by Wallace Thornhill
Jul 04, 2005
Artwork by Pat Rawlings
With the imminent arrival of the “Deep
Impact” spacecraft at the comet Tempel 1, it is time to test
competing theories on the nature of comets. The predictions and
lines of reasoning offered here will set the stage for future
analysis of the “electric comet” model.
We are posting this document at 1:45 a.m. Sunday, July 3, with “Deep
Impact” less than 24 hours away.
This Picture of the Day will
remain through July 4. It will be followed within 48 hours (or less)
by another Picture of the Day with a preliminary evaluation of the
At 10:52 p.m. PDT July 2, the Deep Impact spacecraft will fire an
800-pound copper projectile at the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1. If all
goes as planned the projectile will impact on the nucleus 24 hours
later. The impact is expected to eject into space large volumes of
Cameras on the projectile will record its approach toward the
nucleus, and instruments on the spacecraft will record the event
across a broad spectrum. Dozens of telescopes will be trained on the
comet. According to NASA scientists, the released material will
provide a sample of the primordial water, gas and dust from which
the Sun, planets, moons, and other bodies in the solar system
Though Deep Impact team members see this as a milestone
event, advocates of the Electric Universe expect a “shock to the
system” with revolutionary implications. They say that a comet is
not a primordial object left over from the formation of the solar
system. Fundamentally, it is distinguishable from a rocky asteroid
only by its more elliptical orbit.
the Electric Universe a comet is a
negatively charged object moving through the extensive and constant
radial electric field of the positively charged Sun. A comet becomes
negatively charged during its long sojourn in the outer solar
system. As it speeds into the inner solar system, the increasing
voltage and charge density of the plasma (solar “wind”) cause the
nucleus to discharge electrically, producing the bright coma and
If the electrical theorists are correct, the implications of the
event will not be limited to comet theory alone. At issue is the
assumption of an electrically neutral universe, upon which every
conventional astronomical theory rests. An electric comet would
forever change the picture of the solar system and force astronomers
to consider the overwhelming evidence that electricity lights not
only our Sun but also all the stars in the heavens. Moreover, the
cosmic electricians insist that this would only be the beginning of
a more sweeping revolution touching all of the theoretical sciences
and in the end recasting our understanding of earth history and the
The most appropriate test of a new theory is its predictive power
(see predictions from October 2001 in Wallace Thornhill’s “Comet
Borrelly Rocks Core Scientific Beliefs”. Therefore, we
wish to make as clear as possible, in advance of the projectile’s
impact, the distinctions between the electric model and the standard
Where the issues grow complex, the
primary reason is that the standard model, which failed to
anticipate any of the major discoveries about comets over the past
three decades or more, has fragmented into competing versions,
forced upon the theorists by unsettling facts. Nevertheless a shared
ideology continues to guide orthodox comet investigation while
limiting scientific perception. For this reason advocates of the
electric universe do not believe that a reconciliation of the
current theoretical fragments is possible.
To facilitate clarity we shall offer first a brief outline of two
theoretical models. As for predictions, we find that NASA
scientists have retreated from such essential adventures.
Therefore we shall not attempt to speak
for them. But we will summarize the best guesses of the electrical
Comets are composed of
undifferentiated “protoplanetary debris”—dust and ices left over
from the formation of the solar system billions of years ago.
Radiant heat from the Sun sublimates
the ices (turns them directly into vapor without the
intermediate step of becoming liquid).
The vapor expands around the nucleus
to form the coma (head of the comet) and is swept back by the
solar wind to form the tail.
Over repeated passages around the
Sun, the Sun’s heat vaporizes surface ice and leaves a “rind” of
Where heat penetrates the surface of
a blackened, shallow crust, pockets of gas form.
Where the pressure breaks through
the surface, energetic jets form.
Comets are debris produced during
violent electrical interactions of planets and moons in an
earlier phase of solar system history—a phase that persisted
into early human history.
Comets are similar to asteroids, and
their composition varies.
Most comets should be
homogeneous—their interiors will have the same composition as
their surfaces. They are simply “asteroids on eccentric orbits”.
Comets follow their eccentric orbits
within a weak electrical field centered on the Sun.
They develop a charge imbalance with
the higher voltage and charge density near the Sun that
initiates discharge and the formation of a glowing plasma
sheath—appearing as the coma and tail.
The observed jets of comets are
electric arc discharges to the nucleus, producing “electrical
discharge machining” (EDM) of the surface.
The excavated material is
accelerated into space along the jets’ observed filamentary
Intermittent and wandering arcs
erode the surface and burn it black, leaving the distinctive
scarring patterns of electric discharge.
The primary distinction between a
comet and an asteroid is that, due to its elliptical orbit,
electrical arcing and “electrostatic cleaning” will clean the
nucleus’ surface, leaving little or no dust or debris on it.
PREDICTIONS FOR DEEP IMPACT
An abundance of water on or below
the surface of the nucleus (the underlying assumption of the
“dirty snowball” hypothesis) is unlikely.
Tempel 1 has a low-eccentricity
orbit. Therefore its charge imbalance with respect to its
environment at perihelion is low. (It is a “low-voltage” comet.)
Electrical interactions with Deep
Impact may be slight, but they should be measurable if NASA will
look for them.
They would likely be similar to
those of Comet
Shoemaker-Levy 9 prior to
striking Jupiter’s atmosphere: The most obvious would be a flash
(lightning-like discharge) shortly before impact.
The impactor may form a sheath
around it as it enters the coma, becoming a “comet within a
Electrical stress may short out the
electronics on board the impactor before impact.
More energy will be released than
expected because of the electrical contributions of the comet.
(The discharge could be similar to the “megalightning” bolt
that, evidence suggests, struck the shuttle Columbia).
Copious X-rays will accompany
discharges to the projectile, exceeding any reasonable model for
X-ray production through the mechanics of impact.
The intensity curve will be that of
a lightning bolt (sudden onset, exponential decline) and may
well include more than one peak.
If the energy is distributed over
several flashes, more than one crater on the comet nucleus could
result—in addition to any impact crater.
Any arcs generated will be hotter
than can be explained by mechanical impact.
If temperature measurements are made
with sufficient resolution, they will be much higher than
expected from impact heating.
The discharge and/or impact may
initiate a new jet on the nucleus (which will be
collimated—filamentary—not sprayed out) and could even abruptly
change the positions and intensities of other jets due to the
sudden change in charge distribution on the comet nucleus.
The impact/electrical discharge will
not reveal “primordial dirty ice,” but the same composition as
The impact/electrical discharge will
be into rock, not loosely consolidated ice and dust.
The impact crater will be smaller
We include below a summary of the lines
of reasoning followed by the electrical theorists.
For the survival of the standard model, nothing is more crucial than
finding an abundance of ices on or below the surface of the nucleus
of Tempel 1. It is not sufficient to find water merely in the
comet’s coma. Negative oxygen ions from cathodic etching of rock
minerals in the nucleus will combine with protons from the solar
wind to form water in the coma and tail. Spectra of comets already
reveal the presence of negative oxygen ions. Moreover, the ions
exhibit forbidden lines characteristic of a strong electric field.
There is no conventional explanation for
Wallace Thornhill, whose inquiry into the electric attributes
of comets goes back more than 30 years, sees a high probability that
scientists will find less water ice and other volatiles than
expected, both on the surface and beneath the surface of Tempel 1.
In fact none of the electrical theorists will be surprised if the
impactor exposes a subsurface with little or no ices.
For popular comet theory this would be
disastrous, since it now calls upon volatile ices beneath the
surface to drive the comet’s jets and create the glowing coma. This
requirement is due to the surprising discovery, through prior comet
probes, of dry surfaces. The surface of Comet Borrelly, for
example, was parched.
But the problem for comet theory is more severe, since evidence for
subsurface volatiles also ranges from minimal to non-existent.
Shoemaker-Levy 9 after the comet
broke apart revealed no volatiles.
When comet Linear disintegrated in
front of their eyes, astronomers were astonished by the absence of
meaningful water content. Comets do not “disintegrate” by solar
heating but explode electrically like an overstressed capacitor.
Of course there are plenty of icy moons in the solar system,
and the electrical theorists propose that many comets and asteroids
are part of the “afterbirth” of electrical expulsion of planets and
moons from their parent primary. So they do not exclude in advance
the possibility of water ice on Tempel 1.
But it is not required in the electrical
model of comets for the production of jets, comas and tails.
The electric model claims that the comas and tails of comets are
generated by cathode arcs excavating surface material from the
nucleus, in the fashion of electrical discharge machining (EDM)
in industrial applications.
The model predicts a sculpted surface,
distinguished by sharply defined craters, valleys, mesas, and
ridges—the opposite of the softened relief expected of a sublimating
(A chunk of ice melting in the Sun loses
its sharp relief, just like a scoop of melting ice cream.)
The first photographs of comet nuclei astonished astronomers with
the blackness of the surfaces. The nuclei were darker than copier
toner. This observation alone should have called into question the
“dirty snowball” hypothesis.
But an ad hoc adjustment of the theory
followed, arbitrarily assuming that comets were parked for billions
of years in deep space, where they suffered radiation damage that
blackened their surfaces.
Electric discharge machining “burns” and darkens the rocky comet
surface. It requires no additional hypotheses or contrived history
of the comet.
We see examples of the darkening effect
from electrical discharge on Jupiter’s moon Io and on the planet
Comet Tempel 1, which NASA selected for the Deep Impact
mission, is certainly not ideal for testing the electrical
hypothesis. Of course, NASA scientists do not realize this, since
the issue of electrical charge has no place in standard theory.
Short-period comets, which move on modestly elliptical paths (the
orbit of Tempel 1 stretches roughly between the orbits of Jupiter
and Mars) will not experience the degree of electrical imbalance
experienced by long-period comets on much more elliptical paths that
take them out well beyond the orbital distances of Neptune or Pluto.
The latter have much more time to adjust to the more negative
voltage of regions remote from the Sun. The voltage difference of
short-period comets as they approach the Sun will be much less than
that of long-period comets, and they will not discharge as
Nevertheless, the electrical theorists say that even a weak
candidate for a test of the electrical hypothesis should be
sufficient to make a good case. The radical differences between the
competing models carry many direct and obvious implications.
If (and it's the biggest "if") Tempel 1 is sufficiently electrically
active before impact, Thornhill expects to see the usual
non-linear behavior of plasma when subjected to increasing
electrical stress. That is, there will be a sudden electric
discharge, or arc. An electric discharge between the comet cathode
and the copper projectile anode will result in X-ray emission, just
as in any X-ray machine on Earth. Such X-rays are easily
identifiable and in large amounts would be anomalous for a mere
The electric field of a comet is contained within its (Langmuir)
plasma sheath, which encompasses its coma. So the size of the coma
is some measure of the electrical stress the comet is suffering.
Comet Tempel 1 has a small coma. Two months ago the coma was little
bigger than the Earth. However, the comet is rushing toward the
copper projectile at almost 23,000 mph, which will not give time for
the copper projectile in the exceedingly thin cometary plasma to
balance its electrical potential with that of the more negative
So, before physical impact occurs, we may expect a sudden discharge
between the comet nucleus and the copper projectile. It will have
the characteristic light-curve of lightning, with rapid onset and
The question is,
will it be a mere spark
or a powerful arc?
Whether due to impact or electric arc, positively charged copper
ions may be expected to produce radiation by recombination with free
electrons. A small proportion of that radiation may be in the x-ray
region. But the spectrum and intensity curve for radiation from an
impact should be quite different from the flash of an electric arc
impinging on a copper anode.
The arc should also give a restricted, almost point, source for the
radiation from the target sites on the impactor and the comet
nucleus. This is quite different from anything expected from
distributed explosion products.
Because electric arcing causes the craters seen on comets, there is
the possibility that the Deep Impact projectile will form an
electrical crater as well as (or instead of) an impact crater.
When the impactor arrives, Thornhill considers it likely that active
jets will move or switch off, since the comet's electrical field
will have been suddenly disturbed. The simple thermal out-gassing
model does not expect this.
Outbursts from comet nuclei frequently occur, giving rise to
expressions of astonishment from comet observers. Such events do not
fit well with a model of sublimating ices, and the cause remains
mysterious. But such events have required cometologists to speculate
about heating processes inside the comet. In the electrical model,
energetic outbursts are expected due to the non-linear behavior of
plasma in the changing electrical environment of the solar “wind”.
Comets have flared beyond the orbit of
Jupiter, even beyond the orbit of Saturn, where known icy bodies do
not sublimate under solar radiation. A potentially embarrassing, ad
hoc proposal has been put forward that attributes the more remote
and “miraculous” outbursts to collisions with meteoric material.
In fact, all energetic discharging from comet nuclei at the distance
of Mars’ orbit or beyond is anomalous under the standard model.
Attempts at explanations invariably expose contradictions. We see
ice on Mars and on the moons of the gas-giant outer planets. Mars,
of course, is the closest of the three to the Sun, but when ice
sublimates on Mars, it does not produce jets. The icy moons of
Jupiter do not produce jets under the influence of solar radiation.
Here, the electrical theorists can only
express their amazement at the general lack of attention to such
contradictions when comets begin discharging even farther out from
COLLIMATED AND FILAMENTARY JETS
Despite years of photographs showing collimated jets (narrow
filaments that maintain their coherence across considerable
distances), the artists' conceptions of comets still show jets as
geyser-like eruptions, spraying out into space. An expanding jet is
the expected behavior of neutral gas and dust entering a vacuum. But
it is not characteristic of an electric discharge in plasma.
A good look at the jets of Tempel 1
reveals the characteristic features of a plasma discharge, with
coherent current filaments that do not obey the rules of behavior of
A look at a novelty-store plasma ball
demonstrates the effect nicely.
On this issue the electrical theorists are emphatic: by proposing
mechanical “jets” from comet nuclei, standard theory has descended
into the preposterous. No analogy either in space or in experimental
science supports the idea that sublimating ices 150 million miles
and farther from the Sun could generate “jet chambers” or produce
the sonic and supersonic jet velocities our instruments have
The notion is inherently contradictory and violates the most obvious
dynamic principles. Collimated, mechanically induced jets over the
observed distances they travel would require, first, a finely
machined nozzle, even more precise than those used on rocket
engines, not a jagged opening in a “dirty snowball”. The idea
requires a chamber that is insulated from the Sun, though anything
even casting a shadow would lead to instant freezing.
The “model” also requires subsurface heating in the deep freeze of
these remote regions. The “heating” would have to reach through an
insulating crust roughly estimated to be ten feet deep, yet
achieving things inconceivable for solar heating even in the absence
of insulation. Pressure must build up to an extraordinary level.
Then when the pressure erupts, something
most mysterious must occur. Despite the instant release, equivalent
pressures must be sustained for long periods to maintain the
supersonic velocities—even to alter the orbits of comets in the way
some astronomers now propose.
We’ve said it before:
“To save the
theory astronomers now cling to the incredible”.
For the electrical theorists, the answer is all too obvious.
Electrical discharge accelerates material into collimated jets along
the self-confining Birkeland currents that constitute the discharge
If an arc is struck between the comet nucleus and the projectile, we
may expect to see metals such as Li, Na, K, Ca, Mg and Fe in a flash
spectrum before impact. They will have been removed from the rocky
comet in the cathode arc.
The sulfur molecule S2 is one of the great unsolved mysteries of
comet chemistry. It has been identified in several, but not all,
comets. The molecule has a very short lifetime and sublimes at a
higher temperature than those found on cometary surfaces or grains.
It is not the equilibrium form of the molecule either.
But S2 is the kind of molecule that
could be produced from rocky minerals in the extreme electrical
environment of a plasma arc.
Negative ions were discovered in the inner coma of Comet Halley with
densities 100 times greater than expected from conventional theory.
Thornhill and his colleagues urge NASA investigators to look for an
abundance of negative ions in the impact ejecta. This would, of
course, be an obvious signature of a negatively charged comet.
Forbidden spectral lines from negative oxygen ions have been
detected spectroscopically in comet comas in the past. And no one
can reasonably dispute that they indicate the presence there of a
strong electric field.
It is advisable that investigators look at water abundances both
close to the nucleus and in the far coma to see to what extent water
is being formed away from the nucleus by the combination of negative
oxygen ions with protons from the solar wind.
The logical concern here is that these
reactions will, by improper reasoning, give inflated values for the
water ice abundance in the comet nucleus.
The copper impactor has a camera that is supposed to be active until
impact. There is some doubt that the camera will be able to provide
images closer than a few tens of kilometers to the nucleus because
of anticipated damage to the lens by high-velocity dust particles.
However, transmissions should continue until impact, according to
But if an arc to the projectile occurs,
transmissions will cease before impact.
Of course, the most tragic potential here is that the projectile,
which carries its own navigation instruments, could experience an
electrical disruption before it had maneuvered itself into the
precise position required for impact.
A mechanical impact will not produce the temperatures of an electric
arc, which can be tens of thousands of degrees over a very small
area. The problem will be whether temperature readings will have the
resolution to be able to distinguish a very high temperature over a
tiny area or merely an average over a large impact area.
Anomalous high temperature readings
could precede physical impact, accompany impact, and follow impact.
Tempel 1 is a magnitude dimmer than (i.e., less than half as bright
as) expected from the comet’s previous approaches to the Sun.
Conventional theory has no explanation for this lower energy.
The electrical model notes that the Sun
is approaching the minimum in its sunspot cycle, which means that
the solar electrical energy input is at a minimum. Because the
comet’s brightness depends on electrical energy from the Sun’s
circuit, the effect is analogous to turning down the dimmer switch
on a light bulb.
This lower energy level also reduces the
likelihood of the more dramatic “electrical fireworks” during Deep