Artist's rendition of a supposed black hole.
Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M.Kornmesser.
Blowing Hot Air
Jun 28, 2011
When hot air is
injected into a cool, lower pressure
environment, it expands. Stars appear to be
exempt from that rule.
Imagine a soccer ball filled with hot air.
Imagine it being punctured on a winter’s day.
What do you think will happen? Hot air…cold
surroundings…lower pressure…even without knowing
Boyle’s Law, one would expect expansion.
Now imagine that the soccer ball is scaled up to
the size of a star. Imagine it is a star.
Imagine that the hot air is really hot, so hot
that it’s ionized, and the winter’s day is as
cold and low-pressure as the vacuum of
interstellar space. Now what do you think will
happen? Um…I’d guess expansion.
Astronomers have found a star in a nearby galaxy
that has “collimated jets of fast moving
particles” and “a huge bubble of hot gas.” One
astronomer compares it to a soccer ball with
jets that reach to the orbit of Pluto. The
standard model of stars assumes that they are
isolated balls of really hot air bound by
gravity. The hot air is escaping from this
newfound star, and it’s expanding into a bubble.
So far, so good.
Unfortunately for the model, the hot air is
refusing to expand until it gets hundreds of
light-years away from the star. Then suddenly it
expands into a bubble a thousand light-years
wide that “contains a mixture of hot gas and
ultra-fast particles at different temperatures.”
Another astronomer remarked, “We have been
astonished by how much energy is injected into
Obviously, stars blow hot air according to rules
that are different from those that govern soccer
balls. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not stars that
blow hot air, but astronomers. Boyle’s Law may
be universally true after all; it just doesn’t
apply to stars and their jets and bubbles.
Astronomers have used the wrong law to build
After all, stars are not composed of hot air,
not even really hot air: they’re composed of
plasma. Plasma is electromagnetically active.
The fast-moving particles are really ions; their
movement is otherwise known as an electrical
current. That current generates an inwardly
directed magnetic force that constricts the
current into a filament—called a jet by
plasma-impaired astronomers and a Birkeland
current by plasma physicists. Electrical forces
accelerate the ions, electrons, and charged dust
to different velocities, which astronomers
interpret as different temperatures.
If the standard model used the wrong law for the
star’s composition and the wrong mechanism for
its containment, it’s probably wrong about the
star’s energy. With plasma and Birkeland
currents, stars cannot be isolated or internally
Moving charged particles must continue moving
around a circuit; if they stop, they will
quickly build up an electric field that stops
the current. The jets are part of galaxy-wide
circuits, and the stars are loads on a galaxy’s
power grid. The magnetic maps of galaxies trace
these circuits. The energy supplied to the
bubbles is only astonishing if it must be
supplied by the internal resources of the star.
It’s a minuscule portion of a galactic
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