legacy page  
     homeaboutessential guidepicture of the daythunderblogsnewsmultimediapredictionsproductsget involvedcontact

thunderblog - special edition


Excerpts From The Electric Universe
Part 5

The following is one of a series of excerpts from The Electric Universe, copyright © 2002, 2007 Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott and published by Mikamar Publishing. Reproduced with the kind permission of the authors and publisher.

Presented by Dave Smith
March 13, 2010
Comets fragmenting is a common occurrence but upon close examination of such events, many of which take place far from the sun, it becomes obvious that an electrical explanation offers a far better fit than the ad hoc adjustment of the "dirty snowball" model.

Comets and Coronal Mass Ejections

When a coronal mass ejection greeted Comet NEAT, space scientists called it a spectacular “coincidence.” But in an electric universe such events deserve a second look.
Page 104
Comet NEAT
Comet NEAT and a solar CME.
Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory ESA/NASA (SOHO).
[Click to enlarge]
In 2003, as comet NEAT raced through the extended solar atmosphere, a large coronal mass ejection (CME) exploded from the Sun and appeared to strike the comet, causing a 'kink' to propagate down the comet's tail (see lower left). Of course, for solar physicists, the timing of the mass ejection could have no connection to the approach of the comet. However, SOHO has recorded several instances of comets plunging into the solar corona in 'coincidental' association with CMEs.

But how would an electric Sun respond to the approach of a relatively small but strongly charged object? In electrical terms, the influence of the comet could be far more significant than its trivial mass in relation to the Sun. Alfvén considered CMEs to be caused by a breakdown or breach of the Sun's double layer—an event that provokes an explosive exchange between the insulating plasma cell of the Sun and that of the comet. Hence, it not unreasonable at all to ask if a collision of a comet's sheath with that of the Sun would cause a 'short-circuit' that could trigger such an explosion.

When Comets Break Apart

As Comet Linear passed its closest distance to the Sun, it was at its brightest and a prominent dust tail had appeared. Suddenly it fragmented into 'mini-comets' (see facing page [below]). Astronomers could find no good reason for its explosive demise. External heat, warming a kilometers-wide chunk of ice, will produce sublimation of the ice but will have virtually no effect a few inches beneath the surface. Many comet watchers began to consider seriously whether comets are actually loosely aggregated collections of 'mini-comets' that fly apart when disturbed. But the prior picture of Halley, reinforced by the subsequent close-ups of Borrelly, Wild 2 and Tempel 1, clearly refutes this idea.
Page 105
Comet Linear breakup
Some comments that accompanied this image of the fragments of Comet Linear were, “it was hard to imagine how an object the size of a mountain could totally disintegrate in only two weeks.” And, “The amount of heat available from sunlight just isn't enough to boil away something the size of a mountain in so short a time.”
Credit: NASA, H. Weaver (the Johns Hopkins University), and
the HST Comet LINEAR Investigation Team
[Click to enlarge]
At the opposite extreme, Comet West never approached closer than 30 million kilometers to the Sun (half the distance of Mercury). So astronomers were shocked when, in 1976, the comet split into four fragments. Comet Wirtanen fragmented in 1957 a little inside the orbit of Saturn, and something similar occurred to Comet Biela/ Lambert. In fact, eighty percent of comets that split do so when they are far from the Sun, according to Carl Sagan and Anne Druyan in their book Comet.

In a paper published in the 1960s, Dr. Brian G. Marsden, an astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, drew attention to the anomaly of comet fragmentation.110 Discussing the 'sun-grazing' comets, he noted that two instances, 1882 II and 1965 VIII, looked as if they had split apart near aphelion (their farthest distance from the Sun), well beyond the orbit of Neptune and far above the ecliptic plane. Moreover, the relative velocity of debris separation was far greater than could be due to solar heating. “One really does require an explanation when the velocity of separation is some 20% of the velocity of the comet itself!” [Emphasis in original paper.]

Such energetic behavior, however, may be expected of an electric comet. Discharges within a comet nucleus are equivalent to the subterranean lightning that causes earthquakes—and just as unpredictable. The resultant 'comet quake' has equivalent destructive power and causes the comet to fragment.

According to Sagan and Druyan, “the [splitting] problem is left unsolved.” But they appear to have found a clue without recognizing its significance. “Splitting and jetting may be connected.… At the moment Comet West split, the individual fragments brightened noticeably, and propelled large quantities of dust into space in the first of some dozen bursts.”111 The same could be said for the more recent Comet Linear breakup.

Sudden brightening and explosions of dust are expected to accompany the electrical fragmentation of a comet nucleus as charge is exchanged more furiously with the solar wind over a greater total surface area.

The more sudden the change in a comet's electrical environment, the more likely that flaring and fragmentation will occur. As we earlier noted, NASA scientists were astonished to observe a remarkable 300,000 km wide flare-up of comet Halley between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus. (Under the assumptions of the 'snowball' theory,
Page 106
the nucleus should be frozen and inert at that distance.) But the event was no accident. It followed some of the largest solar flares ever recorded.

At the nearest point in its orbit to the Sun, a comet nucleus suffers the maximum electrical stress. This usually results in an increase in brightness of the nucleus due to a larger number of cathode arcs operating simultaneously and more powerfully, explosively removing more solid material into space to form the dust and ion tails. Both of these conditions were noted in the case of Comet Linear, suggesting that the comet was progressing toward an internal discharge.

So it is not surprising to find that fragmentation of comet nuclei is a common occurrence for long-period comets crossing the plane of the ecliptic—where the Sun's current density is highest in the solar wind. They break up not because they are chunks of ice 'warming' in the Sun, and not because they are aggregations of smaller bodies, but because of electrical discharges within the nucleus itself.

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3

Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 provides a case study in electrical fragmentation. The comet was first observed in 1930 and named after its two German discoverers. It completes an orbit every 5.4 years, a path that takes it from just beyond the orbit of Jupiter to inside the orbit of Earth. It does not visit the more remote regions of the solar system where the spectacular 'Great Comets' spend long periods adjusting in that more negative environment of the Sun's domain before racing sunward. What Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 does exhibit, however, is a highly elliptical (elongated) orbit, so in electrical terms that means more rapid transit through the Sun's electric field and more intense electrical stresses inside the comet nucleus than would be the case were the comet moving on a less eccentric path.

From its discovery until 1995, it was little more than a footnote in comet science. The first appearance of the comet that year was so bright that astronomers hailed it as a new comet. But as it turned out, the newcomer was Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, presenting itself in more glorious dress than ever before, despite the fact that conditions were not favorable. It was 240 million kilometers away but shining hundreds of times more brightly than expected.

In early 1996, astronomers discovered that the comet had fragmented into at least three pieces, an occurrence clearly linked to the spectacular brightening, though no one could say what caused the event. It also appeared that one or more of the pieces were breaking into secondary fragments.
Comet 73P Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 break-up
This infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the broken Comet 73P/Schwassman- Wachmann 3 skimming along a trail of debris left during its multiple trips around the sun. The flame-like objects are the comet's fragments and their tails, while the dusty comet trail is the line bridging the fragments.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/W. Reach (SSC/Caltech)
[Click to enlarge]
When the comet returned in 2000, it was again brighter than expected, with indications that the disintegration was continuing—or
Page 107
even accelerating. Then, with its most recent appearance, the best Hubble images showed dozens of fragments, suggesting the possibility of complete dissolution in a single remaining passage around the Sun.

One astronomer offered this explanation of the comet's fragmentation: “It's like pouring hot coffee into a glass that's been in the fridge. The glass shatters from the shock.”112 But that is not a realistic analogy. The comet is a solid heated from the outside, not a shell heated from the inside. Attributing fragmentation to internal heat stress must explain how heat can be transferred rapidly through hundreds of meters of insulating material, something inconceivable even if you ignore the deep freeze through which the comet is moving, with its sunward face continually changing due to rotation.

In addition to citing possible thermal stresses, the Hubble Space Telescope website offers other possibilities as to why comets might disintegrate so explosively: “They can also fly apart from rapid rotation of the nucleus, or explosively pop apart like corks from champagne bottles due to the outburst of trapped volatile gases.”113 But the centrifugal forces acting on comet nuclei are very small. And to posit heating in the middle of a kilometers-wide dirty ice cube is, again, scientifically indefensible.

Perhaps, then, Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 “was shattered by a hit from a small interplanetary boulder,”114 offered one of the astronomers quoted above. “Well, make that a series of one-in-a-trillion hits,” mused a critic of today's comet science. “That way we can explain the continuing fragmentation over years.”

When Asteroids Become Comets

According to recent scientific reports, astronomers are “rethinking long-held beliefs about the distant domains of comets and asteroids, abodes they've always considered lightyears apart.” The discovery of asteroids sporting comas has forced astronomers to speculate that some asteroids are actually “dirty snowballs in disguise.”

For many years the standard view of asteroids asserted that they are composed of dust, rock, and metal and that most occupy a belt between Mars and Jupiter. In contrast, comets were claimed to arrive from a home in deep space, most coming from the imagined 'Oort Cloud' at the outermost reaches of the solar system.
Diagram of orbits of asteroids and three main belt comets
Orbits of the three known main-belt comets (red lines), the five innermost planets (black lines: from the center outward; Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter), a sample of 100 main-belt asteroids (orange lines), and two 'typical' comets (Halley’s Comet, and Tempel 1, target of the recent Deep Impact mission) as blue lines. Positions of the main-belt comets and planets on March 1, 2006, are plotted with black dots.
Image credit: Pedro Lacerda (Univ. Hawaii; Univ. Coimbra, Portugal)
[Click to enlarge]
But now, “the locales of comets and asteroids may not be such a key distinction,” states Dan Vergano, reporting on the work of two
Page 108
University of Hawaii astronomers, Henry Hsieh and David Jewitt.115 In a survey of 300 asteroids lurking in the asteroid belt, the astronomers detected three objects that “look a lot like comets … ejecting little comet tails at times from their surfaces.”116 The three red circles in the illustration on the previous page describe the orbits of these 'comet-like' asteroids. One large (140 km) object, Chiron, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, is classified as both an asteroid and a comet. Chiron's orbit is highly eccentric, with perihelion just inside the orbit of Saturn and aphelion just inside the orbit of Uranus.

In the electric view, there is no real distinction between a comet and an asteroid, apart from their orbits. Thus, both Chiron and the illustration make the point for us: the red circles show greater variations in orbital distances from the Sun.
110 B. G. Marsden, "The Sungrazing Comet Group," Astronomical Journal, Vol. 72, p.1170, 1967.
111 C. Sagan & A. Druyan, COMET, pp. 246-7.
115 H. Hsieh & D. Jewitt, "A Population of Comets in the Main Asteroid Belt,"
Science, Vol 312, 28 April 2006, pp. 561-3.
Permalink to this article.

Email this article to a friend

Public comment may be made on this article on the
Thunderbolts Forum/Thunderblogs (free membership required).

To read more from Wal Thornhill please visit:


"The Cosmic Thunderbolt"

YouTube video, first glimpses of Episode Two in the "Symbols of an Alien Sky" series.


And don't forget: "The Universe Electric"

Three ebooks in the Universe Electric series are now available. Consistently praised for easily understandable text and exquisite graphics.

  This free site search script provided by JavaScript Kit  
  FREE update -

Weekly digest of Picture of the Day, Thunderblog, Forum, Multimedia and more.
*** NEW DVD ***
  Symbols of an Alien Sky
Selections Playlist

An e-book series
for teachers, general readers and specialists alike.
(FREE viewing)
  Thunderbolts of the Gods

  Follow the stunning success of the Electric Universe in predicting the 'surprises' of the space age.  
  Our multimedia page explores many diverse topics, including a few not covered by the Thunderbolts Project.  

The Electric Universe
The Electric Universe
David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill
Mikamar Publishing

Special Edition Archives

Chronological Archives

Archives by Author

Archives by Subject

Thunderblogs home


Authors David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill introduce the reader to an age of planetary instability and earthshaking electrical events in ancient times. If their hypothesis is correct, it could not fail to alter many paths of scientific investigation.
More info
Professor of engineering Donald Scott systematically unravels the myths of the "Big Bang" cosmology, and he does so without resorting to black holes, dark matter, dark energy, neutron stars, magnetic "reconnection", or any other fictions needed to prop up a failed theory.
More info
In language designed for scientists and non-scientists alike, authors Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott show that even the greatest surprises of the space age are predictable patterns in an electric universe.
More info

EXECUTIVE EDITORS: David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
SENIOR EDITORS: Donald Scott, Annis Pepion Scott
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Michael Goodspeed, Michael Gmirkin,
'Solar', The Soupdragon,
Guest's Contributions
WEBMASTER: Brian Talbott
© Copyright 2010:

Disclaimer - The opinions expressed in the Thunderblog are those of the authors of
the material, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thunderbolts Project.
The linking to material off-site in no way endorses such material and the Thunderbolts
Project has no control of nor takes any responsibility for any content on linked sites.
top ]

home   •   picture of the day   •   thunderblogs   •   multimedia   •   resources   •   forum   •   updates   •   contact us   •   support us