IEEE, Plasma Cosmology and Extreme Ball Lightning
Wallace Thornhill, Holoscience.com
This is a report
on a few aspects of the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on
Plasma Science (ICOPS 2006), held in Michigan earlier this
month. The IEEE is the world's leading professional
association for the advancement of technology, with more
than 365,000 members. The labours of these large numbers of
professionals have driven technological progress in the
twentieth century. Their success has often been equated with
scientific progress, which has allowed the stagnation in the
hard sciences to be overlooked. It is engineers who have
made space exploration possible, and their precision probes
and navigation skills have returned data that routinely
surprises space scientists. After each surprise the
scientists scuttle back to their drawing boards but they
only touch-up the old picture. Perhaps it is time for
engineers to bring new concepts to the drawing board.
Members of the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society
began to show the way to a new understanding of the universe
several decades ago. Their practical experience with plasma,
the stuff from which almost the entire visible universe is
composed, contrasts strongly with the purely theoretical
approach of astrophysicists. Astrophysicists need to invent
black holes, dark matter, strange matter and dark energy
simply to salvage their theoretical models based on big bang
assumptions and the puny force of gravity. Their language
has lost touch with the newly perceived reality.
This slide, shown at the IEEE ICOPS 2006 conference, refers
to a "Z-pinch," which is the compression of an electric
discharge in plasma by its own induced magnetic field. The
canister in the center of the slide has a number of fine
tungsten wires stretched between the top metal cap and the
lower cap. An intense current pulse is sent through the
wires causing them to vaporize and form plasma. The current
generates a powerful cylindrical magnetic field that
squeezes the plasma inwards toward the vertical axis of the
canister. The fact that the plasma is "pinched" along the
z-axis gives rise to the term "Z-pinch."
The slide is important because it reveals the peculiar fact
that although plasma physicists can see the obvious
application of their high-energy laboratory Z-pinches to
cosmic phenomena, most seem to assume the electrical Z-pinch
is transitory, like their experiments. So they go on to
apply incorrect magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) concepts such as
"flows," "jets" and "shocks" to the cosmic phenomena.
Magnetohydrodynamics ignores electricity and relies on
magnetic fields being "trapped" in plasma. The "father" of
plasma physics, the late Hannes Alfvιn, showed decades ago
that the concept of "frozen in" magnetic fields in space
plasma is an invalid concept. He called for primary
consideration of the electric circuits, which must be
present to sustain the magnetic fields.
It is the contention of the Electric Universe model that all
stars are the focus of a continuous Z-pinch effect. Where
the discharge becomes sufficiently violent, the familiar
Z-pinch morphology becomes apparent in glowing bipolar
planetary nebulae (such as the one in the lower left image).
And, for example, at bottom center the beaded rings of
supernova 1987a are a manifestation of an ongoing
Z-pinch and have nothing to do with shocks.
A few IEEE plasma cosmologists do get the picture.
With a continuous source of current into a Z-pinch it
is possible to mimic the formation and movement of spiral
galaxies and the unexpected bipolar shapes of planetary
nebulae. No weird science is called for. The crucial
requirement is that an uninterrupted cosmic source of
electrical power be available. Yet no textbook on astronomy
or astrophysics dares to mention electricity. Magnetic
fields are mysteriously conjured up without electricity.
The most disturbing thing is that science has become so
specialized and insular that astrophysicists do not attend
meetings of the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society.
They would be shocked if they did. The freewheeling exchange
of ideas at ICOPS was quite an eye opener for someone who
also attends the monoculture of "big bang"
A notable presentation at the conference was by a well-known
radio astronomer who gave an invited paper to the Space
Plasmas audience. He was moved to depart from his prepared
talk by an exciting discovery he had made in consultation
with others at the conference. Radio astronomy enables
plasma scientists to map the "cosmic power lines" that
thread the universe. The difference between the Electric
Universe and the "shorted out" universe of astrophysics
could not be starker. The discovery, which I hope to report
on soon, puts the lid firmly on unscientific big bang
Extreme Ball Lightning
>>The earliest eyewitness sketch of a ball lightning
For me, one of the highlights of the IEEE Plasma Sciences
meeting was a Plenary Talk by J. Pace VanDevender, Vice
President Emeritus of Sandia National Labs, titled "Ball
Lightning: New Physics, New Energy Source, or Just
>> Pace VanDevender at the IEEE ICOPS 2006 meeting. Photo:
Dr. VanDevender is a Senior Member of the IEEE and a Fellow
of the American Physical Society and the American
Association for the Advancement of Science.
VanDevender does not consider ball lightning as "just
entertainment." He has launched into what he calls "High
Risk Research at the Boundary of Denial and Superstition."
His interest focuses on "Extreme Ball Lightning." The term
"extreme" distinguishes it from ordinary ball lightning,
which lasts less than 10 seconds and is benign. Ordinary
ball lightning is probably "normal plasma." It is the kind
of ball lightning produced in the laboratory. It
spontaneously appears in the open-air, closed rooms,
aircraft at altitude, and was seen in at least one
submarine. It appears before, during or after lightning.
About 5% are seen in clear weather.
However, VanDevender distinguished extreme ball lightning (EBL)
by the following characteristics:
it glows in air;
it originates from nothing visible;
it lasts between 10 and 1200 seconds;
it floats at about 1 meter/second;
it is lethal or potentially lethal;
it causes significant damage;
it contains energy estimated at 100,000 to 1 billion
Joules, far in excess of the energy density attributable to
chemicals or electrostatics;
it penetrates walls, glass and metal, generally without
leaving a hole;
it induces large currents but is in radial force
it leaves black streaks on corpses without the spasm of
it can excavate tons of earth.
An EBL in County Donegal, Ireland, on August 6, 1868
travelled about 1.6 km and excavated ~200 cubic meters of
water saturated peat in ~ 1200 second. VanDevender followed
up a reputable report by Michael Fitzgerald to the Royal
Society with a visit to the site. He confirmed the
essentials, insofar as it was possible so long after the
event. It was evident that the conductive peat would
immediately neutralize any charge, so EBL cannot be
Many ideas have been suggested. Radio frequency excitation
by a thunderstorm; polymer threads carrying large electric
charges; tiny black holes; and antigravity (offered by Carl
Sagan from unspecified physics). But to date, no theory
addresses the characteristics of EBL. It is an intriguing
problem. VanDevender said, "It seems to require new
My view is that explaining EBL doesn't require new physics.
The answer may be obscured by mistaken concepts in particle
physics. The clue comes from the observed ability of EBL to
penetrate solid material. VanDevender noted that EBL "may be
subatomic and electrically neutral to not violate
impenetrability of matter." There is one stable subatomic
particle that has the ability to pass through solids without
any appreciable effect the neutrino. But how can energy be
stored in neutrinos?
A neutrino has a vanishingly small mass which allows it to
change "flavours." If we do away with the misleading and
inappropriate language of particle physics, we may view the
neutrino "flavours" as different resonant states of an
orbiting system of massless charges within the neutrino.
This simple concept that all subatomic particles, including
the electron and neutrino, are composed of various resonant
configurations of smaller units of charge was discussed in
"Toward a Real Theory of Everything." There I wrote,
"The most collapsed form of matter is the neutrino, which
has a vanishingly small mass. However, the neutrino must
contain all of the charges required to form two particles
a particle and its antiparticle in a process known as
"pair production." This symmetry explains why a neutrino is
considered to be its own anti-particle. A neutrino, in the
presence of an atomic nucleus, may accept energy from a
gamma ray to reconstitute a particle and its anti-particle.
"Empty space" is full of neutrinos. They are the
repositories of matter in the universe, awaiting the burst
of gamma-radiation to expand them to form the stuff of
In this model of neutrino structure, neutrinos may have
intermediate, unstable resonant states between their ground
state and the state at which they split to form a particle
and anti-particle (pair production). Therefore, EBL may be a
rare phenomenon because it would require an exquisitely
tuned resonant environment to "pump up" the internal energy
of a population of neutrinos that happen to be "passing
It is known that pair production requires the presence of an
atomic nucleus to catalyze the reaction. It seems likely
that in the presence of an excited nucleus a neutrino may
accept a lower level of energy than required for pair
production and form a stable "heavy neutrino."
I envisage, for example, a lightning bolt striking a mineral
that contains a concentration of some heavy element, which
acts as a nuclear catalyst. In other words, the heavy
element has a resonance within its nucleus that matches a
high-energy one in adjacent neutrinos. There may be other
ways to excite this resonance.
The model I envisage for EBL goes like this:
1. A heavy element within the environment has a resonance
within the nucleus excited by lightning, cosmic-rays or some
2. Ubiquitous neutrinos drifting through the excited atoms
accept energy resonantly from a number of such excited
3. Following the usual relationship between mass and stored
E = mc2, the mass of the neutrino increases.
4. Such "heavy" or excited neutrinos are distorted to form
tiny electric dipoles, which will tend to clump together
since they have zero net repulsive charge.
5. The energy required to split a neutrino into a
positron-electron pair is considerable about a million
electron volts. That provides us with an upper limit of the
energy that may be stored within a single neutrino without
splitting it in two. It satisfies the requirement that the
stored energy in EBL exceeds that available by chemical or
6. The heavy neutrinos in the EBL would need to have a total
mass of a mere hundredth of a milligram to provide a
gigajoule of energy.
7. The radial electric field within the tiny sphere of heavy
neutrinos may be sufficiently intense to disrupt (ionize)
atoms they encounter. This may explain the glow and movement
8. Heavy neutrinos respond only weakly to gravity and have
no buoyancy since they do not displace matter but pass right
through it. This explains how EBL may pass through "walls,
glass and metal, generally without leaving a hole."
9. The heavy neutrinos will tend to release their stored
energy upon encounters with any atomic nuclei capable of
resonant interactions with them.
10. Considerable energy is available from transitions of the
heavy neutrinos back to the ground state. Low-energy
intermediate transitions may power the glow and movement of
the EBL. A sudden, explosive release of energy may be
triggered by chemical elements in the environment that can
accept energy resonantly from the EBL. High-energy
transitions leading to sudden heating and explosion are
11. This model explains why electrostatic effects are not
found. Victims are burnt or blackened and not electrocuted.
There are electromagnetic phenomena associated with EBL that
need to be investigated and the mode of energy transfer to
the environment needs more study. The question also arises
whether it is likely that heavy neutrinos might have been
observed in the laboratory. Neutrinos are the most common
and the most elusive particles in the universe even more
elusive than extreme ball lightning.
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