Sunday, July 14, 2013

Death by Electric Universe.  Radiation Exposure Revisited

It recently came to my attention that some Electric Sun (ES) advocates have concocted an interesting excuse to 'rescue' their claims of an externally electrically-powered Sun (and stars) from the hazards created by the radiation environment of charged particles needed to power such a star.   Most of these original articles are under the name Death By Electric Universe:
In one post of that series, I examined a set of potential excuses (some which I have heard) from ES supporters which might arise from this problem (see Death by Electric Universe. III. EU Excuses):
  • Excuse 1: But the spacecraft is shielded!
  • Excuse 2: But Wait!  Isn't the total radiated Photon Energy the same as the total Incoming Electron Energy?
  • Excuse 3: What about those Drift Electrons?!
  • Excuse 4: But a uniform population of drift electrons would be undetectable!
  • Excuse 5: But Plasmas are Non-Linear!
  • Excuse 6: We could do it if we had NASA's budget
  • Excuse 7: It's not Important for Electric Sun Models
I discovered this recent incarnation of the excuse, a variant of Excuse 1 above, on the Evolution Creation forum under the 'Cosmic Conspiracy' thread.  In reponding to forum poster 'JonF' pointing out some of the work I've done pointing out Electric Universe failures, forum poster 'justatruthseeker' makes several erroneous claims about the radiation environment which I'll deal with in this article. 
Most of 'justatruthseeker's supporting links are strangely irrelevant to the actual issue of the particle flux needed for an electric sun, diverting off into magnetic monopoles and magnetic shielding which have no relevance to the topic.  This is a popular tactic of pseudoscientists and supporters to divert the discussion away from a point where they are clearly losing.

But back to the points claimed by 'JustATruthSeeker':

1) Spacecraft are shielded and so the astronauts are protected.
JustATruthSeeker: "And yet despite all your claims all spacecraft and spacesuits are heavily shielded against radiation so those astronaughts don't get fried, funny how that works huh? And apparently TB isn't aware of tests done."
2) In the event of a particularly energetic event, there are shelters to provide more protection where the astronauts can safely 'ride out the storm'
JustATruthSeeker: "When in space and storms errupt, astronauts head to specially shielded rooms."
There are numerous conceptual and physical errors in these excuses.   One wonders if JustATruthSeeker even read the links they provided.  As I will illustrate below, they clearly did not bother to check the numbers or the measurements, a common failure with crank science claims. 

The major area of misunderstandings about the radiation environment created by an Electric Sun:

1) The high radiation environment of an electric sun is running continuously.  This is not a case of heading for the heavy shelter for occasional events.  The astronauts would have to be in the heavy shelter all the time.

2) The particle environment needed to power a star electrically is far higher than that created by any measured solar proton event - and again, is running continuously, not in episodes.

3) The shielding needed to protect astronauts in an electric sun environment is far larger than anything we've used before.

along with myths about radiation in general...

1) There is no 'all protecting' method of shielding from radiation that is practical.  If there were, numerous problems in space flight such as human trips to Mars, and nuclear power generation and waste disposal, would not be problems at all.

2) Protection from radiation depends on amount of shielding and the type and amount of radiation.  Shielding that is effective for the nuclear medicine division in your local hospital would be insufficient protection from the particle radiation of a solar flare for an orbiting astronaut or a nuclear worker.

As I have noted many times before, a successful model is defined as one where it can make numerical predictions (derived from more fundamental established principles) which can be matched to actual measurements.   So let's get a better idea of what's happening by applying some numbers of the problem.  I described the method of computing the radiation dose required for one model of an electrically-powered star in the previous article.  At the orbit of the Earth, I obtained a radiation flux from just the electrons of:

Exposure Rate 
(Note 1 rad = 0.01 sieverts)      

Rads:        10.5 rads/s = 38,000 rads/hour 
                         = 912,000 rads/day
Sieverts:     0.105 Sv/s = 105 mSv/s 
                         = 380 Sv/hour 
                         = 9,100 Sv/day 
                         = 9,100,000 mSv/day

Since we are examining electrons, the Q-factor is one, so the biological effectiveness of the radiation, in REMS (wikipedia), is equal to the exposure in rads.

It is worth noting that these numbers represent the LOW limit of the radiation exposure as I have only used the incoming electrons, accelerated by the claimed billion-volt potential, in the calculation.  If I included the outbound protons, also being accelerated by this potential, it would result in even higher radiation doses because protons have a higher biological effectiveness, Q-factor, than electrons.  I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader - such a computation should be easily within the capabilities of a high-school physics student, but apparently beyond the capability of Electric Universe 'theorists'.
As also noted in the original article, we can define a limiting exposure above which our astronauts will suffer major health effects.

Above about 300 rads in one hour, you can expect serious health problems, and it gets worse with higher dosage.

Fatal dose 300 rads = 3 Sv = 3000 mSv

The radiation environment professionals have all kinds of strange units.  One of the biggest difficulties in these analyses are making sure my units are consistent, and this is important (see Unit Mixups).  Here's a few notes about the units used:

Explained: rad, rem, sieverts, becquerels: A guide to terminology about radiation exposure
1 gray (Gy) = 100 rad
1 rad = 10 milligray (mGy)
1 sievert (Sv) = 1,000 millisieverts (mSv) = 1,000,000 microsieverts (╬╝Sv)
1 sievert = 100 rem
1 becquerel (Bq) = 1 count per second (cps)
1 curie = 37,000,000,000 becquerel = 37 Gigabecquerels (GBq)
For x-rays and gamma rays, 1 rad = 1 rem = 10 mSv
For neutrons, 1 rad = 5 to 20 rem (depending on energy level) = 50-200 mSv
For alpha radiation (helium-4 nuclei), 1 rad = 20 rem = 200 mSv

Then there is also the question of what happens to spacecraft instrumentation (Solar Storms by Sten Odenwald).
"damage to sensitive electrical components becomes a problem at about 30,000 rads, considerably more than a satellite would accumulate in a typical 10- to 15-year lifetime."
Note that in the radiation environment needed to power an electric sun, you exceed this amount of radiation in less than an hour if the effective target area of your electronics was equivalent to the size of a human!

Comparison of Electric Sun Particle Fluxes to the Actual Space Environment
Let's compare the electric flux needed to power the electric sun to some actual space environment measurements.  As already noted in the original article, the flux and energies are far higher than anything we've measured from spacecraft anywhere in the solar system, including the Earth's radiation belts.

Note that the average exposure of all crews (shielded) amounted to between 0.26-2.1 mSv PER DAY (NASA: JSC-29295‎) from Project Mercury through Apollo and the Shuttle Program.

This is one millionth of the continuous radiation exposure required to power an Electric Sun (about 9 million milliSieverts).

In the next section, we'll start checking out the shielding requirements to reduce the exposure by an electric sun to the level experienced by flight crews.

The major transient events which endanger satellites and astronauts, the reason why we build extra shielding for long-term missions, are solar flares which can launch significant particle events, and coronal mass ejections (CME).  Just how much radiation exposure can we expect from these types of events?  Checking some references, we can get a few estimates.
Clearly, the continuous radiation envoriment needed to power the Sun by external electrical means far exceeds any known energetic solar event to date. 

The notion that the existing shielding on spacecraft are sufficient to protect astronauts from the particle environment of an electric Sun is looking like a pipe dream.

Shielding from an Electric Sun
Radiation exposure depends on particle flux (total number of particles passing through body) and energy of those particles. It is possible to reduce radiation exposure by increasing distance from the source, reducing the time of exposure, or increasing shielding shielding of sensitive hardware and crew. 

Since we want to operate in space for significant durations of time, what kind of sheilding would be needed to protect astronauts from the radiation environments of an electric sun?  How much shielding would be needed to reduce the unshielded radiation environment outside a spacecraft down to the level we've measured for astronaut exposure?

We want to reduce the radiation exposure from the EU particle environment from 912,000 rads/day to 2 rads/day, we must reduce the flux by a factor of 912,000/2.0 = 456,000, about half a million.

Since radiation absorption is a statistical process,  we can compute the number of 'half-thicknesses' of shielding material needed to reduce the flux by this amount, 456000 = 2^n.  Solving for n gives n = 18.8.  Therefore, the total thickness of material we need is the half-thickness distance of the material, multiplied by about 19.

I'll use the halving thickness values in the table at Wikipedia: Radiation Protection.  For lead, we see that the halving-thickness for gamma rays is 1 cm, and for steel, is 2.5 cm.  Materials with lighter atomic numbers (such as those made into space suits) are not as effective.  These will be useful reference values since gamma rays have the same Q value as electrons.

To reduce the radiation flux of an electric sun from 912,000 rads/day to 2 rads/day, we would need

(1cm) * 19  = 19 cm of solid lead


(2.5 cm) * 19  = 47 cm (almost half a meter or 1.5 feet) of solid steel

in a shell around the crew cabin. 

That's significantly thicker, and heavier, than any spacecraft hull we've built to date! 

Good luck getting that heavy thing off the ground!

The bottom line is JustATruthSeeker's notion that astronauts could be protected from the radiation environment of an Electric Sun is, a best, a fantasy.

(Still Unmet) Challenge for Electric Sun Advocates
'JustATruthSeeker', like so many other ES supporters, bizarrely uses the smaller actual radiation hazard as evidence that their model does not have a radiation problem.

The fact that space flight does not have this severe radiation problem is evidence that the particles and currents required to power an electric sun do not exist.

By what EU mysticism do all these electrons and protons become so undetectable, contrary to our laboratory experience?  (The popular excuse of 'dark current' just means the effects are not visible in the optical range - radio, infrared, UV, x-ray or direct particle detectors are options).

The problem for Electric Sun supporters is that REAL space scientists run space weather models ROUTINELY to protect astronauts and other NASA assets around the solar system.  Here's a snapshot from the continually updating projections generated at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) 

These models don't have Electric Sun-powering 'currents'  in them and yet provide fairly accurate predictions for event arrival time and particle flux needed to protect those satellites, all around the solar system.  I've worked with these types of models propagated out to the orbit of Saturn. 

Where are Electric Sun model runs for these events that we can compare to actual data?    

Perhaps EUers want to invoke Excuse 6 above?

If Electric Sun supporters can't provide the algorithm for computing these predictions, then Electric Sun models are useless.  This is the Electric Sun Epic Fail they evade talking about!

How about a more concrete, and simpler, practical example (mentioned in the earlier post, Death by Electric Universe. I. EU's Unsolvable Problem)…

A new mission called Solar Probe Plus (Wikipedia) is being built that will go on a trajectory sending it as close as 8.5 solar radii from the solar photosphere.  Details of the radiation environment are vital for the successful operation of this mission.  What kind of shielding does it need to be successful according to the Electric Sun model?

Electric Sun supporters like to claim their 'theory' of the Sun's operation solves all solar 'problems'.  If Electric Sun supporters can't answer this basic question of how to shield the spacecraft, when the standard model of the solar wind can, then what good is their theory?

If Electric Sun supporters can't answer these fundamental question of practical implication for space flight, how can they claim their model is superior?  Even more important, how can they be competent to be involved in a space program considering this affects the integrity of every satellite and the life of every astronaut?

What will be their excuse THIS time?

Update: July 21, 2013.  Fixed a few typos


Jon Fleming said...

Gee, Thanks Tom; I'll have to post a link to this one in the thread.

bosoko0 said...

The "justathruthseeker" guy has been spamming my Youtube video for a while now, he's very persistent. I wish he was as persistent in school, I've been trying to make him read up on even the basics but he wouldn't budge.

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

To Bosoko0,

I assume you mean here (YouTube)?

Electric Universe, and it's fans, claim to explain everything, yet can actually predict nothing, even when it comes the integrity of missions in space and the lives of astronauts.

One wonders how they think this stuff is actually done. Do they think we just throw some stuff together and hope that it makes it to the Moon or Mars, or a comet?

When I try to get answers to these types of questions, I get nothing but excuses or evasions.

bosoko0 said...

Yeah, that video, I didn't even know about the whole Electric Universe scene when I uploaded it.

They're a very strange group of people indeed, I've been trying to figure out what drives them and why are they willing to spend so much energy and time on making up the excuses and evasions while unwilling to spend a portion of that time on actual learning or fact-checking.

Most of them do seem to have a great aversion to math, perhaps that's what is partially responsible? It is much more fun to imagine the fields and currents and whatever being these colorful objects flowing through space instead of calculating them mathematically. However the assurance they have of the correctness of the (inconsistent) products of their imagination is something which I can't yet understand.

Of course I can't say for sure that I don't ever behave in the same way as they do. So in a way, interacting with them was useful because it provides me with something I can reflect my own actions and assurances on.

By the way, thank you for the work in your blog, I would never have the strength to write all this stuff out to well for these people.