Sunday, November 14, 2010

Charge Separation in the Mind

By Mel Acheson

"The operation of removing a problem from its traditional context and
placing it into a new one, looking at it through glasses of a different
color, as it were, has always seemed to me of the very essence of the
creative process. It leads not only to a revaluation of the problem itself,
but often to a synthesis of much wider consequences, brought about by a
fusion of two previously unrelated frames of reference."

-Arthur Koestler, The Watershed: A Biography of Johannes Kepler.

My sane friends (yes, I do have a few) point out that an electrified
universe is impossible because of the astronomical amount of energy it
would take to create any significant amount of charge separation in
space. Various calculations, usually on the backs of envelopes, show that
to produce the effects conventionally attributed to gravity would
necessitate, electrically, a separation of charges requiring many times
the energy available. To turn a nuclear star into an electric star, for
example, would require many times the energy output of the star just to
separate enough electrons from their hydrogen protons to generate
sufficient current. With galaxies, the problem is billions of times worse.
It's much easier--the difference, they say, between possible and
impossible--to squeeze a stellar mass of hydrogen with its own gravity
until it gets hot enough to ignite its nuclear furnace.

Of course, they're right. They're the experts, and they're sane besides.
It's almost with embarrassment that I bring up a matter of insight that
reveals their oversight. Everyone knows those hot nuclear stars began as
cold clouds of hydrogen. We detect those clouds throughout the universe.
And they must be collapsing because the law of gravity requires it. As
they collapse, they heat up, until the heat triggers nuclear reactions.
Then the radiation pressure outward balances the gravitation pressure
inward and a star is formed. This is a chain of logic that's linked
together with mathematical certainty.

But where did that ontological cloud of hydrogen come from? I don't mean
its physical origin. As I mentioned, we detect clouds of hydrogen
throughout the universe. I mean where was it assumed a cloud of
hydrogen was the progenitor of a star? That origin is in the third
sentence of the previous paragraph, indicated by the word "must". That
origin is in the mind, in imagination. The cloud of hydrogen is needed only
if you assume gravity is the sole force operating. If you assume gravity,
you require the cloud, with which you can prove the necessity of gravity.
And inside this circular cage of logic the gerbil of astrophysics begins to

An electric star wouldn't begin with the cloud. It would begin with charge
separation. Everything we see in the universe, with the possible exception
of a few specks of planets and reflection nebulas, is ionized to some
degree. It's a PLASMA, the fourth and dominant state of matter in the
universe. The positive ions and negative electrons move, and because
protons are a couple of thousand times more massive than electrons, any
force--electrical, magnetic, gravitational, even mechanical--can cause
some separation of charges. An immeasurably small surplus of one electron
or proton in a volume measured in cubic meters is all that's necessary for
a weak electric field to exist in deep space. That electric field will drive
an electric current, which will generate a magnetic field that interacts
with the fields of other currents.

An elementary observation of matter in deep space is that the currents
tend to form twisted pairs of filaments, called Birkeland currents, that
snake along the magnetic field lines. These filaments suck in surrounding
ions and gas and dust as if they were cosmic vacuum cleaners,
overwhelming gravitational forces. Their magnetic fields pinch the
mixture, called a dusty plasma, into higher density blobs and columns.
As the magnetic pinching increases, the electric field intensifies, which
further increases the pinching. The compressing blobs form spinning
focuses of electrical discharges, first a red glow, then brilliant arcs,
driven by the current in the filament that generated them until the
energy is dissipated. We see these filaments and blobs in high-energy
plasma labs.

We see them in lightning. We see them as the balls of arc discharges we
call stars. We see them as the filigreed bubbles and cones of neon-tube
-like glow discharges we call planetary nebulas. We see them in the forms
of spiraling galactic arms and of pencil-thin beams of galactic jets. We
see them at the largest scale we can observe, that of superclusters of
galaxies. The initial condition of the observed universe is that of charges
already separated.

Now the original question comes full circle. The problem is not that of
supplying the energy to ionize neutral matter. The problem is that of
dissipating the energy of already ionized matter. It's the act of
neutralizing existing separations of charges that provides the prodigious
energy driving and shaping the universe. After seeing that the universe is
already electrified, a calculation on the back of another envelope shows
that gravity is too weak--by about 40 orders of magnitude!-- to account
for the observed structure, movement, and dissipation of energy. It's the
gravity universe that's impossible.

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