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Credit: UPPER LEFT: Mel Acheson, VEMASAT
UPPER RIGHT: NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).
LOWER LEFT: Credit: J. Clarke (Boston U. ) & Z. Levay (STScI ), ESA, NASA
LOWER CENTER: F. N. Owen  ( NRAO ) et al., VLA, NRAO, AUI
LOWER RIGHT: B. Balick ( U. Washington ) et al., WFPC2, HST, NASA


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Apr 19, 2005
Things That are Impossible

Theoretical assumptions will always be a part of scientific inquiry. They ground what is thought to be impossible. But new discoveries often surprise us with possibilities that require different assumptions.

Pictured above are a few things that were “impossible” under popular assumptions that held sway through much of the twentieth century. UPPER LEFT: An electrical discharge in a laboratory creates a ‘crater’ with all the anomalous characteristics of purported ‘impacts’ on other planets and moons. UPPER RIGHT: The familiar lightning of a thunderstorm is an electrical arc connecting two cells of oppositely charged plasma that calculations “prove” can’t be generated by wind. LOWER LEFT: Saturn’s auroras are electrical glow discharges powered by currents in its magnetosphere. LOWER CENTER: The jet of the active galaxy M87 is composed of hot plasma that is constricted to a filament thousands of light years long by the electromagnetic forces of the electric current flowing along its axis. LOWER RIGHT: Planetary nebulas are glow discharges powered by galactic electric currents, star-sized versions of laboratory plasma-discharge tubes.

With these “impossibilities” in mind, we offer the little game below for those who have followed a longstanding debate in science on the nature and origin of the universe.  The game pits standard cosmology against the new schools of plasma cosmology.


You can’t get mass separation in space. Hence, the Big Bang is impossible.

From a classical perspective, gravity is a solely attractive force arising from the property of mass that’s inherent in matter. When the quantity of matter in any volume exceeds a threshold such that the force of gravity is greater than any forces that resist compression, the matter will collapse without limit and become a black hole.

From a relativistic perspective, space-time curves around matter so that bits of matter tend to move toward the center. When the quantity of matter in any volume exceeds a threshold such that the curvature of space-time is greater than any extensional properties, the matter will collapse without limit and become a black hole.

Because the Big Bang theory postulates that all matter originated in the granddaddy of all black holes, to pull the matter out and to separate it into distributed bits would require more energy than exists in the universe. The universe as we observe it can’t really exist.

“But,” the argument goes, “the theory doesn’t begin with the black hole. It begins with the observation that mass is already distributed, and it calculates back to the black hole. We don’t know what blew up the black hole; we only see the result.”


You can’t get charge separation in space. Hence, the Electric Universe is impossible.

The attractive electrical force between the charges of an electron and a proton is 39 orders of magnitude greater than the gravitational attraction between their masses. To separate the electrons from the nuclei of atoms in a spoonful of salt would require more energy than exists in the universe. An electron and an ion in space, with nothing between them but vacuum, will seek each other out as fast as they can and neutralize their electric field. Electrical phenomena in space can’t really exist.

“But,” the argument goes, “the theories of the plasma universe don’t begin with neutral matter. They begin with the observation that charges are already separated. All the phenomena we see are visible because they radiate the energy that’s released as separated charges combine. We observe that they obey the laws of electrical circuits in plasma: formation of filaments, cells, and double layers; evolution through the characteristic sequence of instabilities as charges move toward equilibrium; coupling of larger-scale circuits to smaller-scale circuits. We don’t know where the largest-scale circuit gets its power; we don’t know why 99% of the universe is composed of separated charges; we only see the result.”

The moral of this game? What you really can’t get is assumption-free explanations.

For good articles that deal with time and space see:



David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
Amy Acheson
  CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong, Dwardu Cardona,
Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
  WEBMASTER: Michael Armstrong

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