picture of the day
SCP 06F6―you don't see it,
then you do and then you don't. Credit: NASA/HST
Sep 19, 2008
What the Heck is it?
An image from the Hubble Space Telescope has astronomers
baffled once again.
The Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP) recently announced the discovery of a
"mystery object" that does not fit with observational data compiled by the Sloan
Deep Sky Survey (SDSS). According to Kyle Barbary, an astrophysics graduate
student with U.C. Berkeley and lead author of
a paper appearing in The Astrophysical
Journal, the observation is:
"...inconsistent with all
known supernova types, is not matched to any spectrum in the
Sloan Digital Sky Survey database" of vast numbers of
objects. "We suggest that the transient may be one of a new
As Barbary and his colleagues indicate, the closest they can
come to the characterists of SCP 06F6 are quasars whose "hot
gas" envelopes absorb radiation emissions at specific
frequencies. However, a spectrographic analysis of the newly
found object reveals nothing recognizable to the team. They
are unable to determine if it is in our own galaxy or
somewhere much farther out in deep space.
One speculation suggests that the radiation profile could be
from gases falling into an undetectable supermassive black
hole (SMBH). As gas collides with material orbiting within
the intense gravity field generated by the SMBH, it becomes
superheated―often to temperatures exceeding ten million
Kelvin―and is heavily ionized. Indeed, one absorption line
was identified as Fe X (ten-times ionized iron) that is
often seen in the Sun's corona during a solar eclipse. Could
this clue be pointing to what has actually been observed?
Ten times ionized iron is
atomic iron with ten of its electrons stripped away.
Conventional theories propose that the ionization occurs
when the iron atoms collide with other atoms because the
solar corona is at such a high temperature. The energetic
collisions positively charge the iron, making it an
excellent conductor of electricity. Charge separation occurs
in the Sun's corona (and presumably in other stars), forming
double layers in the plasma. It is the
explosive collapse of double layers that causes solar
flares and other phenomena to erupt so violently.
In these pages we have often referred to Hannes Alfvén and his quotation about
double layers in space. He was of the opinion that they should be considered a
new class of celestial object because they are known to produce gamma and x-ray
bursts when they explode. (Alfvén, H., "Double layers and circuits in
astrophysics", (1986) IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science ISSN 0093-3813, vol.
PS-14, December 1986, pages 779-793).
Space is filled with cells and filaments of plasma, some radiating in arc-mode
and some radiating at frequencies that are invisible to the naked eye.
Electromagnetic forces in plasma are much more powerful than the “gravity-only”
force that prompts modern cosmological theories. Because Birkeland current
filaments connect cosmic bodies in circuits like light-years-long transmission
lines, an overload response to surges in the flow of galactic electricity could
be what astronomers are seeing in SCP 06F6. An invisibly radiating star might
have split due to electrical fissioning in order for the larger surface area to
accommodate the increased current. In a previous Picture of the Day about
a similar mechanism was described.
"After 100 years of neglect, an electrical model of stars is just beginning to
emerge. It is an engineer’s view that offers a coherent understanding of our
real place in the universe (cosmology) and practical insights for the future
exploration of space. If the Sun shines as an electric light ‘plugged in’ to the
Electric Universe, the objective tests become obvious. Perhaps, with a real
understanding of stars we may reach childhood’s end in the cosmos."
By Stephen Smith
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