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When dust particles from Comet Wild 2 struck a sponge-like "aerogel" collector in the Stardust
spacecraft, they left carrot-shaped imprints about a centimeter long. Credit: NASA

Dec 07
, 2006
Stardust Shatters Comet Theory (2)
Mythic “Oort Cloud” Finds No Support in Comet Dust
(This TPOD originally ran on March 20, 2006)

It’s now official. Minerals found in Comet Wild 2 dust particles can form only at high temperatures, and they cannot be distinguished from minerals found in meteorites and on rocky planets.

Dust particles ejected by Comet Wild 2 have provoked another surprise, contradicting the underlying assumptions of popular comet theory. When the Stardust mission returned “pristine comet material” from Comet Wild 2, project scientists were astonished to discover minerals that can only form at high temperatures—up to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. And the dust particles reveal no indications of the water that cometologists expected.

Standard theory states that comets formed billions of years ago in an imagined icy “Oort cloud” at the very fringe of the Sun’s domain, far beyond the orbit of Pluto. But the new findings require a quite different history.  A NASA news release on March 13, 2006 summarized the problem with this understatement—

“Scientists have long thought of comets as cold, billowing clouds of ice, dust and gases formed on the edges of the solar system. But comets may not be so simple or similar. They may prove to be diverse bodies with complex histories. Comet Wild 2 seems to have had a more complex history than thought”.

The disturbing discovery provoked a burst of creative attempts to rescue ideas stated as fact for at least thirty years.  Michael Zolensky, Stardust curator and co-investigator at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, suggested a novel interpretation that quickly caught on. "It seems that comets are not composed entirely of volatile rich materials but rather are a mixture of materials formed at all temperature ranges, at places very near the early sun and at places very remote from it." One science writer interpreted Zolensky’s comment this way: “The findings suggest materials from the center of the solar system could have traveled to the outer reaches where comets formed”.

So an obsolete theoretical conjecture persists in human imagination, despite an undeniable fact: Nothing discovered about comets—over many years of profound discovery— points to an origin in the remote region assumed.  A rational response will not exclude the question shouted by the new data.  Could something be wrong with earlier suppositions about the region of comet formation—suppositions that never produced a successful prediction in the course of the space age?

As for the water (ice), that was supposed to be the primary constituent of comets. But the anticipated markers of water on the nucleus of Wild 2 are absent. One mineral present in the comet particles is olivine, an iron-magnesium silicate. In the presence of water and even modest heat, olivine will be converted to another mineral, serpentine. Place olivine in the presence of water (steam?) at the temperatures indicated for its formation, and it would be almost instantly converted to serpentine.

According to Stardust principal investigator Donald Brownlee, “no evidence of water has been detected in the particles”. One sign of water, for example, would be the presence of hydrate silicates, Brownlee said, “but so far none of these have been found in the Stardust samples”.

How, then, are we to reconcile the absence of water signatures in the comet dust with the fact that cometary comas often exude an abundance of water (or at least the hydroxyl radical OH). We answered that question in a three-part series, “Deep Impact—Where’s the Water?” (first article here) The OH and whatever actual water may have been present in the coma were manufactured in the coma—an acknowledged “chemical factory”. The vehicle for this process has already been observed—reactions between the oxygen ions in the coma plasma and the hydrogen ions in the solar wind. Charge exchange is now known to occur.

The least we can say today is that most comets contain no appreciable levels of water (i.e., most comets are neither “dirty snowballs” nor “icy dirtballs”), Additionally, it needs to be emphasized that there is no conflict between Stardust and Deep Impact data. Brownlee, who is not prone to overstate theoretical implications, points out that Stardust collected dust that was released directly from the surface in jets. "We're confident that the things coming out [of Comet Wild 2] are the same as those that went in”, he told

That means the material has not been processed by the chemical factory of the coma. "We believe that we collected the most pristine samples of a comet”, he said.  Hence, the failure to find a signature of water in the comet dust is consistent with all of the facts we have presented in previous discussion.

It is not unreasonable to suggest, therefore, that only one comet model can make sense of what is otherwise a hopelessly confused picture. This model is electric. And thanks to the technological successes of the space age, all of the markers reasonably expected of an electric comet have been found.

Of course the implications of the electric model do not end with the origin and dynamics of comets. They extend to virtually all of the theoretical sciences, and range from questions of electricity in remote space, to the nature of stars and the violent history of the solar system.

Additionally, as we intend to make clear, human memories of cometary and planetary catastrophe cannot be excluded from this investigation.

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The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe available now!


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

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