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Jan 24, 2005
Seen Through Titan's Haze

Above: A Voyager image of Saturn’s giant moon Titan. Only with the recent Cassini-Huygens probe have planetary scientists succeeded in peering beneath the haze. Yet the haze of prior ideology may prove the greater obstacle to understanding Titan’s history.

Almost thirty years ago, Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfvén, the father of plasma cosmology, warned that astronomers were following “obsolete” concepts of star and planet formation, ignoring the provable role of electricity and magnetism. (See Evolution of the Solar System, NASA SP-345, 1976). The object of Alfvén’s criticism was the traditional nebular theory, first set forth by Pierre Simon Laplace late in the 18th century. This archaic hypothesis stipulates that gravity alone, acting on a primordial and homogenous gas cloud, set in motion the birth of the Sun and the planets. For those who still hold to this notion, all of the observed bodies in the solar system, large and small, are billions of years old, having congealed out of the same primordial and undifferentiated cloud.

Despite decades of space age evidence to the contrary, the nebular hypothesis persists as dogma in the sciences. The faith of its adherents is unquestioning, excluding any line of investigation that would challenge the theoretical starting point. Variations on the underlying creed are acceptable; bold conjectures in response to new findings are heretical. What originated as a guess has become a chronic obstruction to discovery in the sciences, and the cost is incalculable.

When attempting to explain planetary features, Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan wrote "The ultimate objective of comparative planetology, it might be said, is something like a vast computer program into which we insert a few input parameters (perhaps the initial mass, composition and angular momentum of a protoplanet and the population of neighboring objects that strike it) and then derive the complete evolution of the planet." (The Solar System, Scientific American, September 1975, p.29.)

The danger in this view should be obvious. It assumes a well-defined and observationally-supported model of planetary evolution.  Otherwise the first law of computing applies: Garbage in = Garbage out.

Since Alfvén’s warning, a coherent challenge to the nebular hypothesis has emerged. The “Electric Universe” model accounts for the birth of stars and planets through principles confirmed in laboratory experiments, tested in sophisticated computer simulations, and carefully weighed against a cascade of new data from space. The model recognizes discontinuous, catastrophic electrical events. The Electric Universe suggests that, like any biological family, the children of stars or planets are not all born at the same time as the parent. They are born hierarchically at intervals, and typically from within the parent. They are ejected. Like any family, each member has its own birth story and eventful history. Hence, the odd “fruit salad” of planets and moons, each with different composition and unique geology, is a predictable outcome of solar system evolution under the model. For the nebular hypothesis, however, dissimilarities in composition and history are anomalous. To account for the differences, planetary scientists have little more to work with than a theory of random impacts from space and tenuous geological comparisons. 

Based on volumes of forensic evidence, the Electric Universe identifies Venus and Titan (bigger than Mercury) as the newest planets in our solar system. Their thick atmospheres, acquired in their violent birth from a gas giant, have not had time to reach equilibrium, and their surfaces still bear their electrical birthmarks.

Though the solar system today presents an illusion of aeons-long stability, it did not present this appearance in the recent past, according to Electric Universe advocates. They claim that only a few a thousand years ago our ancestors witnessed the violence of planetary birth and cosmic catastrophe.

Thus, in analyzing the evidence from Titan, two hypotheses stand in radical contrast. Prior to the Huygens descent through the atmosphere of Titan, the hypotheses predicted different findings. Each offered definitive tests of its scientific viability. In tomorrow’s TPOD, therefore, we shall present a summary of predictions and recent findings in the exploration of Saturn’s most mysterious moon.


David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
Amy Acheson
  CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong, Dwardu Cardona,
Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
  WEBMASTER: Michael Armstrong

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