The Hunter’s Web

In this composite infrared image, a filament of ammonia molecules appears red and Orion Nebula gas appears blue. Credit: R. Friesen, Dunlap Institute; J. Pineda, MPE; GBO/AUI/NSF


Jun 16, 2017

Events on Earth reflect events in space.

Transverse electric currents accompany a main discharge channel. This phenomenon is most often seen as part of terrestrial lighting bolts. Slow-motion videos reveal the complexity of each flash: multiple leader strokes descend from the clouds, while less visible potential points of contact rise from objects on the ground. When the descending and ascending strokes meet, stored electric charge rushes through the completed circuit.

Lightning’s transverse discharge is called a “corona discharge” and occurs at right angles to the main channel. Corona discharges look like “tributaries” in the primary discharge. Lightning forces those tributaries to be parallel because of electromagnetic forces between them. Since electrical activity is scalable to many orders of magnitude, plasma formations in space can be compared to laboratory experiments. Plasma discharges can produce the same formations irrespective of size.

Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explore (WISE) telescope recently discovered “threadlike structures” in the Orion Nebula that contain ammonia molecules. Those structures are otherwise known as “filaments”, and, from an Electric Universe perspective, their shapes and other characteristics are similar to discharges observed in lightning.

Duration in plasma phenomena is directly proportional to size. Discharges on Earth might last two or three milliseconds, but could become decades-long events at stellar scales. The aforementioned filamentary shapes are known as Birkeland currents, and are structures created when electric charge flow is constrained by magnetic fields.

Electric fields along plasma strands generate electric forces that can be 39 orders of magnitude greater than gravity. However, when Birkeland currents approach each other, instead of merging, they twist into a helix that rotates faster as it compresses tighter. It is those “cosmic transmission lines” that make up circuits in space. The twisting filaments of Birkeland currents dominate the Universe—as can be seen in the image at the top of the page.

When plasma moves through a cloud of dust and gas, some of the neutral molecules in the cloud are ionized, initiating electric fields, thereby creating magnetic fields that tend to align and constrict the charge flow. Since Birkeland currents are electromagnetic, they isolate regions of opposite charge and prevent them from neutralizing. Planetary nebulae are spun from intricate webs that demonstrate their electromagnetic origins. Those same Birkeland currents can create regions where different molecules collect according to their flux density, thus explaining why ammonia is concentrated in the Orion formation.

Stephen Smith

Hat tip to William Thompson

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