sun than the Earth), Comet Halley experienced an outburst between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus that caused dust to stretch over some 300,000 km. At that distance from the Sun, the surface should be in deep freeze at –200 degrees C.  
Prediction #3: Electric Comets and the "Domino Effect"

Again, EU 'theorists' demonstrate incredible misunderstandings in thermodynamics and chemistry.  Strange oversight for a group that claims to be 'interdisciplinary'.

This is hardly a problem for the standard comet model where comets have large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Melting and boiling points are different in the low pressure of space. 

Most people are familiar with the fact that water boils at lower temperature at higher altitudes.  The lower the the pressure exterior to a surface, the easier it is for atoms to 'boil off' of the surface, creating a vapor around the object.  Many sensitive instruments launched into space must be allowed to 'outgas' for a time as volatiles trapped in metals and plastics under atmospheric pressure where the satellite was built will begin to escape from surfaces exposed to vacuum.   The lower the pressure, the lower the boiling point, for CO2.

While at atmospheric pressure, CO2 sublimates at -78.2C.  Drop the pressure and the sublimation point drops even further.  At about 1/760 atmospheric pressure, the sublimation point drops to -134.3C (Wikipedia: Carbon dioxide data page).  For those unfamiliar with chemistry, the boiling or sublimation point is defined as the temperature where the vapor pressure is equal to the ambient pressure.

In addition, the temperature at the surface of the comet is going to be WARMER than the cloud-tops of planets at the same distance due to the reflectivity of the comet nucleus.

Planets, whose atmospheres are more reflective (30% or higher), will have a lower cloud-top temperature than a comet nucleus at the same distance which has a much lower reflectivity (about 3%), and therefore absorbs more of the radiant heat it receives.  The temperature of the surface of a comet in sunlight will be higher than the cloud-tops of a more reflective planet at same distance.  Got a layer of snow on your asphalt driveway? Watch how fast it melts around the regions of exposed asphalt when the sun comes out compared to areas completely covered with snow.

EU Claim: "Their surfaces display sharp relief, not what one would expect from melting ice, " On Gravity-centric Cosmology and the Implications of a Universe Awash with Plasma
Section 2.11: Comets as dirty snowballs
by David B. Smith

Even years after the earlier claim noted above, EU theorists don't understand chemistry or thermodynamics.  Has Mr. Smith never observed melting snow and shapes that form due to non-uniform heating, melting and refreezing?  Perhaps Mr. Smith has only observed ice melting in his glass of tea?

I shoveled plenty of dirty snow for Snowmageddon & Snowpocalypse (wikipedia) and observed the many odd shapes formed as it melted and refroze with the day-night cycle.  It's funny that EU 'theorists' could convince others that this was a valid argument when there is so much real world experience with why they are wrong.   To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes to Watson: You have SEEN snow, but you have not OBSERVED snow. (Wikipedia: A Scandal in Bohemia)

The ambiguity between comets & asteroids has been known before Thornhill & Talbott
    •    Evolution of Comets Into Asteroids? (1971)
    •    Do comets evolve into asteroids - Evidence from physical studies (1982)
Some of these papers point out even earlier sources.

EU Claim: A direct confirmation of the electric connection came unwittingly from the Chandra X-ray Observatory on July 14, 2000.  At that time, the Chandra telescope viewed the comet Linear repeatedly over a 2-hour period, detecting unexpected X-rays from oxygen and nitrogen ions in the coma of the comet. The capture of electrons from the negatively charged comet by positively charged hydrogen ions in the solar wind is, of course, nothing else than an electric discharge, nature’s highly efficient means of X-ray production.  Prediction #3: Electric Comets and the "Domino Effect"

All of these recombination process happen due to relative motions of atoms, electrons and ions, regardless of how the particles are accelerated.  They are in no way evidences for any solar-system scale giant voltage drops of a million volts or more across planetary distances.

Electric Universe supporters now rely on a very ambiguous use of term 'discharge'.  EU basically wants to call anything that involves the motion of charges as a 'discharge', a definition so broad as to be technically useless.  If moving charges is all that is required, chemical reactions, which alter electron orbital configurations, could also be called a 'discharge' process.

In spite of EU claims of 'success' for their model, it still seems to take an non-EU person to figure out which specific process.  Here's the atomic process that move electrons around that professional astronomers, and REAL plasma physicists, must be familiar with: 
I suppose since alpha and beta decay as well as many nuclear reactions involve emission and absorption of charged particles, Electric Universe supporters can call that a 'discharge' as well!  Perhaps they'll quietly start calling nuclear reactions in the cores of stars as discharge processes and use that to claim the sun is electrically-powered!

EU Claim:  "that there would be a double 'flash' consisting of a powerful electric discharge event prior to a very large impact event which would be more explosive than expected, and that radio communication would be interrupted." 
On Gravity-centric Cosmology and the Implications of a Universe Awash with Plasma
Section 2.11: Comets as dirty snowballs
by David B. Smith

I've yet to find the original reference of the double flash before the impact AND a radio interruption with this impact event.  The only place I can find this is on Electric Universe sites.

Let's see, the spacecraft cameras saw the comet nucleus clearly.  The comet nucleus reflects only about 3-4% of the light falling on it, about as dark as a lump of charcoal, and it is being observed against a dark sky slightly brighter due to reflection from the cometary dust material.  So it's pretty clear that the camera was adjusted for low-light conditions, much like night-vision goggles.  Under those conditions, highly reflective material ejected from the impact point will be really bright, probably more than enough to saturate the camera.  Of course it was bright.

Any electrical arc sufficient to light up the region between the comet and spacecraft would have been more than enough to fry the spacecraft electronics, probably with no chance of recovery. 

But we have measured electric fields in the solar wind and in the vicinity of comets.  Solar wind models combined with spacecraft models enable satellite designers to estimate spacecraft charging as they move through plasmas.  Because discharges can kill the satellite electronics, knowledge of these conditions is vital to success of the missions.

Consider these values from the Giacobini-Zinner encounter, which measured +1 volts near the comet vs. +6 volts in the solar wind.  This was LOWER than the expected +10 volts (Dynamic PIC-simulations of charging phenomena related to the ice-spacecraft in both cometary and solar wind environments).  Considering these are voltages on the scale of batteries you can buy at the corner market, how could this be a "powerful electric discharge"?

After the impact of the probe with the comet nucleus, only a relatively weak x-ray enhancement was detected, so this also makes claims the impact produced an electric discharge as suspect.  The additional X-ray emissions were delayed and consistent with charge exchange between the solar wind and outgassed simple molecules.
    •    Chandra observations of Comet 9P/Tempel 1 during the Deep Impact campaign
    •    Chandra observations of Comet 9P/Tempel 1 during the Deep Impact campaign
    •    Swift X-Ray Telescope Observations of the Deep Impact Collision

Here's some additional summaries of what was learned in these comet flybys and impactors.  From NASA: Deep Impact (EPOXI):
  1. First determination that a comet's surface layer (few to 10 meters or so) is very porous (greater than 75 percent empty space)
  2. First direct evidence showing chemical diversity of outgassing associated with different parts of the cometary nucleus
  3. Discovered that hyperactive comets (5-10 percent of all comets) are driven by carbon dioxide and that the observed excess water is from icy grains in the coma. The processes of hyperactive comets are very different from those in normal comets.
or  NASA Epoxi: Encounter with Comet Hartley 2:
"NASA's EPOXI mission found that Comet Hartley 2 is a hyperactive little comet, spewing out more water than most other comets its size."
So lots of CO2 and water found in comets, still in line with the standard model of these objects.
EU Claim: "A forbidden oxygen line was discovered in Comet Austin’s coma. “Forbidden lines” are spectral signatures that are not expected in space because here on Earth they are found only within strong electric fields." -- Wal Thornhill.
Comet Wild 2, January 6, 2004.

Where did Thornhill get bizarre mis-understanding about forbidden lines? 

Forbidden lines are created by metastable states in the atom, which have a lifetime much longer than the regular atomic states.  Under normal circumstances, these states get de-excited by collisions with other atoms before they have a chance to radiate a photon.  However, under extremely low pressures, the states will not be de-excited by collisions and will de-excite by emitting a photon at a frequency correspond to the 'forbidden line'.  Electric fields may be in the environment, but they are not required to form forbidden lines.

I suspect Thornhill may be confusing forbidden lines (Wikipedia) with the Stark Effect (Wikipedia) which also has a long history in astronomy.

In spite of repeated claims by Electric Universe supporters to the contrary, the "Dirty Snowball" comet model has been refined, with better details on the composition and structure, but it is far from dead.

Meanwhile Electric Universe supporters continue to echo their support for their model that has a radically different particle and field arrangement for this part of the solar system, while they have yet to provide any model that allows us to to make useful estimates of these quantities.  This modeling capability is vital for the safety of satellites and astronauts (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'). 

Yet the standard model, which lacks the million-or more voltages claimed by the Electric Sun advocates, seems to do quite well for protecting our satellites and we continue to explore around the solar system using it (see ADS: An advanced physical model of cometary activity).

So Electric Universe claims continue to be completely useless for doing real spaceflight...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Winter Hiatus - November-December 2013

It's that time of year again...

When holiday activities start impacting my available free time for writing and research needed to keep new topics for this blog.

I regard my best accomplishment of the past year to be the completion of the 'discordant redshifts' series.
Heavy research on this topic started during my hiatus last year when I found a copy of Arp's book at my favorite technical library.
Discordant redshift claims was one of the topics which I started exploring back when I first started actively examining pseudo-science issues in the late 1990s.  I'm glad I was finally able to complete this.

On Deck...

I'm registered to attend and present at the 223rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society.  Part of my hiatus will be preparing this poster.

I've done load of reading as well as a number of mathematical demonstrations and plan to start the write-ups for this blog.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Sad State of the Electric Sun(s) - Not So Bright

One of the cool things about science is that because many physical principles are well-defined by mathematics and mathematics has well defined objective manipulations, often researchers can investigate or extend a prior presented theory based on the description.  This is the ideal goal of publication of a scientific theory, so OTHERS can use it.

A well-constructed theory can link together multiple parameters at different locations and times.  For example, knowing temperature at pressure at one point in time in a system can tell you the temperature and pressure at another point, and perhaps another time.

Not so with pseudo-science. 

I've repeatedly tried to build Electric Sun models using established physics and electromagnetism based on the descriptions from Electric Sun supporters and found that you just can't make them consistent with the observations.  This is why promoters of pseudo-science focus on the problem areas in real science at the limits of our technological capability, to keep the focus off the more severe problems of their own theories in areas where we have good measurements!

Just How Many Electric Sun Models are There? 

I've explored four - and they're all radically different, even contradictory!
Thornhill's "Solar Resistor" model: Application of Ampere's law (wikipedia) for a basic wire current, you can compute the magnetic field of this configuration for any given amount of power. Not only is the magnetic field of this model HUGE compared to what we measure, but it is easy to show that any conductor (such as the metallic components of satellites) moving through this magnetic field would generate a pretty hefty voltage, more than enough to kill satellites built to present-day standards. Did Thornhill's physics degree not cover electromagnetic induction (wikipedia)?  See Death by Electric Universe. IV. The Z-Pinch (Solar Resistor) Model
Scott's "Solar Capacitor" model: Similar to original Juergen's model. Now claiming a 'solar transistor' model that is really more like a 'solar DeForest triode' (wikipedia). Dr. Scott still does not specify where any of these voltages come from, or how they are maintained. See Death by Electric Universe. II. The Solar Capacitor Model
Johnson's "Ball Lightning" model: Recognizing that space-based measurements do not support ANY of the models requiring the Sun be actively powered from an external source, Johnson tries to save ES models by apparently claiming the Sun was 'charged up' like ball-lightning from a cosmic lightning bolt in the past and is shining from that stored energy. His model provides very little description of the 'lightning-bolts' - the power and current in them, the power source that drives them, etc. And there's still the 'Peratt problem', that such current streams should be strong emitters of microwaves which we should detect in our large sky-surveys. I've collected lots of notes on this model and will post more about it in the future.
Mozina's "Birkeland" model: As I read more of Birkeland's work, it's becoming clear this model is more Mozina than Birkeland. The biggest flaw applicable to space weather is claim of 600 million volt potential between the Sun and the orbit of the Earth, the heliopause or somewhere ill-specified. The electric potential is reversed with respect to the Scott model. While Mr. Mozina claims this potential is not the source of the Sun's energy, he clearly has not computed the amount of power in a solar wind density plasma within a potential difference of this magnitude, and the impact it would have on the radiation environment around the Sun.

There are also various other little odds-and-ends models from others wanting to play in the Electric Universe sandbox.

Note the radical differences between all these models! They're mutually contradictory! This is worse than the story of three blind men examining an elephant (wikipedia) made worse by the fact that EU supporters are describing the SAME part!

What this mish-mash of contradictory models tells you is that there is not now, nor has there ever been, a WORKING electric sun model that can be compared to real data or useful for planning missions around the solar system! 

Clearly Electric Sun models are driven more by ego than science.

STILL Unanswered Questions 

And there's other unanswered questions that Electric Universe supporters don't want their supporters to ask and don't want to answer themselves.
  • Where is the return circuit?
  • What powers the EMF - the battery or generator needed to provide the voltages claimed? For all intents and purposes, Electric Universe supporters assume these electric fields are created by magic, or perhaps some electrical diety (see Electric Universe: Making Electric Fields).
Some EU supporters will evade these questions by claiming it is an 'origins' problem and beyond science.  Like creationists, they want to rely on a cosmic electrical diety (perhaps Thor?) to build their universe.

Basic Electromagnetism - for Electric Sun Advocates...

Consider a real electromagnetism question relevant to Electric Sun claims…

Consider the system in the graphic above, with the Sun and a spherical surface around it called the heliopause or whatever surface you want to be the other electrode.  Establish an electric potential between the Sun and the heliopause, say one billion volts.  Choose your anode & cathode carefully.

Place an electron (green) and proton (red) just outside the photosphere.  If you need a distance, choose a variable, say epsilon, above the photosphere.  If need be, consider them one at a time so you don't need to consider the forces between the electron and proton.
  1. What are the forces on the electron?  the proton? What is the acceleration of each?
  2. Which way does each particle go?  How fast is it traveling at a distance, r, from the Sun?
Next, place an electron and proton just inside the heliopause.  Again, consider them one at a time so you don't need to consider the forces between the electron and proton.  If you need a distance, again choose the variable epsilon from the heliopause boundary. 
  1. Again, what are the forces and acceleration on each particle?
  2. Which way does each particle go? How far?  How fast?
What is energy of the particles at various distances from the Sun?  What charge needs to be on the Sun or the heliopause to maintain the electric potential?

Now expand the problem to multiple charged particles.  In the simple case, you just multiply the energies by N, the number of particles, which will give you an idea.  But at some point, the particle density will be sufficiently high that you have to consider interactions between the particles.
  1. At what point will the particles begin to significantly influence each others motion? 
  2. What happens when the particle flows begin altering their motion?
While a more advanced analysis, it has been examined many times experimentally and theoretically, going back to the 1920s and Irving Langmuir! (ADS: Currents Limited by Space Charge between Concentric Spheres)

Reverse the above potential and set its magnitude to 600 million volts.  Repeat the above analysis.  I'll be publishing my version of this analysis in 2014.

How do any of the numbers above correspond to their counterparts in the real solar wind?  Need some data?  You can start with the daily published values in the left sidebar at

Many of these questions could be answered by good high-school physics student, or at least a college physics undergraduate, but they seem to be unanswerable by EU theorists and their advocates who claim to be experts on electromagnetism.  Pointing this fact out often generates whines and cries of 'personal attack' from EU supporters!  I guess that's all they have to hide behind if they can't actually answer the scientific questions.  This behavior by EU is not that different than that reported by Robert Schadewald (see Reading: "Worlds of their Own" by Robert Schadewald) in dealing with the Velikovskians (EUs philosophical predecessors).  The arrogance with which EU supporters criticize the standard models and solar physicists while presenting NO comparable capability is indistinguishable from the Dunning-Kruger effect (wikipedia).

Hints for the Problem: Under the potential, the electron and proton will NOT go in the same direction, or at the same acceleration.   Because they have different velocities all along the distance between the photosphere and the other electrode, the protons and electrons will have different densities, and notions of 'quasi-neutrality' will not apply.  For those who've been following this closely, they might be reminded of a similar analysis here: The Solar Capacitor Model. I. II. III.

Can Electric Sun Models Live up to the Successes of the Standard Models?

All of the models described above suggest a radically different radiation and field environment around the solar system.  Do any of these models provide a mechanism for calculating the solar wind environment, which is vital for protecting satellites and astronauts?

No such results have been presented by Electric Universe advocates.

Well, with established physics, they actually they do provide a means of calculating them, by the recipes similar to that described above, but the results don't agree with actual measurements worth squat and so are useless from a practical perspective (see various model analyses presented under Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists').

Space weather forecasters at NOAA/SWPC routinely generate forecasts of space weather conditions 24/7 without use of ANY of these 'Electric Sun' models.

Here's the link to the run of the Enlil model for Earth space-weather forecasting, updated regularly.  It is used for estimating when coronal mass ejections (CMEs) launched from the Sun, will impact the Earth.

Do we see any such capability from the Electric Universe supporters?

No.  Just excuses.

Why should the space physics community use ANY Electric Sun model when Electric Universe supporters can't even produce results better than the existing models?  Heck, EU supporters produce NO USABLE RESULTS AT ALL!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Electric Universe: These are not the filaments you're looking for...

It's been a while since I've made the point about how the Peratt galaxy model fails observational testing.  The electric currents which Peratt claimed could be powering galaxies would be strong emitters of microwave radiation.  This was a fact even Peratt acknowledged, and EXPECTED that the microwave sky would be covered with spaghetti-like streamers which would connect galaxies like beads on a string (a popular metaphor of Electric Universe supporters).  Peratt and other supporters of Plasma Cosmology expected to see these currents in large microwave sky-surveys.  The best such survey in recent years is WMAP (Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background), and more recently PLANCK (Electric Universe: More data refuting the EU galaxy model).

Such microwave streamers connecting the galaxies were not found.

I've occasionally read or heard the response from Electric Universe (EU) supporters, who have rarely (never?) allowed their position to be altered by inconvenient facts, that the Peratt galaxy model still must be valid because we see filaments in space…as if any filamentary structure seen in the cosmos must be part of their network of galaxy-powering electric currents!

First, astronomers do not deny that electric fields, and currents, exist in the cosmos.  I've summarized a number of examples of cases where astronomers know theoretically as well as measured, electric fields and currents in space (365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe) and these go back to the early 1900s.  EU supporters often like to reference such works, claiming it is also support for their more extreme nonsense such as electrically-powered stars, comets, and galaxies. 

But what about those filaments?

Filamentary structures within our galaxy

We do see filamentary structures within our own galaxy, many of which are associated with plasma motions.  In many of these cases, we observe synchrotron radiation being emitted from them due to free electrons spiraling along magnetic field lines.  However, the microwave spectra are never at distinct, well-defined frequencies which would occur when electrons moving together as a well-defined current.  Instead, the synchrotron emission is seen over broad range of frequencies, created by electrons moving in roughly all directions with a wide range of energy  (see CalTech: Synchrotron Emission).  Sometimes the atoms and ions of the plasma are excited into states that emit identifiable spectral lines so we can determined additional physical characteristics of the plasma (ionization states of the atoms, temperature, density, etc).

We model many of these objects with MHD models, and this goes back many decades, even before the modern "Electric Universe" cult was formed (I would probably regard this time as the late 1970s, when Ralph Juergens proposed his 'electric sun' model).  Consider from 1971 this paper, Plasma Interactions in the Crab Nebula (1971), or more recently, Generation of Crab Nebulae Wisps by Plasma Drift Instability from 1996.  Mainstream astronomy has a long history of studying plasmas, in spite of, rather than because of, Electric Universe claims.

Notice that these models generate predictions closer to the real measurements than ANY produced the claimed mechanisms of EU advocates.  Actually, I have been unable to FIND any actual models produced by EU advocates that generate real 'predictions' which we can compare to measurements.  Their 'predictions' are soft, squishy 'kinda, sorta, looks like', such as "it looks like the exhaust of a plasma gun".

To add to the uselessness of their 'predictions', we get no information about how these 'plasma gun' configurations can form in nature!

EU advocates seem to just wait around expecting someone else to solve all the problems with their 'models' and then claim they deserve credit!  How is this any different from the activities of patent trolls (wikipedia)?

Filamentary structures associated with galaxies. 

We've observed synchrotron emission, as well as polarization, from plasma moving along galactic magnetic fields and from jets emitted from the nuclei of active galaxies.  Here's composites of radio lobes combined with galaxy images in visible light.
Centaurus A with radio jets (Credit: ESO/WFI (visible); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A. Weiss et al. (microwave); NASA/CXC/CfA/R. Kraft et al. (X-ray); APOD )

Hercules A with radio jets (Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O'Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Notice that these radio jets ejected from the centers of the galaxies disperse into blobs in the intergalactic medium.  They are not connected to any larger cosmic 'electric circuit', 'Birkeland current' or similar cosmic structure, or even another galaxy.  We still have not heard from Electric Universe theorists what would power such gigantic circuits if they did exist!

See also:  Electric Universe: Measurement of the Electric Current in a Kpc-Scale Jet

The large microwave sky surveys also see such plasma loop structures around our own Milky Way galaxy, but all the observations indicate these are created by magnetic fields generated by the galaxy itself (Scholarpedia).
WMAP galactic emission templates, including synchrotron radiaiton (Credit Gold, B. et al., 2011, ApJS, 192, 15G)
In the synchrotron template of the Milky Way above, we see a number filaments in blue rising above the galactic disk (the horizontal enhancement across the center of the oval, mostly green and yellow).  However, we see many of them curve back down towards the galactic disk, indicating their origin is in the galaxy, not some external current passing through the galaxy.  See also the Planck One-year all-sky survey (ESA).

These filaments also cannot be part of EU's extragalactic circuit system.

Filamentary structures in large galaxy surveys

Another flaw in EU reasoning is the assumption that filamentary structures can only be formed by electric currents.  The mathematics of magnetohydrodynamics, or MHD (wikipedia), are very similar to those of regular hydrodynamics (wikipedia) and this is why both environments can exhibit similar structures.
Many of these instabilities in neutral fluid dynamics have analogs in MHD.  This stuff is used by REAL ENGINEERS AND PHYSICISTS to design and build real things.

So let's finally visit the filamentary structures we observe on a cosmological scale.
Millenium Survey and real surveys (Credit: Millenium Simulation)
The blue and the violet plots above show the galaxy distribution from REAL galaxy surveys with hundreds of thousands of galaxies.  The Milky Way (and Earth) would be at the center of this plot, at the apex of the plotted wedges.  In this case, each color point usually represents hundreds of galaxies, and these are distributed in space in these wispy, filamentary type structures.  Are THESE what EU supporters want to claim are the filaments of their cosmic electric currents?

But the Millenium simulation run (wikipedia), also plotted in the graphic above, is a large computer simulation attempting to simulate cosmic structure formation using our BEST knowledge of the underlying physics of gravitation and neutral plasma.  The results of that run are plotted in the red wedges, where again the dots represent many galaxies.

There are no cosmic scale Birkeland or similar currents included in the Millenium simulation, yet it forms filamentary structures very similar to those from the real galaxy surveys!  

But we do NOT see these filamentary collections of galaxies in galaxy surveys matching with the radio and microwave emission seen in electromagnetic surveys.  These two sets of data must have a strong correlation to validate the Electric Universe claims that galaxies are POWERED by EXTERNAL ELECTRICAL CURRENTS.

Yet they do not.

But it takes currents to make a magnetic field!

This whine is the popular 'corollary' to the Electric Universe claim that only currents can make filaments.

Only partially true.  But once a magnetic field is started, it can be maintained, and even regenerated, after the current is long gone, a consequence of the 'displacement current' (wikipedia) in Maxwell's equations, which is a consequence of the fact that electric charge is a conserved quantity.  The most well-known example of this feedback between electric and magnetic fields is electromagnetic radiation, AKA light, which can propagate for billions of years after the initial current which created it is long gone. 

In this case, the electromagnetic waves are constantly exchanging energy between their electric and magnetic field as described in Maxwell's equations.  The signal from a large radio antenna can still be propagating through empty space weeks after the antenna has been switched off.  The interactions of light with matter can be examined by just considering the electric and magnetic fields of the photon without consideration of the current that initially created the photon!  For all intents and purposes, the photon has lost the 'memory' of the original current that may have created it.

Plasma getting energy from other sources, such as mechanical, thermal, or nuclear processes, can also maintain a magnetic field.  Self-exciting dynamos (see University of Texas, Homopolar Dynamos), a process which has been produced in the laboratory (see Scholarpedia), are the perfect example where other energy sources are converted into a persistent magnetic field.

These are some of the simplest examples from basic electromagnetism, yet Electric Universe supporters not only ignore these facts, but go so far as to accuse astrophysicists, and even astrophysicists who do real work with plasmas, of being incompetent.  They make these accusations even as they claim that mainstream astronomy is 'coming around' to their view of the universe.

In actual fact, we can trace the knowledge of electromagnetic forces and plasmas in space back to the early 1900s (365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe), with no assistance from the Electric Universe claimants.

And their galaxy-powering electric currents still do not exist...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scientific History: What Did They Know? When Did They Know It?

Can Kristian Birkeland be Rescued from the Electric Universe?

As part of dealing with Electric Universe claims, I'm currently reading Kristian Birkeland's (wikipedia) tome, "The Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition. 1902-1903" ( as well as Carl Stormer's 1955 work, "The Polar Aurora" (Wiley).  Stormer worked with Birkeland in the early 1900s and demonstrated that Birkeland's terrella (wikipedia) experiments could be explained with the mathematical physical theories of the day.

Electric Universe supporters have distorted much of Birkeland's work in an attempt to turn some of his hypotheses derived from his experiments into undeniable facts supporting their claims.  They've done this to the point that I have actually encountered some solar researchers complaining that they cannot find reliable information on Birkeland's work because a simple online search hits so many Electric Universe distortions of his work.

Even only partway through the reading, I've already encountered many examples where Birkeland understood that applications of his work to the environment between the Sun and Earth had limitations.  He knew that there were things he explored that were, at best, guesses that might not survive future experiments or observations.

I've found several other reliable biographical sources for Birkeland so I'll have more details for a future post, most likely after the turn of the year, as other projects and responsibilities are demanding time as the year-end approaches.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reading: "Worlds of their Own" by Robert Schadewald

I recently completed reading "Worlds of their Own" by Robert Schadewald.  This book was brought to my attention from podcast interviews (Skepticality #119, January 5, 2010; Point Of Inquiry, April 30, 2010) with Robert's sister, Lois Schadewald, who had compiled her brother's work into this volume.  In terms of quality and depth of research, I rank it highly with Bob Park's "Voodoo Science" which covered many of the same topics.

I need to apologize in advance for the rather vague referencing in this review.  I purchased "Worlds of their Own" as an eBook and have discovered a major inconvenience with this format for doing serious research.  With a regular eBook format, which allows font size changes and page re-flows, identifying precise locations of references can be difficult at best, as the page number can change depending on your individual settings.  The best I can do is reference the chapter number for specific quotes.

On with the review…

In many ways, Schadewald's book illustrates how little things have changed in the psychology of pseudo-scientists.  Mr. Schadewald was writing mostly in the 1970s to the 2000s but many of his insights into the psychology of cranks still applies today. 

The writing is very witty, much of it based on the author's direct interaction with some of the cranks he explores.  It is tempting to quote many large sections of the text since it is so well written.  To give you an idea of the flavor of the book, this opening quote in the Author's Forward really sets the tone:
"It is my intention to be open-minded. Alternative scientists, or more appropriately pseudoscientists, tend to misunderstand open-mindedness. Given two conflicting ideas, many of them believe that one should consider both equally probable. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In science, being open-minded merely means being willing to evaluate an idea on the basis of the evidence, rather than on the basis of preconceived notions. Thus, I claim to be open-minded about James Smith’s theory that pi = 3⅛. I’m not prejudiced against it, but I happen to know it’s false. Not only have mathematicians calculated a different value (3.14159+), but I have calculated it myself. The sad truth is that pseudoscientists are themselves, by any definition, less than open-minded. They frequently display a devotion to their ideas, which is not remotely scientific. To them, it is inconceivable that they could be wrong. When conventional scientists reject their theories, they are convinced that it is pure prejudice, or a “guild mentality.” Never do they seriously entertain the idea that they could be wrong. While orthodox science has had its share of egomaniacs, unorthodox science attracts even more."
Mr. Schadewald proceeds to explore a number of topics, describing a lot of their history, some of which I had not read before.


Schadewald explores the history of the Velikovsky affair and calls to attention how the scientific community's strong initial reaction against Velikovsky (Wikipedia) probably attracted more attention, and subsequently support, than Velikovsky would have received otherwise.  Today, this is kind of backfire is sometimes called the "Streisand Effect" (Wikipedia).

Years ago, one of the Velikovskians' biggest problem was their claimed trajectories for Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Earth and how this game of 'celestial billiards' would take place.  When challenged to demonstrate that such orbits can actually occur, the Velikovskians' made nothing but excuses:
"But this sort of “put up or shut up” attitude merely enrages the Velikovskians. No such orbits exist, so they can’t put up, and they are psychologically incapable of shutting up. Therefore, instead of dealing with the fundamental problems inherent in Velikovsky’s theory, the Velikovskians specialize in nitpicking, the rationalization of failures into victories, and personal attacks on Carl Sagan and others who have the temerity to suggest that Velikovsky’s genius was misguided." (Chapter 1: Velikovsky's Collision).
The modern day Velikovskians, the Electric Universe (EU) advocates, still have not rigorously demonstrated that these orbits can occur.  Today, I have raised more problems with their claims about 'Electric Sun' models, since they require a radically different environment in the regions of the solar system where we routinely fly spacecraft.   Electric Universe advocates balk even more when I point out that they have failed to demonstrate that their "Electric Sun" models can produce an accurate prediction of the heliospheric environment suitable for planning space flights better than the existing internally-power solar model.  Examinations of Electric Sun models based on EU advocates descriptions (and there are at least four radically different 'Electric Sun' models at my last count) indicate the radiation hazard would be far more severe than even the largest known solar radiation events (see "Death by Electric Universe" articles @ Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists').

One of the more interesting topics covers the attempts by Velikovsky supporters to compare Velikovsky's claims to those of Alfred Wegener, the discoverer of continental drift (Wikipedia).  The most important aspect of this comparison is that while Velikovsky and his supporters never rigorously addressed any of the actual arguments against their claims, such as the planetary orbits noted above, Wegener continued to explore the arguments brought by geologists against him and made modifications to his theory accordingly.  Another important point was that the original problem with Wegener's idea was not so much the idea that the continents moved, but his proposed mechanisms for the continental motion, which turned out to be completely wrong. (Appendix: If Continents Can Wander,  Why Not Planets?)


Free Energy

Schadewald explores some of the characters behind various versions of perpetual motion machines, some of which were also examined in Robert Park's "Voodoo Science".  Here's a quote from Chapter 4 where he defines "Schadewald's Law" about the design of perpetual-motion machines:
"There is a reason why many of the designs are so complicated. We might call it Schadewald’s law of perpetual motion: A perpetual motionist typically concocts a scheme so complicated that he can’t see why it won’t work. He then assumes that it will work." (Chapter 4: The Idea of a Free Lunch)
As is often the case, cranks who can't get support for their claims in the scientific community often resort to political mechanisms, in the case of Joseph Newman who 'invented' yet another perpetual motion machine using magnetism and rotation (Wikipedia: Newman's Energy Machine).
"Not surprisingly, Newman has supporters in Congress, and at least eleven bills have been introduced to force the patent office to grant him a patent. None has passed." (Chapter 9: You Want Really Advanced Technology?)
A copy of the test report of the Newman energy machine performed by the National Bureau of Standards is available at (link to report).

Even more entertaining is Schadewald's exploration of the psychology of 'Free Energy Machine' advocates by 'inventing' his own device, the Schadewald Gravity Engine, making it available on April 1, 1978.  He received many inquiries on how the device worked (which he admitted it did not), but he apparently received no offers from oil companies to 'bury it.' ;^)

Flat Earth

Probably the most interesting part of the book for me were the articles on the history of the Flat Earth movement, largely because it was something that I had not read much before.  Schadewald covered the history of the movement from ancient times to the 20th century version (Chapters 10-13).  The stories about the 1800s revival of flat-earthism are particularly fascinating as a number of debates and public challenges were made.  One defender of the spherical Earth was Alfred Russel Wallace (Wikipedia).  Schadewald also described the flat-earth theocracy of Zion, Illinois which existed in the early 1900s (Wikipedia).

For the 20th century incarnation, years ago I had seen Charles Johnson's Flat Earth Society (wikipedia) website, and Mr. Johnson's claims of its Biblical basis.  Mr. Schadewald writes a great deal on the history and tells about how he was a member of the Flat Earth Society, at one point removed, and later reinstated. 


Schadewald's sections on Creationism explored many of the older claims which enjoy occasional resurrection on online creation-evolution discussion forums.  Many of Schadewald's rebuttals are familiar to those who've dealt with this topic for years.  More interesting are his explorations into the psychology of the pseudoscientist.  He makes the comparison of creationism with Flat Earth beliefs.
"Finally, the creationists have painted themselves into the same emotional and intellectual corner that the flat earthers did. They have staked their emotional well-being on the absolute truth of the Bible, and the truth of the Bible on their own interpretation of it." (Chapter 14: Palming Off Religious Dogma as Science)
Because arguments for a geocentric Earth, and even a flat Earth have a Biblical basis, I've always regarded young-Earth creationists who do not also hold those positions as somewhat hypocritical, picking-and-choosing the parts of the Bible they want to regard as symbolic vs. literal.
"Essentially, science is an open system based on skeptical inquiry, and its ultimate appeal is to evidence. Scientists use inductive reasoning, formulating general laws from specific observations of nature. A pseudoscience is a closed system based on belief, and its ultimate appeal is to doctrine. Pseudoscientists base their systems on deductive logic, deducing how the universe must act to conform with their doctrines.  Pseudoscience is deductive." (Chapter 19: Creation Pseudoscience)
There is also this great quote about the psychology of the two-types pseudo-scientists, which certainly applies to many (but not all) of the cranks I have encountered…
"Pseudoscientists are of two types. One group consists of ordinary cranks, self-proclaimed geniuses who seem motivated by contempt for conventional scientists. George Francis Gillette, discoverer of the remarkable backscrewing theory of gravity, was an excellent example. The other type of pseudoscientist seeks to justify some sort of ideology with scientific arguments. Examples of this type range from Nazi anthropologists to scientific creationists. Both types of pseudoscientist usually harbor feelings of personal greatness." (Chapter 19: Creation Pseudoscience)

Science vs. Pseudoscience

One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 21, Science vs. Pseudoscience, which does a meta-analysis of the psychology of pseudo-scientists.  Again, many points he makes are realizations that many of us who've been in this battle for a number of years have understood, but have rarely expressed so well.
"1. Pseudoscience appeals to democratic ideals, and followers demand fairness or equal time. (Actually, they usually are only interested in limited democracy, embracing their theory and the prevailing theory, and this only until they can throw the prevailing theory out.) Two good examples are the Velikovskians and the scientific creationists. This is consistent with the pathologically open mind characteristic of pseudoscientists; many of whom seem to think that, given two ideas, both are equally probable (except that the one he wants to believe is more probable). But science is elitist in the extreme, and only the best ideas get attention."   (Chapter 21: Science vs. Pseudoscience)
Schadewald then procedes to describe how pseudo-science takes a 'political' view of science, viewing scientists like political appointees who obtain their jobs by connections, that 'Truth' is what you can make someone believe, and so many more.  He also points out the notion of 'science as fashion', so common among pseudoscientists and promoted by various post-modern philosophers of science (Wikipedia: Fashionable Nonsense):
"2. Pseudoscientists tend to reject or ignore the correspondence principle. Pseudoscientists believe that theories come and go largely as a matter of fashion. Carried to its logical conclusion, this assumes that there is no ultimate truth, that 2 + 2 may someday equal 5. However, we will never go back to the flat-earth theory, to the theory of immovable continents, or to a very young Earth. All three ideas are very thoroughly contradicted by the evidence. This does not, however, mean that our ideas about the precise shape of the earth, the motions of the continents and the age of the earth are unchangeable." (Chapter 21: Science vs. Pseudoscience)
I found Schadewald's book an enlightening and enjoyable read, where I was introduced to realms of pseudo-science which are not ordinarily high on my list.  Schadewald's book should be on the shelves of anyone dealing with pseudoscience in the physical sciences and wants a good summary, and reference, of some of its history.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pseudo-Science Land...

One of the blaring characteristics common among pseudosciences is they cannot meet the more rigorous standards of legitimate science.  For physical sciences, this rigor is usually represented by the ability to produce mathematical models which generate numerical values that we can compare to experiments or observations.  Once a theory reaches this level of reliability, it can have engineering applications because you can try new ideas mathematically before undergoing the expense of actual construction.

In legitimate science, a successful theory is one that is
  1. consistent with established physical principles and,
  2. can be modeled mathematically to within some reasonable limit of observational or experimental error.
This latter characteristic is especially important when migrating a principle from leading edge science to established science, to engineering practice. 

It is also the component which pseudo-scientists almost consistently avoid.

We send spacecraft to distant reaches of the solar system using the same mathematical theories that were letting us predict the positions of planets to high precision three hundred years before.  The precision was so good, that an error of a few thousand kilometers after a five billion mile voyage for the Pioneer missions was cause for concern (Wikipedia: Pioneer Anomaly).  In spite of claims of alternate explanations by numerous cranks in support of their particular theory, not one of which produced a testable numerical model, the issue has been pretty much resolved without the need of new physics.

When someone claims to have a better theory, especially in the physical sciences, but cannot provide any model with which one can compute numerical values which can be compared to actual measurements, it should set off alarms that they might be a crank.
  • Geocentrists don't explicitly show their computations for planetary positions or for spacecraft trajectories (assuming they aren't claiming that spaceflight is a hoax) (see An Exploration of the Lagrange Points).
  • Relativity deniers don't compute the relativistic corrections in the GPS system.  Some will outright deny the differences exist.  Others will claim that they exist, but are not due to relativity (see Relativity Denial: A response to more comments about GPS).  The latter occasionally choose to dream up some 'correction factor' which exists for ill-specified reasons other than relativity. 
  • Electric Sun supporters don't compute the speed and density of the solar wind or solar magnetic field required for their claimed power source for the Sun.  This information is vital for the safety of astronauts or sending probes to previously unexplored regions of the solar system (see "Death by Electric Universe" articles at Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists').
  • and a host of other claims...
The standing question for these pseudo-scientists is, if they cannot demonstrate how their techniques are computed to the same precision of the mainstream explanation, what happens if we do teach their 'science' as true?  How will we define precision trajectories in space or adequately shield the satellites and astronauts from dangerous radiation in the far reaches of the solar system?  How will we get adequate positioning information without including relativistic corrections?

The cranks do everything they can to evade answering these questions.

A Pseudo-Science Future?

But it raises a more serious question about pseudo-sciences.  Every year, many people die due to acceptance of some health or medically-related pseudo-science (see "What's the Harm?").  Imagine a nation where claims such as the Geocentrists, or Electric Universe, or other pseudo-physical science were actually forced to be accepted science.  In our modern world, that is the only way such a thing could happen, through some kind of legal or totalitarian intervention, as occurred with Lysenkoism (Wikipedia) and Deutsch Physik (Wikipedia). 

In such a nation, would/could they have a space program?

How would the operators of such a program determine the trajectories of any missions, since the trajectory tells you the forces you must deal with and how much fuel you'd need?

How would the operators of the program set the specifications for radiation shielding for the missions?  That determines how much mass you must launch your mission and eventually ties back to how much fuel you need.

The proponents of these crank claims never seem to answer these questions, or they try some evasion like using the mainstream science answers to these questions as 'rules of thumb' for such a program (note that with this approach, any success depends on either luck, or someone else working out the solution first).  Such science, and consequently the engineering, and subsequent economic benefits, will always trail behind those who know the real science and can solve the problems first.

The laws of physics work the same for everyone, whether you believe them or not.  If you know and understand them, it can give you an advantage over those who do not.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Electric Universe: A Short Summary of How It Fails

I decided to use a comment that appeared on a rather ancient post (Electric Universe: Plasma Physics for Fun AND Profit!) to be the basis of this weeks post, providing another excuse to generate yet another summary of the failings of EU 'theory', hopefully a little shorter than Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'.  The original comment is here and reproduced below, with the original typos/spelling errors/etc..
A answer to to you, Tom Bridgman, about how you compared "Dark Matter", "Electric Plasma Currents"...

That we don't have radio-telescope good enough to observe potential low voltage currents in space. Even if intergalactic and interstellar currents exists. Invicible plasma currents are not mystical. They exist between the sun and the earth, between saturn and Io and have been proven to exist in laboratories.
A nother thing is that the EU theory isn't based on plasma currentes trough space, but a comparison between lab tested plasma formations and observed space phenomenon, which led to the conclusion that interpgalactic and interstellar currents should exist. It is not ad hoc to asume that electric currents exist, neither would it make sence if most of the currents between stars and galaxies would have been vicible to the naked eye.
Dark Matter, in the other hand, is from start pure invention. There are no predictions for dark matter, it is not even based on anything known to exist. It is just supose to have similar properties as gravity, though it apears to create filnamentary structures between galaxies and between stars. Dark matter is unquestionably pseudoscience.
You could claim that EU is pseudoscience, but not on the base that the theory postulates electric currents, which are invicible to use (at least for now).
Thanks :D
The commenter does not seem to understand the range of observational capability which exists in modern astronomy, going so far as claiming that astronomy is limited to mere 'naked eye' observation!  This is a common misunderstanding among Electric Universe (EU) 'theorists', whose understanding of science seems to be limited to pre-space flight, even pre-1900 understanding of science! 

The commenter also seems to confuse Electric Universe (EU) and Plasma Cosmology (PC) claims with the well-established cosmic plasma physics which has been under study by astronomers and physicists for many decades.  These groups routinely check astronomical observations against laboratory experiments and computer models (see Electric Universe: Plasma Modeling vs. 'Mystic Plasma' and others in the plasma modeling series).  This work is based on far more than just the 'look' of something matching between a lab experiment and in the cosmos.  In the laboratory we require a bunch of equipment to build these plasma configurations.  What plays the role of this equipment in nature?   That is a question that EU 'theorists' evade, but which real astronomers and astrophysicists must answer  (see Electric Universe: Making Electric Fields).  EU 'theorists' routinely try to highjack the discoveries in this area as support for their claims of stars, comets, and galaxies, etc. actually being powered by external electric currents.  For EU, any mention of an electric environment is automatically evidence for their claims.

The commenter also claims that voltages are too low to be detectable, when we have been detecting them for decades.  But if they are claiming that the voltages are too low to detect things like electrically-powered stars and galaxies, then they are wrong.  To accommodate electrically-powered stars and galaxies depends on the total power in the driving voltage and current.  The power in these currents must be greater than stars and galaxies (and MUCH greater if a given current can power multiple stars), so these currents will emit radiation, much like an antenna.  We have many full-sky surveys across many wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation from radio to gamma-rays that can detect these emissions.  Even Tony Peratt and Eric Lerner have computed the microwave emission of these claimed currents in an attempt to explain the microwave background.  They found that these currents, if they existed, would be very detectable in the microwave band with present day technologies.  But we do not see current streams connecting stars or galaxies in any of these surveys.
We do see cosmic electric currents driven by other processes  but they are nowhere near the power, nor configuration, needed to power stars and/or galaxies by this mechanism.
EU 'theorists have yet to describe any power source for their system of star- and galaxy-powering currents.  Where are these batteries and/or generators hiding and what powers them?  EU 'theorists' take known particles, like electrons and protons, and attach near-mystical properties to them to make them hide in ways that are not observed in the laboratory.  This is a bigger problem for EU than Dark Matter and Dark Energy are for mainstream astronomy.
EU 'theorists' ignore the fact that the particle environment needed to power an electric sun would be deadly to astronauts and satellites, as documented in my "Death by Electric Universe" series linked below.  The challenge still stands for EU theorists to predict the intensity of the particle environment using THEIR solar model for the upcoming 'Solar Probe' mission (Wikipedia).
The fact is that NO ONE who actually designs and builds spacecraft to visit previously unexplored regions of the solar system and needs to understand the solar radiation environment, use any EU "Electric Sun" model because EU 'theorists' have provided no model that actually matches the solar environment where we have explored.

When you want an electrical configuration built for your industrial facility, a satellite, or even your home, and you hire an electrical engineer, that electrical engineer is EXPECTED to be able to tell you the power requirements and other characteristics of the configuration they design, not in a hand-wavy wishy-washy way, but with actual numbers that you can use.  If they could not, you would be right in questioning their competence.  Yet EU 'theorists' routinely build these configurations for the cosmos and can't, or won't, answer these basic questions. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Links of Interest

Some of these links are a getting a bit dated, but may still be of interest...

Do Solar Flares Cause Earthquakes?

Ryan Milligan at The Sun Today blog has written an article on the claim that solar flares can cause earthquakes.  Check out his analysis of the problem: The Sun Today: Do solar flares cause earthquakes?

ScienceBlogs: Does Dark Matter affect the motion of the Solar System?  

I especially like the author's story about how HE actually examined this problem utilizing many of the techniques for examining questions that I like to explore in this blog.  Also note the graphic comparing some of the galaxy surveys with the Millennium cosmology simulation (Wikipedia).  If you didn't know it was a simulation, could you distinguish it from the actual datasets presented?

NASA's Massive Free E-Book Collection

NASA has made available a number of books on the history of space exploration and aeronautics.   There are a number of documents on the history of the organization, as well as the history and science of aeronautics.

Celestial Billiards for Space Travel

Ever wonder how the flight dynamicists at NASA and ESA develop some of the complex trajectories which can take a satellite from Earth to some distant location (like Jupiter or Saturn) using gravity assists?  They're currently developed guided by some rules-of-thumb which are refined with detailed n-body simulations.  But Artificial Intelligence systems (AI) are catching up in this capability.
Slashdot: Evolution of AI Interplanetary Trajectories Reaches Human-Competitive Levels

'Dark Lightning' Does Not Mean 'Undetectable'

While they call it 'Dark Lightning' because it isn't detectable in visible light, the particles behind this are still detectable by other means.
Slashdot: "Dark Lightning" Could Expose Airline Passengers To Radiation

Conspiracy Polling

And if you want some detailed numbers on just how many people in the U.S. believe weird stuff...
Public Policy Polling: Conspiracy Theory Poll Results

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Death by Electric Universe: Current vs. Voltage

I've often noted that various pseudo-scientific beliefs tote along other scientific misconceptions, some of which can be very harmful to the advocate or others.  There is even an entire web site chronicling the stories of the consequences of scientific misconceptions (What's the

I recently encountered another such misconception that warranted a more detailed explanation.  When a human body is exposed to charged particles, what is more fatal, the voltage or the current?

An electric universe supporter claimed that high current is needed to make exposure to charged particles fatal and that high voltages cannot be fatal. 

More specifically, I was making the point that in a space plasma in a region across an electric potential of 600 million volts (specifically in reference to the heliophysics environment claimed by Michael Mozina), the resulting radiation exposure will be quickly fatal.  Some Electric Universe supporters want to get around this problem with their model by claiming that only a high current can kill.

So what kills a person in an encounter with charged particles - high voltage or high current? 

The true answer is - both.  For what kills is determined by how much power is injected into the body by the charged particles and how those particles disrupt the body tissues.  This is dependent on current AND voltage.  At household voltages of tens to thousands of volts, a high current, at least 0.1 amps, is needed.  At 600 million volts, much less current needed.

So let's do the calculation that any radiation safety engineer should be able to do...

Doin' the Math…

We start with the technical definition of the unit of radiation exposure, the rad (Wikipedia: Rad (unit)):

1 rad = 0.01 Joules absorbed by 1 kg of mass

A fatal dose is 300 rads in one hour = 3 sieverts.  This is the low-end, whole-body dose, where a large portion of those exposed (but still less than 50%) can expect to die.  Above this threshold, the chance of fatality rises.

If it takes a minimum of 300 rads in one hour (3600 seconds) to be fatal, just how many electrons does it take with energies of 600 MeV?  How much current?

Consider electrons accelerated through a potential of 600 million volts.  For convenience, physicists define a unit of energy called the electron volt (eV), which is the kinetic energy of an electron moving through an electric potential of 1 volt (Wikipedia).  At 600 million volts, the electron has an energy of 600,000,000 eV or 600 MeV.  Converted to MKS units, this is an energy per electron of

600 MeV = 600e6 V * 1.609e-19 Coulombs = 9.7e-11 Joules

so we'll need a lot of electrons to inject a significant amount of energy into the human body.  Next, let's examine the radiation levels where we should be concerned.  The equation for the total accumulated dose is

dosage = energy flux * (target area/target mass)* time

As in the earlier exercises (see Death by Electric Universe.  Radiation Exposure Revisited), we'll assume the irradiated area of the human body is about 1 square meter (area = 1 m^2) with a mass of about 70 kilograms (mass = 7e4 gm).

600 MeV electrons are extremely relativistic, so their speed can be assumed to be essentially the speed of light.  However, if we're clever and do the algebra first, we won't need this information.  For simplicity, we'll let the particles be mono-energetic (all particles have exactly the same energy).  If we want to use a distribution of particles, we'd replace many of the simple multiplicative products with integrals (Wikipedia).  With this simplification, the energy flux becomes the product of the particle energy times the density of particles times their speed, so the dosage can also be written as:

dosage = (energy per particle * particle density * particle speed) 
               * (target area / target mass) * time

So let's be clever, and recognize that many of the components in this equation also exist in the definition of an electric current.

current = particle density * particle speed * target area 
               * charge per particle

which yields the amount of charge passing through a surface per unit of time.  We can re-write this to solve for:

particle density * particle speed * target area 
       = (current / charge per particle )

With this information, we can re-write the equation for dosage as:

dosage = energy per particle * (current / charge per particle) 
              * time / target mass

which we can then solve for the current:

current = dosage * target mass 
        * charge per particle / energy per particle / exposure time

To convert to rads, a unit of radiation dosage (Wikipedia), we divide MeV/gm by 62.4e6. 

current = dosage (rads) * mass * charge / energy  / time
        =  (300 rads) * (62.4e6 MeV/gm/rad) * (7e4 gm) * (1.6e-19 C) / (600 MeV) / (3600 s)
        = 9.7e-11 C/s
        = 9.7e-11 amps

which corresponds to (9.7e-11 C/s) / 1.6e-19 C = 6e8 electrons/s - about 60 million electrons per second.  This is an incredibly low current, yet it corresponds to a radiation dosage that can be fatal.

Using the definition of rad, we could also approach the problem from a slightly different direction by first computing the total energy deposition required for a fata dose.

300 rads * (0.01 J/kg/rad) * 70 kg = 210 J

Then the current can be derived from the same power = current * voltage of standard electromagnetism:

current = energy / time / voltage
        = 210 Joules / 3600s / 600e6 volts
        = 9.7e-11 amps

So if at 600 million volts, it takes such a tiny amount of current to kill, the next obvious question is, Why or How?

Kill Differently…

The two different extremes of particle energy kill differently.  

An electrical jolt direct to vital organ, say the heart, can kill instantly (or resuscitate).  On medical shows, you commonly hear defibrillators being charged to 400 watt-seconds = 400 Joules of power.  Amazingly small.  Most home coffeemakers use more in one second.

But if not directed at vital organ...

Currents of about 0.1 amp can kill at household voltage levels (a few tens to a few thousand volts).  Current at low voltage kills by disrupting the signal transfers of chemical ions in the nervous system to vital organs such as the heart.  At higher voltages, tissue damage can occur by resistive heating of tissue, such as boiling the water in tissue cells.  Under these conditions, death can occur quickly.

In the case of high-voltage particles, even at low current, death results from direct ionization of atoms in the body, which disrupts cell division and other biochemical processes.  Many of the atoms in the human body ionize at energies less than 20 electron volts.  An electron coming in with a total energy of 600 million electron volts can ionize a LOT of atoms before it is slowed to a safe energy.  This type of radiation exposure doesn't kill instantly, but damages cellular mechanisms to the point they cannot recover. The human body is always regenerating - incorporating ingested food into energy or new cells (fat?).  If that process is corrupted, illness or death results.

The Next Round of Electric Universe Excuses?

Perhaps the Electric Universe supporters and other cranks who advocate this notion think the electron current in a wire is composed of different 'stuff' than the electrons that pervade the space environment? 

These questions were actually asked, and answered, in the early part of the 1900s.  Numerous experiments have demonstrated that the electrons that carry the current in a wire are the exact same type of particle as the 'beta rays' emitted from atomic nuclei as part of a decay process and the electrons in the atom.  The only difference between them is how they get their energy, and how much energy they get.  This conceptual disconnect seems to be part of the pre-1900 science mentality prevalent among many pseudo-sciences.

Another popular evasion used in the pseudo-science community is that the mainstream workers are lying or part of a conspiracy to cover-up the facts.  So EU supporters might claim that reactor and radiation engineers are lying when they report these values as fatal radiation doses.  Hopefully, if an Electric Universe supporter wants to test this, they will put their own lives on the line, not like so many other pseudoscientists who readily let others take the risk for their ignorance… (see Fake bomb detector conman jailed for 10 years)

Electric Universe.  A dangerous ignorance…

Exercises for the Reader

  1. At an electron energy of 600 MeV, how many rads would correspond to an electron current of 0.1 amps?
  2. Using the definition of the rad above, derive the 62.4MeV/gm/rad conversion factor using dimensional analysis (I actually get a slightly different value).


Update September 2, 2013:  Fixed minor typo in last equation.  Should be 'energy', not 'power'