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


Michael Mozina said...

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

Much of the post above addressed, claims made by Mr. Mozina in an earlier comment thread and my first response.

Followup Mozina's claims: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and my response.

Here I'll follow-up on Mr. Mozina's claims on the Thunderbolts Forums: Professional misconduct with respect to public EU/PC haters. related to the post above.

It is becoming clear that Mr. Mozina has either not read Birkeland's major work, or didn't comprehend it if he did, as I have documented each of these statements and Mr. Mozina continues his denials and distortions.

Mozina:" I specifically sent Mr. Bridgman a link to a New York Times article that covers a lecture that was given by Birkeland about a decade after he published the volume that Bridgman is using as a reference."

This statement, made several times in his reply, illustrates the sorry state of Mr. Mozina's scholarship as he did not even check the publication dates for NAPE (The Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition). The expeditions occurred in 1902-1903. As I pointed out above, Section 1 of NAPE was published in 1908 and Section 2 in 1913 (and the preface is dated September 1913). It was NOT published a decade before the February 1913 NYT article as Mr. Mozina claims. These dates are very clearly stated in the online copy of the full text book I linked above under Additional References.

Mr. Mozina even QUOTES my statements about the NAPE publication date in the Thunderbolts thread, then denies those facts. Incredible stupidity or incredible arrogance?

One would certainly expect Birkeland's own writing on the topic would be more complete about his intent than a popular press article that might include only a fraction of the interview content as well as paraphrasing by the reporter. To REPEATEDLY treat the NYT article as a primary source when a better source, written by the original author, is freely available and dated later than the NYT source might only be justifiable to reconstruct historical development, NOT to define a scientific model.

Mr. Mozina promotes a falsehood that could be checked by anyone, yet as of this writing, not even his fans on the Thunderbolts thread questioned this.

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

Mozina response part 2

Birkeland clearly describes three different cathode-anode configurations and goes into various aspects of their implications (which will appear in Part II of 'The Three Suns of Kristian Birkeland'), based on the understanding of the day. That Birkeland might have had a personal preference for one is beside the point - he was enough of a professional researcher to examine more than just his 'pet theory'. This is particularly important considering that Birkeland recognized that his 'pet theory' had significant problems.

And Mr. Mozina continues his twisting of his claims, from initially claiming that Birkeland only had one solar model to now claiming it's Birkeland's 'favorite' model that actually counts.


Mr. Mozina is still making the claim that electrons and protons are emitted by the Sun and will travel in the same direction in a 600 million volt electric potential. That is still flunking BASIC electromagnetism. Re-iterating from my response in comments of the previous post:

Two options for solar wind according to Mozina's interpretation of Birkeland:
- electrons and ions move outward from the Sun
- an electric potential of 600 million volts exists between the solar photosphere and interplanetary space.
BOTH cannot be true - it is a physical impossibility.

Opposite charges accelerate in opposite directions in an electric potential. Electrons are repelled from the negative electrode (cathode) towards the positive electrode (anode) and positive ions will accelerate from the anode towards the cathode, the opposite direction. That is Electromagnetism 101. If you want to drag the ions along, you can't have an anode sitting out in space, as it will repel them.

Birkeland would certainly have known this, so I suspect Birkeland either planned to explore these contradictory conditions as separate models, but did not live long enough to publish clarifications, or it is one of the reasons he reports that he can't get them to work.

Before we knew just what they were, they were called cathode rays because they came from the cathode and were distinctly different from the anode rays. It was later that we learned that these cathode rays were negative-charged particles, now called electrons. Anode rays (positive particles) come from the anode. Birkeland's 'cathode sun' model can only emit electrons, by definition. The diagram of Mozina's "Birkeland" model at The Sad State of the Electric Sun(s) - Not So Bright is correct, Mr. Mozina is wrong.

If Mr. Mozina wants to claim otherwise, he better show REAL evidence beyond his physically impossible re-interpretations of Birkeland's speculations that he did not resolve. He treats Birkeland's statements as if Birkeland is some infallible 'Electric Pope' when Birkeland was human like any scientist, and he made mistakes.

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

Mozina response part 3

Mozina: "Let me clue you in Mr. Bridgman. No solar theory, no cosmology theory, and in fact no theory in physics rises or falls on the math skills of yours truly. Nobody owes you any guestimated numbers that are best discovered in the lab to begin with. "

I have little doubt about Mr. Mozina's lack of mathematical comprehension, but he never seems to let his ignorance of a topic interfere with him making declarations about it.

Fortunately there are people who are good enough to do it. THEY are the ones who actually get figure out how the science really works to guide the engineering and build working technologies.

So Mr. Mozina has to wait for lab experiments to determine the speed of electrons and protons in an electric potential difference?

Just how many lab experiments does Mr. Mozina need before he can do a simple calculation that has been done by REAL plasma physicists, astronomers, and electrical engineers and many others for nearly 100 years!?

Birkeland himself published electron speed estimates in NAPE for his voltages (if Mr. Mozina had actually read NAPE, you'd think he'd know this), though Birkeland did use the Abraham energy-speed relationship which yielded a speed a bit off. This is understandable since the correct Lorentz relationship was still uncertain at that time (Electromagnetic Mass). But that uncertainty would be resolved shortly thereafter. Irving Langmuir used the low-voltage & velocity relationship in work he published that laid the foundations for the scientific analysis of discharges and plasmas.

This voltage-velocity relationship has been tested quite heavily in everything from the development and operation of electron tubes used in radios and televisions, the cathode-ray tubes for the original television displays, and particle accelerators. The speed of the electrons was a vital piece of knowledge since that determines the switching speed of these devices. Relativity effects even became important in large screen CRTs. The highest energy explored for electrons I've found is 50GeV - almost 100x more energy than Birkeland's model, and for protons it has been tested at even higher energy.

Is Mr. Mozina claiming all the mathematical analysis, by Langmuir, Alfven, and other plasma physicists, including Birkeland is bogus? Consider particularly the particle trajectories Birkeland computes in NAPE, pp 678-684 or 698-706. The terms in the equations like dx/dt, dy/dt, and dz/dt are velocities in these equations which are included implicitly in the calculation. But I suspect that fact is far beyond Mr. Mozina's comprehension.

This claim from Mr. Mozina really demonstrates the uselessness of Electric Universe 'theory' compared to real science. Electric Universe 'theorists' claim to explain everything, but can compute nothing of measurable quantities.

Computing this particle speed through a low-density (significantly less than air) plasma is one of the SIMPLEST tests possible. And the results of that computation demonstrates just how miserably Electric Sun models fail, as myself (and others) have demonstrated on this blog and elsewhere. Electric Sun advocates need every excuse they can dream up to avoid and evade doing this rather basic high-school physics computation, because the moment they do this, it is GAME OVER for Electric Sun models.

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

Mozina response part 4

Even more bizarre is while Mr. Mozina is dismissing the simple computation from above that has had a century of testing and utilization by engineers, he wants to continue invoking the 'walking-speed solar convection' claim which is based on a very complex helioseismology analysis that has (as of this writing) less than five years of testing. He doesn't trust the simple computation, but blindly accepts early interpretations of the complex calculation? This seems very inconsistent on his part, but that is not too surprising.

But if Mr. Mozina insists on laboratory verification before doing any calculation, then:

- What laboratory experiment verified the orbital velocity for Earth before the first rocket was ever launched into orbit? What about escape velocity for going to the Moon and other planets? Or do Electric Universe advocates regard space flight as a hoax?

- What laboratory experiment would Mr. Mozina suggest for determining the amount of radiation shielding needed by Solar Probe Plus, which will travel to within about 10 solar radii from the Sun. What experiment will be used to determine the radiation flux (light and particles) at that distance from the Sun where no spacecraft has yet actually travelled? Does Mr. Mozina and other Electric Sun supporters think the builders of Solar Probe Plus are just going to slap some lead plates on it and hope for the best?.

- What laboratory testing has been done on the helioseismic analysis which he claims is evidence of 'his' model?

Or does Mr. Mozina only believe the math when convenient for whatever agenda he's trying to promote?

But the most pathetic item of all is Mr. Mozina's whining about how I won't 'debate' him or how I took three weeks to respond to him:

Mozina: "I had to wait three weeks for Mr. Bridgman to even post my previous response on his website, and we all know that he’s hiding behind his own website because he cannot handle an open and fair debate on this topic in a live forum."

I've already specified why I don't do these types of 'show' debates (Pseudoscience, 'Debates' & Unintended Consequences). Mr. Mozina wants to use this ploy to raise HIS status in the hierarchy of Electric Universe crankery, and I will not assist him.

Mr. Mozina evades the fact that we actually ARE doing a debate, but more in the style consistent with science, where facts are used and false statements can be challenged, with no constraint on time. As demonstrated above, Mr. Mozina is willing to use false claims at the drop of a hat. Such tactics convey some advantages in 'show' or debates with time limits like Mr. Mozina wants, but such deceptions are not the way to find what actually works in science.

If Mr. Mozina wants to whine because I took three weeks to respond, then he needs to get a life. HE does not control my schedule, nor is he my primary audience. My responses often go through one or two drafts as I check my facts. Maybe he should use the extra time to check his so-called 'facts'.

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

At this writing, it’s been almost four weeks since Mr. Mozina posted his accusations on Thunderbolts, Professional misconduct with respect to public EU/PC haters, and "Christian" forums, Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy!, claiming that I have misrepresented and/or distorted the work of Kristian Birkeland and other Electric Universe (EU) claims. These threads have been very quiet for three weeks since I posted my follow-up above to Mr. Mozina’s accusations where I document the blatant falsehoods of his statements and/or sloppiness of his scholarship.

Here I will point out yet another case of Mr. Mozina ‘cherry-picking’ his evidence, ignoring evidence IN HIS SOURCE, for his errors.

In ChristianForums, Mr. Mozina links to an article by William J. Burke, Kristian Birkeland's Message from the Sun: Its Meaning Then and Now. Burke was one of the co-authors of the Birkeland biography that I read as part of my research on Birkeland, as noted above under Additional References.

But again I wonder if Mr. Mozina even bothers to read his claimed references. Mr. Mozina wants to advocate for Birkeland’s ‘cathode sun’ model AND claim that electrons and positive ions would travel outward from the Sun. To this end, he uses this quote from Burke:

Burke: “To the objection that the cathode rays would be torn apart by Coulomb repulsion long before they reached Earth (e.g. Schuster, 1911), Birkeland responded that cathode rays escaping the Sun drag positive ions along with them. Thus, material found between the Sun and the Earth should be an electrically neutral ionized gas, with roughly the same number of positive as negative charged particles.” (pg 12)

But Mr. Mozina did not bother to include beyond what he found convenient for his quote-mining, particularly where Burke notes:

Burke: “Birkeland’s notion of electrostatic acceleration as the way nature accelerates particles away from the Sun was erroneous. Violent electromagnetic processes beyond his ken were the real culprits.” (pg 20)

For those who are electromagnetically-challenged, this means that there is NO 600 million volt potential responsible for the electron acceleration. This is the fact which breaks the ‘cathode sun’ model and part of the analogy with Birkeland’s terella.

This goes back to the point I made above:
1) you can have the 600 million volt potential between the photosphere and heliopause,
2) protons moving away from the Sun with the electrons.

BOTH cannot be true.

Birkeland was just as capable as others to do this calculation and see this problem, and between 1911 and 1913, he hypothesized two other solar models in an attempt to solve it. But even Birkeland recognized that those alternatives didn’t work.

But apparently Mr. Mozina’s understanding of electromagnetism is insufficient to see that, or he is deliberately distorting the facts which are inconvenient to his agenda.

Again, who is engaged in the misconduct?

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

In the same paper which Mr. Mozina references above, Dr. Burke makes additional points about what Birkeland got wrong about the aurora, which Mr. Mozina also conveniently ignores.

Burke: “His laboratory experiments suggested that energetic electrons from the Sun are the immediate causes of auroral emissions. The trajectories of incoming cathode rays indeed seemed to follow closely those mathematically predicted by Størmer. However, it turned out that solar wind electrons have much lower energies than those used in the Størmer-Birkeland calculations. The low-energy electrons can only reach the auroral ionosphere directly from the solar wind along magnetic field lines connected to the day-side cusps.” (pg 20).

This transient process was detected by THEMIS and requires part of a solar magnetic field line, which guides the particles from the Sun to the Earth, to ‘reconnect’ to a terrestrial magnetic field line.
NASA Spacecraft Make New Discoveries About Northern Lights
Magnetic "Ropes" Connect the Northern Lights to the Solar Wind

While Electric Universe supporters often like to quote this THEMIS result as some evidence of their claims, it requires the process of ‘magnetic reconnection’. Magnetic reconnection is also a process that Mr. Mozina and well as other Electric Universe supporters are on record as denying exists (On Magnetic Reconnection and "Discharges").

Burke: "Most electrons responsible for auroral emissions reach the ionosphere after having first been stored and accelerated in a part of the Earth’s magnetosphere called the plasma sheet." (pg 22)


Burke: "Birkeland’s basic intuition was essentially correct. Solar electrons reaching the upper atmosphere create aurorae. However, neither he nor anyone else of his generation or the next understood that auroral electrons first must be trapped and accelerated in the Earth’s magnetosphere. Trajectories calculated by Størmer and simulated in terrellas most aptly simulate those of high-energy cosmic rays of solar or galactic origin penetrating the Earth’s magnetic field (Figure 14) not auroral particles." (pg 22).

This again makes the point that under most conditions, there is no direct connection between auroral electrons and the Sun, again breaking the analogy with Birkeland’s terella.

Burke: "Fukushima (1969) realized that with only ground-based measurements it is impossible to decide whether Birkeland’s field-aligned currents were present or absent." (pg 23).

Even Birkeland understood the existence of these currents were just an hypothesis. As Birkeland notes:

"These current-arrows, however, are only a geometrical representation of the perturbing forces, and indicate nothing whatever as to the existence of such currents." (pg 439, NAPE)

Regardless of the disagreements between Birkeland and Chapman (and Chapman actually references some of Birkeland’s work), Fukushima demonstrated that Birkeland and Chapman models made the same predictions for ground-based measurements, which is not too surprising since this was the only data they had. The two models could only be distinguished by space-based measurements.

Anonymous said...

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

Responding to Anonymous:

Embarrassed by the facts, Mr. Mozina continues to document his ignorance of basic electromagnetism and now tries to claim that a POPULAR PRESS ARTICLE is a more complete representation of Birkeland’s science than Birkeland’s own writing…


Anyone with any experience with the press knows that what gets written in the final article is almost always a subset of all that was said, due to everything from page limits by the paper editors to preferences of the author. To claim a NEWSPAPER article is a more complete representation of a scientific result over and above the original paper is an act that can only be described as desperate.

"The disintegration theory, which has proved of the greatest value in the explanation of the radio-active phenomena, may possibly also afford sufficient explanation as to the origin of the sun's heat." NAPE, Preface page iv (October 1908).

The idea that nuclear energies were the source of the Sun’s energy was certainly not original to Birkeland. While ‘transmutation’ was a term coming into use, at the time of Birkeland’s work, only radioactive disintegration was known. I’ve found no indication that Birkeland suspected any of the other nuclear processes, such as fission or fusion, which would be discovered years after his death.

Since Schuster responded to Birkeland’s model in 1911 (1911RSPSA..85...44S), we know the cathode model was at least in circulation to the general community by then.

A preface (Wikipedia) can be written at the start of a work, or after the book is complete to properly thank other contributors, etc.
Almost certainly, parts of NAPE were written over the five years between Book 1 & Book 2. It benefits the author to accurately date things, considering if Birkeland wanted to maintain credit for his ideas against similar models by others, he would want the date to be as early as possible accurate and backed by other documentation. This is particularly important when one might be presenting new ideas such as responding to concerns about the particle flow. Since NAPE Book 2 was published in 1913, it is most likely that the preface, dated September 1913, was written just before publication. The last few chapters of Book 2, where Birkeland examines some of these ideas, were probably written in the months leading up to September 1913, and reflect his latest thinking on these ideas.

Mr. Mozina does not address the claim of protons and electrons traveling in same direction in 600 million volt potential, a key point and problem of Birkeland’s preferred model. A cathode is negatively charged repels electrons while attracting positive ions. It is clear that Birkeland understood that his preferred model could not have electrons and ions traveling in the same direction and was trying to address it with the other two models.

Birkeland’s ideas clearly evolved over time, in part because he could not get any of his three ‘electric sun’ ideas to work. That is a fact clearly documented in NAPE.

As noted in earlier comments above, Mr. Mozina invokes the Burke reference to support what Birkeland got right while ignoring Burke’s points about what Birkeland got wrong.

What next? Perhaps Mr. Mozina will try to claim that NAPE was not written by Birkeland?

Since Mr. Mozina has not provided any arguments of substance that I might need to address, I can now complete Part II of The Three Suns of Kristian Birkeland…