Sunday, August 30, 2015

Electric Universe: The Three Suns of Kristian Birkeland. I.

In the early 1900s, electromagnetism had reached the level of a well-understood phenomenon, particularly after it was placed on a firm mathematical foundation by the work of Maxwell.  Many researchers were continuing to explore the nuances and predictions of these equations, applying them to different Earth-based as well as cosmic problems to see if they yielded any insights at the level that Newton's gravitation did for celestial mechanics.  

Some of the more interesting experiments exploring cosmic electromagnetism were done by Kristian Birkeland in the early 1900s.  Birkeland documented these experiments and his other ideas in his   tome The Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition (which I will reference as NAPE) which was published in two sections.  Section 1 was published in 1908 and deals largely with the aurora expeditions and observations as well as Birkeland's initial terella experiments.   In Section 2, published in 1913,  Birkeland attempts to expand the scope of the interpretation of his experiments.

As a consequence of Birkeland's work with the aurora and the laboratory terella (which I will explore in a future post), Birkeland explored a number of ideas about the nature of the Sun.

Birkeland speculated that sun was powered by the decay of radium (NAPE, pg 314, 670).  It was not a new idea and it did not originate with him, as the question of the energy source of the Sun had been a long-standing problem.  With the discovery of radioactivity, the question of the heat source within the Earth was thought to be solved (1907JRASC...1..145R).  The term 'transmutation' was apparently first used (with some trepidation) in 1901 by Rutherford and Soddy in describing nuclear decay of thorium to radium (Wikipedia).  Beyond nuclear decay, other nuclear reactions such as fission or fusion were not yet known.  The first artificially-induced nuclear reaction would not be discovered until 1919, by Rutherford, and after the death of Birkeland.

Birkeland mentions Rutherford's ideas that in the solar interior, that ordinary matter may become radioactive (NAPE, pg 315).  However, in reading NAPE cover-to-cover, I found no use of the term 'transmutation' at all, much less in context of nuclear reactions. 

These speculations on the solar energy source may have been the motivation of spectroscopic searches for radium in the Sun common around this time.  However, a number of other elements such as iron, titanium, and lanthanum had spectral lines very close to those of radium so the status remained unclear for some time (1912AN....192..265M, 1912Obs....35..360E, 1913PA.....21..321M).  Eventually the spectral measurements become sufficiently accurate to conclude there was no significant amount of radium in the Sun (1929ApJ....70..160S).
At the bottom of page 665 in NAPE, Birkeland proposed THREE possible solar electrical configurations:

1) Photosphere is cathode & anode located below.
"In the first place, it might be imagined that the interior of the sun formed the positive pole for enormous electric currents, while perhaps the faculae, in particular, round the spots, formed the negative poles."
2) Photosphere is cathode & anode located above in corona
"Or it might be imagined that the positive poles for the discharges were to be found outside the photosphere, for instance in the sun's corona, the primary cause of the discharge being the driving away of negative ions from the outermost layers of the sun's atmosphere in some way or other for instance, as ARRHENIUS has assumed, by light-pressure after condensation of matter round them."
Note that Birkeland introduces this model with 'or' to label it as an alternative to model 1.

3) Photosphere is cathode & anode located above in interplanetary space
"Finally, it might be assumed and this, according to the experimental analogies, seems the most probable assumption that the sun, in relation to space, has an enormous negative electric tension of about 600 million volts."
Models 1 & 2 are clearly different, placing the anode on opposite sides of the photosphere.  It might be tempting to consider 2 & 3 as the same model, with the anode just further away in model 3, but model 3 places Earth IN the space of the anode, which has stronger implications for measurements near Earth not possible in model 2.

So Birkeland describes three different cathode-anode configurations for an electromagnetic solar model.  All the models keep the cathode at or on the solar photosphere, perhaps at sunspots.  The anode is proposed at three possible locations: inside the sun, just above the photosphere in the corona, and further out in interplanetary space.  The final configuration is apparently favored by Birkeland, probably for its similarity to his terella configuration. 

Of course, since these configurations all have a common cathode, it might also be possible to consider combinations of the anode positions: 1+2, 2+3, 1+3, 1+2+3, analogous to the multi-grid electron tubes (Wikipedia) used in the first half of the 20th century, providing up to seven possible configurations.  Each one of these configurations would require a different analysis as the each has different implications for where and how we can make measurements.

It's difficult to find more specific information on these models with only very limited information in NAPE (pg 665, 716).  Apparently there are more details in the French publication:
K. Birkeland. Sur la source de 1’eleclricite des etoiles. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Seances de l’Academie des Sciences, T. 155:1467–1470, December 1912.
but the description in Science Abstracts seems to be mostly based on some of Birkeland's experimental configurations.

However, even in NAPE, it appears that Birkeland recognized the model had serious problems that would require more than Maxwell's equations to resolve (NAPE pg 720):
"According to our manner of looking at the matter, every star in the universe would be the seat and field of activity of electric forces of a strength that no one could imagine.
We have no certain opinion as to how the assumed enormous electric currents with enormous tension are produced, but it is certainly not in accordance with the principles we employ in technics on the earth at the present time. One may well believe, however, that a knowledge in the future of electrotechnics of the heavens would be of great practical value to our electrical engineers." [italics mine]
Each one of these models above have the same problem: How is the electric potential maintained?  In model 2, Birkeland suggests Arrehenus' idea of electrons driven out by radiation pressure might help maintain such a voltage.  However, other researchers, such as Milne, Rosseland, Panneokeok and others explored the voltages possible driven by particle speeds, but the predicted voltages turned out to be FAR lower than Birkeland needed.  Rosseland also explored mechanisms for generating currents in sun for solar magnetic field (1925CMWCI.302....1R).

In part II of this post, I will go over some of the other problems associated with Birkeland's solar models, some of which were apparently recognized by Birkeland.

A Note for those Wishing to Comment on this Topic (under this or other posts):

No comments supporting the Birkeland solar model will be posted to these comment streams unless the commenter can provide correct numerical answers to at least half of these questions.  Actually, if they are competent enough to answer half of these questions, which are at the level of high-school physics, they should be able to answer all of them.

Birkeland Solar Models vs. the Solar Wind
  1. If it starts from rest, what is the final speed of an electron accelerated across a potential difference of 600 million volts?
  2. If it starts from rest, what is the final speed of an proton accelerated across a potential difference of  600 million volts?
  3. Given a cathode at the photosphere and an anode in distant space, which way do the electrons go in this potential?  Which way do the protons go?
  4. What is the speed of the solar wind?  How do the speeds found above compare to the solar wind speed?
  5. What voltage is needed to accelerate protons to the speed of the solar wind?  What voltage is needed to accelerate electrons to the speed of the solar wind?  
  6. How do these voltages compare to the 600 million volts of Birkeland's model?  Is the Birkeland model consistent with these measurements?
Birkeland used a potential between 10,000-20,000 volts in his terella (NAPE, p 151, 553).  Here are some questions related to the parameters of these experiments.
  1. How much speed does an electron obtain in this potential difference?
  2. How much speed does a proton obtain in this potential difference?
  3. What is the mean thermal speed of electrons and protons due to temperature in lab (say 60F?).  Does the electric field overpower the thermal motion?
  4. What is the air pressure in the terella?  The atomic density of the air in the terella?
  5. What is the mean-free-path for atoms in the terella at operating pressure?

Additional References

Sunday, August 2, 2015

PseudoScience & the Ego-Centric Universe

Every once and a while I receive emails and/or comments accusing myself (and/or others who choose to engage pseudo-scientists), of arrogance.  That occurred in the comments to the previous post.  In addition, I recently stumbled across some notes for a response to a previous comment expressing similar sentiments.

Suric: it takes arrogance, lameness, utter self love and desperate need to be in the limelight, to come up with an idea which allows one to erase, in one stroke, anyone's attempt to question and correct.

These are the types of responses when opponents don't have any actual facts to back them up.

Let's examine the commenter's statement piece by piece...

it takes arrogance, lameness...

Who is more arrogant, those who actually plan, build and operate these missions, or those who claim they can who have not demonstrated that they can do even the basics (like calculate spacecraft trajectories, compute particle fluxes) and going so far as to claim that those who CAN do these things are 'faking the data', 'lying to protect the status-quo model', etc.? 

Challenging on this leads to evasion or silence...

...utter self love and desperate need to be in the limelight...

I'm not a research-grade scientist.

However, thanks to a rather broad training in physics that I obtained as an undergraduate and graduate student, I am a sufficiently good generalist that I can do support work with sufficient accuracy and reliability to aid those who actually do research.  I'm quite happy with that.

I've been criticized, told I was wasting my time, by professional scientists, for being willing to deal with the cranks and crackpots.   Though there are others who've actually thanked me for addressing some of the problems created by the cranks.

If I'm doing this to get attention for me, I'm clearly doing something wrong.

Meanwhile, many pseudo-scientists attempt to harass professional scientists (the more prominent the better) in an attempt to raise their profile.  Since the pseudo-scientists can't meet the standards of REAL science, this is probably their only actual accomplishments. come up with an idea which allows one to erase, in one stroke, anyone's attempt to question and correct.

What most cranks, pseudo-scientists, and their supporters fail to address, is the faults in their claimed 'corrections' to the 'status-quo' model.  I've yet to find one of these 'corrections' that has less severe problems than the mainstream problem they claim to correct. 

Consider the Standard Solar Model.   That model, as it exists today, has been developed over the past 100+ years with contributions from hundreds of individuals.  While there are a few stand-out names among the contributors: Cecilia Payne, Henry Norris Russell, Hans Bethe, etc., most of their names are lost to all but those who work actively in the field.

Among pseudo-scientists, there are as many theories as there are ego-maniacs. 

As I have noted before, there are, at minimum, FOUR separate, and outright contradictory Electric Sun models pushed under the "Electric Universe" banner by as many individuals, as well as loads of others lesser known.  You see similar behavior in young-earth creationists, where different 'centers', ICR, CMI, AiG, etc. may utilize the same 'problems' in mainstream science, but often advocate different solutions to the problems, usually oriented around the products which they wish to sell to believers. 

The proponents of each of these models are all hoping their model will 'win', but we have yet to determine:

What is the standard for 'winning'?

While each of these EU or creationist 'researchers' has their own fan club, how many other individuals are actively involved in research on any of these models, as opposed to pushing another radical variant of their own?

But the really funny part which Electric Universe supporters is even with just these four 'Electric Sun' models are so radically different from each other that the proponent of any one of them is calling all the others nonsense. 

EU supporters claim these alternatives can explain such solar mysteries as:
- the solar neutrino deficit (or maybe not)
- the multi-million degree 'temperature' of the chromosphere and corona
- the acceleration of the solar wind (actually more related to the corona temperature)

Yet not only have EU 'theorists' not provided details of these theories with numerical predictions of these claimed 'successes', we have yet to see how any of these models can provide predictions of the particle environment around the Sun where we routinely fly spacecraft. 

Attempts by others to answer these questions not only demonstrates that the model fails.  Presentations of these facts are usually met with bizarre excuses:
  • "You did the computation wrong."  Okay, so demonstrate the 'correct' calculation...
  • "It is up to mainstream science to prove our theory."  So it appears EU 'theorists' want mainstream scientists to do the actual hard work while EU theorists hang around to take the credit?
  • "The EU model isn't sufficiently worked out yet."  If your theory is insufficiently worked out that it cannot provide numerical predictions  which can be compared to measurements, then such a theory is, at best, not a serious contender.  At worst, it is scientific fraud. (see Electric Universe: More Confusing Claims from the EU 'Worldview'
And we still get no 'correct' calculation.

Talk about self-delusion!

Yet while Electric Sun advocates claim these 'corrections' to the Standard Solar Model explain many problems with the model, we have yet to obtain any useful quantitative predictions from these models which we can compare to actual experiments and observations.  And many of these failures of these 'corrections' are things which the Standard Model does well (see also Challenges for Electric Universe Theorists).

Pseudo-science 'models' claim to explain everything, yet can predict nothing except in the most ambiguous fashion, more like the predictions of a tabloid psychic than real scientists.

And if they continue to be confronted with too many challenges which they can't answer, the pseudo-scientists will occasionally resort to claiming some technology was 'faked' (Apollo Moon landings, relativity in the GPS system, space flight in general), to extract themselves from the from the corner into which they've backed themselves.  Then they have to hope none of their fans and supporters get wise to their retreat, but that's usually not that difficult...
“They are not mad. They're trained to believe, not to know. Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous.” -- Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah

The Real Ego-Centric Universe

I'm reminded of the great quote from Schadewald's "Worlds of their Own":
"While orthodox science has had its share of egomaniacs, unorthodox science attracts even more."
EU has never even demonstrated that they understand enough about celestial mechanics to model an interplanetary trajectory as it is developed by the professionals, much less demonstrated that they can model a similar trajectory in a solar system awash in regions of significant charge which they claim exists.  Yet they still claim they are the geniuses and insinuate the people who actually do this stuff are everything from incompetents or liars.

Nature is under no obligation to conform to our expectations...

In legitimate science, we conduct experiments and work to make sure they have results that are reproducible, and predictable.  This practice has made possible technologies that were not possible one hundred, or three hundred years ago.  It is because we now understand, in reproducible mathematical detail, behaviors of atoms and electrons at the atomic scale (making possible the computer on which you are reading this) to the motions of objects in distant space (making possible space missions to the outer reaches of our solar system).  Sometimes this means there are some problems to which real science does not have an immediate answer, which are an ongoing area of research.  Sometimes the answer to the problem requires a revision to what we previously thought we understood well, but there are rigorous procedures for making that determination.

On the other hand, pseudo-science is based on the idea that the Universe must conform to the expectations and/or 'worldview' (i.e. political and/or religious ideologies) of its advocates (see Pseudoscience and 'World-View').  In this model, pseudo-scientists claim they can 'explain' any problem which exists in mainstream science, often at the expense of ignoring well-established science.  Considering how many different (and competing) 'worldviews'  have adopted some form of pseudo-science, or adopted some fact of established science to attack, statistically, what are the odds for ANY of them being correct?!

Which system requires more arrogance?

Monday, July 6, 2015

PseudoScience and Models

With the recent Electric Universe 'conference' in Phoenix AZ, I just had to do a little browse over to the Thunderbolts forum to see if there were any interesting threads related to it.

While not directly related to the conference, there was one interesting recent thread, started by user Metryq, that died a quick death.

Thunderbolts Forum: Space Sim with EU?
There are many space sim/planetarium apps to choose from. Some are "Earth-bound" while others allow one to tour the Solar system, or farther. Many of these apps are like interactive textbooks, delivering only the mainstream view of astronomy.

Some apps, like Celestia (which seems to have fallen out of development), permit mods and add-ons and interactive lessons. Is anyone aware of an app that includes EU material, or perhaps a multi-platform app that would accept an EU mod/lessons? Thunderbolts is promoting EU extremely well, but a space sim might be one more avenue to explore.
The short answer for Metryq is that there are many simulations involving electric fields in space. 

But those simulations just don't demonstrate what Electric Universe supporters claim they would show.  Because if they did, this could have been done a LONG time ago.  Computing power is more than up to the task of doing this. 

Many of the papers on REAL electric effects in space I've documented elsewhere on this blog.
These papers reference known electrical effects in space that are incorporated into simulations that provide important information for the planning of future space missions, such as these
which are also referenced in the Thunderbolts forum:
NONE of these NASA simulations use the gigantic electric arcs and currents claimed to exist by Electric Universe supporters, yet these models work perfectly well in planning the level of protection needed for un-crewed and crewed space missions.  Funny that none of the Electric Universe fans seem capable of comprehending why that might be...

Now many of these simulations are not that difficult to write.  I wrote my first gravitational n-body simulation back in 1979 on an Apple II computer (Wikipedia) using AppleSoft Basic.  All it requires is a good understanding of the necessary mathematics and physics, and access to a sufficiently powerful programming language.  In terms of programming languages, C and C++ are good if you want the better speed of compiled languages.  Python now has extensive scientific libraries and graphical support and is my language of choice when speed is not critical.

I've written numerous other simulations since then.  More recently, I've written some 2-D plasma simulations and even an n-body particle code that combines gravity and electromagnetic forces.
Sample from from one of my 2-D plasma simulations of a ring Birkeland current in a magnetic field flowing perpendicular to the plane of the image.

Modeling of plasmas is routine today, and many can be done without access to supercomputers.  Consider the aspects of plasma modeling I've documented, many of which are now part of standard applications:
So why aren't there similar simulations for Electric Universe models?

If the Electric Universe 'theorists' were as smart as they want their fans to believe, they would have been able to demonstrate this YEARS ago, yet the only models that looked even encouraging, failed many other tests (see Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background).

The bottom line is these simulation programs don't exist because Electric Universe claims of gigantic currents powering stars and galaxies and etching canyons and craters on planets just doesn't work.

General list of failures of Electric Universe models.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Exposing PseudoAstronomy: Big Bang Denial

Stuart Robbins over at Exposing PseudoAstronomy has posted a new podcast on Big Bang Denial (BBD), a topic often covered here.

Stuart goes into a number of the more basic aspects of the problem, mostly from the types of bad reasoning involved.
  • arguments from personal incredulity
  • Dark Matter is fake.  
  • Big Bang cosmology does not describe what started the universe, only how it evolved afterwards - rather like how biological evolution takes place regardless of how life started independent of abiogenesis (wikipedia).
I have explored some additional claims in detail at the links below:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reading: The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, by Ronald Numbers

I recently finished reading the expanded edition of Ronald Numbers "The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design" (Harvard University Press).

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Numbers at the recent Perceptions Project conference and he autographed by copy.

I learned a number of new and useful things from the book.

The book traces the history of various flavors of creationism back significantly further than I had originally thought. After introduced in the late 1880s, Darwinian evolution was actually gaining some acceptance among mainstream Christian denominations until a more fundamentalist revival began to perceive it as a threat and points of resistance arose.   Prior to reading this book, I actually thought creationism was more marginalized, limited to small churches (where I first encountered it in high school) since the Scopes trial (Wikipedia).  I had thought that creationism did not achieve a higher profile until the Louisiana incident settled by the Supreme Court Edwards vs. Aguillard case (Wikipedia) in 1987.

One of the aspects I found most interesting covered in the book was the incredible range of disagreements among religious people over just what the Bible actually said about 'deep history'. There were discussions of the many attempts to form a consistent 'creation model' of the universe. Many different denominations, and even individuals within a denomination, occasionally advocated radically different positions on the age of humanity vs. the age of life vs. the age of the Earth vs. the age of the cosmos. Some creationists wanted to include geocentrism in the creation model, to the disagreement of others (pg 264). This in itself tells you that creationism has no truly objective standard for deciding on the evidence, unlike regular science.

The claim by creationists that they believe the literal truth of the Bible runs afoul of history. The geocentrists and the young-Earthers and the old-Earthers can all find biblical verses supporting their position, or a subset of the models of the other. So how do you determine which is the Truth?  The same Bible has been used to support peaceful coexistence (the Golden Rule) as well as genocide; to support slavery, as well as free slaves; to support segregation as well has inclusion. Invoking the 'literal truth of the Bible' can mean whatever agenda one wishes to impose.

The book mostly explored creationism as it applied to evolutionary biology and geology, with little discussions on cosmology. It focused more on the history of the movement and the interactions between the personalities involved, rather than particular issues of the science itself. Pages 280-281 explored Robert Gentry and his work with polonium halos, a topic which I have explored on this blog.

Chapter 13, titled "Deceptions and Discrimination", explored the persecution, both real and imagined, experienced by creationists when they tried to seek higher degrees. The creationists often hid their inclinations from the university faculty while enrolled in the degree program. However, a severe problem encountered was that many creationists seeking advanced degrees in geology would encounter the incredible level of care exercised by mainstream geologists in determining things such as radioisotope dating or defining the geologic column for a region. It would often grossly contradict all they had been taught in their creationist studies and giving them a crisis of faith. At this point, options were limited for the creationist and those who wished to continue their studies would often switch to safer topics.

One item that I was really hoping to find more about in the book was evidence of the impact of big science projects like the Manhattan Project and the Space Race on the history of the creationism movement. Sadly, I did not really finding anything addressing these issues in any detail. Pages 264-267 mention the impact of the pro-science movement at the start of the Space Race and an effort by creationists to assemble a textbook to compete with the BSCS biology textbook.   Many creationists expressed concerns about finding a publisher for such a textbook as this was shortly after the backlash from the scientific community from the Velikovsky affair (Wikipedia).

While the book did not cover much of my particular areas interest, I found it a very useful history of the movement that I may reference occasionally. I regard it on-par with Robert Schadewald's "Worlds of Their Own".

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Electric Comets: More Failures of the Electric Comet Model

Electric Universe (EU) 'theorists', like creationists and other pseudo-scientists, like to latch onto the anomalies, or things they can try to sell to fans as anomalies, while ignoring the far larger body of agreement with the standard model.  This is much like using the existence of mountains as disproof that Earth is round.

Electric Comet supporters continue this tactic, most recently trying to exploit discoveries of the Rosetta spacecraft currently station-keeping with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Wikipedia).  I consolidate more responses to some of these claims here.  Some of this content has been distilled from the long-running Electric Comet thread at the International Skeptics Forum.  Thanks to many of the individuals who participated in this thread and provided some additional information that has been incorporated into this post.

More Short-Circuited 'Electric Comets'

What about those solar system scale electric currents so important for the Electric Comet model?   Spacecraft measurements have demonstrated that the solar wind is largely neutral.  Small scale electric fields are possible due to inhomogeneities and these amount to a few tens of volts.  High-speed solar wind streams can generate voltages up to a couple thousand when interacting with a solid body, such as a asteroid or spacecraft.  These are known in the standard model and are important in the design of spacecraft.

It takes less than 1000 volts to accelerate protons to the speed of the average solar wind.  It takes even less voltage to accelerate electrons to the same speed.  Yet, if the solar wind acceleration were done predominantly by a large scale electric field, electrons and ions would accelerate in opposite directions!  This is NOT observed!  This qualifies as a Major Electric Comet FAIL.

The Electric Comet Theory of Water Production

Rosetta has detected water coming off comet 67P.  In the standard comet model, this water is due to the sublimation of water-ice which is part of the comet composition.

Some Electric Universe 'theorists' claim the comet is negatively charged, forming water from positive H ions in solar wind combining with negative OH- ions repelled from nucleus.  So we should see OH- and water only ahead of comet, between comet and Sun where it is largely formed, at least according to their model.

Yet the OH ion observed is not OH-, but OH+!  Not only that, but the OH+ and water are observed in the TAIL of comet, always moving away from the nucleus and away from the Sun!  Virtually all ions observed in comet tails are positive ions moving away from the comet!  It positive ions are supposed to be attracted to the negative comet nucleus, according to the Electric comet model, then this too is a Major Electric Comet FAIL.

This is not a problem for the standard comet model as the neutral atoms from the comet are predominantly photo-ionized by solar radiation, which tends to liberate electrons, producing positive ions.

Electric Comet Not So Hot

Electric Universe 'theorists' like to claim the comet nucleus is hot, while measurements clearly show it to presently be quite cold.  As I demonstrated in the original post (Electric Comets II. Of Water & Ice), the temperature about what is expected for a dark body at the present distance from the sun, heated by solar radiation, NOT electrical energy.  This temperature will change as the comet gets closer to the Sun and some of the darker surface material is evaporated away.

WHERE are the explicit predictions of temperature, electric and magnetic fields, water production rates, etc. from Electric Universe theorists which we can compare to actual measurements?  

I and others have repeatedly insisted that Electric Universe supporters provide them.  THOSE are real predictions that can meet scientific standards.  Yet EU 'theorists' persistently make excuses evading these specific predictions, instead producing ambiguous, "it looks like 'x'", and similar weak 'predictions' more like those of a tabloid-psychic, and then claiming success.

So having failed so totally on things we can actually measure, as evidence of the Electric Comet model, such as the motion of charges and ions in the comet vicinity, the Electric Comet supporters retreat to any little thing they can claim is 'anomalous'...

Most of the rest of this post will deal with these types of claims presented by commenter Matt Wood (MW).
MW: The extremely odd double-lobed configuration, the extensive rock and boulder fields in evidence all over the comet seem inexplicable on such a low gravity object. The jagged cliffs and overall decimated and rocky features of the comet also seem to stand in sharp contrast to the theory that these bodies were assembled through accretion. 67P looks exactly like it was ripped from larger body.
How could a double-lobed configuration hold together of it were 'ripped' from a larger body?  After all, structures are usually weaker at their thinnest point.  How did the two lobes manage to hold together through a violent event?

However, if two roughly spherical accreted objects collided at low speed, they might generate just enough heat from their impact to melt a little of the water-ice at sufficient pressure it could liquify and anchor the two components together.  Such an event would be consistent with enhanced water emission from the neck area, where water-ice had an opportunity to melt, differentiate, collect and then refreeze. 

As for the probability of collisions in the Oort cloud or Kuiper Belt, we've already witnessed comets ripped apart by gravitational tides such as comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (Wikipedia).  If the parts did not separate too much after broken apart, some could drift back together, and re-merge from the impact.

Why are there boulders?  Why would there NOT be boulder-shaped material?  Boulders can form from larger objects due to cracking from repeated heating and cooling cycles, much as they can on Earth.  There are probably a few additional processes under the conditions on a comet that go beyond the known Earth processes.
MW: Why does gentle warming on a cometary body produce such huge effects at such great distances and from the coldest regions of the object?
One wonders if Mr. Wood is deliberately ignoring that comets contain significant frozen CO2 in addition to water-ice.   CO2 ice sublimates at significantly lower temperatures than water ice (Wikipedia: Carbon Dioxide).
MW: Would a similar experiment with a dirty chunk of ice placed in a vacuum here on Earth produce the same extreme effects if it was gently warmed?
Again, Mr. Wood ignores the contribution of CO2 in the behavior of comets.  There is a popular classroom demonstration of 'comet making' using dry ice.
MW: And why do we not find visual evidence of these vents that are suppose to be blowing out all over the comet body? They should be visible all over the body but they are never imaged.
A body formed from accretion at low temperatures, with no opportunity for major compositional differentiation throughout, would have water and frozen CO2 well-mixed since they are accreting from a collection of small particles.  'Vents' would probably be so small and well distributed that you would not see them as discrete locations.  Some may erupt in direct sunlight while some on the dark side could erupt via heat conduction through the comet. 
MW: I lean toward the EU explanations. Maybe that makes me uninformed - but the experts who arrived at a bone dry comet with a lander equipped with "ice" harpoons don't look a whole lot smarter or informed that I would be.
How 'dry' is water-ice at T = -68C = -91F?  At these temperatures and pressures, water cannot exist in liquid form (note phase diagram at Electric Comets II. Of Water & Ice).   Precisely what is meant by 'dry'?  Does 'dry' only mean that liquid water doesn't exist, or can't exist? 

Are Electric Universe 'theorists' actually trying to claim that the mainstream model expects puddles of liquid water?
MW: Does 67P look like a product of accretion to you?
What do Electric Universe 'theorists' expect an accreted body, assembled from dust and gas at extremely cold temperatures, to look like?

Take a body formed by accretion in the outer solar system, then take that body and send it towards the inner solar system subject to repeated cycles of heating and cooling where materials will outgas at different rates at different temperatures.  What does that object look like after a few cycles like this?  

Electric Universe 'theorists' want to claim that it would look nothing like what we observe on 67P.  Based on WHAT,  their INTUITION? 

Comets are not just a product of accretion, but billions of years of orbital evolution.  For at least the past century, 67P has been a Jupiter-family comet subject to repeated heating and cooling from solar radiation, repeated cycles of sublimation and freezing.  Why is there more emission at the neck?  Perhaps, as I suggested in the original post above, this was where collision of two bodies generated enough heat to let water become liquid, collect, and refreeze.

How much experience do EU theorists have of these materials at low temperatures, low densities, and against the near vacuum of space?  None that I can find evidence of.   EU 'theorists' routinely exhibit ignorance about the behavior of snow, especially snow mixed with common dirt, subject to repeated heating and cooling of day and night on earth (Electric Comets: Failures of the Electric Comet Model).  Why should anyone believe their comprehension of materials behavior beyond the range of regular human experience?

It's dangerous to apply ones personal experience of materials in the temperatures, pressures of daily experience to radically different materials and environments.  There are people who are seriously injured, or even dead, from making these errors of judgement with materials on Earth under unusual conditions.  I've had a few close-calls myself back in the days when I did more experimental work.
MW: Do you find that odd, or do you think that standard comet theory has successfully predicted what is currently being seen on 67P?

I think the coverage by the EU modelers are making a lot of really excellent observations that standard theory scientists seem to ignore.
Where are those successful predictions again?  Because they were certainly not provided by Mr. Wood.  All of these claimed 'successes' are constructed from blatantly false arguments about what the standard comet model actually says, and/or ambiguous explanations of their own 'Electric comet' model.

Note that all the claims which would provide more direct evidence of the existence of claimed charges and currents, such as claims about the solar wind and comet water production noted above, fail miserably.  

So when that doesn't stick, Electric Universe supporters then fall back on claims about behavior of materials under extreme cold and vacuum where they appear to have even less expertise.  It is becoming something of a running joke among those who've been dealing with Electric Comet claims for some time that Electric Comet supporters seem to have no real experience with even regular SNOW and ICE in the Earth environment, much less dry-ice in space.
MW: I'm no scientist - but these seem like enormous blanks that were not predicted, expected or very easily explainable by current comet theory.
'I'm no scientist' has become the new popular disclaimer from cranks when they say something demonstrating their ignorance.  Many who use this phrase get their information, not from those who do the REAL work, but from posers and wannabes who seek the status without doing the work.

Why would a rational person believe information about the space environment from people (EU 'theorists') who have no experience or training designing and building spacecraft to travel through that environment?

What is even more shameful is that the facts they have chosen to ignore are, for the most part, freely available for anyone examine and explore, should they bother to expend the effort.  Scientific literacy is not just for scientists, it is vital to the economic success and future of any free society.

The success and future of any society (and more most individuals and corporations) depends on their ability to solve problems faster than the problems (and their consequences) accumulate.  Successful solutions require facts, and good science, not arrogant ignorance.
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
John Adams
We need science education to produce scientists, but we need it equally to create literacy in the public. Man has a fundamental urge to comprehend the world about him, and science gives today the only world picture which we can consider as valid. It gives an understanding of the inside of the atom and of the whole universe, or the peculiar properties of the chemical substances and of the manner in which genes duplicate in biology. An educated layman can, of course, not contribute to science, but can enjoy and participate in many scientific discoveries which as constantly made. Such participation was quite common in the 19th century, but has unhappily declined. Literacy in science will enrich a person’s life.
Hans Albrecht Bethe (1961)
Not enough of our society is trained how to understand and interpret quantitative information. This activity is a centerpiece of science literacy to which we should all strive—the future health, wealth, and security of our democracy depend on it. Until that is achieved, we are at risk of making under-informed decisions that affect ourselves, our communities, our country, and even the world.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson
The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
-- George Orwell
Update: June 7, 2015.  Minor grammatical fixes.
Per my comments above about formation mechanisms of the double-lobed structure of the comet nucleus, a recent result has been published on simulations for these structures.  See How comets were assembled

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Real life intervenes...

I was surprised to discover it's been over a month since my last post.

I have been distracted by constructing responses to a number of comments to threads that divert far from the topic of the original post.   The responses are getting rather long and complex as well as overlapping with other comments.  I still think I need to respond to them, but it is taking some work to organize.

Then there's more (expensive) adventures in home ownership that have diverted my time and attention and energy and will probably not settle back to reasonable normalcy until the start of June.

I'm still here.

Work is progressing...

But I'll try to go over some comments that need only short responses and get them released.

For short responses, I might be able to handle email (see the email link on the Profile page).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Of Gravity and Atoms

Mr. Wolynski continues to make several claims in the comments to an earlier thread which I feel are best addressed by a separate post.  I repeat the claims here for more convenient reference:
1. Gravity cannot heat objects (that takes friction, flame, electric current, etc.)

2. Gravity cannot cause charge separation (that takes electric current, friction, flame, etc.)

3. A cloud of gas cannot gravitationally collapse upon itself absent a gravitating body (that would be philosophically unsound). That is unless you want your readers to believe gravitational fields exist absent gravitating objects?

The jab at having some sort of Dunning Syndrome... Well, it does speak volumes of the people I've interacted with. The people who have been educated are the very worst sufferers. They simply cannot recognize how incompetent they actually are. What is worse is that they have been handed titles, which reinforces their poor attitudes towards people who are original.

-Jeffrey Wolynski 
Mr. Wolynski has made these claims but has not defined any experiment which would demonstrate the veracity of any of them. They all seem to be driven by what he thinks he needs to make his other claims about stellar evolution 'true'. It appears that Mr. Wolynski thinks that his 'originality' is somehow evidence for the accuracy of his claims.

'Originality' is not evidence of correctness in science, it is the agreement of model predictions with experimental or observational measurements. 'Original' ideas may be needed to solve problems in leading edge science, but it is generally not very useful in well-established science. Mr. Wolynski's claims suggest a number of follow-up questions which will illustrate where his 'original' ideas fail, and how they are not so 'original'.

Mr. Wolynski apparently does not know what heat is. Heat is due to atoms or other particles in motion and how they exchange energy (Wikipedia: Heat).

Gravity is due to objects with mass. Objects are made of atoms and atoms have mass. Gravitational force is computed by adding up the force contributions between pairs of mass elements, of arbitrary small size, the nature of infinitesimals in calculus (Wikipedia).

Mass is additive. The mass of a body is the sum of the masses of the atoms composing it, less any binding energy created by attractive forces between the atoms (Wikipedia: Mass).

1) Given a spherical cloud of gas the mass of the Earth, and an atom outside that cloud, is Mr. Wolynski saying the atom would not be attracted to the cloud of gas? If he wants to say that the atom is not attracted to the Earth-mass of gas, then how does Earth being 'solid/liquid' make a difference? 

2) Or is Mr. Wolynski saying that atoms do not have mass? 

That would be contrary to experiment (Wikipedia: Atomic Mass).

3) Is Mr. Wolynski saying that inertial mass (the particle mass used in F=ma) is different than gravitational mass (the particle mass used in the gravitational force equation)? 

This would also be contrary to experiment (Wikipedia: Eötvös experiment).

4) At rest, say 50 miles above the surface of the Moon, so we can neglect air friction, you drop a bowling ball. The ball falls towards the Moon, gaining velocity and therefore energy. The ball hits the surface, and perhaps penetrates into the surface before stopping. Where did the kinetic energy from the velocity go? Better yet, where did the kinetic energy come from? 

At rest, say 50 miles above the surface of Earth, so we can include air friction, you drop a bowling ball. The ball falls towards Earth, gaining velocity and therefore energy. As the ball enters the atmosphere, it collides with air molecules, transferring some of its kinetic energy to them (heat) and slowing its own motion (drag). The gravitational potential energy of the bowling ball is converted to kinetic energy which is transferred to the surrounding air in the form of heat. Gravity is providing the energy that is converted to heat. If gravitation can cause objects to move and those moving objects collide to exchange energy, part of that energy can take the form of heat.

5) Is Mr. Wolynski saying mechanical energy cannot be converted to heat? 

This is also contrary to experiment, as well as loads of technologies (Wikipedia: Mechanical Equivalent of Heat).

One of the underlying themes in Mr. Wolynski's claims appears to be the erroneous assumption that atoms do not count as gravitating bodies.

The force of gravity is symmetric between gravitating bodies - the force created by mass A on mass B is the same as the force of mass B on mass A. This appears to be true if A is an atom and B is a planet. Why would it not be true for two atoms?

Experiments do indicate that individual subatomic particles respond to gravity:
6) If gravitating bodies are made of atoms, and atoms have mass, why aren't atoms gravitating bodies? 

Laboratory experiments with gravity (Cavendish Experiment, and later versions) with objects of known mass reinforces the evidence that the mass used in the gravitational equations is the sum of the masses of the component atoms.

Similar experiments can demonstrate charge separation under gravity:

a) Given a plasma at a constant temperature (to simplify the analysis) which particles have the highest average speed: electrons, ions, or do both travel at the same average speed?

b) given the answer to (a), which particles will, on average, travel higher in a gravitational field? If so, the charge distribution is not uniform and a net electric field is possible. This was demonstrated back in the 1920s (see The Real Electric Universe).

As we can see, Mr. Wolynski's claims are certainly not 'original'. These types of questions were asked by a number of individuals going back a hundred years or more. Today, Mr. Wolynski's claims are not that different from those made by random individuals long ignored because their so-called 'original ideas' were settled long ago.

Did Mr. Wolynski do any research to check for possible problems with his 'hypotheses'? Apparently not.

In the scientific community, we usually have colleagues of equivalent professional background with whom we can bounce off ideas. There are probably loads of theories that die in this very early stage. Sometimes the idea gets a little further, maybe with early experimental tests or more sophisticated theoretical modeling. Sometimes the idea survives initial scrutiny to get experiments or an even more detailed theoretical examination and gets written up into a paper which is then submitted for publication. For reputable publishers, the paper is then sent out for peer-review and other researchers are able to check the ideas and results for possible errors. If the paper survives that process, it makes it to publication. That doesn't guarantee it is free of errors, it just means that a certain amount of error checks have been completed and it is presented to the wider community.
Yet Mr. Wolynski wants to claim that educated people whom he has 'interacted with' have had their titles 'handed to them'.  This is a common attitude displayed by cranks towards professionals when their errors are pointed out. As documented above, Mr. Wolynski has apparently not even conducted the BASIC research necessary to test his claims. He has no comprehension of just how much he does not know, and has concluded that he is correct and everyone else must be wrong. The people Mr. Wolynski wants to claim have had titles handed to them probably know more about applying the theory of gravity to solve real problems than Mr. Wolynski, who has demonstrated no competence in the topic beyond his 'say-so'.

I would say that I have appropriately applied the Dunning-Krueger and I leave it to others to explore Mr. Wolynski's score on The Crackpot Index.

Being a crank is a choice.

Myself, as well as other people who are doing real science today, had our own dalliances is various pseudo-sciences. Years ago, I did a lot of examination of UFOs, Velikovsky, ancient astronauts, etc. and was a big fan of it. What can I say, it was the 1970s (From Pseudo-Science to Real Science).

Pseudo-science certainly has an appeal. Fans of pseudo-science get to feel like they know something special that others do not. The more narcissistic types will probably try and start their own branch of a pseudo-science, cutting-and-pasting ideas from different areas as if they're ordering at a cafeteria.

But one thing I noticed in common with virtually all the pseudo-scientists I've encountered on this blog and elsewhere is the cranks are never actually using their pseudo-science to do anything real in an area impacted by the pseudo-science they advocate.

- Electric Sun and Electric Comet supporters make all kinds of claims about the plasma environment of the solar system - but are any of them actually designing and building missions to fly through the environment they claim?

Nope (see Challenges for Electric Universe Theorists).

 - Relativity deniers claim special and/or general relativity are wrong, but are any of them designing the next generation, higher precision GPS system?

Nope (see Global Positioning System).

Pseudo-science is for posers, people who want credit for the real work the did not, and cannot, do themselves.

But at some point I (and others) made a choice to actually learn some REAL science, science that people use to do REAL stuff, like build leading-edge instruments or send satellites into space. That required abandoning many self-delusions of grandeur, but it has other, REAL rewards.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Perceptions Project

On Friday, March 13, 2015, I attended a conference down at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.  The conference was part of the Perceptions Project sponsored by the AAAS.  It is part an effort to build a better bond between scientific and religious communities.

Perceptions: Science & Religious Communities

Science and religion issues are often fought at the extremes.  A goal of conference is to improve communication so that more moderate voices in religious community, who also accept science, can make it clear to other religious people, specifically in the evangelical community, that it is not an either-or situation.  The conference was focused on the issues of origins,  more specifically human origins and issues of global warming/climate change.

I ran into Eugenie Scott of NCSE shortly before the conference opening.  We have met a couple of times before.

A also ran into a few people whose name I knew, but whom I had never met.  I was even surprised by a few who were familiar with this blog.

Ronald Numbers (Wikipedia), author of the book, The Creationists (Wikipedia) which is a history of the creationist movement mostly since the publication of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.  Dr. Numbers autographed my copy of his book. 

Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe.  I have followed some of the work by RTB and have written some on it before, having attended one of their local seminars.  I used to follow some RTB podcasts, but they changed their feed a couple of years ago and I failed to follow-up.

I met the current president of the Biologos organization, which was originally started by Francis Collins of NIH (Wikipedia).  They are a group of Christians who take the extra step of accepting the scientific evidence for human evolution.  I don't know that much about this organization, but I plan to do a little more research and might start linking to some of their resources when I want to address the biological evolution aspects in a Christian-friendly way.

I also had an enjoyable conversation with a member of a local Dominican School (I think he was a student, but he could have been an instructor) who talked about the history of their Order in science.  We also discussed some Fundamentalist groups in Catholicism (Wikipedia: Dominican Order, Albertus Magnus).

The primary emphasis of the conference was that science does not necessarily have to be the enemy of religious belief. 

I've got over six pages of notes from the conference, and may write more about it in the future.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Relativity Denial: Career cost?

Yet another comment whose response became too long for the Blogger comment system.
From the comment stream of Pseudo-Astro: Black Holes and Other Relativity Denial:
Ignoring GR/black hole theory does not harm future scientists and their studies of the stars.

That is unless you can name me one example in which someone studied the stars, and their ignoring of GR/black holes has adversely affected their career?

Seems to me their acceptance resembles the concept of God in seminary. Believe in them or you shall not pass! LOL!

-Jeffrey Wolynski
The importance of General Relativity in stellar evolution depends on the nature of the studies.  Studies of stellar formation, which occupy the lower density regime of the stellar lifetime, might not have problems ignoring relativity.  However, relativity impacts so many additional aspects of atomic physics (atomic absorption and emission in moving flows, etc), that someone who actively ignored the effects would have too many ideas that would just fail under rigorous testing.  Before long, such researchers would get no funding because too many of their ideas would fail to match observations or experiments.  A number of the real incompetents will claim that they're geniuses being victimized by conspiracies, etc. (Neurologica: Lessons from Dunning-Krueger).  

At higher density regimes, such as high-mass stars, relativistic effects become important for structural changes due to gravity, and energy production mechanisms, such as pair plasmas.  If the researcher wants to claim something other than relativity, they had better be working from an idea that can pass the basic tests where relativity has done well.
As for someone who 'ignoring GR/black holes adversely affected their career.'

Adversely affected defined how?   I know loads of former grad students who washed out for various reasons.  Now days, the real relativity denier rarely makes it to grad school because their relativity denial causes them to flunk other things in doing physics.  Instrument precision is now sufficiently high that relativity can impact a number leading-edge laboratory applications (see ArsTechnica: Einstein’s time dilation apparent when obeying the speed limit).

Then there's active, working applications such as the GPS system (links)...

Anyone who denies some component of well-established science limits their own career options.  Their chance of useful discoveries is lower, so granting agencies, etc. are less willing to invest in them. 

For the most part, very few of these cranks ever actually become physicists or astronomers, though a large number manage to become engineers.  I do know of a few support scientists who advocate various crank ideas, but they're kept on because in some sub-field of their actual employment, they are competent.  There are a few I suspect were forced to retire because their crank ideas began to have negative impacts on their professional responsibilities.  Engineers engaged in relativity denial are probably competent to do run-of-the-mill engineering, but they won't be qualified for engineering applications requiring high-precision positional or timing information.  The engineers in the GPS program who doubted relativity effects in the early days of the program (see Scott Rebuttal. I. GPS & Relativity and related links from the earlier post) are probably long gone.

If the account manager in a business doesn't believe in sound accounting principles (also backed by mathematics), do you keep them on the job?

Historically, there are a number of researchers who developed problems with relativity later in their career which had some negative impacts.  Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) believed General Relativity, but didn't believe black holes could form (Wikipedia: Arthur Eddington).  Later in his career, Eddington got involved in some progressively stranger, and sillier, scientific ideas (see Bethe's Spoof).  Then there was Herbert Dingle (1890-1978) (Wikipedia) who claimed to demonstrate a logical contradiction from the 'twin paradox' (MathPages: Dingle and the Twins) but this happened after his retirement.

Relativity is no longer a question of belief, like a fairy tale or religion, any more than the theory of gravity or atoms, or electrons or thermodynamics.  It is a matter that you can make numerical predictions that we can compare to observations and measurements and a great majority of them match to high precision.

While relativity denial might have been justified 50-100 years ago, relativity is now so integrated into techniques and technologies that denying its validity, especially in the realms where it is routinely used, is equivalent to denying the reality of atoms.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Relativity Denial: Messin' with c

Relativity, now passing its first century, continues to be one of the bugaboos of pseudo-scientists.  In spite of repeated attempts to prove it logically inconsistent, etc. occasionally by professional scientists about 50 years ago, it continues to be one of the best tested physical theories we have. 

Still, modern-day relativity deniers keep picking up on reports of laboratory experiments which reportedly 'alter' the speed of light.  Perhaps they think that such reports indicate relativity is showing a few cracks of impending failure?  This thinking is sometimes encouraged by sensationalistic science reporting.

Few, okay, probably NONE, of the anti-relativity cranks I've encountered recognize that the results of these experiments are actually predicted due to some rather counter-intuitive effects of the wave nature of light.  Such effects are perfectly consistent with relativity and do not signal a 'problem' with the theory.

I was recently directed by a commenter (comment to be released when I complete responses to it) arguing against relativity to a paper published under Science Express:
"Spatially structured photons that travel in free space slower than the speed of light." Science, 347(6224):857–860, 2015. doi: 10.1126/science.aaa3035.
I guess they were promoting the paper as evidence that the theory of relativity is about to fall.

So I read the paper and was not surprised to find that the authors had found another technique for reducing the speed of photons (yes, it has been done before), consistent with propagating them at the group velocity.  This method works perfectly within the known relationships of wave phase and group velocities for the same old value of the speed of light, c.  Some of this is even described in the introduction to the paper.

Waves can be described by three different speeds, the wave velocity, c, the phase velocity v_p, and the group velocity, v_g.  These three parameters are related by

v_g * v_p = c^2

which is one of the equations in the second paragraph of the paper.  These distinctions are commonly important at microwave frequencies for waveguides.  Note that if v_g goes less than c, v_p will always be greater than c and vice versa.

As the authors of the paper note, they have significantly reduced the GROUP velocity in empty space of a wave packet by a technique that has not been used before, which works for propagating the photons across free space.  The wave velocity, c, as well as other aspects of relativity, is not impacted.  There is no violation of established physics here, in spite of some rather odd wording.

There were a number of statements in the paper alluding to the fundamental nature of the speed of light:
"That the speed of light in free space is constant is a cornerstone of modern physics. ''
"The speed of light in free space propagation is a fundamental quantity. It holds a pivotal role in the foundations of relativity and field theory, as well as in technological applications such as time-of-flight measurements."
But I saw nothing in the paper indicating the results had any actual implications for relativity, a point which the authors clarify:
``Our measurement of group velocity is strictly a measurement of the difference in propagation speed between a reference photon and a spatially structured photon. No direct measurement of the speed of light is made. Within this manuscript, the velocity we measure is strictly the group velocity of the photons"
``Beyond light, the effect observed will have applications to any wave theory, including sound waves.''
Notice that the authors do clarify that this result is important for the wave nature of light, but make no mention for any possible impact on relativity.

Thanks to Dr. Padgett for helpful feedback clarifying the results of this work.

Why do Anti-Relativity Cranks Gravitate to these Stories?

Like most science fiction fans, myself growing up on the original Star Trek (wikipedia), I've always been fond of the idea of Faster-than-Light travel.  Numerous researchers have explored possibilities for object moving faster than light.  I was a big fan of tachyons (wikipedia) when I first read about them in high school and subsequently wrote a review of the physics literature (as it existed up to the late 1970s) as an undergraduate writing project.  I do hope that we will one day find a way to get around the limitation for interstellar travel, but I do recognize that the theory that makes it possible will be an EXTENSION of the existing theory of relativity, much like General Relativity is an extension of Newtonian gravity.

While this may be the motivation of a number of anti-relativity cranks, there are also a number who are opposed to relativity for social, political, or religious reasons.

Perhaps it feeds on the word games which are common in pseudo-science circles.  The popular statement used in the scientific community is that nothing can exceed the speed of light.  Therefore any report of light traveling slower than the maximum speed means that the statement is not strictly true, and therefore must allow all manner of other possibilities.  It's a cute word game, used commonly in politics, religion, and comedy. 

Creationists love to pull these kinds of rabbits out of their hats in debates with evolutionists, as evidence that some important physical law may not be so certain.  Catching an opponent by surprise can win points in debate class, but in science, the details and the math matter. 

Reality does not play word games.

And why they are Wrong...

In many popularizations, we like to say that the speed-of-light is the limiting speed in our universe.  We call it the 'speed of light' because it was the earliest measurement we had of something traveling at this ultimate speed. 

But it may more correctly be defined by some principle more fundamental, and light just happens to max-out at that speed.  Light travels at this speed because the photon is mass-less and the translational symmetry of position and time (no preferred location or time) creates a relationship between rest mass, energy and momentum of particles (a consequence of Noether's Theorem (wikipedia).  A zero rest-mass particle will always travel at the speed of light.

It has been known since the early days of relativity that the Lorentz transformations can be derived WITHOUT the assumption of constancy of the speed of light in all reference frames.  The basic assumptions of uniformity in how we measure time and spatial positions in reference frames (basically saying that any clocks and measuring sticks I can use on Earth will behave exactly the same on a spacecraft traveling at high speed relative to Earth) permit TWO different solutions for transformations between moving reference frames.

One solution is the Galilean transformations. 

The other transformation solution defines an invariant velocity.  These transformations become the Lorentz transformations if the invariant velocity is equal to what we call the 'speed of light'.

Light, under optimum conditions, travels at this cosmic speed limit.  There's nothing wrong with it traveling slower.

Additional Resources: 

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Real Electric Universe: Inspired by Velikovsky?

I find myself with an annoying backlog of posts that are almost ready, along with a bit of "writer's block" on just how to complete them satisfactorily for posting.  I'm also preparing some posts related to some inquiries in my comment stream, as well as some 'behind-the-scenes' upgrades to this effort.

So for a while, I'm going repost and polish up some of the items that I contributed to the recently invigorated "Electric Comet" thread over at the International Skeptics Forum.  That thread was rather quiet for a while as it topped 100 pages long, but has been continued in a new thread.

In response to my noting that astronomers and space physicists DO consider electric fields in space (see 365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe) there was one of the claims by the participant Haig which I had not seen before:
Gee Tom, sounds like your trying to re-write Electromagnetism Space Science history.

A major catalyst for independent re-consideration of electricity and magnetism in space came in 1950, with the publication of Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision.

Mainstream at that time denied Electromagnetism in Space or ANY need for it.
My original response to this claim is here (ISF), but in this post I'll fill in more of the details.

I have loads of papers exploring cosmic electrical phenomena prior to the publication of Worlds in Collision in 1950, so Haig's statement is demonstrably false.

The big jump in the study of electrical phenomena in space was the advent of space flight.   With the early high-altitude sub-orbital rockets like Aerobee (Wikipedia) and Viking (Wikipedia), came the prospect that we could do actual measurements of particles and fields in space.  The success of the scientific community in contributing technologies for the Allied win of World War II combined with the competition of the coming Cold War made nations around the world expand their efforts to understand the space environment, especially the space near Earth, which could become the next High Frontier.

But even prior to this, researchers looked for evidence of electric and magnetic fields in space.  For a number of years, the difficulty was that most of our knowledge of the space environment came via light, which meant that the most direct measurements of distant magnetic and electric fields came via the Zeeman effect (Wikipedia) and the Stark effect (Wikipedia) which affected spectral lines emitted by atoms in the respective fields.

After setting up geomagnetic observatories around the Earth in the early 1840s with Weber, Carl Gauss (Wikipedia, Phy6) recognized that most of the geomagnetic field was internal, but some components could be from electric currents high in Earth's atmosphere.

This is just a subset of the papers that I have found, in English, and read, related to electric fields in space, prior to the publication of Worlds In Collision.  In this list, I've not included Birkeland or Alfven's work, though I have referenced those who made use of their work, such as Carl Stormer.  This illustrates how these studies were far from limited to researchers promoted by Electric Universe supporters.   I've added comments to some of these entries.
Note that many of these are published in astronomical publications, Astrophysical Journal, The Observatory, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, etc.  so the claim by Electric Universe supporters that the astronomical community denied electric fields in space is clearly bogus.

Electric Universe (EU) advocates continue to deny this long history of the legitimate study of electric fields in space, attempting to rewrite the history.  Many of these earlier works ruled out EU claims that comets/planets/stars/galaxies/whatever derive their energy output by electrical means from some still unknown generator.  This makes it easy for EU advocates to claim any modern day mention of electric fields in the space science and astronomy community is evidence of their specific claims.  It's rather like a psychic claiming there will be a major earthquake or major celebrity death in the coming year.  It's only a surprise to people who don't pay attention to the number of large earthquakes and celebrity deaths occur every year!

Electric Universe supporters continue their track record of poor scholarship, in additional to supporting a 'theory' that has yet to generate useful predictions for planning space missions (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'...).

Additional References