Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reading: "Cosmical Electrodynamics" by Alfven & Falthammer

Some time ago Dave Smith listed a few texts which were regarded by EU supporters as primary references.  There were three entries: Tony Peratt's Physics of the Plasma Universe), Cosmic Plasma by Hannes Alfven, and the Alfven & Falthammer text, Cosmical Electrodynamics, 2nd edition as EU references (see comment).

I had read Physics of the Plasma Universe some years ago.  Just recently, I finished reading the 1963 edition of Cosmical Electrodynamics (hereafter designated as CosEl for brevity).

In this text, did I find a testable model of the Electric Sun or Electric Comets?


What did I discover?

On pp 14-15, Alfven presents an example of charge separation in the solar corona and how it generates a very large voltage which will act to remove the charge separation.  This is why large charge separations cannot endure in cosmic environments, contrary to many of the claims of EU supporters (see Charge Separation in Space).  In the text, there was no mention of even the possibility that the Sun could be predominantly powered by external electric currents.  As I have documented elsewhere in this blog, Alfven was NOT a supporter of the electrically-powered solar/stellar model.

I've had some EU supporters complain about the use of the term 'ionized gas' in scientific press releases or other writing for the general public instead of 'plasma'.  I've spoken to some science writers who note that the term 'plasma' is more often associated with blood and health issues in the mind of the general public.  'Ionized gas' removes that ambiguity.  On page 134 of CosEl, even Alfven notes that 'ionized gas' and 'plasma' are often used synonymously.

In one of Alfven's papers from the 1980s (Recollection of Early Cosmic Ray Research), Alfven seems to suggest that Enrico Fermi took his idea of particle acceleration, a process that is today called Fermi Acceleration (wikipedia).  Yet on pages 38-39 of CosEl, published in 1963, Alfven describes the Fermi process with no mention of possible contributions by himself.  Why is this?  Was Alfven mis-remembering the origins of this process in the 1980s?

On pg 68-70, CosEl describes the process of radiation loss by charged particles moving in magnetic field, the origin of cyclotron (wikipedia) and synchrotron radiation (wikipedia).  This process has been identified in cosmic systems by mainstream astronomy and is credited to Alfven.  This radiation has been used as signature to identify current and electric fields in galactic jets (see Electric Universe: Measurement of the Electric Current in a Kpc-Scale Jet).  The radiation from this process was also the spike through the heart of Tony Peratt's galaxy model (Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background).  Even Peratt's own analysis revealed that current streams needed for the Peratt model should have been readily visible in the cosmic microwave background maps (Electric Universe: More data refuting the EU galaxy model), a fact repeatedly denied by EU supporters.

Chapter three goes into a derivation of the magnetohydrodynamical equations (MHD, wikipedia) and some basic applications.  Many of the examples explore the infinite conductivity/frozen-in conditions which magnetic fields can exhibit when imbedded in a highly-conductive plasma.  In spite of many of Alfven's comments to the contrary (On Frozen-In Field Lines and Field-Line Reconnection) picked up by the EU supporters (The Electric Sky, pp 120-127), this approximation is perfectly legitimate in medium and high density plasmas (CosEl, pg 191), but in low-density plasmas, such as planetary magnetospheres (wikipedia), it is probably not valid.  Many of the complaints are equivalent to claiming that we shouldn't teach projectile motion with Newtonian physics because air resistance is not included, in spite of the numerous applications where it gives results of acceptable accuracy.

On pp 121-124, Alfven discusses the Cowling theorem and the mechanisms of self-exciting dynamos.  Yet the dynamo model is strongly criticized by Donald Scott (The Electric Sky, pg 115, 127).  Despite Scott's criticisms, these dynamo models have already generated far more testable predictions ( than we've ever found from any EU 'theorist'.  Why should we believe Don Scott over Alfven on this topic?

For its day, Cosmical Electrodynamics was a perfectly good introduction to plasma physics, covering many of the aspects of charged particles in fields covered in many other plasma physics texts (such as those below from my collection).  We also see mention of early theoretical ideas and experimental work in applying kinetic theory to solving problems in plasma physics (pp 135) (see Vlasov Equation, wikipedia).  These and other techniques have improved considerably since CosEl was written in 1963, as noted by Peratt (Advances in Numerical Modeling of Astrophysical and Space Plasmas, 1997).  Today, mathematical modeling is a powerful tool for plasma physics, suitable for many engineering and commercial applications (see Electric Universe: Plasma Modeling vs. 'Mystic Plasma' and related posts).  Yet EU supporters repeatedly deny these advancements when it generates results in conflict with their cosmological claims.

I found NOTHING in CosEl that invalidates the basic tests I have done on Electric Sun models.  The fact is that CosEl repeatedly uses conservation principles in many of the analyses, just as I have done in analyzing Electric Sun models (Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model, Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. III),  If EU supporters want to say that my analyses are not applicable, then they are really saying that CosEl is full of nonsense.  CosEl did serve to remind me of additional plasma tests which can be applied against EU silliness such as the Electric Sun model.

Cosmical Electrodynamics provides yet another example of the disconnect of EU 'theories' with reality.  EU supporters want to present Alfven, Peratt, etc. as primary leaders in their 'science', but then want to discount the fact that much of the work by these same researchers actually DISPROVES most EU claims.

To paraphrase a recent statement by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, I'd say that EU's biggest problem is they are at war with their own talking points!

Perhaps Mr. Smith should have read Cosmical Electrodynamics more carefully before he recommended it...

References from Cosmical Electrodynamics
Modern References
  • “Computer Simulation Using Particles”  R.W. Hockney & J.W. Eastwood
  • “Plasma Physics: An Introduction to the Theory of Astrophysical, Geophysical & Laboratory Plasmas” Peter A. Sturrock
  • “Principles of Plasma Physics” Nicholas A. Krall & Alvin W. Trivelpiece
  • “Classical Electrodynamics, 2nd Edition” J.D. Jackson
Note that I have all of these references on my shelves, contrary to EU claims that astronomers don't study electrodynamics.


Siggy_G said...


Nice research work – and I doubt that your interest in electrodynamics (and Electric Universe dissection) is representative for any astrophyscisist out there. Electric fields, currents and/or electrodynamics are not central subjects throughout astrophysical university programs at all. I bet the references on this field have appeared in your bookshelf after you looked into Electric Universe notions...

I'm not surprised that you didn't find any models on an electric sun in CosEl by Alfvén. He hadn't applied this extrapolation of cosmic current systems. I'm not sure if he was familiar with Charles Bruce's ideas at the time either.

What Alfven and Falthammer have shown and emphasized is that cosmic plasmas are a part of an electric cirquit – and Alfven pointed out as early as 1948 in "The New Astronomy" that electricity should be applied to interpretation and testing of astrophysical data. They have also pointed at the tendencies of plasmas forming filamentary and cellular structures, the latter defined by a thin "working surface" i.e. a double layer. In addition, they (and Peratt among others) have ellaborated on large scale electric currents within astrophysical plasmas i.e. Birkeland currents. Perhaps one of Alfven's main points, as adopted by Electric Universe advocates, is that plasma processes are scalable and testable at lab magnitudes, the critique of 1) the field lines terminology and 2) usage of MHD for all plasma scenarios. As you admitted, MHD is not applicable in magnetospheres and low density plasmas - which constitutes most of the observable universe, as we know it. Since plasmas are good but not perfect conductors, E > 0, with the forementioned processes being empirically plausible. Since the distances and scales are vast and plasma processes are scalable, the time factor is proportionally lengthy for these processes - so no reason for instant discharges in these (electro)dynamic scenarios.

Siggy_G said...


Goran Marklund has also shown how electric currents within a plasma can accumulate and chemically separate matter of varying mass along the current column. In such a cylindrical configuration, the electromagnetic force attenuates only at 1/r as opposed to gravity´s 1/r^2 in spherical configurations. This also means that electromagnetic forces would dictate the large scale structure and dynamics of astrophysical plasmas, whereas gravity just continues the dynamics already defined herby.

All of the above gives clues to how electric stars may form and sustain. If E > 0 between the Sun and the heliopause (likely a double layer, rather than just a bowshock), then the consensus scenario changes a bit. In low pressure plasma discharges, the electric field is quite weak between the cathode and anode, and peaks exponentially towards the high voltage anode surface i.e. within the corona region.

Alfven, Falthammer and Peratt's work makes the foundation for Plasma Cosmology. This is again a foundation for the Electric Universe cosmology where certain notions are extrapolated. So you won't find a direct reference to the Electric Universe in Alfven's work, but rather the other way around, which is no contradiction to Dave Smith's reference to Alfven.

Anonymous said...

"Electric fields, currents and/or electrodynamics are not central subjects throughout astrophysical university programs at all."

So what? Surely what's important is that there is a sufficiently large, sufficiently diverse (sub-)community of astrophysicists, just as there is on GR, SPH, neutrino detectors, ...?

The elevation of "electricity" to pre-eminance is, surely, a sign of unhealthy obsession, no?

"Perhaps one of Alfven's main points, as adopted by Electric Universe advocates, is that plasma processes are scalable and testable at lab magnitudes"
That may be so.

However, as every single "Electric Universe advocate" - including you - seems to regard quantitative analysis with disdain (or worse), there is no commonality with the work of Alvén at all.

Further, as almost every critic of EU has pointed out, acceptance of quantitative analysis immediately leads to the conclusion that the whole EU paradigm is wrong, in the sense that the universe does not behave in accord with that worldview. An inescapable conclusion follows: EU advocates are pushing, fundamentally, an anti-science agenda.

So, Siggy_G, when are you going to have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge the bankruptcy of the EU? Alternatively, when do you expect to produce some publishable, *quantitative* analyses, of direct relevance to observational astronomy (or space physics, or ...)?


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

Siggy_G: "I doubt that your interest in electrodynamics (and Electric Universe dissection) is representative for any astrophyscisist out there. Electric fields, currents and/or electrodynamics are not central subjects throughout astrophysical university programs at all."

That statement is a load of garbage. Considering how many examples I've documented in this blog of astrophysicists using plasmas and/or electric fields going back decades (See The Real Electric Universe), the nicest interpretation of this statement is you're trying to be sarcastic.

Siggy_G: "I bet the references on this field have appeared in your bookshelf after you looked into Electric Universe notions…"

Purchase info from my library database: Jackson, pre-1980 (purchased in undergraduate), Cobine, pre-1989.
Purchased for my grad school work (1989-94): Krall & Trivelpiece: 11/1991 (recommended by one of my astrophysics professors), Eastwood & Hockney, 2/1992, Chandrasekhar 9/1993, Sturrock, 6/1994.

Lerner, 4/1992, but Plasma cosmology died with the COBE results that year which showed the CMB is smoother than plasma cosmology can accommodate. Don't claim Plasma or EU can explain the CMB unless you point to the equivalent WMAP skymap and energy spectrum of the claimed model.

I probably first heard about EU after 1998 when I started following regularly.
Didn't get involved in EU until about 2006, motivated by Barry Setterifield's involvement.

You lose that bet.

We routinely detect radiations from electrons under force fields: Bremsstrahlung, synchrotron
We routinely detect radiations from electrons under collisions: ionization, recombination, and others.
There is only limited evidence of charged currents in free space, all anchored to gravitating masses (black holes, planetary and stellar magnetospheres, etc.), and none are consistent with EU claims.
EU is a failure. There are no EU 'theorists', or even 'observational astronomers' that can do more than the most trivial work with Maxwell's equations. EU survives only on its ability to 'spin' the work of others doing real science.

Siggy_G said...


What aspects of consensus astrophysical models do you reckon as sucessfully predictive or providing testable and meaningful insights into how the universe seems to work?

"The elevation of "electricity" to pre-eminance is, surely, a sign of unhealthy obsession, no? "

Is a preference towards explaining the universe with processes we know and can attempt to test, as opposed to explaining it with mystical particles and energies, really a case of unhealthy obsession?

The commonality to Alfvén lies in the approach of seeing astrophysical phenomena in light of electric cirquits and plasma behaviour. There are numerous approaches and configurations, as e.g. Peratt, Healy and Thornhill have explored. Alfvén hadn't explored the possibility of the Sun being part of a galactic cirquit, but was onto something with his quadrupole potential configuration of the Sun. And of course his historical contributions to plasma physics are of high value. Quantitative analysis by itself is not really the issue – most Electric Universe proponents find Peratt's work intriguing (both the galaxy and pulsar research). I think you're refering to the EU critique of consensus promoters discarding any qualitative models (i.e. a basis for further quantitative analysis) simply because it isn't fully quantitative yet. As if all consensus models are in place and without explanatory problems. The other problem being constructing interpretation models more from conceptual math than observational data and known physical processes.

I don't see EU as bankrupt - it has a considerable upside, as opposed to the consensus cosmology that is highly inflated and largely based on future promises and rescue packages, so to speak.

I'm taking some steps towards publishable analyses myself these days. (By the way, have you seen the recent papers by Thornhill, Scott and D.Smith under: ?)

Gene said...

Siggy, it is probably best to stop arguing with this guy. There is a forum at that is better suited for more constructive idea exchange of this sort, and after 25 years of banging my head against a wall, I finally decided that life was better with more tolerant people. I am open to constructive criticism of the electric universe theory, but subjecting people to ridicule and name-calling is unacceptable. It is fear that causes him to act that way because deep down, he is afraid that all his doctorate work and papers will have been for nothing. It is a game to people like Bridgman, and my advice would be to ignore him.

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

Sorry Siggy_G,
This last comment got flagged by the spam filter and it has been a long time since I even looked under that tab.