by B. Talbott
October 9, 2012
Outside of the earth,
the Sun is the most heavily studied body in the
solar system. Yet almost all of the Sun’s features
present major quandaries for solar physicists.
But now, an expert on
“Design of Experiment” methodologies, Monty Childs,
is heading up a project to demonstrate how an
electrified plasma environment can produce the
enigmatic features of the Sun in the laboratory.
Monty and his research
group are confident that the technology is now
available to rigorously test the electric Sun
Proposal for an
experiment to test the electric Sun hypothesis
The following summary, distributed in July 2012, provides a
background for general readers explaining our support of the SAFIRE
In recent decades observation of
atmospheric conditions on the Sun have brought increasing attention
to the fundamentals of solar physics. Temperature anomalies, charged
particle accelerations away from the Sun, anomalous magnetic field
behavior, super rotation of the Sun’s equatorial atmosphere, polar
jets, and a good deal more have raised questions that could well
require new theoretical vantage points.
One issue carrying major implications
for solar physics is the recent evidence for a dynamic connection of
the Sun to its external plasma environment - not just in the limited
sense that the Sun provokes electromagnetic activity far from its
surface (an established and fully acknowledged fact); but in the
more radical sense that the Sun itself may be responding to external
When speaking of the Sun’s atmosphere,
it is convenient to include the plasma medium extending from the Sun
out to the heliospheric boundary.
The point has been underscored in recent
years by the Earth’s own presence in this extended atmosphere,
permitting electrical circuitry between the Earth and the Sun to
light the auroras. That surprising discovery came alongside many
others directing attention to the possibility that such circuitry,
though subtle, could pervade the solar system.
Due to the immense volume of the
heliosphere, the electrical potential could be far beyond anything
measurable or obvious. What would that mean for our understanding
of the Sun’s surface and its enigmatic atmospheric behavior?
Even at the distant boundary of the
heliosphere, anomalies in charged particle behavior have been
headlined, suggesting that “electrical” transactions may even extend
beyond this boundary into the galactic arm of the Milky Way.
It seems that none of the Sun’s
atmospheric mysteries follow in any obvious way from models of the
Sun formulated prior to the space age.
The thermonuclear model seemed secure
and fully sufficient well into the 1980s, when Hans Bethe
received the Nobel Prize (1983) for having formulated a
mathematically compelling “main cycle” of the fusion process in
stars. In particular, Bethe’s work served to explain and predict the
three characteristics of the Sun that solar physicists considered
Its heat, its stability, and the
observed variations in the spectral signatures of stars.
This enabled astronomers to generalize
the model into a “main sequence” of stellar evolution based on the
relative ages of these bodies.
The envisioned sequence is illustrated
graphically in the “Hertzsprung-Russell” diagram:
Stars falling onto the main sequence
“life of stars” in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram appear along the
This diagram connects the spectral
varieties (surface temperatures) of stars to stellar luminosities.
The hotter bluish stars are those of highest luminosity and the
cooler reddish stars exhibit the lowest luminosity.
astronomers, this became a convenient graphic illustration of the
envisioned evolutionary life of stars as formulated under
the thermonuclear model.
Since the 1980s, our space probes have
enabled us to view the Sun’s surface and atmosphere at high
resolution and across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
Curiously, we observe remarkable stability of the Sun at its visible
surface, but extreme variability at the higher frequencies of the
corona, where X-ray emissions dominate.
Is the higher variability above the
surface a pointer to a boundary condition? An electrical
interpretation would see the interface of two plasma regions of
different electrical potential (visible sphere of the Sun and its
surrounding plasma environment).
A heliospheric electric field centered
on the Sun would suggest that the heliosphere as a whole would be
more electrically active than previously assumed.
We would expect
electromagnetic events within the heliosphere to consistently
exhibit higher energies than predicted for an electrically neutral
environment. Indeed this appears to be the pattern of “discovery and
surprise” in the space age.
Our explorations of the planets and
their moons have benefited greatly from a growth in investigative
This sophistication has led to numerous
unanticipated discoveries of apparent electromagnetic connectivity
driving events within the solar system:
super rotation of upper
planetary atmospheres, from Venus to Neptune, all suggesting
an invisible influence from above the atmosphere;
the highly filamentary
comet-like plasma tail of Venus reaching to Earth;
evidence for cometary outbursts
in relation to solar activity (i.e., charged particles from
the Sun provoking surface activity on comet nuclei, not just
warming by the Sun);
intensely hot plumes of
Jupiter’s moon Io moving across its surface, complemented by
the removal of charged particles from Ganymede and Europa, all
with electrical footprints in Jupiter’s auroras;
the “impossible” energies of
unexplained plumes erupting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus,
with associated electric currents;
episodic outbursts of dust
storms on Mars, creating massive clouds and occasionally
covering the entire planet. That such event would occur in
an atmosphere only .008 that of Earth is a continuing
“dust devils” on Mars reaching
the heights of Mt. Everest accentuate the same Martian
mystery. And packed vortices on the leading edge of Martian
dust storms violate all traditional dust devil mechanics;
activity on the Moon in relation to movement through the
red sprites and blue jets
exploding into space from Earth’s upper atmosphere;
electrodynamics of the Van Allen
Belt, suggesting complex current flow and radically varying
charged particle densities;
continuing acceleration of
charged particles from the Sun out past the inner planet.
Recent discoveries of electrical and
magnetic activity in space pose extraordinary new opportunities for
Is it possible that longstanding
questions in solar physics could find new explanations in external
electrical influences on the Sun? If an electrified heliosphere is
provoking the mysterious atmospheric dynamics of the Sun, this is
surely a condition well worth exploring. Posing the theoretical
question will invite a comprehensive review of recent data from new
But a practical experiment could also be
conducted. In a plasma environment, can external electric fields and
electric currents produce known features of the Sun on a charged
A brief review of prior experiments and
theoretical work follows.
“According to our manner of looking
at the matter, every star in the universe would be the seat and
field of activity of electric forces of a strength that no one
It was Kristian Birkeland who
correctly hypothesized in the early 20th century that electric
currents from the Sun power the earth’s auroras.
decades, it was commonly believed that Earth’s magnetosphere is
an impenetrable envelope, “squeezed” by the solar wind to induce auroral activity. It was not until the satellite Triade detected
the magnetic signatures of two large sheets of electric current
that Birkeland’s hypothesis found direct validation in space
Later, in 2007, the Themis satellite,
evidence of magnetic ropes connecting Earth’s upper atmosphere
directly to the sun.”
These streams of charged particles are now
called “Birkeland Currents.”
In testing his ideas about the
Earth/Sun connection, Birkeland built a vacuum chamber and
placed a magnetized metal ball called a “terrella” inside it,
representing the Earth. He observed how the terrella behaved in
its artificial, electrically charged atmosphere. In addition to
solving the riddle of Earth’s auroras, Birkeland’s electrical
experiments also simulated planetary rings and the energetic
displays of cometary jets.
A full century later Carl-Gunne
Fälthammer, Professor Emeritus of the Alfvén Laboratory in
Sweden, would write:
“A reason why Birkeland currents are
particularly interesting is that, in the plasma forced to carry
them, they cause a number of plasma physical processes to occur
(waves, instabilities, fine structure formation).
These in turn lead to consequences
such as acceleration of charged particles, both positive and
negative, and element separation (such as preferential ejection
of oxygen ions).
Both of these classes of phenomena
should have a general astrophysical interest far beyond that of
understanding the space environment of our own Earth.”
Seen from this perspective,
Birkeland laid the groundwork for promising experimental
explorations of the solar atmosphere and its elusive mysteries.
In 1941 Dr. Charles E.R. Bruce, of
the Electrical Research Association in England, began developing
a new perspective on the Sun.
An electrical researcher,
astronomer, and expert on the effects of lightning, Bruce was
fascinated by a solar prominence traveling a million miles in a
single hour - roughly the propagation speed of a lightning
leader stroke. It was this observation that opened the path of
his life’s work, leading him to conclude that solar flares,
their temperature, and their spectra all provide a perfect match
In 1944 he suggested that the Sun’s photosphere,
“has the appearance, the temperature and the spectrum of an
electric arc; it has arc characteristics because it is an
electric arc, or a large number of arcs in parallel.”
discharge characteristic, he claimed,
“accounts for the observed
granulation of the solar surface.”
In 1972 and in the years that
followed a U.S. engineer, Ralph Juergens, inspired by Bruce’s
work, published a series of articles proposing that the Sun is
not an isolated body in space.
Rather, it is the most positively
charged body in the solar system and the focus of a
galaxy-powered “glow discharge,” sustained by invisible electric
But how could the planets, our Earth
included, remain unaffected by such a profound role of charge
separation in space? It is now evident that the planets are
affected, though in ways that were not originally obvious.
Juergens observed that the key must lie in the way charged
bodies in plasma isolate themselves from the charge of the
surrounding environment, by forming a “space-charge sheath.” On
a planetary scale we see these sheathes as magnetospheres,
preserving within them the planets’ electric fields.
Juergens was the first to make the
theoretical leap to the more radical concept of the Sun
powered by an external electrical supply.
It was long believed that the
“vacuum” of space would not permit electric currents. But when
it was discovered that all of space is a sea of conductive
plasma, the implication seemed to be that any charge separation
would be immediately neutralized.
The point was stated bluntly
by the eminent solar physicist Eugene Parker,
electric field can arise in the frame of reference of the moving
The leading plasma physicist of the
20th century, Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfvén, suggested otherwise.
He offered voluminous evidence that intricate cosmic structure
and high-energy events in space are the witnesses to
electric currents threading the sea of interstellar and
Alfvén predicted that when currents
flow in space plasma, the magnetic fields produced will tend to
confine the flow to narrow, twisting filaments, known as plasma
z-pinches.. More intense focusing of this current flow,
he said, will often generate explosive electric discharge, and
the consequent electromagnetic radiation can include - at the
highest energies - “synchrotron” radiation, now abundantly
observed in space.
But when Alfvén predicted galactic
synchrotron radiation, electric fields in space had not yet
entered the astronomers’ lexicon.
Based on diligent laboratory work
spanning decades, Alfvén developed a model of galactic circuits
in which electric currents flow inward along the arms of
galaxies, generating an encircling magnetic field. On reaching
the galactic center, the electric charge that drives these
currents is stored in a compact electromagnetic plasmoid -
a rotating torus or donut-shaped structure episodically
releasing its stored energy as jets along the galaxy’s spin
Alfvén concluded that this is how an “active galactic
nucleus” (AGN) is born. From this vantage point the electrical
behavior of the galactic plasmoid, though often hidden by dust,
is the confirmation of immense electric potential.
Given our proximity to the Sun and
the immanent opportunity to take electrical measurements close
to the dynamic activity of the Sun, this body is surely our best
window to the roles of plasma and associated electric currents
If electrical transactions are
occurring between the Sun’s domain and the galactic arm of the
Milky Way, one of the places this should show up is the
For this reason the Interstellar Boundary
Explorer mission (IBEX) investigating the interactions between
the solar wind and the interstellar medium could be an important
indicator of interfacial electrical transactions.
intended to measure the flux of Energetic Neutral Atoms (ENAs),
and it was expected that the data would show a “termination
shock” similar to what is believed to be observed around other
stars. It would seek to determine the strength of the
termination shock and its distance from the sun. But IBEX did
not find the expected “shock” region.
What it did find was a
highly enigmatic ribbon of enhanced ENA emission - a spectrally
distinct feature of unknown origin.
“The results were not
expected by any of the models submitted to support the IBEX
Equally enigmatic were the variations in strength and
“The results are requiring a complete reconsideration
of our fundamental concepts of interaction between the heliosphere and the interstellar medium.”
The evidence suggests that the
heliospheric boundary is not a smooth transitional regions, but
characterized by cellular plasma structures, a typical signature
of boundary conditions in an electrified plasma environment.
the dramatic slowing of the solar wind at the boundary due to a
reversal of the electric field of the Sun extending out to this
boundary? This would explain the surprising absence of
temperature increases that standard theory predicted at the
envisioned “termination shock.”
Along the Milky Way Filaments
Rapidly accumulating evidence suggests
that electric currents flow across intergalactic, interstellar, and
interplanetary space, contributing directly - often decisively - to
the evolution of cosmic structure.
As today’s theorists come to
acknowledge this role, the picture of space will be forever changed.
The emerging electrical perspective sees
an integral connection of stars and galaxies to their external
environments. As observation began to reveal unexpectedly high and
strongly focused energies in space, prior theory required that the
motor come from inside the observed structures, initiated
either directly or indirectly by gravity.
That requirement, in turn,
could only dissuade astronomers and cosmologists from asking the
most fundamental question: is it possible that external
electric currents, powered by a stored charge in deep space, could
drive much of the observed structural evolution?
Hannes Alfvén, the most accomplished
plasma scientist of the 20th century, recognized that intricate
cosmic structure and high-energy events in space are the direct
evidence of electric currents threading the sea of interstellar
and intergalactic plasma. For example, we now detect the “hum” of
these cosmic power lines by their radio signals.
In this radical break from earlier
theory, the newborn galaxies could in fact be lit by electric
lights - the stars strung along galactic filaments as witnesses to
interstellar power lines or current streams.
That was, in fact the
prediction by Hannes Alfvén in 1986.
Surprisingly, the Herschell infrared
telescope recently showed stars being born along glowing filaments.
The ESA reported:
“an incredible network of filamentary structures,
and features indicating a chain of near-simultaneous star-formation
events, glittering like strings of pearls deep in our Galaxy.”
As reported by ESA, the star-forming
filaments of the Milky Way,
“are huge, stretching for tens of light
years… regardless of the length or density of a filament, the width
is always roughly the same.”
solar theory and experiment
The hypothesized thermonuclear core of
the Sun, generating energy by the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into
helium, is based in part, but only in part, on a long history of
experiments with nuclear reactions and transmutations.
began with Ernest Rutherford in 1917, and the practical experimental
paths that followed led to two quite different outcomes.
In the early 1940s,
project began exploring nuclear fusion with the intent of building a
massive uncontrolled nuclear explosion, a hydrogen bomb. This goal
was fulfilled on November 1, 1952, with the first successful
hydrogen bomb test.
By the time of this accomplishment, the
nuclear physicist Hans Bethe had already formulated a mathematical
sequence of reactions, or steps, in an envisioned “main cycle” of
stellar nuclear fusion. From there it was only a matter of time
until Bethe’s formulation became the accepted model of nuclear
fusion in the Sun.
Almost immediately after the first
hydrogen bomb test, large scale efforts began in the hope of
creating “controlled thermonuclear fusion” in the laboratory, and
that soon became a global mission “for the benefit of all mankind.”
Unlimited energies would be produced by replicating the process
envisioned in the center of the Sun.
It was originally believed that success
could be achieved within 20-years. But today, after 60 years and
100s of billions of dollars expended globally, no experimental
approach has produced more energy than pumped into the experiment.
The reasons for this are now debated.
Quite apart from the apparent stalemate
in the quest to mimic the Sun’s thermonuclear core, it is a
remarkable fact that the enigmatic features of the solar
atmosphere reveal few if any causal connections to events
occurring in the core of the Sun.
It is the growing atmospheric mysteries
that direct our attention to the work of the earlier electrical
theorists noted above, and this work can now be viewed in the light
of massive new data on the Sun gathered in recent years.
Solar Enigmas in
Are electric fields and electric
currents acting on the solar surface? And could the aggregate
electrodynamics explain what has remained unexplained in
contemporary solar physics.
The mysteries include:
rapid acceleration of the solar
wind away from the surface, up to millions of miles per
hour; from an electrical vantage point such acceleration is
the best indication of electric field strength;
more intense outbursts (coronal
mass ejections) achieving speeds up to one quarter the speed
of light - velocities plausibly achieved only in an electric
continued acceleration of the
solar wind out past the inner planets, implying an extensive
electric field acting on the particles long after they have
departed the Sun;
a temperature minimum close to
the Sun’s surface (approx. 5,000K,) rising spectacularly
through the chromosphere and into the corona, with outer
corona temperatures up to 20 million degrees (this, too,
suggests an interfacial region - a plasma “double layer” -
between the Sun and its extended plasma atmosphere);
“open” magnetic field lines, a
violation of standard electromagnetic equations. This enigma
disappears if the lines actually extend into the larger
galactic domain as pathways of galactic currents flowing
into the heliosphere. In such an arrangement, the lines
close as required, but not within the heliosphere;
polar jets, a classical feature
of electric discharge in plasma.
equatorial torus, a feature well
documented in Kristian Birkeland’s experiments with
electrical bombardment of a magnetized sphere;
super-rotation of the equatorial
atmosphere - 35 rotations for every 26 rotations of the
circumpolar atmosphere - a contradiction of standard
atmospherics, but a predictable effect if the atmosphere is
being driven by external, rotating cylindrical currents
along the Sun’s axis, pinching down (plasma z-pinch) to meet
the solar surface;
recent findings that the
convection required to sustain the Sun’s magnetic field is
not occurring. The full significance of this finding has yet
to be studied.
A Call for
The above features carry one implication
in common: they suggest that the Sun is not an island in neutral
space, but the focal point of a heliospheric electric field.
Of course, numerous details of the
primary field and complex secondary fields and associated electric
circuitry remain to be clarified.
For this reason we recommend a
re-evaluation of recent data on the Sun and its heliospheric
environment. And we further recommend that this reevaluation occur
in combination with a controlled experiment - an update of
Birkeland’s terrella experiment with more sophisticated capabilities
and intensive high-definition monitoring.
Based on present knowledge
of the Sun, together with available technologies, we can now be
confident that a well-designed experiment could produce many of the
solar features that have so far eluded investigators.
From the discrete planning and staging
of an experiment to “model” various enigmatic attributes of the
Sun, we believe that the following outcomes are now plausible:
rapid acceleration of an induced
“solar wind” away from the surface of the body;
explosive eruptions and
ejections of charged particle clouds with the greatest
creation of a rotating plasma
atmosphere and “super-rotation” of the equatorial plasma;
creation of an equatorial torus;
creation of a high energy,
“photospheric tufting,” possibly
including nuclear fusion;
creation of polar jets;
creation of migrating
simultaneous electrical events,
including explosive arcing on opposite sides of the sphere;
“solar cycles” induced by
changes in electrical input;
With this experimental objective in mind
we recommend that a research group be organized to design a
laboratory experiment aimed at simulating the elusive but
fundamental attributes of the Sun in an electrified plasma
The experiment should include the best
available experts on plasma and electrodynamics, together with those
closest to recent explorations of the Sun itself.