Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hubble Sees Beautiful Carnage

Two big, beautiful spiral galaxies… tearing each other apart. The large, face-on spiral is NGC 3808, while its dueling partner is the smaller, edge-on NGC 3808A. And between the two is a long today tail of stars, gas and dust, transferring from one to the other.

The two galaxies are collectively known as Arp 87; just one of the hundreds of interacting galaxies seen by astronomers. It was cataloged by the famous Halton Arp in the 1960's, who maintained his Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. And this collision is plenty peculiar, thanks to Hubble's optics and resolution of fine details.

A stream of gas, stars and dust is flowing from NGC 3808 to its companion, enveloping it in a starry embrace. Because the NGC 3808A is seen nearly edge-on, you can make out the twisting trail of stars wrapping around it. Both galaxies have been distorted by their gravitational interaction.

When galaxies interact, stars are born. And this is the case for Arp 87. The colour of the stars and the intensity of heated interstellar dust show that both galaxies are undergoing furious rates of star formation.

When Astronomers Fall Into A Black Hole

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, "The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice." The most fundamental "prejudice" that has directed the space sciences for decades is the belief that, across cosmic distances, space is electrically inert. Throughout the Space Age, every new discovery has been interpreted through a lens that views gravity alone as the force that shapes the heavens.

This model of the cosmos also underpins our view of the Sun and our solar system. Ironically, as 20th century astronomers codified this perspective, the leading pioneers of plasma science were observing stupendous electric forces in space, and documenting the analogs in laboratory discharge phenomena. Through systematic observation and experiment, Hannes Alfven, the father of modern plasma science, came to a viewpoint contrary to that of mainstream astronomy. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, he warned astronomers that the study of plasma behavior requires attention to experimental plasma dynamics. But Alfven's warning went unheeded, allowing the cosmos to become, in Alfven's words, "...the playground of theoreticians who have never seen a plasma in a laboratory. Many of them still believe in formulae which we know from laboratory experiments to be wrong."

In the 21st century, mainstream astronomy faces a crisis of revolutionary proportions. Pervasive electrical phenomena observed in space confound astronomers who have insufficient training in experimental plasma science, and electrodynamics. In fact, with increasing (and inevitable) regularity, the language of the electrical theorists has entered the lexicon of mainstream astronomy, but in a manner that can only lead to greater confusion, both for the scientists and the general public.

The Newtonian vision of the cosmic theater imagines isolated bodies turning gear-like in a vacuum. The Electric Universe envisions electrical circuits embedded in a conducting medium whose components drive each other and may be in resonance. The differences between the two viewpoints is readily illustrated in a recent report from the New Scientist news service entitled, "Magnetic cocoons power energetic cosmic rays." (

The article discusses a theoretical solution for the "mystery" of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. Standard theory has never succeeded in explaining the rays, which are thought to originate from far beyond our galaxy yet somehow make it all the way to Earth. Two scientists have proposed that the rays are "powered" by "magnetised cocoons of plasma" that were formed by jets of high-speed particles supposedly emitted by a "supermassive black hole."

The scientists suggest that over billions of years, the "magnetic fields" inside these "cocoons" induce electric fields, and "These electric fields are strong enough to accelerate cosmic rays to ultra-high energies."

And the astronomical community seems intrigued by the proposal. A Stanford University scientist quoted in the New Scientist piece referred to the theory as "the LEAST IMPLAUSIBLE explanation of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays."[Emphasis added]

A layman reading the New Scientist article faces the arduous task of distinguishing fact from theory, since the author makes little or no attempt to do so. What, for example, are we to think of the author's suggestion that the rays might be "produced near the Milky Way by the decay of super-heavy dark matter particles or by defects in space time"? Since scientists don't know what "dark matter" is (and even many standard cosmologists now question its existence), how can one meaningfully speculate on the existence of SUPER-HEAVY dark matter? And what practical significance could there be to a "defect in space-time," other than a neat plot twist to a Star Trek episode?

The author refers to "black holes" and "dark matter" as if they are FACTS, rather than speculative hypotheses. He refers to the "big bang" in a similar manner, even asserting that "every cubic centimetre of space contains about 400 relic photons from the BIG BANG FIREBALL."[Emphasis added] But when one examines the "explanation" for ultra-high-energy cosmic rays offered by the two scientists cited in the piece, every link in the chain of logic is based on assumptions that have no support in observation or experiment.

The first assumption is that black holes are real, and a black hole exists at the center of every galaxy. In fact, this assumption is so common that most science writers no longer bother to maintain any pretense of journalistic dispassion -- they simply assert that black holes exist and demand that the layman accept it as true. But no one has ever seen a black hole -- it is a mathematical concept invented to account for phenomena at the hearts of galaxies that are "too energetic" in a universe dominated by the pitifully weak force of gravity. The idea that a "nearly infinite compression" of matter (a black hole) can occur ANYWHERE has no experimental support whatever.

Furthermore, the black hole theory has had an embarrassing to non-existent PREDICTIVE record -- it has been and continues to be tweaked, modified, and overhauled to account for unexpected observations. For example, in its original formulation, magnetic fields had no role at all. But as astronomers with new instruments began to detect pervasive magnetic fields in space, the theorists were forced to redefine the envisioned "black hole activity" to account for them. All the while, they continue to ignore the electric currents on which magnetic fields depend.

The second assumption is that black holes (which we have no valid reason to believe exist) emit jets of high-speed particles. Since we were told for years that the gravitational force of black holes was too great for ANYTHING to escape, even LIGHT, this idea is particularly ironic. In fact, galaxies have been seen emitting high-energy X-rays and stupendous, filamentary jets across THOUSANDS of light years (requiring no small adjustment to black hole theory!).

In the case of the galaxy cluster Abell 400, a composite X-ray image revealed "radio jets immersed in a vast cloud of multimillion degree X-ray emitting gas that pervades the cluster." Astronomers claimed that the jets emanated from "two supermassive black holes" that were provoking the "merging" of two large galaxies.

But as was pointed out in a Picture of the Day on "Any substance with a temperature of 'multimillion' degrees cannot possibly be a gas: It will be a completely ionized plasma....(T)he X-rays in such cases are almost exclusively synchrotron radiation, not thermal radiation. That means the X-rays are emitted by very fast electrons spiraling in a strong magnetic field. The Abell 400 galaxies are under EXTREME ELECTRICAL STRESS.

"To generate the observed levels of energy seen in Abell 400 -- using nothing but the puny force of gravity -- more matter would have to be squeezed into a galaxy than a galaxy could hold. But the theorists are mathematicians, and they work with equations, not with real objects. This permits them to ignore empirical limits on density and let the amount of matter per unit volume increase without limit: The 'neutron stars' and 'black holes' conjured through this mathematical license can be placed wherever needed to explain away the stunning and potentially embarrassing energy excesses." (For an electrical interpretation of Abell 400, see

The third assumption is that the jets of high-speed particles supposedly emitted by conjectured black holes can create "magnetic cocoons". These "giant magnetiszed cocoons of plasma," decaying over BILLIONS OF YEARS, finally produce electric fields strong enough to accelerate the cosmic rays. Here, the scientists are repeating precisely the error that Alfven so adamantly warned them against in his later career: they are presuming that magnetic fields are "frozen" into neutral plasma with no contribution from electric currents. Magnetic fields, Alfven insisted, are only part of the story. The electric currents that CREATE magnetic fields must not be overlooked, and contemporary attempts to model space plasma in the absence of electric currents will set astronomy and astrophysics on a course toward crisis, he said.

It isn't that the "cocoons" do not exist -- in fact it was plasma cosmologists who have identified the structure and dynamic of vast cellular forms in space. They are Langmuir sheaths, named after Irving Langmuir, who gave space plasma its name based on its "lifelike" qualities similar to those of blood plasma. Langmuir sheaths are seen at all scales of electrical activity in plasma. They signify regions of different charge separated by a cellular boundary. Across the walls of that sheath, an electric field exists. This electric field cannot have been produced by some "generator" inside the sheath; it must be due to larger regions of electric potential, however these regions are to be explained.

In an electric universe, galaxies are born from high-energy, electrical events whose signature can now be seen in space. Take a moment and consider the image above of the Radio Galaxy 3C31 (also called NGC 383). This galaxy is a MINISCULE object, little more than a dust mote, when seen against an immense display of highly energetic charged particles. Electrons in twin polar jets, accelerated to near the speed of light are the witnesses to the most intense electrical discharge activity known to science. Our instruments detect this activity through its synchrotron radiation and through the twin lobes of high-energy radio signals. So how is this huge region of electrical activity to be interpreted? In standard models, an electrically-neutral galaxy is asked to generate electrical activity across volumes of space THOUSANDS of times greater than the volume of the galaxy. But simple electrodynamics says this is impossible! How does a galactic-size, neutral object produce a vast domain of electrical activity around it? A plasma cosmologist looking at this image will see electric currents incomparably larger than the galaxy, being focused down by a plasma "pinch," at energy levels capable of lighting and organizing stars into the observed galactic structure. (For background, see Plasma Galaxies:

The researchers cited in the New Scientist piece DO recognize an electrical-effect behind the "mysterious" cosmic rays, but in order to achieve this theoretical effect, they require a chain of bizarre events that have no analog in nature as we know it. We see in full display the crisis of which Alfven had forewarned -- "gravity-only" space scientists have no choice but to call on weird, untestable, unproven mechanics to achieve the "hard way" (or, in the words of one scientist, the "least implausible" way) what electricity does routinely, as demonstrated through decades of plasma experiments.

From an electrical perspective, the ultra-high-energy cosmic rays are not the result of a series of strange and unprovable events in deep space. They almost certainly originate in our own cosmic neighborhood, within the Milky Way, as a result of electrical discharge events well-modeled by plasma cosmologists. In other words, the rays do not need to travel across the Universe, overcoming the impedance of particles along the way. What plasma scientists call "z-pinches" in electric currents are nature's most efficient particle accelerators -- a phenomenon dominating much of plasma and "pulsed power" research today. The production of "relativistic speeds" (approaching the speed of light) does not require anything more than an electrically active galaxy. Both the galactic core and other focal points of electric discharge activity (such as planetary nebulae) are the logical places to investigate as the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.