Out of Sight, Out of Mind

“Ancient Light”. Fractal by Stephen Smith.

Jun 19, 2019

During my first close encounter with Wal Thornhill, he electrified me with a picture of Zeus holding a thunderbolt.

The bolt was football shaped with stringy things spiraling out of it. Wal explained that it was the shape a plasmoid took in a vacuum. “Gee-golly-cornpone!” I thought. “The ancient Greeks carved statues of something that hasn’t been seen until modern man cranked up the current in a high-voltage lab.”

Now it’s happened again. At a seminar in Portland, OR the work of Tony Peratt, author of “The Plasma Universe,” (Springer-Verlag, 1992) was called to our attention. His work shows pictures of extremely powerful plasma discharges in his lab. They’re called “Peratt instabilities.” As the current is pumped up, the stringy things (NASA’s technical jargon for Birkeland filaments, which they re-discovered awhile back in the tail of Venus) grow saw-toothed edges and make a tumultuous noise. (That last is the ancient Egyptian scribe Ipuwer’s jargon: “Oh that the Earth would cease from noise and tumult be no more.”) Then the sawteeth develop into strings of triangles, ladder shapes, and stacks of donuts.

Several well-known mythologists in attendance jumped up shouting and pointing: “The dragon! The arrows! The ladder of heaven! The backbone of the sky!”

Ev Cochrane fired up his laptop and opened his collection of petroglyph files. There, carved into rock walls in unmistakable detail by ancient artists, were Peratt’s instabilities. For three or four or ten thousand years, no human eye has seen them. Not until Tony Peratt put cathode to anode, as shown in his publications, has there been a referent in nature for the images borne by the rocks throughout millennia.

The ancients saw all the instabilities. They heard them. The discharge lasts a billionth of a second in the lab. Plasma scientists, scaling up the spark to interplanetary dimensions, estimate it lasting for 8 to 16 years. Imagine attending a decade-long Jimi Hendrix concert with oversize amps. And when the discharge quenched and the “electrodes” went away, the descendants of the eyewitnesses wondered why great grandfather drew meaningless pictures and muttered about noise.

Mel Acheson

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