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Explosive Mystery

The European VLBI Network observes FRB 121102 (Artist’s impression). © Danielle Futselaar.


Oct 20, 2017

Plasma phenomena are similar no matter how big or how small.

Editor’s Note: Due to Northern California wildfires, the Picture of the Day will be on a temporary leave of absence. In the interim, please enjoy these articles from the archives. 

Almost ten years ago, astronomers discovered an energy signature they called a “Fast Radio Burst”, or FRB. The event lasted five milliseconds, reportedly releasing more energy than the Sun puts out in a month. Distance to the source was said to be a billion light-years and was surmised to come from the death of a black hole. Recently, cosmologists have come to think that black holes can “evaporate” with surprising violence. If a black hole contains “M” solar masses it will “glow” at 6 X 10^-8/M Kelvin. That means a black hole will eventually explode like a hydrogen bomb.

Another source for FRB energy is thought to be from “cosmic batteries”. If a black hole orbits a neutron stars, their close approaches to each other creates the power that sends these strange bursts into space with gravity. A black hole spinning in a neutron star’s magnetic field is said to create an electric current because astrophysicists believe that waving magnetic fields create electricity.

Recently, astronomers working with a combination of radio and optical telescopes announced that they identified the location of a fast radio burst, called FRB 121102, finding that it came from 3 billion light-years away. If correct, that means a radio frequency broadcast lasting less than the blink of an eye exploded into space with the force of many supernovae. As the press release states, however, astronomers now have a new puzzle: the source of the broadcast is from a “surprisingly small galaxy”.

Since the galaxy is “puny”, it is thought that black hole physics must be involved with FRB formation there. Black holes consuming gas or black holes radiating away their masses—neither idea conforms to Electric Universe theory. Radio waves and a range of energy curves are properties of lightning bolts. Computer simulations demonstrate that plasma phenomena are scalable over several orders of magnitude, so they behave in the same way whether in atoms or galaxies. Perhaps FRBs are really flashes of cosmic lightning erupting from electrified clouds of plasma on an immense scale.

If correct, FRBs are most likely nearby, so they are less energetic. Plasma is the correct way to interpret their behavior, but it is exploding double layers that impel them. Rather than relying on mathematical phantoms like black holes in tandem with overweight neutron stars, why not create real, testable hypotheses and work them up with real, physical models?

Plasma experiments in the laboratory correspond to plasma formations in space because of the scalability factor: under similar conditions, plasma discharges produce the same formations independent of size, whether in the laboratory or on a planetary, stellar, or galactic level. Since duration is proportional to size, an electric spark that lasts for microseconds in the laboratory might last for years at the stellar scale, or for millions of years at the galactic scale.

Stephen Smith

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