Caption: Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) image of the stars DG Tauri B (left image)
and Herbig-Haro 30 (HH 30) (right image).
Credit: NASA/NASA's Observatorium; NASA's Observatorium
Dec 22, 2005
The flood of surprising space-age observations is bursting the explanatory limits of conventional views, which date from the gaslight era. A new view of the universe is emerging, one based on the modern discoveries of the electrical properties of plasma.
An apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head and he conceived the gravity universe. An aurora “fell” on Kristian Birkeland’s head and he conceived the plasma universe. The story of Newton and the apple is apocryphal. But Birkeland trekked to the Norwegian Arctic, stood under the aurora, and took measurements that revealed the presence of electric currents.
Newton lived in a world of apple trees, gaslights and gears. Birkeland lived on the threshold of a world of aurora probes, electric lights and plasma.
It’s been over 300 years since Newton encountered his apple, and his conception of gravity, now modified by Einstein and supplemented with similar mechanical theories of solids, liquids and gasses, has become the popular vision of space—an almost-empty universe of self-contained bodies. And now it’s been 100 years since Birkeland encountered his aurora, and his conception of electric currents in space, developed by such pioneers as Irving Langmuir and Hannes Alfven, has been a footnote to standard theory, rarely called upon except to explain the occasional curiosity in space.
But aided by the new tools of the space age, we’ve discovered that the earlier “curiosities” are much more than footnotes. They are predictable patterns, and they point to radically new possibilities. The cosmic theater has outgrown the Newtonian stage, and we need a larger setting to understand the broader cosmic drama. Instead of a vision of isolated bodies turning gear-like in a vacuum, we need a vision of electrical circuits embedded in a conducting medium whose components drive each other and may be in resonance. We have left the familiar world of solids, liquids and gasses. We have entered a world of plasma, where the rules are different and more complex. We now live in an Electric Universe.
Plasma is any substance that contains charged particles: negatively charged electrons, positively charged ions, or dust particles that have an excess of either electrons or ions. Fluorescent and neon lights are plasma. Lightning is plasma. Earth’s magnetosphere, the solar wind, and the sun itself are plasma. The glowing nebulas in space, often called gas clouds by mistake, are plasma. So are the dark clouds, composed mostly of molecules of hydrogen, but revealing themselves to be plasma by their magnetic fields and radio emissions. Back on Earth, the familiar world dissolves in the realization that power lines are plasma; molten rock is plasma; even raindrops may be plasma.
A region of plasma may be quiescent and almost indistinguishable from a solid or a liquid or a gas. But if a variability of sufficient intensity develops in some property—from shock, say, or a magnetic field variation, or an electric current running through it—the quiescent plasma can become active. Active plasma exhibits electrical behavior.
In regions of active plasma, sheets and filaments of charged particles flow, as can be seen in auroras and solar prominences. Flows of charged particles are electric currents. Persistent currents “close” in circuits; otherwise the charged particles would accumulate and quickly stop the flow.
This—the existence of circuits—is the essential distinction between the gravity vision and the Electric Universe vision. In the former, theorists use the term “plasma,” but they are thinking of the kinetic theory of gasses modified to accommodate magnetic field effects. They overlook the electrical behaviors of plasma circuits. In the Electric Universe vision, these electrical behaviors explain straightforwardly the many phenomena that have appeared curious and enigmatic to space-age explorers: radio and x-ray emissions from planets and comets, polar jets of braided plasma filaments and hourglass-shaped nebulosities of stars (such as the Herbig-Haro objects imaged above), beams of energetic particles along the spin axes of galaxies, and everywhere glowing filaments and magnetic fields. The existence of plasma circuits underlies the contradiction between the isolated bodies of the gravity universe and the connected components of the Electric Universe.
The behavior of active plasma at every point is influenced—or driven—by conditions in the rest of the circuit. Fluctuations are often driven to form double layers (DLs)—thin regions of opposite charge build-up with large voltage drops between them. DLs are electrical phenomena that do not appear in observations of magnetic fields. The electric forces in DLs can be very much stronger than gravitational and mechanical forces. Gas theory modified to encompass “magnetism” will overlook them.
DLs separate plasma into cells and filaments that have different qualities—different temperatures or densities or compositions. These cellular and filamentary structures show up especially in planetary nebulas, but they can be invisible in optical wavelengths and appear in x-ray or radio observations.
DLs are “noisy,” emitting radio waves over a broad band of frequencies. They can sort matter into regions of like composition and condense or rarify it. DLs can accelerate charged particles to cosmic ray energies.
And DLs can explode. Energy from the rest of the circuit flows into the break, and the explosion can release much more energy than is present locally. This effect is seen in flares on the sun and is likely responsible for the outbursts of novas, the so-called “exploding” stars.
The electromagnetic forces in currents squeeze the conducting channels into thin thread-like filaments. These filaments attract each other in pairs, but when they get close, instead of merging, they spiral around each other. Pairs of pairs, and more, may entwine into plasma “cables” that can transmit electrical power over enormous distances. We see these cables as the “jets” that connect Herbig-Haro stars and active galactic nuclei with DLs that may lie many light-years away.
But the “cables” can be invisible, too. These make up the galactic circuits that power the stars, analogs of the power lines , invisible at night, that carry electricity from generating stations to city lights. The “flux tube” that connects Jupiter’s moon Io to the bright spots in Jupiter’s auroras is an invisible plasma cable, undetected until a space probe flew through it.
The new vision of the cosmos connects components at one scale into circuits that are coupled to and driven by circuits at larger scales. This new cosmos is laced with hierarchies of interacting circuits.
The question arises: Where is the generator? At the largest scale we can observe, that of superclusters of galaxies, all we see are loads, power-consuming objects. If there is a generator, it lies beyond the reach of our telescopes. But the question belies an assumption carried over from the older vision: the assumption that the universe begins with neutral matter and that something—a generator—must separate charges to start the currents flowing. But it’s equally plausible to assume that the primordial condition of the universe was (or is) one of already separated charges. In any case, what we observe, and where our inquiry begins, is that charges are combining—electrically—in front of our eyes and our newly invented sensors.
Copyright 2005: thunderbolts.info