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The Inappropriate Language of Cosmologists
by Dave Smith

December 25, 2008
If there's something wrong with my car, I take it to a mechanic. BUT if the problem looks to be electrical, he or she will likely refer me straight to the nearest auto-electrician - it's not rocket science, it simply makes sense to go to those who have the right knowledge when looking for helpful answers - and it's high time cosmologists looked to plasma physicists for some of their answers, as the cosmologists seem to have things oh, so wrong...

A recent press release from spitzer/caltech got me seriously thinking about the highly speculative and downright incorrect "gravity only" dogma which has become modern cosmology, and the misleading terminology both scientists and scientific media alike choose to describe their strange universe.
Rivers of Gas Flow Around Stars in New Space Image
For Release: December 08, 2008

A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows a turbulent star-forming region, where rivers of gas and stellar winds are eroding thickets of dusty material.
Celestial "sea" of stars
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Povich (Univ. of Wisconsin)
[Click to enlarge]
The picture provides some of the best examples yet of the ripples of gas, or bow shocks, that can form around stars in choppy cosmic waters.

“The stars are like rocks in a rushing river,” said Matt Povich of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Powerful winds from the most massive stars at the center of the cloud produce a large flow of expanding gas. This gas then piles up with dust in front of winds from other massive stars that are pushing back against the flow.”
Somewhere along the line, cosmology has lost its way, and committed itself to explanations of space which don't match the observations. They can't possibly - they use mechanical language to attempt to explain what are clearly (to plasma physicists) electrical phenomena. Reading further through the release, the use of such inappropriate language is rampant:

“Rivers of gas” - Any rivers of gas would quickly expand and dissipate in space, just as they do in laboratory tests right here on Earth. The only way gas can form a river-like structure within a vacuum is if it is an ionized gas, or plasma. And the easiest way to produce a plasma is by energising the gas with electricity.

“Stellar winds” - Our solar "wind" was correctly identified by Kristian Birkeland over 100 years ago as an electric current. This was confirmed over 70 years later by THEMIS and again more recently by NASA. Why should other stellar "winds" be any different? And why call a current a wind?

“Eroding thickets of dusty material” - In the context of space this is an invented, meaningless phrase and thus worthy of nothing but contempt and ridicule. The tendency of ionized gas in a vacuum to take on a cellular structure where it encounters a region that has a different degree of charge separation was one of the phenomena which inspired Irving Langmuir to name such ionized gasses PLASMAS, because of the similarity of their behaviour to that of biological blood plasma. Later Nobel laureate Hannes Alfvén coined the term Double Layer to describe these intercellular boundaries, some of which are seen in the image above. Yet today cosmologists and astronomers still insist on using terms more suited to a boat yard than a laboratory.

“Ripples of gas, or bow shocks that can form around stars in choppy cosmic waters” - This description of double layers is nothing more than ‘purple prose’ (prose that is overly extravagant, ornate, flowery, and misleading). Drawing an erroneous analogy between the behaviour of cosmic plasma and the way water flows over rocks is completely misleading. No responsible educator, let alone our respected scientific institutions, should intentionally resort to the use of inappropriate false analogies no matter how clever they may seem.

Matt Povich of the University of Wisconsin should be deeply embarrassed by his use of blatantly misleading phraseology such as: “rocks in a rushing river ... Powerful winds ... flow of expanding gas ... gas then piles up with dust in front of winds from other massive stars that are pushing back against the flow.” Please spare us this exhibition of ignorance of basic plasma physics and consult with someone who knows something about the behaviour of ionized gasses in vacua.

Until astrophysicists and cosmologists adopt a truly open interdisciplinary approach and consult plasma physicists when dealing with plasma instead of pretending they know what they're talking about, they will continue to force-fit the behaviour of plasma in space into false analogies about how water flows over rocks. When the public wakes up to the fact that these fanciful explanations are demonstrably wrong, the level of professional embarrassment among astrophysicists and cosmologists will be unsurpassed in the annals of science.
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