The Safire Project – Testing the Electric Sun

Outside of the earth, the Sun is the most heavily studied body in the solar system. Yet almost all of the Sun’s features present major quandaries for solar physicists. But now, an expert on “Design of Experiment” methodologies, Monty Childs, is heading up a project to demonstrate how an electrified plasma environment can produce the enigmatic features of the Sun in the laboratory. Monty and his research group are confident that the technology is now available to rigorously test the electric Sun hypothesis.

Thunderbolts Project

Proposal for an experiment to test the electric Sun hypothesis
By David Talbott

The following summary, distributed in July 2012,  provides a background for general readers explaining our support of the SAFIRE project.

In recent decades observation of atmospheric conditions on the Sun have brought increasing attention to the fundamentals of solar physics. Temperature anomalies, charged particle accelerations away from the Sun, anomalous magnetic field behavior, super rotation of the Sun’s equatorial atmosphere, polar jets, and a good deal more have raised questions that could well require new theoretical vantage points.

One issue carrying major implications for solar physics is the recent evidence for a dynamic connection of the Sun to its external plasma environment—not just in the limited sense that the Sun provokes electromagnetic activity far from its surface (an established and fully acknowledged fact); but in the more radical sense that the Sun itself may be responding to external electrical input.

When speaking of the Sun’s atmosphere, it is convenient to include the plasma medium extending from the Sun out to the heliospheric boundary. The point has been underscored in recent years by the Earth’s own presence in this extended atmosphere, permitting electrical circuitry between the Earth and the Sun to light the auroras. That surprising discovery came alongside many others directing attention to the possibility that such circuitry, though subtle, could pervade the solar system.  Due to the immense volume of the heliosphere, the electrical potential could be far beyond anything measurable or obvious.  What would that mean for our understanding of the Sun’s surface and its enigmatic atmospheric behavior?

Even at the distant boundary of the heliosphere, anomalies in charged particle behavior have been headlined, suggesting that “electrical” transactions may even extend beyond this boundary into the galactic arm of the Milky Way.

It seems that none of the Sun’s atmospheric mysteries follow in any obvious way from models of the Sun formulated prior to the space age.

The thermonuclear model seemed secure and fully sufficient well into the 1980s, when Hans Bethe received the Nobel Prize (1983) for having formulated a mathematically compelling “main cycle” of the fusion process in stars. In particular, Bethe’s work served to explain and predict the three characteristics of the Sun that solar physicists considered most fundamental: Its heat, its stability, and the observed variations in the spectral signatures of stars.  This enabled astronomers to generalize the model into a “main sequence” of stellar evolution based on the relative ages of these bodies. The envisioned sequence is illustrated graphically in the “Hertzsprung-Russell” diagram:

Stars falling onto the main sequence “life of stars” in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram appear along the diagonal plot.

This diagram connects the spectral varieties (surface temperatures) of stars to stellar luminosities. The hotter bluish stars are those of highest luminosity and the cooler reddish stars exhibit the lowest luminosity.  For astronomers, this became a convenient graphic illustration of the envisioned evolutionary life of stars as formulated under the thermonuclear model.

Since the 1980s, our space probes have enabled us to view the Sun’s surface and atmosphere at high resolution and across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Curiously, we observe remarkable stability of the Sun at its visible surface, but extreme variability at the higher frequencies of the corona, where X-ray emissions dominate.  Is the higher variability above the surface a pointer to a boundary condition? An electrical interpretation would see the interface of two plasma regions of different electrical potential (visible sphere of the Sun and its surrounding plasma environment).

A heliospheric electric field centered on the Sun would suggest that the heliosphere as a whole would be more electrically active than previously assumed. We would expect electromagnetic events within the heliosphere to consistently exhibit higher energies than predicted for an electrically neutral environment. Indeed this appears to be the pattern of “discovery and surprise” in the space age. Our explorations of the planets and their moons have benefited greatly from a growth in investigative technology.  This sophistication has led to numerous unanticipated discoveries of apparent electromagnetic connectivity driving events within the solar system:

1) super rotation of upper planetary atmospheres, from Venus to Neptune, all suggesting an invisible influence from above the atmosphere;

2) the highly filamentary comet-like plasma tail of Venus reaching to Earth;

3) evidence for cometary outbursts in relation to solar activity (i.e., charged particles from the Sun provoking surface activity on comet nuclei, not just warming by the Sun);

4) intensely hot plumes of Jupiter’s moon Io moving across its surface, complemented by the removal of charged particles from Ganymede and Europa, all with electrical footprints in Jupiter’s auroras;

5) the “impossible” energies of unexplained plumes erupting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, with associated electric currents;

6) episodic outbursts of dust storms on Mars, creating massive clouds and occasionally covering the entire planet. That such event would occur in an atmosphere only .008 that of Earth is a continuing mystery;

7) “dust devils” on Mars reaching the heights of Mt. Everest accentuate the same Martian mystery. And packed vortices on the leading edge of Martian dust storms violate all traditional dust devil mechanics;

8) dust-raising electromagnetic activity on the Moon in relation to movement through the Earth’s magnetosphere;

9) red sprites and blue jets exploding into space from Earth’s upper atmosphere;

10) electrodynamics of the Van Allen Belt, suggesting complex current flow and radically varying charged particle densities;

11) continuing acceleration of charged particles from the Sun out past the inner planet.

Recent discoveries of electrical and magnetic activity in space pose extraordinary new opportunities for scientific exploration. Is it possible that longstanding questions in solar physics could find new explanations in external electrical influences on the Sun? If an electrified heliosphere is provoking the mysterious atmospheric dynamics of the Sun, this is surely a condition well worth exploring. Posing the theoretical question will invite a comprehensive review of recent data from new vantage points. But a practical experiment could also be conducted. In a plasma environment, can external electric fields and electric currents produce known features of the Sun on a charged sphere?

A brief review of prior experiments and theoretical work follows.

Kristian Birkeland

“According to our manner of looking at the matter, every star in the universe would be the seat and field of activity of electric forces of a strength that no one could imagine.”

Kristian Birkeland

It was Kristian Birkeland who correctly hypothesized in the early 20th century that electric currents from the Sun power the earth’s auroras. For many decades, it was commonly believed that Earth’s magnetosphere is an impenetrable envelope, “squeezed” by the solar wind to induce auroral activity. It was not until the satellite Triade detected the magnetic signatures of two large sheets of electric current that Birkeland’s hypothesis found direct validation in space exploration. Later, in 2007, the Themis satellite “found evidence of magnetic ropes connecting Earth’s upper atmosphere directly to the sun.” These streams of charged particles are now called “Birkeland Currents.”

In testing his ideas about the Earth/Sun connection, Birkeland built a vacuum chamber and placed a magnetized metal ball called a “terrella” inside it, representing the Earth. He observed how the terrella behaved in its artificial, electrically charged atmosphere. In addition to solving the riddle of Earth’s auroras, Birkeland’s electrical experiments also simulated planetary rings and the energetic displays of cometary jets. A full century later Carl-Gunne Fälthammer, Professor Emeritus of the Alfvén Laboratory in Sweden, would write:

“A reason why Birkeland currents are particularly interesting is that, in the plasma forced to carry them, they cause a number of plasma physical processes to occur (waves, instabilities, fine structure formation). These in turn lead to consequences such as acceleration of charged particles, both positive and negative, and element separation (such as preferential ejection of oxygen ions). Both of these classes of phenomena should have a general astrophysical interest far beyond that of understanding the space environment of our own Earth.”

Carl-Gunne Fälthammer

Seen from this perspective, Birkeland laid the groundwork for promising experimental explorations of the solar atmosphere and its elusive mysteries.

Charles Bruce

In 1941 Dr. Charles E. R. Bruce, of the Electrical Research Association in England, began developing a new perspective on the Sun. An electrical researcher, astronomer, and expert on the effects of lightning, Bruce was fascinated by a solar prominence traveling a million miles in a single hour—roughly the propagation speed of a lightning leader stroke. It was this observation that opened the path of his life’s work, leading him to conclude that solar flares, their temperature, and their spectra all provide a perfect match with lightning.  In 1944 he suggested that the Sun’s photosphere “has the appearance, the temperature and the spectrum of an electric arc; it has arc characteristics because it is an electric arc, or a large number of arcs in parallel.” This discharge characteristic, he claimed, “accounts for the observed granulation of the solar surface.”

Ralph Juergens

In 1972 and in the years that followed a U.S. engineer, Ralph Juergens, inspired by Bruce’s work, published a series of articles proposing that the Sun is not an isolated body in space. Rather, it is the most positively charged body in the solar system and the focus of a galaxy-powered “glow discharge,” sustained by invisible electric currents.

But how could the planets, our Earth included, remain unaffected by such a profound role of charge separation in space? It is now evident that the planets are affected, though in ways that were not originally obvious. Juergens observed that the key must lie in the way charged bodies in plasma isolate themselves from the charge of the surrounding environment, by forming a “space-charge sheath.” On a planetary scale we see these sheathes as magnetospheres, preserving within them the planets’ electric fields.

Juergens was the first to make the theoretical leap to the more radical concept of the Sun powered by an external electrical supply.

Hannes Alfvén

It was long believed that the “vacuum” of space would not permit electric currents. But when it was discovered that all of space is a sea of conductive plasma, the implication seemed to be that any charge separation would be immediately neutralized. The point was stated bluntly by the eminent solar physicist Eugene Parker, “…No significant electric field can arise in the frame of reference of the moving plasma.”

The leading plasma physicist of the 20th century, Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfvén, suggested otherwise. He offered voluminous evidence that intricate cosmic structure and high-energy events in space are the witnesses to electric currents threading the sea of interstellar and intergalactic plasma.

Alfvén predicted that when currents flow in space plasma, the magnetic fields produced will tend to confine the flow to narrow, twisting filaments, known as plasma z-pinches.. More intense focusing of this current flow, he said, will often generate explosive electric discharge, and the consequent electromagnetic radiation can include—at the highest energies—“synchrotron” radiation, now abundantly observed in space. But when Alfvén predicted galactic synchrotron radiation, electric fields in space had not yet entered the astronomers’ lexicon.

Based on diligent laboratory work spanning decades, Alfvén developed a model of galactic circuits in which electric currents flow inward along the arms of galaxies, generating an encircling magnetic field. On reaching the galactic center, the electric charge that drives these currents is stored in a compact electromagnetic plasmoid—a rotating torus or donut-shaped structure episodically releasing its stored energy as jets along the galaxy’s spin axis. Alfvén concluded that this is how an “active galactic nucleus” (AGN) is born.  From this vantage point the electrical behavior of the galactic plasmoid, though often hidden by dust, is the confirmation of immense electric potential.

Given our proximity to the Sun and the immanent opportunity to take electrical measurements close to the dynamic activity of the Sun, this body is surely our best window to the roles of plasma and associated electric currents in space.


If electrical transactions are occurring between the Sun’s domain and the galactic arm of the Milky Way, one of the places this should show up is the heliospheric boundary. For this reason the Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission (IBEX) investigating the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium could be an important indicator of interfacial electrical transactions. IBEX was intended to measure the flux of Energetic Neutral Atoms (ENAs), and it was expected that the data would show a “termination shock” similar to what is believed to be observed around other stars. It would seek to determine the strength of the termination shock and its distance from the sun. But IBEX did not find the expected “shock” region. What it did find was a highly enigmatic ribbon of enhanced ENA emission—a spectrally distinct feature of unknown origin. “The results were not expected by any of the models submitted to support the IBEX mission.” Equally enigmatic were the variations in strength and location “The results are requiring a complete reconsideration of our fundamental concepts of interaction between the heliosphere and the interstellar medium.”

The evidence suggests that the heliospheric boundary is not a smooth transitional regions, but characterized by cellular plasma structures, a typical signature of boundary conditions in an electrified plasma environment. Is the dramatic slowing of the solar wind at the boundary due to a reversal of the electric field of the Sun extending out to this boundary? This would explain the surprising absence of temperature increases that standard theory predicted at the envisioned “termination shock.”

Star Formation Along the Milky Way Filaments

Rapidly accumulating evidence suggests that electric currents flow across intergalactic, interstellar, and interplanetary space, contributing directly—often decisively—to the evolution of cosmic structure. As today’s theorists come to acknowledge this role, the picture of space will be forever changed.

The emerging electrical perspective sees an integral connection of stars and galaxies to their external environments. As observation began to reveal unexpectedly high and strongly focused energies in space, prior theory required that the motor come from inside the observed structures, initiated either directly or indirectly by gravity. That requirement, in turn, could only dissuade astronomers and cosmologists from asking the most fundamental question: is it possible that external electric currents, powered by a stored charge in deep space, could drive much of the observed structural evolution?

Hannes Alfvén, the most accomplished plasma scientist of the 20th century, recognized that intricate cosmic structure and high-energy events in space are the direct evidence of electric currents threading the sea of interstellar and intergalactic plasma. For example, we now detect the “hum” of these cosmic power lines by their radio signals.

In this radical break from earlier theory, the newborn galaxies could in fact be lit by electric lights—the stars strung along galactic filaments as witnesses to interstellar power lines or current streams. That was, in fact the prediction by Hannes Alfvén in 1986.

Surprisingly, the Herschell infrared telescope recently showed stars being born along glowing filaments. The ESA reported: “an incredible network of filamentary structures, and features indicating a chain of near-simultaneous star-formation events, glittering like strings of pearls deep in our Galaxy.”

As reported by ESA, the star-forming filaments of the Milky Way “are huge, stretching for tens of light years… regardless of the length or density of a filament, the width is always roughly the same.”

Perspective on solar theory and experiment

The hypothesized thermonuclear core of the Sun, generating energy by the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium, is based in part, but only in part, on a long history of experiments with nuclear reactions and transmutations. That work began with Ernest Rutherford in 1917, and the practical experimental paths that followed led to two quite different outcomes.

In the early 1940s, the Manhattan project began exploring nuclear fusion with the intent of building a massive uncontrolled nuclear explosion, a hydrogen bomb. This goal was fulfilled on November 1, 1952, with the first successful hydrogen bomb test.

By the time of this accomplishment, the nuclear physicist Hans Bethe had already formulated a mathematical sequence of reactions, or steps, in an envisioned “main cycle” of stellar nuclear fusion. From there it was only a matter of time until Bethe’s formulation became the accepted model of nuclear fusion in the Sun.

Almost immediately after the first hydrogen bomb test, large scale efforts began in the hope of creating “controlled thermonuclear fusion” in the laboratory, and that soon became a global mission “for the benefit of all mankind.” Unlimited energies would be produced by replicating the process envisioned in the center of the Sun.

It was originally believed that success could be achieved within 20-years. But today, after 60 years and 100s of billions of dollars expended globally, no experimental approach has produced more energy than pumped into the experiment. The reasons for this are now debated.

Solar Atmospheric Anomalies

Quite apart from the apparent stalemate in the quest to mimic the Sun’s thermonuclear core, it is a remarkable fact that the enigmatic features of the solar atmosphere reveal few if any causal connections to events occurring in the core of the Sun. It is the growing atmospheric mysteries that direct our attention to the work of the earlier electrical theorists noted above, and this work can now be viewed in the light of massive new data on the Sun gathered in recent years.

Solar Enigmas in Review

Are electric fields and electric currents acting on the solar surface? And could the aggregate electrodynamics explain what has remained unexplained in contemporary solar physics. The mysteries include:

1) rapid acceleration of the solar wind away from the surface, up to millions of miles per hour; from an electrical vantage point such acceleration is the best indication of electric field strength;

2) more intense outbursts (coronal mass ejections) achieving speeds up to one quarter the speed of light—velocities plausibly achieved only in an electric field;

3) continued acceleration of the solar wind out past the inner planets, implying an extensive electric field acting on the particles long after they have departed the Sun;

4) a temperature minimum close to the Sun’s surface (approx. 5,000K, rising spectacularly through the chromosphere and into the corona, with outer corona temperatures up to 20 million degrees. (This, too, suggests an interfacial region—a plasma “double layer”—between the Sun and its extended plasma atmosphere);

5) “open” magnetic field lines, a violation of standard electromagnetic equations. This enigma disappears if the lines actually extend into the larger galactic domain as pathways of galactic currents flowing into the heliosphere. In such an arrangement, the lines close as required, but not within the heliosphere;

6) polar jets, a classical feature of electric discharge in plasma.

7) Equatorial torus, a feature well documented in Kristian Birkeland’s experiments with electrical bombardment of a magnetized sphere;

8) super-rotation of the equatorial atmosphere—35 rotations for every 26 rotations of the circumpolar atmosphere—a contradiction of standard atmospherics, but a predictable effect if the atmosphere is being driven by external, rotating cylindrical currents along the Sun’s axis, pinching down (plasma z-pinch) to meet the solar surface;

9) recent findings that the convection required to sustain the Sun’s magnetic field is not occurring. The full significance of this finding has yet to be studied.

A Call for Experimental Design

The above features carry one implication in common: they suggest that the Sun is not an island in neutral space, but the focal point of a heliospheric electric field.

Of course, numerous details of the primary field and complex secondary fields and associated electric circuitry remain to be clarified. For this reason we recommend a re-evaluation of recent data on the Sun and its heliospheric environment. And we further recommend that this reevaluation occur in combination with a controlled experiment—an update of Birkeland’s terrella experiment with more sophisticated capabilities and intensive high-definition monitoring. Based on present knowledge of the Sun, together with available technologies, we can now be confident that a well-designed experiment could produce many of the solar features that have so far eluded investigators.

From the discrete planning and staging of an experiment to  “model” various enigmatic attributes of the Sun, we believe that the following outcomes are now plausible:

1) rapid acceleration of an induced “solar wind” away from the surface of the body;

2) explosive eruptions and ejections of charged particle clouds with the greatest accelerations;

3) creation of a rotating plasma atmosphere and “super-rotation” of the equatorial plasma;

4) creation of an equatorial torus;

5) creation of a high energy, high-temperature “corona”

6) “photospheric tufting,” possibly including nuclear fusion;

7) creation of polar jets;

8) creation of migrating “sunspots”;

9) simultaneous electrical events, including explosive arcing on opposite sides of the sphere;

10) “solar cycles” induced by changes in electrical input;

With this experimental objective in mind we recommend that a research group be organized to design a laboratory experiment aimed at simulating the elusive but fundamental attributes of the Sun in an electrified plasma environment. The experiment should include the best available experts on plasma and electrodynamics, together with those closest to recent explorations of the Sun itself.

Now Available - Seeking the Third Story DVD

2 Lectures by David Talbott According to author David Talbott, all of human history can be seen as just two stories. First, came the story of ancient mythology, when towering gods were said to have ruled the world. Then came the story of science, emerging from a growing distrust of the myths and a new emphasis on direct observation and reason. But a third story is possible, according to Talbott, one that sees the underlying provocation of the myths in extraordinary electrical events occurring close to the Earth. To be believed, a third story must be more coherent and more meaningful than either archaic religious mythologies or the modern mythologies of popular science.

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