Monday, February 23, 2015

The Real Electric Universe: Inspired by Velikovsky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional References


Jeffrey Wolynski said...

Thank you for writing all of this. I have been learning that Electric Universe is not interested in history or science.

Could you place notices next to papers which are behind pay walls? I'm already aware that academia likes to make money, but its just ridiculous to have pay walls for papers dated back to the 1950's.

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

To Jeffrey Wolynski,

I usually try to direct my reference links to the ADS, which often provides a link to the published version, but for more recent papers, it occasionally has a link to a freely available version at sites such as the Cornell Preprint Server. ADS also tries to keep the links up-to-date, revising the link forwarding when publisher web sites change. I will sometimes link to the publisher site if it displays an abstract not visible on ADS.

Identifying a paywall in my link presents the problem that some paywalls are time-dependent. If I link to an ApJ paper less than about a year old, it is often paywalled, but after about a year or so they become freely available. Other publishers occasionally change their policies for papers of historical significance, making them more generally available.

I also occasionally link to papers that are not available electronically but I have had to retrieve a hardcopy from a library.

When possible, I try to link to resources that are readily available to the general public. Unfortunately, that is not always possible for papers that have no free equivalent.