Sunday, September 28, 2014

Big Bangs & Black Holes - What's in a Name?

On occasion, when pseudo-scientists are hard-up for REAL evidence for their claims, they start to attack the terminology.

In science, this can be especially tricky as the names are usually just convenient labels for underlying concepts, like the word RED representing the color. No one would argue about that, WOULD THEY?

In many cases, the name is just a term used to label a phenomena until a better understanding is developed, like Dark Matter, and neutrinos and other topics. I've written a little on this before in regards to some Electric Universe claims (see On Magnetic Reconnection and "Discharges", On Dark Matter. II: An Exotic Hack?).

Sometimes the shorter name is adopted just to avoid long-winded descriptions when discussing a topic! It generally only causes a problem if one is metaphorically-impaired.
Rocket Racoon: "Metaphors go over his head."
Drax the Destroyer: "NOTHING goes over my head!... My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it."
-- "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) (IMDB
In the pre-1950s literature, the model of the universe based on the expanding FLRW metric (Wikipedia) was often referred to as the 'expanding universe' model.  Fred Hoyle, who was an advocate of the competing "Steady State" cosmology (Wikipedia: Steady State Theory), used the term "Big Bang" in a 1949 BBC radio broadcast. It is suggested that Hoyle used it as a term of derision (Fred Hoyle, Wikipedia: Big Bang Etymology), but the name was so catchy that it was adopted in general use. 

So, contrary to a claim I've received, the use of the term "Big Bang" does not require the process to be considered as an explosion.

It is not unusual that names initially meant as a term of derision ends up becoming the name adopted by supporters (Wikipedia: Reappropriation).

Back in the early 1990s, there was actually an attempt to rename the Big Bang. In the process, the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" had Calvin making an entertaining suggestion of renaming "Big Bang" to "Horrendous Space Kablooie" or HSK for short (Wikipedia: Calvin & Hobbes, Art & Academia, Horrendous Space Kablooie).  It actually caught on at some level and I occasionally use it myself.

"Black Hole" is another term that gets bandied about, but it is certainly easier than saying "gravitationally completely collapsed object". It could also be considered analogous to a 'black box' where you don't actually find out what's inside. (Science News: 50 years later, it's hard to say who named black holes).

Oh, and why would anyone argue about the color red?

There is a psychology behind color perception and for various reasons, reds, oranges and yellows are regarded as 'warm' colors while violets, blues, and greens are regarded as 'cool' colors (Wikispaces: Color Wheel).

Yet from a spectral and energy perspective (Wikipedia), blue colors correspond to hotter temperatures than red colors. This disparity between perceptual and spectral concepts rears its head in scientific visualization, where there is occasionally a discussion/debate/argument over color choices when representing multi-wavelength astronomical data. Is it better to represent the data which corresponds to higher energy photons as red (a 'hot' color) or blue (a higher energy wavelength)?

I've not (yet?) encountered a crank advocating that our understanding of photons physics is wrong because red means hot, not blue, but it would not surprise me if someone was out there claiming it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Electric Universe: HI regions, the CMB, and Critical Ionization Velocity

It took a bit longer to complete the (preliminary) reading for this response to the claims by Chris Reeve in (Dad2059: The Electric Universe & Strawmen). It is yet another follow-on to Mr. Reeve's earlier claims supporting the Electric Universe (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'...), discussed (Pseudoscience and 'World-View') and (Electric Universe: More Confusing Claims from the EU 'Worldview').

I may have a more detailed response for a future post, but for now, we should note some aspects of this which Mr. Reeve doesn't tell you, particularly his limited understanding of HI regions and critical ionization velocity (CIV).

On the HI Hyperfine Transition... 

HI is the astronomers' designation for neutral atomic hydrogen gas. Ionized atomic hydrogen (a single proton) is often designated HII. There are similar notations for the ionization state of other elements. Wikipedia: Hydrogen Line

A couple of interesting notes about HI relevant to astronomy. The HI line with a 21 cm wavelength (frequency =1420 MHz) is due to a transition in the energy level of the neutral hydrogen atom that occurs when the spin of the electron and proton switch from parallel to anti-parallel, which corresponds to a lower energy state. Two particularly important things to note, relevant to Electric Universe (EU) claims:
  1. The existence of this transition was predicted theoretically from quantum mechanics, some years before it was actually observed. Again, this success was thanks to the power of mathematics with a reliable experimental and theoretical framework. 
  2. With a transition rate on the order of 10^-15 per second, the state has a lifetime of about 10 million years. Any collisions with other atoms in that time frame can change the atomic state, so the 21 cm HI emission is limited to regions of extremely low temperature and/or density, so that there is a LONG time between collisions which can reset the atomic state so the photon will not be emitted. This long lifetime means this emission of 21 cm radiation has never been observed in the laboratory. Since EU advocates often like to claim only laboratory-verified phenomena should be valid science (which appears to include almost everything except neutrino oscillations), it's rather hypocritical when they resort to the 21cm radiation. 
Mr. Reeve's ignorance, or is it evasion, of these facts, is peculiar, but not surprising...

So all-in-all, it's rather funny when EU supporters are backed so far into a corner that they have to pull out claims related to HI observations, as dependence on them is evidence against many of their claimed underlying beliefs about how science actually works.

Critical Ionization Velocity or CIV 

Now for CIV, or Critical Ionization Velocity (not to be confused with +3 ionized carbon, occasionally also written as CIV using the notation described above). CIV is a plasma effect originally predicted by Hannes Alfven. It is the relative velocity between a plasma and neutral gas at which the neutral gas starts to ionize. To date, it has only been clearly identified under laboratory conditions, but not under conditions in space. (Wikipedia: Critical Ionization Velocity)

Over the past decade or so, Dr. Verschuur has hypothesized a correlation between HI 21 cm emission regions above the disk of the Milky Way galaxy and 'hot spots' in the WMAP ILC map (NASA: Wilkinson ILC map) may indicate some type of electromagnetically-driven structure.

Two aspects of this apparent correlation of particular interest to Electric Universe supporters are
  1. the speculation that this correlation is evidence for a cosmic-scale CIV effect and therefore cosmic-scale electric currents. 
  2. that these correlations with the emission from the cosmic microwave background (CMB) is evidence against Big-Bang cosmology. 
While Mr. Reeve uses Dr. Verschuur's work to promote a new edition of Peratt's "Physics of the Plasma Universe", Dr. Verschuur has published much of this work in the astrophysics literature.

Problems for Electric Universe/Plasma Cosmology Supporters 

As Verschuur notes in all his papers on this topic (References 8, 11, 12, 13,14,15 listed below), these 'anomalies' are LOCAL to our galaxy (with estimated distances between 200 and 4000 parsecs) and fairly small scale, but perhaps far above the galactic disk. Many of the neutral hydrogen regions have average velocities that are negative, implying the regions are moving towards the observer (blue-shifted). Therefore, they are not evidence for the Peratt galaxy model.

Other authors have speculated on the possibility of CIV in the Magellanic Stream (Reference 9). The Magellanic stream (Wikipedia) is a path of hydrogen gas that stretches from the Magellanic galaxies across a large part of the sky - apparently a trail left by a tidal interaction of the Magellanic galaxies in the distant past. In this case, H-alpha emission is found at boundary of high-velocity clouds. This is not surprising, as flow velocities sufficient to produce ionization provide more than enough energy to generate other atomic excitations - and we would expect them from more cosmologically abundant elements like hydrogen and helium. This paper makes two important points relevant to this particular discussion:
  1. CIV does not require an electric current - a neutral plasma at high relative velocity in magnetic field colliding with another neutral gas cloud can have same effect. 
  2. Because the energy transfer to the atoms are enough to ionize them, it is also sufficient to activate additional atomic spectral lines. Therefore, additional emission, particularly atomic excitations, should be visible.
Here's just some of the problems (some noted by Dr. Verschuur himself) with the CIV interpretation:
  1. Dr. Verschuur does not find a similar H-alpha correlation for his observations. There are poor correlations of this emission with X-rays (Reference 14, figure 4) and H-alpha (Reference 14,  figure 6b) an issue which he notes in (Reference 15) and has not resolved.
  2. As noted by other researchers (References 6, 10), the observable 'signature' of CIV may be easy to confuse with other processes. In addition, the CIV effect itself is probably a combination of more fundamental processes which may dominate the physical system at any given time. CIV might be a useful term in laboratory cases, but it may be too poorly defined in a space environment, which might explain why it has yet to be clearly identified in a space environment (see A comparison between laboratory and space experiments on Alfven’s CIV effect.).
  3. I have yet to find a rigorous examination of CIV in theory or laboratory which has examined the SPECTRAL signature of the process (References 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 10). Closest to spectral signature is in Reference 7 (figure 7, 59). The research papers include lots of examinations of voltages, currents, plasma frequencies, which are readily measured in laboratories, but little as to what the astronomer can observe and measure with tools such as spectroscopes and broad frequency range imaging. Therefore, the interpretation based on the width of gaussian line profiles are not necessarily clear signatures of the process.
  4. That said, it is easy to understand how the 50 km/s profile might be imprinted on HI emission, as any hydrogen atoms at higher speeds would have a higher probability of being collisionally de-excited from the hyperfine state so only the atoms at the critical speed and lower will have a chance to emit 21cm radiation. But just how does the velocity profile for these other atoms: helium, carbon, etc. get 'imprinted' on the velocity profile of the HI? Any collisional or electromagnetic interaction which accelerates the hydrogen atom to these speeds risks moving the atom into a state where 21 cm photons would not be emitted. Without some clear answer to (3) above, this is essentially impossible to answer.
  5. Probably related to (4) above, generally, the relative amplitudes of the elements features identified by Dr. Verschuur should be roughly proportional to the abundances of the specific chemical element(s). While it's reasonable to identify hydrogen and helium, where helium is about 1/10 as abundant as hydrogen (in terms of fraction of atoms) and might have 1/10 the amplitude of the hydrogen signal, it's a little more difficult to identify the heavier elements whose abundance are lower by a factor of 100. To justify this, there must something enhancing the signal of the heavier elements out of proportion to their abundance (unless one wants to claim the atomic abundances are indeed significantly higher in these regions, which generates a whole additional set of problems).
  6. Invoking Marklund convection raises the same problems as noted before (Electric Universe: More Confusing Claims from the EU 'Worldview'). No one has yet demonstrated what we would actually observe and measure for this configuration, or even what could generate the current claimed. Again, Electric Universe advocates think electric currents just spring up anywhere they need them, as if by magic. Since some EU supporter will no doubt point to various planetary nebulae with cylindrical structure, it should be noted that all observed bi-polar flows have been measured OUTWARD from the central object, not through it (Wikipedia: Bipolar outflow) so Marklund convection can't apply in these flows.
Dr. Verschuur has far from demonstrated that these apparent correlations between HI emission & the CMB bright spots correspond to CIV, especially considering the problem that there is significant offsets between the emission regions.

Recognizing a number of the problems noted above, in Reference 15, Dr. Verschuur suggests the possibility of these regions being signs of magnetic reconnection (an option which I suspect Electric Universe supporters would also express disapproval: See (Non-) Electric Universe News for Summer 2013, On Magnetic Reconnection and "Discharges").

Two-Dimensional Thinking in a Three (or Four)-Dimensional Universe... 

In the papers discussed, Dr. Verschuur is still doing a 2-D analysis of a 3-D environment, a practice which is fraught with peril.

I contrast this with the analysis Dr. Verschuur presented in another 2013 paper (High-resolution Observations and the Physics of High-velocity Cloud A0) where he explicitly reports an examination of the hypothesized filament in (l,b,v) space - projecting a helix, and it's proposed velocity profile, on the sky. He describes how he derives hypothesized currents, and the magnetic fields they would generate. He even presents how higher-resolution measurements of magnetic fields from this region may test this hypothesis. Here, Dr. Verschuur clearly states his input assumptions and explores a number of the consequences, and even proposes observations to test it.   Why wasn't this type of analysis done with the proposed Marklund convection configuration which Verschuur mentions in the CIV papers?

Other astronomers are doing a more complete analysis with this type of 2-D images combined with line-of-sight spectra and it is an important tool for extracting more complete information. See NASA: Astronomers Bring The Third Dimension To A Doomed Star's Outburst

Another example of how human perception can lead to flawed conclusions is illustrated by Halton Arp's 3-D intuition in regard to discordant redshifts. All of Dr. Arp's probability arguments had simple geometric explanations in 3-D (Discord for Discordant Redshifts. I., Discord for Discordant Redshifts. II.) and the chance alignments were far more probable than he realized.

Electric Universe Advocates Fail Again 

The CIV explanation for these correlations raise far more problems than it solves. Mr. Reeve's suggestion that this analysis represents a significant mathematical demonstration of the success of Electric Universe ideas in astronomy doesn't cut it. Again, the literature and the experiments are out there for anyone to find - but Mr. Reeve apparently did not bother himself to learn the facts about CIV.

Electric Universe continues its attempts to appropriate the work of legitimate researchers as 'theirs' while ignoring the long history of electric fields and currents in astronomy (365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe).


  1.  C. K. Goertz, S. Machida, and R. A. Smith. An asymptotic state of the critical ionization velocity phenomenon. Journal of Geophysical Research, 90:12230–12234, December 1985. doi: 10.1029/JA090iA12p12230. 
  2. S. Machida and C. K. Goertz. A simulation study of the critical ionization velocity process. Journal of Geophysical Research, 91:11965–11976, November 1986. doi: 10.1029/JA091iA11p11965. 
  3. S. Machida and C. K. Goertz. The electromagnetic effect on the critical ionization velocity process. Journal of Geophysical Research, 93:11495–11506, October 1988. doi: 10.1029/JA093iA10p11495.
  4. C. K. Goertz, G. Lu, and S. Machida. On the theory of CIV. Advances in Space Research, 10:33–45, 1990. doi: 10.1016/0273-1177(90)90271-Z. 
  5. R. B. Torbert. Review of critical velocity experiments in the ionosphere. Advances in Space Research, 10: 47–58, 1990. doi: 10.1016/0273-1177(90)90272-2. 
  6. N. Brenning. A comparison between laboratory and space experiments on Alfven’s CIV effect. IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, 20:778–786, December 1992. doi: 10.1109/27.199528. 
  7. N. Brenning. Review of the CIV phenomenon. Space Science Reviews, 59:209–314, February 1992. doi: 10.1007/BF00242088. 
  8. G. L. Verschuur and A. L. Peratt. Galactic Neutral Hydrogen Emission Profile Structure. Astronomical Journal, 118:1252–1267, September 1999. doi: 10.1086/300998. 
  9. C. Konz, H. Lesch, G. T. Birk, and H. Wiechen. The Critical Velocity Effect as a Cause for the Hα Emission from the Magellanic Stream. Astrophysical Journal, 548:249–252, February 2001. doi: 10.1086/318690. 
  10. S. T. Lai. A review of critical ionization velocity. Reviews of Geophysics, 39:471–506, November 2001. doi: 10.1029/2000RG000087. 
  11.  A. L. Peratt and G. L. Verschuur. Observation of the CIV effect in interstellar clouds: a speculation on the physical mechanism for their existence. IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, 28:2122–2127, December 2000. doi: 10.1109/27.902239. 
  12. G. L. Verschuur. On the Critical Ionization Velocity Effect in Interstellar Space and Possible Detection of Related Continuum Emission. IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, 35:759–766, August 2007. doi: 10.1109/TPS.2007.898037. 
  13. G. L. Verschuur and J. T. Schmelz. A Pervasive Broad Component in H I Emission Line Profiles: Temperature, Turbulence, or a Helium Signature? Astronomical Journal, 139:2410–2424, June 2010. doi: 10.1088/0004-6256/139/6/2410. 
  14.  G. L. Verschuur. On the Apparent Associations Between Interstellar Neutral Hydrogen Structure and (WMAP) High-frequency Continuum Emission. Astrophysical Journal, 711:1208–1228, March 2010. doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/711/2/1208. 
  15. G. L. Verschuur. Interacting Galactic Neutral Hydrogen Filaments and Associated High-frequency Continuum Emission. Astrophysical Journal, 768:181, May 2013. doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/768/2/181. 
  16. G. L. Verschuur. High-resolution Observations and the Physics of High-velocity Cloud A0. Astrophysical Journal, 766:113, April 2013. doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/766/2/113.