Sunday, December 21, 2014

Electric Comets & A Break for the Holidays...

I'm taking a break for a few weeks for the holidays, and hope to polish up a number of posts that have been long overdue (how many times have I said that?).

Recently I have been participating in the Electric Comet thread over at the International Skeptics Forum.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Electric Comets III: Mass vs. Charge

Stuart Robbins at Exposing PseudoAstronomy has posted Part 2 of his critique of James McCanney's odd claims about electric comets and the rest of the universe.  Definitely worth a listen.

Meanwhile, I'll address some of the claims floating around about the measured mass and density of Comet 67P (Wikipedia).  By measuring the motion of the Rosetta spacecraft around the comet, they have been able to estimate the mass of the nucleus at about 1e13 kg or 10 trillion kilograms.  Current measurements suggest this value is accurate to within about 10%, so future estimates should fall in the 9-11 trillion kilogram range, with some smaller probability that they fall outside that range.
Rosetta Blog: Determining the Mass of Comet 67P/C-G

This will not be the final word on the comet mass as at various times during the mission, Rosetta will be moved to locations where more precise measurements are possible.  Note that the standard model for comets will also expect some rate of mass loss.

Using that mass estimate and the measured volume of the comet constructed from imagery, we get a mean density of 0.4 gm/cm^3, significantly less than water and around what you expect for the 'dirty snowball' model.

When I saw this estimate, I considered the possibility that the Electric Universe crowd might claim that this low mass was an artifact of assuming that the attraction was purely gravitational and did not include contributions due to electrostatic repulsion which might occur in one of the many 'electric comet' models.  Shortly after I started work on this analysis, I was notified that this was indeed being claimed by some Electric Comet supporters.

While Electric Universe supporters continue to make excuses, people with real training in physics can use such claims to determine physical parameters.  So we ask the question:

How much charge would that take to make a dense object appear to be a given lower mass object? 

First, we setup the force equation so the gravitational acceleration between the mass of the spacecraft, m, and the perceived mass of the comet, M', vs the real mass, M.

This equation balances the forces so 'real' masses M & m appear to have apparent masses, M' and m (assuming the spacecraft mass, m, is unchanged), if they are carrying charges Q and q, respectively.  The fact that both force laws are inverse-square allows distance between the masses, r, to cancel out.  This leaves:

Then we can re-arrange the terms to solve for the product of the charges Q & q:

Using the fact that mass is density times volume, we can recast this equation into a form more useful for exploration of our question:

Now we have an expression that can tell us about the charge on the comet nucleus and the spacecraft, based on other numbers which we can measure as well as some hypothetical 'real' densities.  We don't obtain the actual value of the charge of the comet nucleus, but we now have a constraint that can be combined with other data to tell us more. 

From the form of the equation itself, we see that for the apparent density to be less than the real density, Qq will always be positive, meaning that the charge on the spacecraft and comet must be of the same sign, both positive or both negative.  This makes intuitive sense, as the electrostatic force will be repulsive in both cases.  But if the charges are of opposite signs, the apparent density will be higher than the real density since now the two objects must be attracting each other through the electrostatic force.

Let's plug in some numbers.  We have the 'apparent density' of the comet, based on the allegedly flawed assumption that gravity is the only important quantity for steering the Rosetta spacecraft.

We have a mass for the spacecraft, m=1230 kg (assuming the spacecraft is the dry mass defined in Wikipedia)

Apparent comet nucleus density = 0.4 gm/cm^3 = 400 kg/m^3

Combined with the mass, we can estimate the volume of the nucleus.
V = (1e13 kg / 400 kg/m^3) = 2.5e10 m^3

Let's assume the real density is closer to that of rocks, say 2 gm/cm^3 or 2000 kg/m^3.  Then, using the SI units where epsilon0 = 8.854187817e-12  farads/m, we find

Qq = 4*3.14159* (8.854187817e-12  F/m ) (6.673e-11 N(m/kg)^2)*(1230 kg)* (2.5e10 m^3) (2000 - 400) kg/m^3
      = 3.65e-4 F*N*m

We can also plot the charge constraints, examining the requirements for several different densities.  In the graph below, we plot the spacecraft charge on the x-axis vs. the charge on the comet nucleus (y-axis) for several different values of 'real' density.  Plotted logarithmically, different values of Qq form straight lines for the different density values.

While we don't know the charge on either the comet nucleus or the Rosetta spacecraft, we now know the product of these quantities.  This provides us with options to examine. 

One thing we should note is the surprisingly small value of this quantity.   If the comet carried a charge of 1 coulomb, then the spacecraft would be charged to 3.65e-4 coulombs.  You can charge a small capacitor to one coulomb.  It isn't that much charge.  If the comet were charged to 100 coulombs, then the spacecraft would be charged to 3.6e-6 coulombs, or 3 millionths of a coulomb.  The higher the charge on the comet nucleus, the smaller the charge on the spacecraft must be to  explain the density discrepancy Electric Comet supporters advocate.  Similarly, we could place more charge on the spacecraft than the comet.

Of course, this claim has loads of other implications, none of which we've seen explored by the Electric Comet advocates or their 'theorists'.  Let's examine some of these questions.  We'll see if we get any real answers from Electric Comet supporters.  Some of these I'll explore in a future post.

The comet nucleus is traveling through the solar wind, which is a plasma, free electrons, free protons, and a fraction of heavier ions.
  • How much of this plasma does the comet nucleus intercept?  How long would it take for the charge on the nucleus to neutralize?  You need to compute or at least estimate the projected geometric area of the comet nucleus.
  • Step it up a notch and consider not just how much of the solar wind will be intercepted by the comet's geometrical profile, but how much additional charged material is attracted to the nucleus from beyond this region due to the electrostatic attraction of the comet.  Now how long will it take for the nucleus to neutralize charge?  What happens then, and why?
  • Is the amount of additional charge attracted (most likely solar protons) sufficient to explain the amount of OH and water production measured per the Thornhill model for the comet OH emission? (see Electric Comets II. Of Water & Ice).
  • The constraint above means a very small amount of charge could be on comet as well as spacecraft.  In the solar wind plasma, one might expect that non-uniformities in the solar wind might fluctuate substantially, perhaps even occasionally charging up objects with the OPPOSITE charge.  If it manages to do that on only one of the objects in the comet/spacecraft system, this repulsion can suddenly become attraction.  Therefore, in the electric comet model it is possible that the comet might suddenly appear MORE massive.  With such small values of charge on the comet or spacecraft sufficient to explain the density discrepancy, it may certainly be possible for one of the objects to accumulate charge of the opposite sign and make the comet appear not just more massive, but significantly more massive.  What navigational issues does this present for Rosetta?
And of course there's the persistent question about Electric Universe models that remain unanswered:
  • How would/could a net charge on the comet nucleus be maintained in interplanetary plasma?
  • Where's the battery or generator that maintains the potential between the comet nucleus and the solar wind?
Exercise for Readers
It might be tempting for Electric Universe supporters to use the analysis above as evidence that planetary bodies might carry significant electric charge which alters our estimates of planetary masses.  While the analysis above works easily for two bodies, I'll suggest it as an exercise for the reader to determine what happens for three or more bodies which will disrupt simplistic attempts to re-interpret solar system dynamics.
Other Notes:
For reference, here's some of the standard Electric Universe Excuse set I've seen:

1) The irregular shape of the nucleus makes it impossible to determine precise values for the area/spacecraft mass/some other variable.
 - We're just trying to get estimates here.  Real scientists and engineers do these types of estimations all the time.  You can at least estimate a maximum and minimum for the area and examine the implications of that.

2) The problem is non-linear and therefore unsolvable.
- Real scientists and engineers solve non-linear systems all the time.  Multi-target spacecraft trajectories, weather forecasting, etc.  'Non-Linear' is not a total roadblock for people who know what they're doing.

3) This model does not include effect 'X', therefore it does not apply to Electric Comets and they will not address it.
- Then include effect 'X'.

4) These problems come from someone who is an enemy of Electric Universe theory/fails to treat Electric Universe theories with appropriate respect so therefore their objections can be ignored.
- Bad news dudes, if other scientists who actually do spacecraft missions saw your claims and actually looked at them, they would insist on answers to these questions and more before they trust electric comet advocates to multi-million dollar/euro equipment.

5) Electric Universe 'theorists' have no way to verify that these claims would actually be made by other scientists so they will not be addressed by Electric Universe supporters.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Geocentrism: According to Hoyle?

This is another post in the followups to the claim that Geocentrists @ Galileo Was Wrong (GWW).  Specifically, this is a partial response to the post:

GWW: Newton versus Einstein: The “Physics” of Alec MacAndrew

I found this post particularly entertaining as Mr. Sungenis wants to lecture someone with actual training in physics when the Geocentrists' understanding of the topic is so poor that they must do their 'physics' by copying old texts (see Geocentrism: Flunking the Lagrange Point Challenge) and trying to pass off the standard, non-Geocentric, technique of computing the Lagrange points as supporting Sungenis' particular flavor of Geocentrism.

To clarify, when I'm talking about the equivalence of coordinate systems in the relativistic sense, I try to refer to it as geocentric with a lower-case 'g', since this treatment works for ANY point you which to choose as a center.  If I'm talking about geocentrism where the claim is Earth a center in some kind of absolute sense, I'll use Geocentric, with an upper-case 'G'.  I'll try to avoid using these terms at the start of sentences, where ambiguity might result.

But the topic I wish to specifically address in this post is Mr. Sungenis' quote-mining of Fred Hoyle (wikipedia) to support his position.   Sungenis does this using HIS twisted definitions of terms rather than those meant by the person he is quoting, but then this is the standard for the practice of quote-mining (Wikipedia).

The particular reference Sungenis uses is Fred Hoyle's book, "Nicolaus Copernicus: An Essay on his Life and Work" written in 1973 (Google Books).

In this book, written for popular audiences, Hoyle invokes relativity (the equivalence of ALL reference frames) to make the point that we can just as easily consider the universe as centered on the Earth, as well any other point.  

The most telling example of Sungenis' distortions is, in quoting Hoyle from "Nicolaus Copernicus: An Essay on his Life and Work", p. 82. he quotes Hoyle a little TOO much...
"we can take either the Earth or the Sun, or any other point for that matter, as the center of the solar system." (emphasis mine). 
Sungenis quotes, but conveniently ignores, the full implications of Hoyle's meaning with this statement, instead choosing Hoyle's mention of the equivalence of the 'geocentric' view to spin the statement into claiming Hoyle supports Geocentrism with Earth as some absolute cosmic center.  I'm surprised Sungenis didn't make that clause disappear with ellipsis...

Hoyle was not a Geocentrist in the sense of claiming the Earth can be the center of the universe in any absolute sense, but advocating geocentrism as a frame of reference chosen for convenience (much the same as Phil Plait's argument at Geocentrism?  Seriously? and Geocentrism: Does NASA use Geocentrism?) where we can chose Earth, or any other point, as the origin for our coordinate system.  THAT is the underlying basis of relativity which Sungenis tries to ignore and evade.  Hoyle could just as correctly chosen Mars, or Saturn, or gamma Andromedae or the M33 galaxy as the center, with no loss of generality.  But, since Hoyle was writing for a lay audience, he probably chose Earth for familiarity.

Of course, that freedom of choosing the 'center' at another location comes with a price, most notably the additional mathematical complexity.  In Newtonian physics, it is the inclusion of such things as centripetal forces.  But in the Einstein and Mach formulation, the metric (Wikipedia) actually carries this information along.  All the complex terms which appear in the Newtonian formulation don't show up until you explicitly derive the equations of motion for a specified coordinate system and frame of reference.

This makes the Geocentrists failure of the Lagrange Point challenge even funnier.  If they want to argue relativity now, even if incorrectly, they should have done a relativistic derivation of the Lagrange points.  Though it probably would have been quite a challenge to find one already worked out for them to copy unless they know a graduate student doing General Relativity who might have done it as part of a homework assignment...

Fred Hoyle is often quoted by creationists and similar pseudo-scientists for his opposition to Big Bang cosmology.  Creationists conveniently ignore that one of the reasons Hoyle, and a number of others who argue against BBC, do so because of its suggested religious analogies (Is Big Bang Cosmology a 'Creationist' Model?).  Fred Hoyle was an interesting individual, who had made a significant professional reputation for himself in nuclear astrophysics, but was also often fighting for the underdog or for someone whom he feels was wronged by 'the system'.  In this area, Hoyle is probably best known for his support for Jocelyn Bell (wikipedia) for credit on the discovery of pulsars. 

Other References and Notes

  • MacTutor: Sir Fred Hoyle
  • The expression "according to Hoyle" may be familiar to card game enthusiasts (Wikipedia: Edmond Hoyle).
  • Some Personal recollections of Fred Hoyle:  I had the opportunity to meet Fred Hoyle when my Ph.D. advisor invited him to Clemson in 1992.  Hoyle even autographed my copy of his book "Diseases from Space".  The fact that I have this book does not mean I endorse any or all the ideas presented within. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Electric Comets II. Of Water & Ice

First, I want to say congratulations to the team that built and operated Rosetta & Philae to a successful rendezvous and landing on the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (Wikipedia).

The really funny part about this is that if the space environment around the Sun were really as different from the mainstream science model as Electric Universe advocates want to claim (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'...), the Rosetta mission would not have been the level of success that it has been so far - the spacecraft would have been fried long ago from the voltages induced within by the various 'Electric Sun' models (particularly those noted in Death by Electric Universe. II. The Solar Capacitor Model,   Death by Electric Universe. IV. The Z-Pinch (Solar Resistor) Model).

The simple explanation is that the Electric Universe model for the heliospheric environment and comets is blatantly wrong.

Probably because of this event, my first Electric Comet page (Electric Comets: Failures of the Electric Comet Model) has been receiving a lot of traffic of late, so it seemed time to assemble some additional items I've collected for an update. 

Stuart Robbins has also put together a podcast on James McCanney's "Electric Comet" claims (Exposing PseudoAstronomy: Episode 120: James McCanney’s Views on Comets, Part 1).  Stuart does a detailed explanation of how we determine the temperature of comets and know that they are cold, not hot.  He also talks about how McCanney denies that water has been found in previous (and current) comet observations, as well as McCanney's failed predictions for the passages of comets ISON (wikipedia) and Siding Spring (wikipedia) near Mars.

In spite of the denials of Electric Comet advocates, Rosetta has made a number observations that fit major predictions of the  standard "dirty snowball" comet (Wikipedia: Comet), most notably the detection of water vapor and carbon dioxide, very close to the comet.
Wal Thornhill has created a little 'story' to explain these observations but for his model, the combination of the raw atomic material to form water must take place further out (see Thunderbolts: Predictions for Comet Science After Rosetta):
In our recent Space News on Rosetta, we noted that electrochemical processes, not dissimilar to those proposed in peer-reviewed papers for Mercury’s putative ice deposits and water in the lunar soil, may in fact be responsible for the signal of “water” appearing in the comet’s coma—a potential game changer in comet science. As Wal Thornhill explains, “The cathode jets strip and ionize atoms of oxygen from minerals on the comet and accelerate the negative ions away in a fine jet. The oxygen ions then combine with the protons in the solar wind to form the hydroxyl radical, OH, which was mistakenly assumed to be evidence of an ultraviolet breakdown product of water molecules from the comet. Oxygen and hydrogen have both been found in the comet’s coma, by the Rosetta ultraviolet spectrometer.”
But there's some more predictions implied by this model which Thornhill ignores, or evades...
  • How much hydrogen would need to be collected from the solar wind by the nucleus to explain the observed rate of water produced each second?  Note for the case of Mercury and the Moon, water is forming on a rocky world over billions of years, while the comet expels quite a lot with each orbit of the Sun.
  • How much charge would need to be on the nucleus to collect this amount of hydrogen? 
I've also heard some claims that the low density (0.4 gm/cm^3, less than water) of the comet nucleus inferred from the spacecraft motion could be the result of electrostatic repulsion between the spacecraft and nucleus. 

Both of these claims provide information on the alleged charge of the comet nucleus, and the spacecraft.  Once you have that, there are a number of other forces, such as the Lorentz force (Wikipedia: Lorentz Force), which will act on both the spacecraft and the comet and would alter it compared to the predominantly gravitational trajectory assumed for piloting Rosetta to 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.  More on these in a future post.

Should We Expect to See Patches of Ice on a Comet Nucleus?

Some people, including some astronomers, have commented that they were surprised that they did not find patches of ice in close-up views of the comet nucleus.  But one needs to ask, would you expect to see surface ice in the standard comet model?

Consider the measured surface temperature for 67P using the VIRTIS instrument (ESA: VIRTIS maps comet 'hot spots') was 205K (-68 C = -91 F) in mid-July 2014 when the comet was about 3.75 AU from the Sun, definitely still a bit of a deep freeze.  A simple radiation balance calculation (Wikipedia: Effective Temperature) for the temperature of an object at this distance from the Sun gives (using 0.00468Astronomical Units for the solar radius):

5780K * sqrt( 0.00468AU / 3.75AU ) = 204K

which is pretty good agreement for an object of low albedo (about 4%) and high emissivity.  For perihelion for 67P, at 1.24AU, we might expect the temperature to reach 355K (82 C = 180F), assuming emissivity and albedo remain about the same (which we can be pretty certain will not hold true).

To make ice patches on the comet would require temperatures and pressures high enough for liquid water to form from the ice, collect into patches, and then re-freeze.  At temperatures below 0 C and pressures below 0.006 atmospheres, water cannot exist in liquid form as we note from the phase diagram (Wikipedia: Phase Diagram).

Phase Diagram for Water (Credit: Wikipedia)

In these ranges of temperature and pressure along the bottom of the graph, common in the space environment, water goes directly from a solid to a gas.  Near perihelion, the temperature will be high enough to form liquid at higher atmospheric pressures, but against the vacuum of space, water would sublimate to a gas before liquifying.  So even when the temperature got above 0 C, the pressure in space, even close to the Sun, will not get high enough to form liquid water that could refreeze into an obvious patch of ice.

In the low-gravity environment of the comet nucleus, another question is how would the water collect into a puddle to make an ice-patch?  Water molecules do have attractive forces between them which are the basis of surface tension, the reason why water makes a meniscus (wikipedia) in containers and collects into spheres on the International Space Station (YouTube: Space Station Astronauts Grow a Water Bubble in Space).

The water and other volatiles out-gassing are so mixed in the with the other material of the nucleus that they may not appear to emit from a distinct patch of the comet.

But next we could ask: Is there a way the pressure and temperature on the comet could increase sufficiently for liquid water to form and subsequently re-freeze to ice? 

I can imagine possible impact scenarios where temperatures and pressures during a collision might be sufficient to convert water into liquid form that could refreeze, however, I've not yet done a detailed calculation for that scenario. 

Some astronomers have made this claim and it has been picked up by a number of pseudo-sciences.  But it is fair to ask if the idea is  based on an actual examination of the physics of the conditions, or a seat-of-the-pants guess or speculation, most likely based on our everyday experience with water and ice in our Earth-temperatures and atmospheric pressure?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Yet Another Claimed Stake-through-the-Heart of Big Bang Cosmology?

Another comment, posted under a different topic ("A Paper Illustrating More of Crothers' Relativity ...") and copied here to address:

Please publish this if you dare :)

You can sell your diploma on eBay.

Don't forget to include some lollipops in order to get buyers. Sucking is a great way to spend an afternoon. Sure, you should know all about it, you've spend years sucking it.

Post this comment if you dare. I'll be watching, you preposterous asshole.
Perhaps the commenter didn't actually read the article, or did they not think beyond the title?

The article describes recent observations by the Fermi Large-Area Telescope which rule out particular, but not all, models for Dark Matter.  It's part of the regular process of science and the researchers have done credible work.  Why would I not post it?

The solar neutrino problem when through a similar process for many years of narrowing down what the solution couldn't be while we improved detector technology to the point we could actually detect the 'missing' neutrinos.  See Neutrino Oscillations: Yet Another Blow Against Non-nuclear Stellar Energy..., Falsifying Scientific Models)

How many years since prediction to detection of the Higgs boson? 48 years.  And that was one we expected to find in the laboratory (wikipedia).  It also had a number of 'hiccups' along the way to its confirmation.

Loads of other things were added to the list of contributions to Dark Matter (wikipedia: baryonic dark matter) before we got to the level that everything but a previously undetected particle was all that remained (wikipedia: Dark Matter).

There They Go Again...

Shall we go into all the times that someone has pointed to one story claiming it was the stake through the heart of Big Bang cosmology?  A few months, or sometimes even years later, the problem ceases to be an issue due to
  • an error made in the research result, either in the observations or the theoretical understanding;
  • a recognition that another process, within the context of the standard model, explained the discrepancy;
  • a larger data survey with better instruments finds the 'anomaly' isn't as anomalous as first thought.
Let's go over just a few in recent history, some of which I have explored here:
And this is just the short list...

The funny part is that many of these claims rely on the observation being an extreme outlier in the statistical significance.  But yes, sometimes you can roll a five ten consecutive times on a die.

With the range of evidence that the universe was smaller in the past, and still expanding today, those who expect one or a few of these types of observations to overthrow Big Bang cosmology are overly optimistic.  These anomalies don't make the other evidence go away.

Then there's the research groups that release their results a little TOO soon, before they've made reasonable error checks.  This also winds up feeding a number of crackpot claims.  Consider the recent BICEP2 fiasco which released their results to the press too soon, before others could check the results.
A little patience would have saved the BICEP2 researchers a lot of embarrassment, not to mention their work being picked up by crank science sites claiming the failure was predicted by THEIR theory. 

Note that it is rarely (never?) the crackpot group that actually finds the error in the analysis or experiment.   The interesting part is that it is often the supporters of Big Bang cosmology or the standard model in question (such as those working with the Fermi mission data) that clearly identify the problems.

Conspiracies and Cover-ups

So why would the commenter suggest I would not post it?

Probably because in the world of advocates of pseudo-science, the 'Truth', or at least the 'Truth' they are trying to sell, is covered up or cloaked by conspiracies.   Pseudo-science thrives on the notion that it is some 'conspiracy' of mainstream science to silence them.  The fact that their ideas don't work when subjected to rigorous testing, is irrelevant to them.  I find it very interesting that some studies suggest those who believe in these types of conspiracies are reflecting a segment of their own mindset (Pacific Standard:Belief in Conspiracies Linked to Machiavellian Mindset).

But legitimate science cannot survive in that type of environment.

Note that the researchers who reported the results in the above experiment, or the errors in the BICEP2 results, are not advocates of some radically different cosmology such as Plasma Cosmology or other Electric Universe variant or even Creationists.  They may support some other variant of the Dark Matter problem, but they pretty much support the standard cosmology.  They are researchers whose goal is to report their observations and their analyses faithfully, even when the results may be at odds with the dominant model. 

Contrast the behavior of legitimate scientists to that of pseudo-scientists. 

The fact is that advocates of these 'alternatives' are RARELY the ones who actually expose the flaw in the experiment or analysis that invalidates the result.  The pseudo-scientists usually rant and claim the results aren't correct, but when someone else does the work to define the error, they pat themselves on the back chanting that they "knew it all along".  Of course, the pseudo-scientists don't talk about all the times they claimed the mainstream results were wrong but an error WASN'T found and the results were reinforced by later research.

How often do we see posts at or the various creationists and similar forums on the problems implied by their pet cosmologies?  Pseudo-scientists are quick to jump on a handful of seemingly out-of-place and anomalous observations from mainstream science while conveniently ignoring the far larger successful body of evidence which supports the mainstream cosmology to the exclusion of their pet cosmology.

Have we seen any serious effort at addressing the basic problems of their models which I've summarized at Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'...?   Electric Universe supporters have yet to address the problem of space weather prediction which is explained and even predicted by the standard model far better than anything from the Electric Sun advocates.  Electric Universe advocates ignore and evade these issues, even when billions of dollars of space asset and the lives of astronauts are at risk.

So it begs the question, just who is engaged in a cover-up or conspiracy to hide data contradictory to their model?

On the Motivated Rejection of Science

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Geocentrism: Flunking the Lagrange Point Challenge

It was recently brought to my attention that the Geocentrists at "Galileo Was Wrong" (GWW) have actually attempted to meet my Lagrange Point challenge (Rick DeLano's original claim that geocentrism can explain Lagrange Points, and my specification of the challenge).

Here's the conditions I had defined in the link above:
Since this is a fairly straightforward analysis in a Newtonian and non-geocentric framework that undergraduate physics students are expected to do (and I have done it), you are required to prove that this analysis has been done in the physically geocentric model.

Identify all five Lagrangian points using a strictly geocentric calculation with full mathematical detail FROM FIRST PRINCIPLES, i.e. the claimed geocentric physics behind it, presenting the equations of motion, etc. (Wikipedia - lagrange points). Post the solution on a web site and send me the link. The positional solutions must be identical to those found in Newtonian non-geocentric case and should properly identify the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system (STEREO @ L4 & L5, Sentinels of the Heliosphere at L1, WMAP @ L2), the Earth-Moon system (ARTEMIS at L1 & L2), and the Sun-Jupiter system (Trojan asteroids). Note that operating missions have made, or are making use of up to four of the five points. We've not yet found a good use for L3 points that warrants a visit.

And no cheating - claiming that the result is the same as the non-geocentric case with a coordinate transformation to the geocentric frame is physically indistinguishable from the frame of reference designation - which can be done anywhere in the universe and makes all frames equivalent. There is no universal or physically preferred rest frame by this method on any scale less than the CMB.
Note that one of the requirements of this challenge is that the analysis must be FUNDAMENTALLY in the geocentric frame.

Doing the analysis in the the standard Newtonian framework and then translating to an Earth-centered frame does not qualify as this is a step that can be done for ANY point and so does not actually treat Earth as a preferred center in any absolute sense.  

The original post at GWW is available here: "A Geocentric Solution to the Three-Body Problem" Prepared by Gerard Bouw, Ph.D.  (last retrieved November 1, 2014.  The file metadata show a creation date of July 18, 2014 and a modification date of August 7, 2014).  While in the original challenge I requested that I be notified of publication of the document, I did not hear about it until a little later, from the folks at

On August 22, 2014, Dr. MacAndrew posted an examination of Dr. Bouw's analysis in Geocentric Physics: Is That All You've Got?

I commend Dr. MacAndrew for his analysis.  He exposed the flawed math in the first section, when Bouw tried to remap the physics into a rotating geocentric frame using the standard Newtonian analysis.  Compare Dr. Bouw's math to that presented at Wikipedia: Centrifugal force (rotating reference frame).  Dr. MacAndrew identified a serious mathematical error in the section.  So far, there is NOTHING in this analysis that makes Earth a preferred frame in any absolute sense.  Is a basic treatment that allows physicists to convert between inertial and rotating reference frames, whether they be rotating planets or rotating children's tops.

But Dr. MacAndrew's real accomplishment is identifying the second section with the claimed Lagrange Point analysis, starting at "Equations of Motion for the Infinitesimal Body".  Even before I recognized the answer, there were a number of 'red flags' in the analysis.  The figures 5, 6 & 7 looked really suspicious, as they appear to be in a style popular in textbooks using techniques from about a century ago.  After all, if Bouw had actually done the calculations himself, you'd think he could generate original figures with modern software.  Here's some plots I generated using a fairly short section of Python code:
Mapping of gravitational potential for a mass ratio of 10.  Origin at center of mass.

Mapping of gravitational potential for a mass ratio of 83 (=Earth/Moon mass ratio).  Origin at center of mass.

Note that I make these images Creative Commons NC BY.  You can use them but they must be clearly credited with a link to the source document (this page).

Kudos to Dr. MacAndrew who found the original text at, "An Introduction to Celestial Mechanics" 2nd Revised Edition by Forest Ray Moulton.  Moulton's 2nd Edition is available as a Dover reprint.

With the original source for comparison, we can explore just how much Bouw copied the original Moulton text.  Bouw's equation system 13 are identical to equation 1 of Moulton.  These are basically the Newtonian force equations written based on the RELATIVE positions between the three bodies. 

Pages 8-25 of Bouw are almost identical to pages 278-294 of Moulton.  There are minor changes in symbols used, updating of some numeric formats in text, but for the most part, they are identical.   This demonstrates just how blatantly Dr. Bouw copied the standard Newtonian treatment from the original text and without any citation.   Without that citation, Dr. Bouw is presenting the analysis if it is HIS work, when it's pretty obvious that the only actual work Dr. Bouw did in this effort is some scanning, transcription, and copying the equations into an equation editor.

If a student had been caught turning this in as part of a physics homework assignment, the instructor would certainly be justified in reporting the student for disciplinary action for plagiarism.

Additionally, there is NOTHING in this equation set that relies on the existence of an absolute fixed location, such as Earth (as the Geocentrists insist).  This analysis works with a 'center' as Earth (for the Earth-Moon Lagrange points), or the Sun (for Sun-Earth or Sun-any other planet Lagrange points).

David Palm followed up with an even longer examination of the level of uncredited copying of the work of others by the Geocentrists at GWW (GD: Top Geocentrists Caught Plagiarizing)

Sungenis Responds
Sungenis responded to these with GWW: "David Palm Caught Falsely Accusing Opponents of Plagiarism" which included a response from Dr. Bouw about how he didn't see a problem as copyright had expired on the Moulton work.  The issue is Bouw presented this material as not just a 'Geocentric' analysis (which it is not), but also as HIS OWN WORK, which it clearly is not, and which he now admits.  No telling how long it would have taken for that fact to come to light if the source text had not been so conclusively identified.

Expiration of copyright is not a license to plagiarize.  By Dr. Bouw's interpretation, he could re-publish most of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs under his own name and he would have done nothing wrong.  The issue is this was presented as his own WORK. 

In addition, Sungenis states:
Mr. Palm quotes Tom Bridgman as saying: “Everything I’ve seen from Geocentrists is a cheat, trying to take someone else’s heliocentric solution and then moving the origin to the Earth.” Of course, we would expect an atheistic, evolutionist, Big Banger like Bridgman to picture it as a “cheat,” but in reality it is nothing more than showing the world how the same equations heliocentrists use to demonstrate the viability of their system can be used to demonstrate the viability of the geocentric system, which has been known ever since Mach and Einstein expanded on Newton’s equations. The geocentric derivations MUST employ the heliocentric equations, often point‐for‐point, since the geocentric is just the inverse of the heliocentric. There is no way to avoid this state of affairs, especially when one is trying to show the equivalence of the two systems.
Sungenis invokes Mach & Einstein to bolster his poor position.  But Mach and Einstein expanded on Newton's work,  which expanded the concept of no absolute spatial reference frame to include time as well, and that reference frames and 'centers' can be chosen for the convenience of solving the problem at hand.  The methodology defines NO absolute position.  I wrote more on Geocentrists invoking Mach at Geocentrism: Mach, 'Aether Drag' and Aberration.

Sungenis evades the reason I state that such a heliocentric method is a cheat, as I note in the condition and emphasize yet again (since Sungenis seems to avoid this annoying mathematical fact):
And no cheating - claiming that the result is the same as the non-geocentric case with a coordinate transformation to the geocentric frame is physically indistinguishable from the frame of reference designation - which can be done anywhere in the universe and makes all frames equivalent. There is no universal or physically preferred rest frame by this method on any scale less than the CMB.
The technique the Geocentrists use to get the 'geocentric' solution works just as well to do an areocentric (Mars-centered), selenocentric (Moon-centered), jovicentric (Jupiter-centered), kronocentric (Saturn-centered) or any other 'center' one wishes to define ANYWHERE in the cosmos.  NASA uses these transformations routinely when sending spacecraft to other planets (see Geocentrism: Does NASA use Geocentrism?).

Sungenis' excuse exposes Geocentrists' claims as indistinguishable from a personal preference (like a favorite dessert), or personal bigotry.

And while this post was still in preparation, Dr. MacAndrew responded with Geocentrism Debunked: Plagiarism: The Folly of Defending the Indefensible, which prompted my THIRD rewrite of this post...

So, contrary to the terms of my original challenge, AT MOST, all the Geocentrists have done is used the standard derivation using Newtonian gravity and force laws (which define no absolute position) and 'translate' it to a geocentric frame.  Sungenis even admits this.  In Newtonian mechanics, this trick works around ANY point, Earth, Moon, Sun, Mars, etc., contrary to Geocentrist claims of Earth being a special point in an absolute sense.

It is difficult to interpret Dr. Bouw's 'article' as anything other than a document created to deceive.  Combined with Sungenis' defense of it, they appear to document two violations of the Ten Commandments.: 

1) Thou shalt not steal
2) Thou shalt not bear false witness

As Jesus noted in Matthew 7:15-23, his followers will be recognized by their actions more than their words.  Such explicit acts of deception are yet another reason I regard the Geocentrists and Young-Earth creationists as the 'wolves' which Jesus warned his followers about (see Creationist Junk Debunked).

P.S. And yes, I'm preparing a follow-up on Sungenis' claims about my analysis of Hartnett's work...

Update November 3, 2013:  I've fixed a few minor typos and removed the 'Dr.' when referencing Sungenis.  It's been pointed out to me that his doctorate (wikipedia) is from an unaccredited institution.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

News from Other Fronts

Since so many alternative cosmologies get discussed on this site, here's a good summary of how the current model came to dominate the field from Ethan Siegel at "Starts with a Bang": 
- How the Big Bang's alternatives died.
- 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Anthropic Principle

I've been busy preparing my own response to the Geocentrists' sad attempt at meeting the Lagrange Point Challenge, which I heard about from Geocentrism Debunked: Geocentric Physics: Is That All You've Got?

They also have another good article on Geocentrists' claims about the Cosmic Microwave Background: The CMB and Geocentrism"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Relativity Denial: The Importance of Dimensional Analysis

From the comment stream for the post Scott Rebuttal. I. GPS & Relativity this little goodie was flagged by the blogspot spam filter from an anonymous poster:
"The Engineering manager for GPS states that there are no corrections for relativity used in GPS, only a correction for gravitational potential (which has nothing at all to do with GR). If you want to discuss real errors with relativity you should check the mathematics of Einstein in GR for errors, because the whole lot is mathematically seriously flawed leading to all kinds of false conclusions!"
It also included a link to a site claiming relativity is flawed but not a link with documentation of the specific claim in the comment (and I already have plenty of links from this site to that site, so I don't need another).  I therefore regarded the comment as link-spam (Wikipedia) and have dumped it. 

However, it did make a couple of comments that I thought worthy of addressing and clarification.

The statement about the "Engineering manager for GPS" was made with no reference.  However, I have heard this term used to indicate the authors of the paper discussed in the main article, Scott Rebuttal. I. GPS & Relativity, "GPS and Relativity: An Engineering Overview".  Therefore I suspect the commenter actually mean the very same paper that was discussed in the main post.  One point of my original post was to point out that because of the "An Engineering Overview" paper, with the statement of no GPS effects, an additional experiment was actually conducted (again) and found the predicted relativistic effects.  Clearly the commenter either didn't read, or didn't understand the information.

Then there is this statement:
"there are no corrections for relativity used in GPS, only a correction for gravitational potential (which has nothing at all to do with GR)"
Let's see, Newtonian gravitation involves gravity, so we expect to see G.  It involves the mass of objects, so we expect to see M, and it involves positions, so we expect to see some representation of position, such as radial distance from a center, R.  Masses and positions are the main inputs for the theory.  This is true for Newtonian gravitation, as well as General Relativity. 

The gravitational potential for a point mass is G*M/R in Newtonian gravity.  The gravitational potential has units of energy per mass (joules/kilogram) which is dimensionally the same as velocity squared (meters/second)^2.

General relativity involves the very same quantities of G, mass, and position.  Being an extension of special relativity, the energy of the gravitational field must also be a component, since it also contributes to the mass of the system.  Therefore we expect a gravitational representation of energy in General Relativity.  With the quantities we have available, only one combination comes close to units of energy, and that is G*M/R, the same as the Newtonian gravitational potential.

Therefore basic dimensional analysis EXPECTS a quantity like the gravitational potential to appear in General Relativity in some form.  Very often, researchers will recast the full relativistic solution into a form using the classical gravitational potential to facilitate comparison of other derivations to the Newtonian solution.

So how can the commenter claim that the gravitational potential can have nothing to do with General Relativity?

The commenter's statement exhibits an incredible lack of understanding of not just general relativity, but basic physics and the importance of dimensional analysis.  These types of errors can be dangerous, expensive, or even fatal.  Dimensional analysis is a powerful tool that can often be used to find errors in analysis and is a vital tool in engineering.

Additional Resources on the Importance of Units and Dimensional Analysis

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Star Talk Radio Episode: Pseudoscience

Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Star Talk Radio" show recently conducted an episode on Pseudoscience.  Most of the topics discussed were rather 'garden-variety' pseudo-science, not much overlap with the topics discussed on this blog, but it might be of more general interest.

Star Talk Radio: Cosmic Queries, Pseudoscience

One of the topics discussed was an online list of cognitive biases or failures - a list of ways in which people fool themselves. 

Wikipedia: List of Cognitive Biases
RationalWiki: List of Cognitive Biases

The best scientists are pretty good about checking their ideas against such biases, which is why they often devote a large part of some of their potentially more controversial papers to checks on their methodology.

Meanwhile, pseudo-scientists usually just accuse mainstream scientists of group-think, and other items on this list, while never doing a serious check of their OWN biases. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Geocentrism: Mach, 'Aether Drag' and Aberration

I have received some email inquires requesting a follow-up on the geocentrism claims of John Martin (In Response to Dr Bridgman's "Geocentrism: Failing More Basic Physics").  These are followups to my original post, Geocentrism: Failing More Basic Physics...

Mr. Martin engages in the common practice of the "Gish Gallop" (RationalWiki), throwing out a plethora of claims most of which are nonsense, many are even contradictory, as we shall see below.  Mr. Martin has dumped a load of similar claims in the comment stream of my original post which I am holding until I complete addressing the individual entries.  I've been accumulating info on many of these earlier claims, each one of which would require an entire post to provide details and examples of why it's nonsense.  Since I have a number which are in various stages of completion, I thought I would write up a summary of some of the 'high points' where I have the most complete information.

Mr. Martin claims I have not provided specific examples of problems that cannot be addressed with a 'stationary earth'.  Yet I have not seen him or any of his supporters meet my Lagrange Point challenge.

I have also provided simulations of Newtonian gravitation operating on massive objects dealing with some of Mr. Martin's bizarre claims about how a center-of-mass of a system operates.
If the center of mass behaved the way Mr. Martin claims, then an automobile engine, consisting of many moving parts and many different centers-of-mass for any combination of the components, would be incapable of moving!

Mr. Martin continues by making ambiguous claims to various professional research papers which he claims have 'solved' these problems.  These are apparently used as a diversionary tactic so they don't have to do any actual work - just claim their theory gives the exact same predictions!  

Yet any example that can be placed into a form for a 'stationary Earth' can be placed in a form for a 'stationary Moon', a 'stationary Saturn', or any other place in the universe.  NASA routinely uses these types of transformations to send spacecraft to land and orbit other planets (see Geocentrism: Does NASA use Geocentrism?). 

Geocentrism and 'Machian' Models

Another funny, and again, contradictory, argument tactic by Geocentrists is to invoke Mach's principle (Wikipedia: Mach's Principle).

Machian ideas are actually the ultimate in relativistic thinking, as they try to define the inertial properties of any object in the universe based on the rest of the universe.  Taking this ideas to the ultimate extreme, some authors like to say these models can be viewed as a moving universe around a stationary Earth (a statement which makes them popular for use among the Geocentrists).  Some of these papers go so far as to use the example of if I spin around, I'm actually making the entire universe spin around me - I guess that would be an EGO-centric universe! 

But Geocentrists' professional references doing the 'Machian' calculation are simply generalizing the techniques I've outlined before - doing the computation in, say, a heliocentric frame, and then doing the conversion to the Earth frame - a trick that works identically for any other planet or any other location in the Universe!  Therefore their claimed proof fails to demonstrate the Earth more preferred than any other frame!  By relying on these references they are making MY point.  They do not show that the location of Earth is in any way a preferred frame beyond Mr. Martin's own personal prejudice.

Mr. Martin provides references to papers by Julian Barbour and various co-authors.  A number of these papers, and summaries, are available on Barbour's site.

Note that in one of the Machian papers, the first paragraph of "Relative-distance Machian theories" reference by Barbour:
"Mach's principle, in essence, requires that the dynamical law of the Universe be expressed ultimately in terms only of the relative distances between observable entities in the universe.  Here I propose a framework for constructing theories that satisfy this postulate automatically."
Note that he specifies RELATIVE DISTANCES between objects.  This is because Machian models have no absolute frame. 

Also note the mathematics in these papers.  The equations contain summations over objects in the universe, computing parameters based on the particle mass and velocity relative to each other.  Therefore, each entry in the sum treats all particles in the universe the same!  The very mathematical structure contains no preferred location or motion! 

The problem the Geocentrists don't acknowledge, is that these models also work having the entire universe rotate around Mars, or the Moon, or even a planet orbiting a star in a distant galaxy.

Planetary Aberration

In regards to planetary aberration, Mr. Martin had this to say:
"The above statement by Wicki doesn’t give us any calculated examples or any references to any journal articles. This is telling on wicki and shows the reader that planetary aberration is merely assumed, but no evidence is presented for its existence."
Planetary aberration is calculated as it is for stars, based on the RELATIVE velocity of the planet and spacecraft.  These corrections are installed in numerous software used for planetary navigation (see Geocentrism: Ubiquitous Aberrations).  The aberration calculation itself is trivial once the positions and velocities of the objects of interest are known.  The real work is computing the positions and velocities of the objects involved, be they planets or spacecraft, a task which geocentrists have demonstrated no competence.

"Aether Drag"

In the late-1800s as Maxwell completed the mathematical unification of electricity and magnetism with his equations and light was recognized as an electromagnetic phenomenon, the question arose "what is the medium that allows light to travel?"  Previous experience with sound suggested that a medium was required for the waves.  It seemed reasonable to researchers of the day that light would also need such a medium.  They called that hypothetical medium the aether or ether and proceeded to devise experiments in an attempt to determine its properties (much like today we adopted the name Dark Matter as the explanation for cosmological gravitational inconsistencies and proceed to determine its properties).

Experiments searching for the aether gave such contradictory and inconsistent results it was eventually suggested that light did not need an aether to propagate and the proposal of special relativity in 1905 provided a firm mathematical foundation.

Nonetheless, some try to hang onto the aether as a way to claim Earth is motionless.  Per Mr. Martin:
"Galileo’s theory of gravity is false. Things do not fall at the same acceleration. Newton’s theory of gravity is also false because the aether has been found. Finally Einstein’s theory is also false because of the constancy of c, time dilatation and length contraction have all been invalidated or are internally logically incoherent. All this is in an article dedicated to debunking crank science and all the time you are unaware of the findings of modern science which overturn you pet theories. Evidently your example is just as flawed as your understanding of science and gravity. Maybe it is you who has no operational experience other than deluding yourself into thinking you know more about gravity and science theory than what your erroneous posts are saying."
Things do not fall at the same acceleration?  Not sure where THAT comes from as Mr. Martin provides no reference.  I can take two ball-bearings of different masses and holding them the same height above the ground and releasing at the same time, they will hit the ground simultaneously.  If you want to use a hammer and a feather (which has much more drag from air resistance), you'll need a good vacuum for the experiment (see YouTube: Hammer vs Feather - Physics on the Moon).  No word yet if Mr. Martin will be claiming the Apollo lunar landings were faked (see Exposing PseudoAstronomy, Bad Astronomy: Moon Hoax).

Claims of Aether drag having been 'found' conveniently ignore the fact that it has been known since 1907 that the Einstein theory gives the same result as the Fresnel 'aether drag' equation.  This derivation is illustrated on the Wikipedia page (Aether drag hypothesis: Lorentz and Einstein)

Even funnier is that many of the mainstream papers which 'aether' supporters reference as evidence for the existence of an 'aether' often include the derivation of the 'aether drag' in the relativistic formulation.  A number of experiments in the 1970s were done by R.V. Jones:
Note that R. V. Jones would even write 'Fresnel Aether Drag' in quotes to emphasizes it is not to be taken literally!

Spurred on by Jones' research, M. Player (Dispersion and the Transverse Aether Drag) examined the problem in more detail, considering the optical dispersive properties of the medium.  Player also used the relativistic derivation, but now included how the Doppler effect would change the wavelength of the light and the refractive properties of the medium (Wikipedia: dispersion) under testing would change.

One of the most popularly cited papers by 'aether' supporters is by Aleksandar Gjurchinovski (Aberration of light in a uniformly moving optical medium").  However, if you actually READ the paper (and understand it), you'll notice that Gjurchinovski is explaining the Jones result in a relativistic framework.  Note in particular equation 3 which is the Lorentz transformation!  Pushing the parameters of the experiment with a very dispersive medium, Gjurchinovski gets a result that matches the derivation by Player (referenced above) including the effects of dispersion.  I have found some quotes from the Gjurchinovski papers where there is a discussion of how 'real' these effects are, but one must exercise care with the wording.

So it looks like the proponents of the claim that 'aether drag' is real and are using these papers never actually understood the papers!   They just blindly assumed they must back up their claims!

So what's the excuse for such blatant errors?
  1. Did Mr. Martin not bother to read the papers he is citing, or did he just blindly accept someone else's claims?
  2. Perhaps Mr. Martin read the papers, but did not understand them and decided to use them anyway?
  3. Or perhaps Mr. Martin read the papers, understood that they did not support his claim, but decided to use them anyway under the assumption that anyone following his claims would just blindly accept them?
Whatever the reason, these falsehoods are now exposed.

Note that Mr. Martin actually invokes CONTRADICTORY claims as his own evidence, invoking Machian models (the ultimate in relativity) simultaneously with 'aether' models (the ultimate in anti-relativity).  This is a popular tactic for those who have no evidence FOR their actual claims - they desperately throw out any claims they think might have any sticking power, and hope no one is the wiser.

Oh, and one entry in Mr. Martin's 'laundry list' invokes Halton Arp's discordant redshifts.  The final post I did on this topic from 2013,  summarizes the more detailed posts (and includes links to the details) at Discordant Redshifts: A Post-Mortem.

Update 2014-10-05: minor typo fixed.  Format problem fixed.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

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

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

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

On the HI Hyperfine Transition... 

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

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

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

Critical Ionization Velocity or CIV 

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

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

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

Problems for Electric Universe/Plasma Cosmology Supporters 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electric Universe Advocates Fail Again 

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

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


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  9. C. Konz, H. Lesch, G. T. Birk, and H. Wiechen. The Critical Velocity Effect as a Cause for the Hα Emission from the Magellanic Stream. Astrophysical Journal, 548:249–252, February 2001. doi: 10.1086/318690. 
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  13. G. L. Verschuur and J. T. Schmelz. A Pervasive Broad Component in H I Emission Line Profiles: Temperature, Turbulence, or a Helium Signature? Astronomical Journal, 139:2410–2424, June 2010. doi: 10.1088/0004-6256/139/6/2410. 
  14.  G. L. Verschuur. On the Apparent Associations Between Interstellar Neutral Hydrogen Structure and (WMAP) High-frequency Continuum Emission. Astrophysical Journal, 711:1208–1228, March 2010. doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/711/2/1208. 
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So...What Happened?

Wow.  It's been over eight years since I last posted here... When I stepped back in August 2015,...