picture of the day
An x-ray pulsar pulls matter from its stellar companion. Artistic
rendition: NASA/Dana Berry
May 26, 2008
Predictions, Falsifiability and the Standard
Model of Stellar Evolution
New information about an odd pair of stars has contradicted
the expectations of astronomers and called into question the
Thunderbolts Pictures of the Day articles have covered the topics of
neutron stars and
magnetars from the standpoints of electrical engineering and plasma physics.
Reports have repeatedly demonstrated the surprise and bewilderment exhibited by
astronomers at heavenly objects that have defied various theoretical
Now it seems that
the discovery of a pulsar with a sun-like companion has once again puzzled
astronomers and threatened to falsify the Standard Model. But, is such a thing
possible? Can theories be “falsified” any longer, in accordance with the
scientific method? Or is
real science outdated?
In one recent
article, a radio astronomer wrote:
"The big question
is -- how in the heck did this thing form, because it doesn't
follow our standard models of how these things form," astronomer Scott
Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia,
said. "If you were to ask any astronomer if we would have found a system like
this, they would have said no. So this is a very big surprise.” (Emphasis
If the findings
about the pulsar/sun-like star pairing are correct, it is a major blow to
conventional theories. The discovery was definitely not anticipated, and more to
the point, appears to have been excluded as a possibility under
previously adopted assumptions.
community’s surprise is once again echoed in another
article, as is the failure to predict the major features of this system:
"Our ideas about
how the fastest-spinning pulsars are produced do not predict either the kind of
orbit or the type of companion star this one has," said David Champion of
the Australia Telescope National Facility. "We have to come up with some new
scenarios to explain this weird pair... What we have found is a millisecond
pulsar that is in the wrong kind of orbit around what appears to be
the wrong kind of star. Now we have to figure out how this strange system
was produced." (Emphasis added).
are apparently grasping at straws in their attempts to explain this unexpected
stellar pairing and orbital geometry. If Karl Popper’s contention is believed,
that falsifiability is the test for whether a theory is scientific or not, then
this recent series of news releases appears to have falsified the Standard
Model. The question now is whether that fact will be acknowledged, or whether
astronomers will simply sweep another predictive failure under the rug. (See
Popper, Sir Karl R., Conjectures and Refutations, London: Routledge and
Keagan, 1963, pages 33-39).
predictive failures are required before a theory can be falsified? According to
Popper, the threshold is “one”. One concrete contradiction is sufficient to
falsify a theory and require that a new one be considered.
If the Standard
Model is falsified, what happens to the theories based on it such as red
dwarves, supernovae, neutron stars, pulsars and black holes? Can the existing
theories be salvaged, or must different alternatives be considered? Are the two
options mutually exclusive, or should the field of cosmology be opened to viable
competing theories and outside criticism?
It is time to
consider other theories that may have greater predictive success, even if it
requires reexamining a number of foundational assumptions about stars and the
universe in general. If electrical engineer Don Scott and plasma physicist Wal
Thornhill are correct, then radically different hypotheses based upon plasma and
electrodynamics should be applied to astronomy and cosmology. Theories need to
be in accord with data from space and with principles about plasma and
electricity gleaned from decades of research in the lab.
More than 99% of the matter in the universe is plasma. Plasma is highly
conductive, though not perfectly so, and there is no reason to believe that it
behaves differently in space than it does in the laboratory. There is no reason
to carry forward the incorrect notion of an electrically neutral universe in the
face of contradictory evidence everywhere we look in space.
Contributed by Michael Gmirkin.
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