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Cluster’s "Magnetic Reconnection" Data and the Big Picture

September 19, 2008

The Cluster results which came in several weeks ago gave scientists a new view of "magnetic reconnection." But have their interpretations of the data given us a complete picture of what’s going on or did they miss the bigger picture? It seems they’ve left electricity out of the equation once again.
Left: Magnetic field lines around a magnetic null observed by Cluster.
											Image credit: He, J.-S. et al.
											Right: Figures 1 & 2 from Real Properties of Magnetic Fields in the Cosmos.
											Image credit: Don Scott.
Left: Magnetic field lines around a magnetic null observed by Cluster.
Image credit: He, J.-S. et al.
Right: Figures 1 & 2 from Real Properties of Magnetic Fields in the Cosmos.
Image credit: Don Scott.
In a prior Thunderblog, readers were informed that where we see magnetic fields we must also consider the source electric currents. Failure to do so will only lead to confusion over cause and effect relationships.

In another Thunderblog, electrical engineer Don Scott noted that astronomers have been doing a poor job of ‘reinventing the wheel’ with respect to magnetic fields seen ubiquitously in space. Rather than adhering to the well-defined, well-known relationship of electricity to magnetism, and vice versa, astronomers attempt to describe magnetic fields as prime movers and shakers, independent of their relationship to the electric currents required to spawn them.

A recent news release has presented current findings from the Cluster team, with regard to the process astronomers have dubbed "magnetic reconnection." Magnetic reconnection has been implicated in a great many solar and astrophysical processes. Thus, its study is of paramount importance to astronomers, who do not yet understand how it works.

"Magnetic reconnection" deals with the apparent topology changes of magnetic field lines (a visualization tool denoting the direction and strength of a magnetic field). Astronomers claim that magnetic fields themselves play the dominant role in physical interactions and in the release of associated energetic outbursts of x-rays, etc. However, they appear to forget that the strength of a magnetic field (and thus the topology of its field lines) is directly dependent upon the strength of the electric current generating it. They also forget that magnetic fields are always a smooth continuum and complete "circuit" so-to-speak. Field lines are not ‘real’ entities that can be snapped, broken, rearranged, coiled up, wiggled like a slinky, or many of the other mystical processes ascribed to them by astronomers. They simply vary with their source currents. When current strength goes up, so does the strength of the magnetic field. This is how the electromagnets used in particle accelerators and other industrial processes work. If the current is removed, or the associated charged particles are set into random motion (disrupting current flow), the magnetic field collapses.

Dr. Charles W. Smith is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of New Hampshire with interests in the solar wind, interplanetary magnetic fields, and the interaction of the solar wind with planets and particles. In answering a question about electricity and magnetism, Dr. Smith made a surprising confession that should embarrass many proponents of "magnetic reconnection."
Question: Is there any way a magnetic field can be stopped or broken?

Answer: You can't cut magnetic fields ... [t]here are a couple of ways to describe why you can't cut magnetic field lines in the sense that you would create two "ends" of a string when you cut it, but it all comes back to the assumption that there are no magnetic monopoles ... If they are found, then we know how to revise the theory of magnetism to allow for "cut" field lines, but so far those changes have not been needed.


Then, if you want to take the next step, Google "magnetic reconnection" and open a whole new world of questions regarding the cutting of magnetic field lines.

Dr. Charles W. Smith (June 2007)
This admission should give astronomers pause... Magnetic fields cannot be cut or broken! They are strictly dependent upon electric currents.

Dr. Charles Smith, we salute you for your candor!

In fact, the late Nobel prize-winning plasma physicist Hannes Alfvén and the more contemporary electrical engineer Don Scott heartily agree that "magnetic reconnection" is an incorrect paradigm and that, according to Maxwell and Ampere, electricity and magnetism are intimately connected and inseparable. Astronomers, electrical engineers and physics buffs can see Alfvén’s paper Double layers and circuits in astrophysics and Don Scott’s paper Real Properties of Electromagnetic Fields and Plasma in the Cosmos for additional technical details.

The problem seems to be, at its root, a mistake of confusing cause and effect. Astronomers appear to be talking about the byproduct physical effect (magnetic fields) as though it were the prime mover and shaker (in this case, magnetic fields find their genesis and their strength based in the behaviors of electric currents).

A private observation (reproduced here with permission) by science fiction author James P. Hogan cogently sums up the cause and effect mistake:
Energy released in an earthquake can cause upheavals of the terrain, which will reconfigure the contours on a map of the locality. I think what's happening is a confusion of cause with effect, in which [by analogy] "contour reconnection" is supposed to have caused the earthquake. If I've got right what Don Scott's saying, changes in electric currents alter the contours of the field lines that depict the strength and direction of the magnetic field system the currents create.
Responding with a parallel analogy, I wrote:
Changing the density or temperature of a region of the atmosphere will change the contours of weather maps. But saying that the contours themselves are real entities or "do things" is erroneous. In the end, it's a change in the atmosphere itself that causes the contours on the map to have to be redrawn, not the other way around. Do the changing contours on weather maps hold and then release atmospheric/weather energy?
If "magnetic reconnection" is not the route to an answer, then how should we proceed? Are we back to square one? Thankfully, the answer is “no.” Electrical engineer Don Scott offers a road back to the world of legitimate science in his paper (mentioned above).

Figures 1 and 2 from Don Scott’s paper have been reproduced above (for reference), along with a pivotal image of the magnetic field lines observed in the course of the Cluster mission’s observation efforts.

In figure 1, we see the typical diagram of adjacent magnetic field lines offered by proponents of magnetic reconnection. This image matches closely the configuration of magnetic fields seen by Cluster, as expected.

In figure 2, however, Don Scott offers astronomers a glimpse of the "big picture" of what is actually going on. This figure is a diagram of two interacting parallel electric currents and their magnetic field lines. It is crucial for astronomers and physicists to understand the context of their observations. Figure 2 gives them that context.

In essence, what is being observed is a pair of interacting electrical currents and their byproduct magnetic fields. In Figure 2, both currents "directions" are pointed away from the viewer and the diagram is a perpendicular 2D cross-section.

In case anyone wishes to verify that the diagram is correct, they need only peruse the Wikipedia article on electric current.
“Electric current produces a magnetic field. The magnetic field can be visualized as a pattern of circular field lines surrounding the wire.

Electric current can be directly measured with a galvanometer, but this method involves breaking the circuit, which is sometimes inconvenient. Current can also be measured without breaking the circuit by detecting the magnetic field associated with the current.”
If one flips the direction of the blue arrow and the +/- signs (denoting current direction) in the above diagram, one must also flip the direction of the red arrows (denoting magnetic field direction). Then the diagram(s) will show good accord with one another.

Figure 1 from Don Scott’s paper is an enlarged view of the region inside the central box of figure 2. The implication, therefore, is that the magnetic fields diagrammed in "magnetic reconnection" are only a partial snapshot of a larger electrical circuit diagram. Upon understanding this fact, the cause and effect relationship becomes clear. Parallel electric currents will produce (as a byproduct effect) the magnetic fields and the "null point" in the center of Figure 1 where the magnetic fields cancel out.

Where astronomers see changes in the magnetic field topology (such as that in Figure 1), it is now possible to understand the source of the changes rests in changes to the currents depicted in Figure 2.

Another colleague made the following observation in private correspondence:
So it appears that Cluster’s 'A' and 'B' "null points" are a down the barrel view of two Birkeland current filaments with current running along the edges... That makes these "null points" merely the electromagnetic calm in the 'eye of the storm'.
In fact, this is a cogent observation. Electric currents in plasma tend to adopt a filamentary structure, with parallel currents braided around each other. This structure can also be fractal, insofar as (from the bottom up) small currents may entwine around each other to form a larger filament, those larger filaments may entwine around each other into larger filaments and so on or (from the top down) large filaments may be composed of smaller braided filaments, which may themselves be composed of even smaller braided filaments.

The latter observation is itself significant, as it offers a simple explanation of the related news release describing a filamentary electrical interaction between the sun and the Earth (one predicted by Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland circa 1908 in his monograph The Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition 1902-1903). Granted the THEMIS news release about the northern lights is also couched in the language of "magnetic reconnection" and "magnetic flux tubes" (they fail to mention what exactly is doing the "fluxing").
“The satellites have found evidence of magnetic ropes connecting Earth's upper atmosphere directly to the sun,” said David Sibeck, project scientist for the mission at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “We believe that solar wind particles flow in along these ropes, providing energy for geomagnetic storms and auroras.”

A magnetic rope is a twisted bundle of magnetic fields organized much like the twisted hemp of a mariner's rope.
While electrical interaction is not directly mentioned in the press release is is strongly hinted at by the fact that they speak of "solar wind particles" (charged particles, such as electrons, protons or ions) flowing along magnetic field lines, providing the energy for geomagnetic storms and auroras.

"Birkeland currents" tend to flow along magnetic field lines (hence, their alternate name "field-aligned currents").

Furthermore, the multimedia page associated with the THEMIS news release also offers a more direct confirmation that the phenomenon has an electrical characterization.
Battery in space
Image credit: Jonathan Eastwood/NASA. Original caption: Flux Ropes Power the Magnetosphere! THEMIS discovered a flux rope pumping a 650,000 Amp current into the Arctic.
The "magnetic flux ropes" have been directly characterized as a 650,000 Amp current. We agree wholeheartedly that these features should be referred to in explicitly electrical terms.

As mentioned above, electrical currents in plasma will tend to adopt a filamentary structure, as demonstrated by your garden-variety plasma lamp available at most novelty stores. Those filaments may also be composed of sub-filaments, and so on. Thus the description of the "flux ropes" (a 650,000 Amp current flowing between the sun and the Earth) as being braided like the hemp of a mariner’s rope appears to be perfectly apt and, moreover, expected under an electrical interpretation.

It seems that we have finally arrived at an integrated and sensible real-world interpretation of Cluster’s magnetic field data set. Moreover, it expands our understanding from simply talking about magnetic fields, without respect to their progenitors, to a fuller discussion of cosmic electrodynamics. Moreover, the discussion can take place without resorting to unproven and incorrect "new physics!"

Hannes Alfvén would be proud!

Michael Gmirkin.
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Michael Gmirkin
Michael Gmirkin is a technology enthusiast with a keen interest in exploring the electrical nature of the universe.

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