picture of the day
can also fly apart from rapid rotation of the nucleus, or explosively
pop apart like corks from champagne bottles due to the outburst of
trapped volatile gases". But the centrifugal forces acting on comet
nuclei are close to zero. And to posit heating in the middle of a
mile-wide dirty ice cube is, again, scientifically indefensible.
May 05, 2006
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Disintegrates
It is happening for "no apparent
reasons", scientists say, but the comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 has been
rapidly breaking apart, provoking another round of second-guessing by
above, captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, are the best pictures
yet of an event that has astronomers scratching their heads. The comet
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, otherwise known as Comet 73P, is disintegrating
in front of their eyes. But what is the cause of this extraordinary
event? Not one of the theoretical surmises offered so far has satisfied
the community of astronomers as a whole. From all standard vantage
points such an event presents inherent—some would say
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, first observed in 1930 and named after its two
German discoverers, completes an orbit every 5.4 years. Following its
discovery it was little more than a footnote in comet science until
1995. The first appearance of the comet that year was so bright that
astronomers hailed it as a new
comet. But as it turned out, the
"newcomer" was Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, presenting itself in more
glorious dress than ever before, despite the fact that conditions were
not favorable. It was 150 million miles away, but shining hundreds of
times more brightly than expected.
In early 1996
astronomers discovered that the comet had fragmented into at least three
pieces, an occurrence clearly linked to the spectacular brightening,
though no one could say what caused the event. It also appeared as if
one or more of the pieces was breaking into secondary fragments.
When the comet returned in 2000 it was again brighter than expected,
with indications that the disintegration was continuing—or even
accelerating. And now, with its most recent appearance, the best Hubble
images show dozens of fragments, suggesting the possibility of complete
dissolution in a single remaining passage around the Sun.
Meanwhile, the "explanations" proposed for the
comet's catastrophic fate can only diminish confidence in today's comet
science. Even in the face of falsifying discoveries, the specialists
appear unwilling to reconsider their theoretical starting point. One
astronomer, from the Sydney Observatory, offered this
explanation of the comet's fragmentation:
"It's like pouring hot coffee into a glass that's been in the fridge.
The glass shatters from the shock".
But there is no rational comparison of the two phenomena. Any explanation by
resort to "thermal stress" must provide for heat transfer rapidly
through thousands of feet of insulating material,
something inconceivable even if you ignore the deep freeze of the vacuum
through which the comet is moving, with its sunward face continually
changing due to rotation.
astronomer, from University of Western Ontario, suggested, "The most
likely explanation is thermal stress, with the icy nucleus cracking like
an ice cube dropped into hot soup". All that this "explanation" requires
is a little home experiment. The ice cube will not shatter
explosively, or any way display effects comparable to the disintegration
of Schwassmann- Wachmann 3—not even if dropped into boiling
water. It will melt. And no matter what a comet is composed of, the heat
transfer the "theory" implies for a mile-wide solid object
is beyond all reason.
In addition to citing possible "thermal stresses", the Hubble Space
Telescope website offers other possibilities as to why comets might
disintegrate so explosively
Perhaps then, Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 "was shattered by a hit from a
small interplanetary boulder?" offered one of the astronomers quoted
"But make that a series of one-in-a-trillion hits", mused a critic of
today's comet science. "That way we can explain the continuing
fragmentation over years".
Comet science is indeed in trouble, and it is
particularly dismaying to see spokesmen for the Hubble site announcing
that their telescope may help to "reveal which of these breakup
mechanisms are contributing to the disintegration of 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann
3". Neither NASA, nor the Hubble folks in particular will find evidence
for any of the "hypotheses" offered, say the electrical theorists.
electrical viewpoint the periodic breakup of comets is no surprise.
Fragmentation and disintegration illustrate the same dynamic forces
observed in the "surprising" outbursts of comets.
Electrical outbursts and complete disintegration are merely matters of
degree in a discharging or
exploding capacitor, which is exactly what an "active comet"
is in the electrical interpretation.
A capacitor, one
of the most commonly used devices in electrical engineering, stores
electrical charge between layers of insulating material. And that is
what a comet moving through regions of different charge will
do—it will store electric charge. A comet nucleus can be compared to the
insulating material, the dielectric, in a capacitor. As charge is
exchanged from the comet’s surface to the solar "wind" (actually an
electrically active plasma), electrical energy is stored in the nucleus
in the form of charge polarization. This can easily build up intense
mechanical stress in the comet nucleus, which may be released
catastrophically. And just as a capacitor can explode when its
insulation suffers rapid breakdown, a comet can do precisely the same.
As suggested by
electrical theorist Wallace Thornhill, "comets break up not because they
are chunks of ice 'warming' in the Sun, and not because they are loose
aggregations of smaller bodies, but because of electrical discharge
within the nucleus itself".
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, first observed in 1930 and named after its two
German discoverers, has never put on a spectacular display comparable to
such "Great Comets" of the twentieth century as Halley, Hale-Bopp, and
Hyakutake. It is a short-period comet: for electrical theorists that
means a lower-voltage comet—and, as a rule, less drama.
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 completes an orbit every 5.4 years. Its path
takes it from just beyond the orbit of Jupiter to inside the orbit of
Earth. But it does not visit the more remote regions of the solar
system, while the spectacular "Great Comets" spend long periods
adjusting in that more negative environment of the Sun's domain before
racing sunward. What Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 does exhibit, however, is a
highly elliptical (elongated) orbit, so in electrical
terms that means more rapid transit through the Sun's electric field and
more intense stresses on the capacitor than would be the case were the
comet moving on a less eccentric path between the regions of Jupiter's
and Earth's orbits.
comet is presently headed toward perihelion, or closest approach to the
Sun (within 87.3 million miles), on June 6. Well before then, on May 12th
it will pass within 7.3 million miles of Earth. Though that is roughly
30 times the distance of the Moon from Earth, many earthbound and space
telescopes should capture images of the comet in sufficient resolution
to provide additional critical tests of the electrical model.
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