Stardust Shatters Comet Theory (2)
Mythic “Oort Cloud” Finds No Support in Comet
(This TPOD originally ran on March
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.
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
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”.
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.
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 Space.com.
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
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.
we intend to make clear, human memories of cometary and
planetary catastrophe cannot be excluded from this
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and The Electric Universe