Electric Winds

Highly ionized Seyfert active galaxy NGC 1068 (M77). Credit: NASA, ESA & A. van der Hoeven.

May 31, 2019

What drives energetic galactic events?

Previous Pictures of the Day discuss X-ray jets from galactic cores. It was determined that they are accelerated by electric fields. According to a recent press release, data from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) identified “strong winds” racing outward from the core of NGC 1068, a galaxy said to be 50 million light-years away in the constellation Cetus. The source of the winds is supposed to be an “average sized” supermassive black hole (SMBH) that is accelerating “hot gas” around its event horizon.

The gas is said to be heated by X-ray bursts from the SMBH, whereupon it is ejected along a tangential trajectory at an average velocity of 1.6 million kilometers per hour.

The optical image at the top of the page from the Hubble Space Telescope illustrates the temperature differences between the galactic body and the jet of X-ray emitting material. The hot gas possesses a spectrographic temperature reading of over 100,000 Celsius, 20 times hotter than the surface of the Sun.

Saying that gas can be heated until it gives off X-rays and “blows like a wind” betrays a serious lack of understanding, or a careless presentation of observations. No gas can remain intact at such temperatures, because electrons are stripped from atomic nuclei, causing the gas to change into the primal stock from which the Universe is made: plasma.

X-rays in space, no matter the source, are not created in gravity fields regardless of how strong. Charged particles (plasma), accelerated by electric currents, spiral in magnetic fields and shine in all high energy frequencies, extreme ultraviolet, X-rays, and sometimes gamma rays.

In cosmic circuits, electric power flows inward along galactic disks, where it is concentrated and stored in a central plasmoid, or galactic bulge. When the accumulated electric charge flow reaches a certain current density it discharges, usually out of the galaxy’s spin axis as an energetic plasma jet. As reported in a past Picture of the Day, laboratory experiments from the Focus Fusion group replicated the phenomenon with a plasma focus device.

Electromagnetic forces confine galactic jets into thin filaments that remain coherent for thousands of light-years. NGC 1068 reveals that material from its core reaches out for more than 3000 light-years, but that estimate could be off by a significant factor. Jets usually end in double layer lobes that extend for many times the size of the galaxy and radiate copiously in radio wavelengths. The diffuse currents then flow toward the galaxy’s equatorial plane and spiral back into its nucleus.

Hannes Alfvén identified the “exploding double layer” as a new class of celestial object. It is double layers in space plasmas that form most of the unusual structures we see. Galactic jets, toroids, and glowing clouds are all examples of electricity flowing through dusty plasma confined within Birkeland currents that stretch across the light years.

Stephen Smith

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