About This Guide
This Guide is intended for anyone
who wonders how our Universe really works, and who might be
interested in an intriguing and somewhat different point of
Is the Universe now
expanding faster and faster as science magazines tell
Does gravity alone, the
weaker of the two long-range forces and the centerpiece
of the Standard Model in astrophysics, rule the heavens?
A small star grouping, NGC 265,
in the Small
Magellanic Cloud, near our Milky Way galaxy.
European Space Agency and NASA/Hubble
Readers may be surprised to discover that many well-trained
skeptics do not support popular ideas in astronomy and the space
Critics doubt that "black holes"
actually exist. They suggest that "dark matter," supposedly far
more abundant than visible matter, is a mere fiction, hiding the
fact that earlier theories no longer work.
Theories of galaxy formation, the
birth of stars, and the evolution of our planetary system are
all raised to doubt by critics who believe that a fateful turn
in 20th century theory set astronomy on a dead-end course.
Enchanted by the role of gravity in the cosmos, astronomers
failed to recognize the pervasive role of charged particles and
electric currents in space.
The purpose of this Guide is to
clarify a new vantage point, one that acknowledges the
contribution of the electric force to the dynamic structure and
highest energy events in the universe.
As we compare events in space to the
behavior of charged particles in the laboratory, the differences
between an electric model and the traditional gravity-only model
should become progressively more clear.
The purpose of this Guide is to introduce and clarify the roles
of plasma and electricity in space. It will describe what
produces the unique behavior of plasma, and how electricity
contributes to the complex and dynamic structure of the
It describes a work still in the
early stages of progress, with its interpretation of
observations in space, near and far, much more inclusive of the
electric and plasma physics contributions than customarily found
in writing on this subject.
We offer the Essential Guide to scientists and to the interested
lay reader. For those who like to delve into technical details,
links to more in-depth material are included, and will be
expanded over time.
We will release the preliminary version of this Guide on the
Thunderbolts.info site one chapter at a time.
The document will continue to
evolve, perhaps for years to come, and we invite contributions
from specialists in the scientific studies covered. Given the
explosion of data from space, no one working alone can keep up
with current findings.
For this reason, interdisciplinary
collaboration will be a key to the success of this endeavor.
As work on this Guide proceeds, the number of individuals
deserving special acknowledgement will grow.
But we will always owe a special
debt of gratitude to Bob Johnson, whose initial script
developed over several months gave us a solid foundation on
which to build this project.
Jim Johnson, an architect by training, well-versed in the
principles of the Electric Universe, will serve as Managing
Editor and webmaster.
The multi-talented Dave Smith will serve as advisor on
webmaster issues and as a key liaison to scientists and to
undergraduate and graduate students desiring to know more or to
Also warranting mention are two individuals who, during the
formative phase of this project, invested substantial time in
identifying key questions and answers. The contributions of
Michael Gmirkin and Chris Reeve, though exceeding the
present scope of the Guide, have helped to pave the way for what
will come, including systematic answers to common
We are pleased to add to this list two assistant editors, Kim
Gifford and Mary-Sue Halliburton. Both have followed
discussion of the Electric Universe over several years and have
shown the requisite editorial skills this Guide will require.
And finally, a thank you to our readers. Our first priority will
always be on tending to needed clarifications or corrections in
the published portions of the Guide.
On such matters, our readers are
often the first to help.
Back to Contents
September 2, 2011
The New Picture of Space
Now more than ever, the exploration of our starry Universe excites
the imagination. Never before has space presented so many pathways
for research and discovery.
New observational tools enable us to "see" formerly-invisible
portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the view is
spectacular. Telescope images in X-ray, radio, infrared and
ultraviolet light reveal exotic structure and intensely energetic
events that continually redefine the quest as a whole.
Spectrographic interpretation has grown hand-in-hand with faster,
large-memory computers and programs, in sophistication and in broad
scientific data processing, imaging and modeling capability.
Standing out amidst an avalanche of new images is the greatest
surprise of the space age: evidence for pervasive electric currents
and magnetic fields across the universe, all connecting and
animating what once appeared as isolated islands in space.
The intricate details revealed are not
random, but exhibit the unique behavior of charged particles in
plasma under the influence of electric currents.
The telltale result is a complex of magnetic fields and associated
electromagnetic radiation. We see the effects on and above the
surface of the Sun, in the solar wind, in plasma structures around
planets and moons, in the exquisite structure of nebulas, in the
high-energy jets of galaxies, and across the unfathomable distances
Thanks to the technology of the 20th century, astronomers of the
21st century will confront an extraordinary possibility. The
evidence suggests that intergalactic currents, originating far
beyond the boundaries of galaxies themselves, directly affect
The observed fine filaments and
electromagnetic radiation in intergalactic and interstellar plasma
are the signature of electric currents. Even the power lighting the
galaxies' constituent stars may indeed be found in electric currents
winding through galactic space.
In a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME),
charged particles are explosively
from the Sun in streaming filaments, defying the
Sun's immense gravity.
Electric fields accelerate charged
and nothing else known to science can achieve the same
If the Sun is the center of an electric field,
other enigmatic features of this body will find direct explanation?
Credit: SOHO (NASA/ESA)
It was long thought that only gravity could do "work" or act
effectively across cosmic distances. But perspectives in astronomy
are rapidly changing. Specialists trained in the physics of
electricity and magnetism have developed new insights into the
forces active in the cosmos.
A plausible conclusion emerges. Not
gravity alone, but electricity and gravity have shaped and continue
to shape the universe we now observe.
A Little History
The early theoretical foundation for modern astronomy was laid by
the work of Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton in the 17th
and 18th centuries.
Since 1687 when Newton first explained
the movement of the planets with his Law of Gravity, science has
relied on gravity to explain all large scale events, such as the
formation of stars and galaxies, or the births of planetary systems.
This foundation rested on the observed role of gravity in our solar
Research into the nature and potential
of electricity had not yet begun.
Franklin's experiments with electricity occurred
after the directions
of gravity-only astronomy were already well-established.
courtesy of the Benjamin Franklin Tercenary
Then, in the 19th Century, research pioneers, whose very names
crackle with electricity:
Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)
André Ampčre (1775-1836)
Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
Joseph Henry (1797-1878)
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
John H. Poynting (1852-1914),
...began to empirically verify the
"laws" governing magnetism and electrodynamic behavior, and
developed useful equations describing them.
By the start of the 20th Century a Norwegian researcher, Kristian
Birkeland (1867-1917), was exploring the relationship between
the aurora borealis and the magnetic fields he was able to measure
on the Earth below them.
He deduced that flows of electrons from
the Sun were the source of the "Northern Lights" - a conclusion
confirmed in detail by modern research. It would be at least another
seventy years before the phrase "Birkeland currents" began to enter
the astronomers' lexicon.
Subsequent work by other scientists,
James Jeans (1877-1946)
Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir
Willard Bennett (1903-1987)
Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfvén
(1908-1995), author of Cosmic Plasma,
...continued to extend our understanding
of ionized matter (plasma, the fourth state of matter).
In the latter half of the 20th Century, Alfvén's close colleague
Anthony Peratt published a groundbreaking textbook on space plasma,
Physics of the Plasma Universe, the culmination of his hands-on,
high-energy plasma experiments and supercomputer particle-in-cell
plasma simulations at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos
Laboratory in New Mexico, USA.
The book has continued to serve as a
guide to specialists in the field.
A new tone in astronomy occurred as engineers pointed radio
telescopes to the sky and began to detect something astronomers had
not expected - radio waves from energetic events in the "emptiness"
At the Second IEEE International
Workshop on Plasma Astrophysics and Cosmology, 1993, Kevin
Healy of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)
presented a paper, A Window on the Plasma Universe: The Very
Large Array, (VLA) in which he concluded,
"With the continuing emergence of
serious difficulties in the "standard models" of astrophysics
[and] the rise of the importance of plasma physics in the
description of many astrophysical systems, the VLA (Very Large
Array) is a perfect instrument to provide the observational
support for laboratory, simulation, and theoretical work in
Its unprecedented flexibility and
sensitivity provide a wealth of information on any radio
emitting region of the universe."
Active galaxy 3C31
(circled at center)
is dwarfed by the
plasma jets along its polar axis,
moving at velocities
a large fraction of the speed of light.
How might the
electrical potential along the immense volume
of this active region
affect the evolution of this galaxy and its billions of stars?
Credit: NRAO's Very
Large Array, and Patrick Leahy's Atlas of DRAGNs
At the start of the 21st Century, Wallace Thornhill and
David Talbott wrote their collaborative book,
The Electric Universe, and
electrical engineer and professor Donald E. Scott authored The
Together these works provide the first
general introduction to a new understanding of electric currents and
magnetic fields in space.
Leading the way in technical publication has been the Nuclear and
Plasma Sciences Society, a division of the Institute of Electrical
and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). This professional organization is
one of the world's largest publishers of scientific and technical
Standing on the shoulders of the electrical pioneers, Carl
Fälthammar, Gerrit Verschuur, Per Carlqvist, Göran Marklund and many
others continue to extend groundbreaking plasma research to this
The Limits of Gravitational Theory
The Law of Gravity, which relies exclusively on the masses of
celestial bodies and the distances between them, works very well for
explaining planetary and satellite motions within our solar system.
But when astronomers tried to apply it
to galaxies and clusters of galaxies, it turns out that nearly 90%
of the mass necessary to account for the observed motion is missing.
The trouble began in 1933 when astronomer Fritz Zwicky
calculated the mass-to-light ratio for 8 galaxies in the Coma
Cluster of the Coma Berenices ("Berenices's hair") constellation.
At the time, it was assumed that the
amount of visible light coming from stars should be proportional to
their masses (a concept called "visual equilibrium").
As Zwicky was to realize, the apparent
rapid velocities of the galaxies, around their common center of mass
("barycenter"), suggested that much more mass than could be seen was
required to keep the galaxies from flying out of the cluster.
Zwicky concluded that the missing mass must therefore be invisible
or "dark". Other astronomers, such as Sinclair Smith (who performed
calculations on the Virgo Cluster in 1936) began to find similar
To make matters worse, in the 1970s,
radial velocity plots (radius from the center versus stars' speed of
rotation) for stars in the Milky Way galaxy revealed that the speeds
flatten out rather than trail down, implying that velocity continues
to increase with radius, contrary to what Newton's Law of Gravity
predicts for, and which is observed in, the Solar System.
In short, astronomers using the Gravity Model were forced to add a
lot more mass to every galaxy than can be detected at any
They called this extra matter "dark";
its existence can only be inferred from the failure of predictions.
To cover for the insufficiency they gave themselves a blank check, a
license to place this imagined stuff wherever needed to make the
gravitational model work.
Other mathematical conjectures followed. Assumptions about the
redshift of objects in space led to the conclusion that the universe
is expanding. Then other speculations led to the notion that the
expansion is accelerating.
Faced with an untenable situation,
astronomers postulated a completely new kind of matter, an invisible
"something" that repels rather than attracts.
Since Einstein equated mass with energy
(E = mc˛), this new kind of matter was interpreted as being of a
form of mass that acts like pure energy - regardless of the fact
that if the matter has no mass it can have no energy according to
the equation. Astronomers called it "dark energy", assigning to it
an ability to overcome the very gravity on which the entire
theoretical edifice rested.
Dark energy is thought to be something like an electrical field,
with one difference.
Electric fields are detectable in two
ways: when they accelerate electrons, which emit observable photons
as synchrotron and Bremsstrahlung radiation, and by accelerating
charged particles as electric currents which are accompanied by
magnetic fields, detected through Faraday rotation of polarized
Dark energy seems to emit nothing and
nothing it purportedly does is revealed through a magnetic field.
One suggestion is that some property of empty space is responsible.
But empty space, by definition, contains no matter and therefore has
The concept of dark energy is
philosophically unsound and is a poignant reminder that the
gravity-only model never came close to the original expectations for
This artistic view of the standard model of the Big Bang
and the expanding
to present a precise
picture of cosmic history.
A much different
story emerges as we learn
phenomena and electric currents in space.
Credit: NASA WMAP
Taking the postulated dark matter and dark energy together,
something on the order of twenty-four times as much mass in the form
of invisible stuff would have to be added to the visible, detectable
mass of the Universe.
That's to say, in the Gravity Model all
the stars and all the galaxies and all the matter between the stars
that we can detect only amount to a minuscule 4% of the estimated
Chandra X-ray Observatory
estimates of the
"total energy content of the Universe".
Only "normal" matter
can be directly detected with telescopes.
The remaining "dark"
matter and energy are invisible.
Image Credit: NASA
Critics often point out that a theory requiring speculative,
undetectable stuff on such a scale also stretches credulity to the
breaking point. Something very real, perhaps even obvious, is almost
certainly missing in the standard Gravity Model.
Is it possible that the missing component could be something as
familiar to the modern world as electricity?
Back to Contents
Chapter 1 - Distances in Space
September 2, 2011
1.1 Distances to Stars
When we look up into the night sky and see all the stars, many of
which are suns similar to our own, they look fairly close together.
But they're not really close at all. The extent of space between
them is huge.
Distance is an important and difficult quantity to measure in
We have to know how close we are to the
stars and galaxies because much else in astronomy depends directly
on that specific information - the total energy (luminosity)
emitted, masses from orbital motions, stars' true motions through
space, and their true physical sizes.
photo courtesy NASA/Hubble Space Telescope
Stars are so far away that even in telescopes they are only tiny
points of light.
Without a knowledge of the distance, you
cannot accurately know whether you are looking at a small but very
bright star or at a larger but less bright star, or whether this
star or that is closer to us. This is also true of galaxies,
quasars, jets and other distant phenomena.
The distance between our eyes provides us our depth perception. Each
eye must be held at a specific angle to center a subject.
The brain interprets those angles and
adjusts the eye's focus, giving us a feel for how close the subject
is and creating an in-depth image of the world around us. This
biological angular detection is the basis of a distance calculation
method called parallax in astronomy.
Triangulation, or trigonometric parallax, is a direct way of using
the measured angular difference from two positions to measure the
distance to some object.
By observing a star's position relative
to the background stars from opposite sides of our orbit about the
Sun, we have a wide baseline that will allow us to get an angular
difference from observations 6 months apart and be able to measure
the distance to something as far away as a star.
Trigonometric parallax diagram
Telescope Outreach and Education website
The Earth averages about 93 million miles from the Sun, so that is
its nearly-circular orbit's radius.
This distance is often called an
astronomical unit (AU) in astronomy. So the distance from one side
of the Earth's orbit to the opposite side is 2 AU, or about 186
When we measure the angle to the nearest
star (Alpha Centauri) from one side of the orbit, wait six months,
and measure it again, we find that the angular difference is rather
small, requiring enormous precision of measurement. More on parallax
and distance calculations here and here.
The European Space Agency (ESA) launched its automated Hipparcos
satellite telescope to take measurements of over 118,000 stars
during its lifetime from 1989–1993. Mission: improve the precision
of catalogued locations of many stars and update the Tycho and Tycho
Out of the newly measured parallaxes,
20,870 stars met the criterion of having a stellar parallax error of
10% or less.
HIPPARCOS satellite parallax error plot by Ralph Biggins,
percent error bounds
wedge) with increasing distance
Even with the more accurate Hipparcos satellite data, distance
measurements to stars out to around 200-220 light-years have up to
10% error, and they are increasingly less accurate out to about 500
Beyond that, trigonometric parallax
measurements should not be considered reliable. Pogge, in the link
above to his Lecture 5, claims Hipparcos data give "good distances
out to 1000 light-years", yet an estimated distance of only 500
light years with ±20%–30% error is already off by too much to be of
1000 light-years is an almost
incomprehensible distance, yet it is only about 1% of the way across
our Milky Way galaxy.
An angle of one degree is subdivided into 60 minutes (60′) of arc,
like the convention of dividing an hour into 60 minutes of time.
Similarly each minute of arc can be subdivided into 60 seconds (60″)
The parallax to all stars except our Sun
is less than one arc second. In fact, the parallax to Alpha Centauri
is about 0.75 of an arc second, or about 0.0002 degree. The parallax
angle to all other stars is even less than this small value.
One light-year, the distance light travels in vacuum in one year, is
almost 6 trillion miles. If you divide 3.26 by the parallax to a
star in arc seconds, you will get the distance to the star as
measured in light-years.
Astronomers generally prefer parsecs
(pc) rather than light-years as distance measurements, even though
parallax measurements can only be used to determine distance
accurately a relatively short distance from our Sun.
Example: (3.26 / 0.75 arc-second) = 4.36 light-years (ly), which is,
25.65 trillion miles or 1.33 parsecs
to the nearest star.
Let's start closer to home.
1.2 Modeling Distances In and Near Our Solar
Robert Burnham developed a model to show us in ordinary terms how
much space there is out there between the stars. To understand its
scale we need to know a couple of real distances.
As noted above, the distance from the Earth to the Sun is around
92,960,000 miles (149,605,000 km). Usually rounded off to 93 million
miles (150 million km), this distance is called the Astronomical
A light-year (ly) is equal to 63,294 AU.
Coincidentally, this is about the same
number as the number of inches in a statute mile, 63,360. Therefore,
there is around the same number of inches in 1 AU (63,360 x
92,960,000) as the number of miles in 1 light-year (63,294 x
92,960,000). Those are really big numbers. Let's stick to inches.
Burnham set the scale in his model so that 1 inch (1″) equals 1 AU
or 93 million miles. Then 1 mile in our model would equal 1 ly. This
scale would be expressed as 1:6,000,000,000,000. That's one unit
represents six million million units, which is a scale of one to 6
trillion or 1:6×1012.
Let's start describing a Burnhamesque miniature scale model of our
solar system using this scale.
We know the distance from Earth to the
Sun (1 AU) will be one inch. How big will the Sun be? The Sun's
diameter is about 870,000 miles, so in our scale model the Sun will
be a little under 1/100th of an inch across. That's a very tiny
The Earth will be one inch away from the
Sun but so small (0.00009″, or 9 one hundred thousandths of an inch)
that we would not be able to see it without a microscope.
The inner solar system,
Pluto's orbital radius is 39.5 times larger than Earth's, so Pluto
will be 39.5 inches, or almost exactly 1 meter, from the Sun. The
heliosphere, the region around the Sun which the solar wind
permeates, is about 7 feet in our model.
So where is the nearest star in our model? Our nearest neighbor is
Alpha Centauri, which is over 4 light-years away. That's more than 4
miles in our model.
Yes, 4 miles. Our model Sun is one tiny speck, and it's 4 miles to
the next nearest speck. That's a lot of space in between. So how big
is our galaxy in this tiny model?
The model galaxy would stretch 100,000
miles across. The thin disk and spiral arms would be a thousand
miles thick. Its central bulge of stars would be well over 6000
miles from top to bottom. Our galaxy is but one of hundreds of
billions of galaxies visible in the observable Universe with our
The nighttime sky appears to be crowded
with stars, but stars are separated typically by over 10 million
times their diameters.
1.3 Distance and Gravity
Remember that, as Newton wrote, the force of gravity decreases with
(i.e., is inversely proportional to) the square of the distance
between two objects.
So the gravitational attraction between
two specks 4 miles apart isn't all that strong. Nor is the force of
gravity between two stars 4 light-years apart. Let's use Newton's
equation to work out what it actually is.
In the simple equation below, above the worksheet, F is the force in
Newtons, G is a very small number called the Gravitational Constant,
M1 and M2 are the estimated masses of the two stars in kilograms,
and r is the distance between their centers in meters.
Astronomers use the metric or S.I.
system as it is much more widely used and more convenient than the
traditional Imperial system of inches, feet, miles, pounds and
However, the result of the calculation
is presented at the bottom of the image in terms of the force of
gravity at Earth's surface, called a "gee" (for "gravity")
regardless of your measurement system.
F = G × (M1 × M2) ÷ r˛
Gravity force calculation
exerted on the Sun by
Despite their great mass, the two stars exert only a miniscule
gravitational acceleration on each other.
Whatever forces control the behavior of
the matter in the universe must be strong enough and must be able to
operate effectively enough over the immense distances involved.
Newton's law of gravity has done well enough in explaining the
forces of attraction and orbital motions within the limited area of
the solar system.
But the relatively weak force of gravity
could only operate effectively, if at all, over interstellar
distances if it were true that space is empty and there were no
competing forces which might overcome that of gravity.
Back to Contents
Chapter 2 - Magnetic and Electric
Fields in Space
October 17, 2011
2.1 The Strength of Gravity and
Gravity is a relatively very weak force.
The electric Coulomb force between a
proton and an electron is of the order of 1039 (that's 1 with 39
zeros after it) times stronger than the gravitational force between
The four fundamental interactions (forces) in physics
We can get a hint of the relative strength of electromagnetic forces
when we use a small magnet to pick up an iron object, say, a ball
Even though the whole of Earth's
gravitation attraction is acting upon the ball bearing, the magnet
overcomes this easily when close enough to the ball bearing. In
space, gravity only becomes significant in those places where the
electromagnetic forces are shielded or neutralized.
Small magnet attracts and holds a ball bearing
For spherical masses and charges, both the gravity force and the
electric Coulomb force vary inversely with the square of the
distance and so decrease rapidly with distance. For other
geometries/configurations, the forces decrease more slowly with
For example, the force between two
relatively long and thin electric currents moving parallel to each
other varies inversely with the first power of the distance between
Electric currents can transport energy over huge distances before
using that energy to create some detectable result, just like we use
energy from a distant power station to boil a kettle in our kitchen.
This means that, over longer distances, electromagnetic forces and
electric currents together can be much more effective than either
the puny force of gravity or even the stronger electrostatic Coulomb
Remember that, just in order to explain the behavior of the matter
we can detect, the Gravity Model needs to imagine twenty-four times
more matter than we can see, in special locations, and of a special
It seems much more reasonable to
investigate whether the known physics of electromagnetic forces and
electric currents can bring about the observed effects instead of
having to invent what may not exist.
2.2 The "Vacuum" of Space
Until about 100 years ago, space was thought to be empty. The words
"vacuum" and "emptiness" were interchangeable.
But probes have found that space
contains atoms, dust, ions, and electrons. Although the density of
matter in space is very low, it is not zero. Therefore, space is not
a vacuum in the conventional sense of there being "nothing there at
For example, the Solar "wind" is known
to be a flow of charged particles coming from the Sun and sweeping
round the Earth, ultimately causing visible effects like the
Northern (and Southern) Lights.
The dust particles in space are thought to be 2 to 200 nanometers in
size, and many of them are also electrically charged, along with the
ions and electrons. This mixture of neutral and charged matter is
called plasma, and it is suffused with electromagnetic fields.
We will discuss plasma and its unique
interactions with electromagnetic fields in more detail in Chapter
3. The "empty" spaces between planets or stars or galaxies are very
different from what astronomers assumed in the earlier part of the
(Note about terminology in links: astronomers often refer to matter
in the plasma state as "gas," "winds," "hot, ionized gas," "clouds,"
This fails to distinguish between the
two differently-behaving states of matter in space, the first of
which is electrically-charged plasma and the other of which may be
neutral gas which is just widely-dispersed, non-ionized molecules or
hydrogen (plasma) abundance in a northern sky survey
Image: Wiki Commons
The existence of charged particles and electromagnetic fields in
space is accepted in both the Gravity Model and the Electric Model.
But the emphasis placed on them and their behavior is one
distinctive difference between the models.
We will therefore discuss magnetic
Aurora, photographed by L. Zimmerman, Fairbanks, Alaska.
spaceweather.com, Aurora PhotoGallery
2.3 Introduction to Magnetic Fields
What do we mean by the terms "magnetic field" and "magnetic field
In order to understand the concept of a
field, let's start with a more familiar example: gravity.
We know that gravity is a force of attraction between bodies or
particles having mass. We say that the Earth's gravity is all around
us here on the surface of the Earth and that the Earth's gravity
extends out into space.
We can express the same idea more
economically by saying that the Earth has a gravitational field
which extends into space in all directions. In other words, a
gravitational field is a region where a gravitational force of
attraction will be exerted between bodies with mass.
Similarly, a magnetic field is a region in which a magnetic force
would act on a magnetized or charged body. (We will look at the
origin of magnetic fields later). The effect of the magnetic force
is most obvious on ferromagnetic materials.
For example, iron filings placed on a
surface in a magnetic field align themselves in the direction of the
field like compass needles.
A bar magnet with iron filings around it,
showing the magnetic field
Because the iron filings tend to align themselves south pole to
north pole, the pattern they make could be drawn as a series of
concentric lines, which would indicate the direction and,
indirectly, strength of the field at any point.
Therefore magnetic field lines are one convenient way to represent
the direction of the field, and serve as guiding centers for
trajectories of charged particles moving in the field (ref.
Fundamentals of Plasma Physics, Cambridge University Press, 2006,
Paul Bellan, Ph.D.)
It is important to remember that field lines do not exist as
Each iron filing in a magnetic field is
acting like a compass: you could move it over a bit and it would
still point magnetic north-south from its new position. Similarly, a
plumb bob (a string with a weight at one end) will indicate the
local direction of the gravitational field. Lines drawn
longitudinally through a series of plumb bobs would make a set of
gravitational field lines.
Such lines do not really exist; they are
just a convenient, imaginary means of visualizing or depicting the
direction of force applied by the field. See Appendix I for more
discussion of this subject, or here, at Fizzics Fizzle.
A field line does not necessarily indicate the direction of the
force exerted by whatever is causing the field.
Field lines may be drawn to indicate
direction or polarity of a force, or may be drawn as contours of
equal intensities of a force, in the same way as contour lines on a
map connect points of equal elevation above, say, sea level. Often,
around 3-dimensional bodies with magnetic fields, imaginary surfaces
are used to represent the area of equal force, instead of lines.
By consensus, the definition of the direction of a magnetic field at
some point is from the north to the south pole.
In a gravitational field, one could choose to draw contour lines of
equal gravitational force instead of the lines of the direction of
the force. These lines of equal gravitational force would vary with
height (that is, with distance from the center of the body), rather
like contour lines on a map. To find the direction of the force
using these elevation contour lines, one would have to work out
which way a body would move.
Placed on the side of a hill, a stone
rolls downhill, across the contours. In other words the
gravitational force is perpendicular to the field lines of equal
Magnetic fields are more complicated than gravity in that they can
either attract or repel.
Two permanent bar magnets with their
opposite ends (opposite "poles", or N-S) facing each other will
attract each other along the direction indicated by the field lines
of the combined field from them both (see image above). Magnets with
the same polarity (N-N or S-S) repel one another along the same
Magnetic fields also exert forces on charged particles that are in
Because the force that the charged
particle experiences is at right angles to both the magnetic field
line and the particle's direction, a charged particle moving across
a magnetic field is made to change direction (i.e. to accelerate) by
the action of the field. Its speed remains unchanged to conserve
The following image shows what happens to an
electron beam in a vacuum tube before and after a magnetic field is
applied, in a lab demonstration.
demonstration, a vacuum tube accelerates a narrow
beam of electrons (emitting blue light) vertically upward.
Energizing the magnetic field of the coils by passing an
electric current through them forces the electron beam to curve.
Image credit: Clemson University, Physics On-line Labs
The magnetic force on a charged particle in motion is analogous to
the gyroscopic force.
A charged particle moving directly along
or "with" a magnetic field line won't experience a force trying to
change its direction, just as pushing on a spinning gyroscope
directly along its axis of rotation will not cause it to turn or "precess".
Even though the force on different charged particles varies, the
concept of visualizing the direction of the magnetic field as a set
of imaginary field lines is useful because the direction of the
force on any one material, such as a moving charged particle, can be
worked out from the field direction.
Magnetic field lines
superimposed on the Sun
in the vicinity of a
coronal hole and other active regions.
dynamics of such fields helps to understand
the underlying plasma
currents forming them.
Image credit: NASA
SDO / Lockheed Martin Space Systems Corp., 10.20.2010
2.4 The Origin of Magnetic Fields
There is only one way that magnetic fields can be generated: by
moving electric charges. In permanent magnets, the fields are
generated by electrons spinning around the nuclei of the atoms.
A strong magnet is created when all the
electrons orbiting the nuclei have spins that are aligned, creating
a powerful combined force. If the magnet is heated to its Curie
temperature, the thermal motion of the atoms breaks down the orderly
spin alignments, greatly reducing the net magnetic field. In a metal
wire carrying a current, the magnetic field is generated by
electrons moving down the length of the wire.
A more detailed introduction to the
complex subject of exchange coupling and ferromagnetism can be found
Either way, any time electric charges move, they generate magnetic
fields. Without moving electric charges, magnetic fields cannot
exist. Ampčre's Law states that a moving charge generates a magnetic
field with circular lines of force, on a plane that is perpendicular
to the movement of the charge.
Magnetic field lines surround a conductor in concentric, equal
valued cylinders or "shells". Note that if you align your right
thumb in the direction arrow of the current, your curled fingers
show the magnetic field direction. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons,
Since electric currents made up of moving electric charges can be
invisible and difficult to detect at a distance, detecting a
magnetic field at a location in space (by well-known methods in
astronomy, see below) is a sure sign that it is accompanied by an
If a current flows in a conductor, such as a long straight wire or a
plasma filament, then each charged particle in the current will have
a small magnetic field around it. When all the individual small
magnetic fields are added together, the result is a continuous
magnetic field around the whole length of the conductor.
The regions in space around the wire
where the field strength is equal (called "equipotential surfaces")
are cylinders concentric with the wire.
Magnetic field lines
surround a conductor in concentric
equal-valued cylinders or "shells". Note that if you align
your right thumb in the direction arrow of the current,
your curled fingers show the magnetic field direction
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, captions added
Time-varying electric and magnetic fields are considered later. (See
Chapter IV and Appendix III)
The question of the origin of magnetic fields in space is one of the
key differences between the Gravity Model and the Electric Model.
The Gravity Model allows for the existence of magnetic fields in
space because they are routinely observed, but they are said to be
caused by dynamos inside stars. For most researchers today, neither
electric fields nor electric currents in space play any significant
part in generating magnetic fields.
In contrast, the Electric Model, as we shall see in more detail
later, argues that magnetic fields must be generated by the movement
of charged particles in space in the same way that magnetic fields
are generated by moving charged particles here on Earth. Of course,
the Electric Model accepts that stars and planets have magnetic
fields, too, evidenced by magnetospheres and other observations.
The new insight has been to explain a
different origin for these magnetic fields in space if they are not
created by dynamos in stars.
2.5 Detecting Magnetic Fields in Space
Since the start of the space age, spacecraft have been able to
measure magnetic fields in the solar system using instruments on
board the spacecraft. We can "see" magnetic fields beyond the range
of spacecraft because of the effect that the fields have on light
and other radiation passing through them.
We can even estimate the strength of the
magnetic fields by measuring the amount of that effect.
Optical image Magnetic field intensity, direction
Courtesy Rainer Beck and Bill Sherwood (ret.),
Max Planck Institute
We have known about the Earth's magnetic field for centuries. We can
now detect such fields in space, so the concept of magnetic fields
in space is intuitively easy to understand, although astronomers
have difficulty in explaining the origination of these magnetic
Magnetic fields can be detected at many wavelengths by observing the
amount of symmetrical spectrographic emission line or absorption
line splitting that the magnetic field induces.
This is known as the Zeeman effect,
after Dutch physicist and 1902 Nobel laureate, Pieter Zeeman,
Note in the right image above how
closely the field direction aligns with the galactic arms visible in
the optical image, left.
effect, spectral line broadening or splitting in a magnetic field.
www.chemteam.info/classical papers/no.38,1897 - the Zeeman effect.
Original photo by
Another indicator of the presence of magnetic fields is the
polarization of synchrotron emission radiated by electrons in
magnetic fields, useful at galactic scales.
See Beck's article on Galactic Magnetic
Fields, in Scholarpedia, plus Beck and Sherwood's Atlas of Magnetic
Fields in Nearby Galaxies. Measurement of the degree of polarization
makes use of the Faraday effect. The Faraday rotation in turn leads
to the derivation of the strength of the magnetic field through
which the polarized light is passing.
The highly instructional paper by Phillip Kronberg et al,
Measurement of the Electric Current in a Kpc-Scale Jet, provides
a compelling insight into the direct link between the measured
Faraday rotation in the powerful "knots" in a large galactic jet,
the resultant magnetic field strength, and the electric current
present in the jet.
Magnetic fields are included in both the Gravity Model and the
Electric Model of the Universe. The essential difference is that the
Electric Model recognizes that magnetic fields in space always
accompany electric currents.
We will take up electric fields and
2.6 Introduction to Electric Fields
An electric charge has polarity.
That is, it is either positive or
negative. By agreement, the elementary (smallest) unit of charge is
equal to that of an electron (-e) or a proton (+e). Electric charge
is quantized; it is always an integer multiple of e.
The fundamental unit of charge is the coulomb (C), where e = 1.60×10-19
coulomb. By taking the inverse of the latter tiny value, one coulomb
is 6.25×1018 singly-charged particles.
One ampere (A) of electric current is
one coulomb per second. A 20A current thus would be 20°C of charge
per second, or the passage of 1.25×1020 electrons
per second past a fixed point.
Every charge has an electric field associated with it. An electric
field is similar to a magnetic field in that it is caused by the
fundamental force of electromagnetic interaction and its "range" or
extent of influence is infinite, or indefinitely large. The electric
field surrounding a single charged particle is spherical, like the
gravitational acceleration field around a small point mass or a
large spherical mass.
The electric field around a single positive charge (L) and between
two charged plates.
Arrows indicate the direction of the force on a
Note that the same force would be applied in the
opposite direction on a negative charge.
The strength of an electric field at a point is defined as the force
in newtons (N) that would be exerted on a positive test charge of 1
coulomb placed at that point. Like gravity, the force from one
charge is inversely proportional to the square of the distance to
the test (or any other) charge.
The point in defining a test charge as positive is to consistently
define the direction of the force due to one charge acting upon
Since like charges repel and opposites
attract, just like magnetic poles, the imaginary electric field
lines tend to point away from positive charges and toward negative
charges. See a short YouTube video on the electric field here.
Here is a user-controlled demonstration of 2 charges and their
associated lines of force in this Mathematica application.
You may need to download Mathematica Player (just once, and it's
free) from the linked web site to play with the demo. Click on
"Download Live Demo" after you install Mathematica Player. You can
adjust strength and polarity of charge (+ or -) with the sliders,
and drag the charged particles around the screen. Give the field
lines time to smooth out between changes.
Electromagnetic forces are commonly stronger than gravitational
forces on plasma in space. Electromagnetism can be shielded, while
gravity can not, so far as is known.
The common argument in the standard
model is that most of the electrons in one region or body are paired
with protons in the nuclei of atoms and molecules, so the net forces
of the positive charges and negative charges cancel out so perfectly
that "for large bodies gravity can dominate" (link: Wikipedia,
Fundamental Interactions, look under the Electromagnetism
What is overlooked above is that, with the occasional exception of
relatively cool, stable and near-neutral planetary environments like
those found here on Earth, most other matter in the Universe
consists of plasma; i.e., charged particles and neutral particles
moving in a complex symphony of charge separation and the electric
and magnetic fields of their own making. Gravity, while always
present, is not typically the dominant force.
Far from consisting of mostly neutralized charge and weak magnetic
and electric fields and their associated weak currents, electric
fields and currents in plasma can and often do become very large and
powerful in space.
The Electric Model holds that phenomena
in space such as magnetospheres, Birkeland currents, stars, pulsars,
galaxies, galactic and stellar jets, planetary nebulas, "black
holes", energetic particles such as gamma rays and X-rays and more,
are fundamentally electric events in plasma physics.
Even the rocky bodies - planets,
asteroids, moons and comets, and the gas bodies in a solar system -
exist in the heliospheres of their stars, and are not exempt from
electromagnetic forces and their effects.
Each separate charged particle contributes to the total electric
The net force at any point in a complex
electromagnetic field can be calculated using vectors, if the
charges are assumed stationary. If charged particles are moving (and
they always are), however, they "create" - are accompanied by -
magnetic fields, too, and this changes the magnetic configuration.
Changes in a magnetic field in turn
create electric fields and thereby affect currents themselves, so
fields that start with moving particles represent very complex
interactions, feedback loops and messy mathematics.
Charges in space may be distributed spatially in any configuration.
If, instead of a point or a sphere, the
charges are distributed in a linear fashion so that the length of a
charged area is much longer than its width or diameter, it can be
shown that the electric field surrounds the linear shape like
cylinders of equal force potential, and that the field from this
configuration decreases with distance from the configuration as the
inverse of the distance (not the inverse square of the distance)
from the centerline.
This is important in studying the
effects of electric and magnetic fields in filamentary currents such
as lightning strokes, a plasma focus, or large Birkeland currents in
Remember that the direction of applied force on a positive charge
starts from positive charge and terminates on negative charge, or
failing a negative charge, extends indefinitely far.
Even a small charge imbalance with, say,
more positively-charged particles here and more negatively-charged
particles a distance away leads to a region of force or electric
field between the areas of separated dissimilar charges. The
importance of this arrangement will become more clear in the
discussion of double layers in plasma, further on.
Think of an electrical capacitor where there are two separated,
oppositely charged plates or layers, similar to the two charged
plates "B" in the diagram above.
There will be an electric field between
the layers. Any charged particle moving or placed between the layers
will be accelerated towards the oppositely charged layer. Electrons
(which are negatively charged) accelerate toward the positively
charged layer, and positive ions and protons toward the negatively
A candle flame in an electric field between two dissimilarly charged
will be oriented sideways because a flame is a partially
It therefore responds more strongly to the electric
force between the plates
than to the thermal convective forces in a
According to Newton's Laws, force results in acceleration.
Therefore electric fields will result in
charged particles' acquiring velocity. Oppositely charged particles
will move in opposite directions. An electric current is, by
definition, movement of charge past a point. Electric fields
therefore cause electric currents by giving charged particles a
If an electric field is strong enough, then charged particles will
be accelerated to very high velocities by the field.
For a little further reading on electric
fields see this.
2.7 Detecting Electric Fields and
Currents in Space
Electric fields and currents are more difficult to detect without
putting a measuring instrument directly into the field, but we have
detected currents in the solar system using spacecraft.
One of the first was the low-altitude
polar orbit TRIAD satellite in the 1970s, which found currents
interacting with the Earth's upper atmosphere.
In 1981 Hannes Alfvén described a
heliospheric current model in his book, Cosmic Plasma.
Since then, a region of electric current called the heliospheric
current sheet (HCS) has been found that separates the positive and
negative regions of the Sun's magnetic field. It is tilted
approximately 15 degrees to the solar equator. During one half of a
solar cycle, outward-pointing magnetic fields lie above the HCS and
inward-pointing fields below it.
This is reversed when the Sun's magnetic
field reverses its polarity halfway through the solar cycle. As the
Sun rotates, the HCS rotates with it, "dragging" its undulations
into what NASA terms "the standard Parker spiral".
Some links to heliospheric current sheet sites are Wikipedia, NASA,
this Mathematica demonstration, and the Belgian Institute of
Depiction of the Heliocentric Current Sheet (HCS) around the Sun,
with typical ripples
dragged into a spiral configuration.
Credit: Wiki Commons
Spacecraft have measured changes over time in the current sheet at
various locations since the 1980s. They have detected near-Earth and
solar currents as well. The Gravity Model accepts that these
currents exist in space but assumes they are a result of the
We will return to this point later.
A research rocket with SPIRIT II payload containing extendable booms
with Langmuir probes
to detect electric fields and ions in near-Earth plasma.
Image credits: NASA
Wallops Flight Facility and Penn State University
Electric fields outside the reach of spacecraft are not detectable
in precisely the same way as magnetic fields.
Line-splitting or broadening in electric
fields occurs, but it is asymmetrical line splitting that indicates
the presence of an electric field, in contrast to the symmetric line
splitting in magnetic fields.
Further, electric field line broadening
is sensitive to the mass of the elements emitting light (the lighter
elements being readily broadened or split, and heavier elements less
so affected), while Zeeman (magnetic field) broadening is
indifferent to mass.
Asymmetric bright-line splitting or
broadening is called the Stark effect, after Johannes Stark
Spectrographic line broadening of helium
increases with the
strength of the electric field through which it passes.
exhibit less line splitting than lighter ones.
Image credit: Journal
of the Franklin Institute, 1930
Another way in which we can detect electric fields is by inference
from the behavior of charged particles, especially those that are
accelerated to high velocities, and the existence of electromagnetic
radiation such as X-rays in space, which we have long known from
Earth-bound experience are generated by strong electric fields.
Electric currents in low density plasmas in space operate like
fluorescent lights or evacuated Crookes Tubes.
In a weak current state, the plasma is
dark and radiates little visible light (although cold, thin plasma
can radiate a lot in the radio and far infrared wavelengths). As
current increases, plasma enters a glow mode, radiating a modest
amount of electromagnetic energy in the visible spectrum.
This is visible in the image at the end
of this chapter. When electrical current becomes very intense in a
plasma, the plasma radiates in the arc mode. Other than scale, there
is little significant difference between lightning and the radiating
surface of a star's photosphere.
This means, of course, that alternative explanations for these
effects are also possible, at least in theory.
The Gravity Model often assumes that the
weak force of gravity multiplied by supernatural densities that are
hypothesized to make up black holes or neutron stars creates these
types of effect. Or maybe particles are accelerated to
near-light-speed by supernovae explosions.
The question is whether "multiplied
gravity" or lab-testable electromagnetism is more consistent with
observations that the Universe is composed of plasma.
The Electric Model argues that electrical effects are not just
limited to those parts of the solar system that spacecraft have been
able to reach. The Electric Model supposes that similar electrical
effects also occur outside the solar system.
After all, it would be odd if the solar
system was the only place in the Universe where electrical effects
do occur in space.
2.8 The Extent of Electromagnetic Fields in
In the Gravity Model, only static magnetic fields are thought to
have any effect in space.
The Gravity Model adopts the simplifying
assumption that electricity plays no significant part in the
dynamics of the Universe and that magnetic fields are 'frozen in' to
the plasma - an idea repudiated by the Nobel prize winner, Hannes
Alfvén, who first proposed it. In the Gravity Model, the force of
gravity rules the behavior of the cosmos.
By contrast, in the Electric model, the magnetic fields in space
derive from electric currents.
In the Electric Model, the complex
interactions among electric currents, magnetic fields, electric
fields, and charge separation deeply influence the behavior of
matter and energetic events throughout the Universe.
The Veil Nebula, NGC 6960,
with its gauzy,
glowing filamentary plasma currents
and current sheets
spanning the light years.
Image credit: T.A.
Rector, University of Alaska, Anchorage,
and Kitt Peak WIYN
Back to Contents
Chapter 3 - Plasma
October 25, 2011
3.1 Introducing Plasma
It is known that space is filled with plasma. In fact, plasma is the
most common type of matter in the universe.
It is found in a wide range of places
from fire, neon lights, and lightning on Earth to galactic and
intergalactic space. The only reason that we are not more accustomed
to plasma is that mankind lives in a thin biosphere largely made up
of solids, liquids, and gases to which our senses are tuned. For
example, we don't experience fire as a plasma; we see a bright flame
and feel heat.
Only scientific experiments can show us
that plasma is actually present in the flame.
While plasma studies
on a single subject
such as fusion energy production,
the understanding of
how the Universe operates
also awaits the
student with a wider interest.
DOE-Princeton Plasma Physics Lab; Peter Ginter
"Plasma is a collection of charged particles that responds
collectively to electromagnetic forces"
(from the first
paragraph in Physics of the Plasma Universe, Anthony Peratt,
A plasma region may also contain a
proportion of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as both charged
and neutral impurities such as dust, grains and larger bodies from
small rocky bodies to large planets and, of course, stars.
The defining characteristic is the presence of the free charges,
that is, the ions and electrons and any charged dust particles.
Their strong response to electromagnetic fields causes behavior of
the plasma which is very different to the behavior of an un-ionized
Of course, all particles - charged and
neutral - respond to a gravity field, in proportion to its local
intensity. As most of the Universe consists of plasma, locations
where gravitational force dominates that of electromagnetism are
Because of its unique properties, plasma is usually considered to be
a phase of matter distinct from solids, liquids, and gases. It is
often called the "fourth state of matter" although, as its state is
universally the most common, it could be thought of as the "first"
state of matter.
The chart below is commonly used to indicate how states change from
a thermal point of view.
The higher the temperature, the higher
up the energy ladder with transitions upward and downward as
indicated. However, it takes a very high thermal energy to ionize
matter. There are other means as well, and an ionized state with
charge imbalance can be induced and maintained at almost any
A solid such as a metal electrical cable, once it is connected in an
electrical circuit with a sufficiently high electrical voltage
source (battery; powerplant) will have its electrons separated from
the metal nuclei, to be moved freely along the wire as a current of
A beaker of water with a bit of metallic salt, such as sodium
chloride, is readily ionized. If an electric voltage is applied via
a positive and a negative wire, the hydrogen and oxygen atoms can be
driven to the oppositely charged wires and evolve as the gaseous
atoms they are at room temperature.
Such stable, neutral states are a part
of an electric universe, but this Guide will focus more on
investigating the state of plasma and electric currents at larger
scales, in space.
A molecular cloud of very cold gas and dust can be ionized by nearby
radiating stars or cosmic rays, with the resulting ions and
electrons taking on organized plasma characteristics, able to
maintain charge and double layers creating charge separation and
electrical fields with very large voltage differentials. Such plasma
will accelerate charges and conduct them better than metals.
Plasma currents can result in sheets and
filamentary forms, two of the many morphologies by which the
presence of plasma can be identified.
Four states or phases of matter , and the transitions between them.
Note the similarity
to the early Greek "primary elements"
of Earth, water, air
It is clear that
plasma is the state with the highest energy content.
Open question: From
where in space does this energy come?
The proportion of ions is quantified by the degree of ionization.
The degree of ionization of a plasma can vary from less than 0.01%
up to 100%, but plasma behavior will occur across this entire range
due to the presence of the charged particles and the charge
separation typical of plasma behavior.
Plasma is sometimes referred to merely as an "ionized gas".
While technically correct, this
terminology is incomplete and outdated. It is used to disguise the
fact that plasma seldom behaves like a gas at all. In space it does
not simply diffuse, but organizes itself into complex forms, and
will not respond significantly to gravity unless local
electromagnetic forces are much weaker than local gravity.
Plasma is not matter in a gas state; it
is matter in a plasma state.
The Sun's ejection of huge masses of "ionized gas" (plasma) as
prominences and coronal mass ejections against its own powerful
gravity serves to illustrate this succinctly. The solar 'wind' is
plasma, and consists of moving charged particles, also known as
electric current. It is not a fluid, or a 'wind', or a 'hot gas', to
put it in plain terms.
Use of other words from fluid dynamics
serves to obfuscate the reality of electric currents and plasma
phenomena more powerful than gravity, around us in space, as far
away as we can observe.
Do gravitational forces explain how millions of tons of feathery
filaments are accelerated off the Sun's surface and into the solar
Credit: far ultraviolet image by NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
We know that space is filled with fields, a variety of particles,
many of which are charged, and collections of particles in size from
atoms to planets to stars and galaxies.
Neutral particles - that is, atoms and
molecules having the same number of protons as electrons, and
neglecting anti-matter in this discussion - can be formed from
oppositely charged particles.
Conversely, charged particles may be
formed from atoms and molecules by a process known as ionization.
If an electron - one negative charge - is separated from an atom,
then the remaining part of the atom is left with a positive charge.
The separated electron and the remainder of the atom become free of
each other. This process is called ionization. The positively
charged remainder of the atom is called an ion.
The simplest atom, hydrogen, consists of
one proton (its nucleus) and one electron. If hydrogen is ionized,
then the result is one free electron and one free proton. A single
proton is the simplest type of ion.
If an atom heavier than hydrogen is ionized, then it can lose one or
The positive charge on the ion will be
equal to the number of electrons that have been lost. Ionization can
also occur with molecules. It can also arise from adding an electron
to a neutral atom or molecule, resulting in a negative ion. Dust
particles in space are often charged, and the study of the physics
of dusty plasmas is a subject of research in many universities
Energy is required to separate atoms
into electrons and ions - see the chart below.
First ionization energy
edited to add
temperatures along the right axis
Notice the repetitive pattern of the chart: an alkali metal has a
relatively low ionization energy or temperature (easy to ionize).
As you move to the right, increasing the
atomic number - the number of protons in the nucleus of the atom -
the energy required to ionize each 'heavier' atom increases. It
peaks at the next "noble gas" atom, followed by a drop at the next
higher atomic number, which will be a metal again. Then the pattern
It is interesting to note that hydrogen, the lightest element, is
considered a 'metal' in this electric and chemical context, because
it has a single electron which it readily "gives up" in its outer
(and only) electron orbital.
Common terminology in astronomy, in the
context of the component elements in stars, is that hydrogen and
helium are the 'gases' and all the other elements present are
collectively termed 'metals'.
3.3 Initiating and Maintaining
The energy to initiate and maintain ionization can be kinetic energy
from collisions between energetic particles (sufficiently high
temperature), or from sufficiently intense radiation.
Average random kinetic energy of
particles is routinely expressed as temperature, and in some very
high velocity applications as electron-volts (eV). To convert
temperature in kelvins (K) to eV, divide K by 11604.5. Conversely,
multiply a value in eV by that number to get the thermal equivalent
temperature in K.
The chart above represents the ionization energy required to strip
the first, outermost electron from an atom or molecule.
Subsequent electrons are more tightly
bound to the nucleus and their ionization requires even higher
energies. Several levels of electrons may be stripped from atoms in
extremely energetic environments like those found in and near stars
and galactic jets.
Importance: These energetic plasmas are
important sources of electrons and ions which can be accelerated to
extremely high velocities, sources of cosmic rays and synchrotron
radiation at many wavelengths. Cosmic ray links to cloud cover
patterns affecting our global climate are reported in Henrik
Svensmark's book, The Chilling Stars.
Temperature is a measure of how much random kinetic energy the
particles have, which is related to the rate of particle collisions
and how fast they are moving. The temperature affects the degree of
Electric fields aligned (parallel) with
local magnetic fields ("force-free" condition) can form in plasma.
Particles accelerated in field-aligned conditions tend to move in
parallel, not randomly, and consequently undergo relatively few
collisions. The conversion of particle trajectories from random to
parallel is called "dethermalization".
They are said to have a lower
"temperature" as a result. Analogy: think of the vehicular motion in
a "destruction derby" as "hot", collision-prone random traffic, and
freeway vehicular movement in lanes as "cool", low-collision,
parallel aligned traffic.
In a collision between an electron and an atom, ionization will
occur if the energy of the electron (the electron temperature) is
greater than the ionization energy of the atom. Equally, if an
electron collides with an ion, it will not recombine if the electron
has enough energy.
One can visualize this as the electron's
having a velocity greater than the escape velocity of the ion, so it
is not captured in an orbit around the ion.
Electron temperatures in space plasmas can be in the range of
hundreds to millions of kelvins. Plasmas can therefore be effective
at maintaining their ionized state. A charge-separated state is
normal in space plasmas.
Other sources of ionization energy
include high-energy cosmic rays arriving from other regions, and
high-energy or "ionizing" radiation such as intense ultraviolet
light incident upon the plasma from nearby stars or energetic
radiative processes created within the plasma itself.
Highly energetic processes are observed in nebula NGC 3603:
blue supergiant Sher
25 with toroidal ring and bipolar jets, upper center;
arc and glow mode
plasma discharges as emission nebula (yellow-white areas);
clustered hot blue
Wolf-Rayet and young O-type stars,
filaments and sheets throughout the dusty plasma regions of the
Image credit: W.
Brandner (JPL/IPAC), E. Grebel (U. of Washington),
You-Hua Chou (U. of
and NASA Hubble Space
In Big Bang cosmology, it is thought that there is not enough energy
in the Universe to have created and maintained significant numbers
of "loose" ions and electrons through ionization, and therefore they
On the other hand, whenever ions and
electrons combine into atoms, energy is given off. In the Big Bang
Model, protons and electrons are thought to have been created before
atoms, so an enormous amount of energy must have been released
during the formation of the atoms in the Universe.
It seems possible that if the Big Bang
Model is correct, then this energy would still be available to
re-ionize large numbers of atoms. Alternatively, it seems possible
that not all protons and electrons combined into atoms after the Big
Note that the Electric Model does not rely on the Big Bang Model.
The Electric Model simply says that we
detect ions and electrons everywhere we have looked; so they do
exist, probably in large numbers. Telescopes which "see" in high
energy photons, such as Chandra (X-ray) and EIT, Extreme Ultraviolet
Imaging Telescope on the SOHO solar observation spacecraft, attest
to the presence of ionizing energy sources in the Universe, near and
To suggest that mobile ions and
electrons can't exist in large numbers because, theoretically, there
isn't enough energy to have created them is as erroneous as arguing
that the Universe can't exist for the same reason.
3.4 Plasma Research
Kristian Birkeland (1867-1917)
with his Terella
electromagnetic plasma simulator,
Although plasma may not be common in Earth's biosphere, it is seen
in lightning in its many forms, the northern and southern auroras,
sparks of static electricity, spark plug igniters, flames of all
sorts (see Chapter 2, ¶2.6), in vacuum tubes (valves), in electric
arc welding, electric arc furnaces, electric discharge machining,
plasma torches for toxic waste disposal, and neon and other
fluorescent lighting tubes and bulbs.
Plasma behavior has been studied extensively in laboratory
experiments for over 100 years.
There is a large body of published
research on plasma behavior by various laboratories and professional
organizations, including the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is the largest technical
professional organization in the world today.
The IEEE publishes a journal,
Transactions on Plasma Science.
We will be relying on much of this research when explaining plasma
behavior in the rest of this Guide. One point to bear in mind is
that plasma behavior has been shown to be scalable over many orders
That is, we can test small-scale
examples of plasma in the laboratory and know that the observable
results can be scaled up to the dimensions necessary to explain
plasma behavior in space.
plasma vacuum chamber
in Dr. Paul Bellan's
Plasma Physics Group lab
at the California
Institute of Technology, USA; circa 2008.
Image credit: Cal
3.5 Plasma and Gases
Due to the presence of its charged particles, that is, ions,
electrons, and charged dust particles, cosmic plasma behaves in a
fundamentally different way from a neutral gas in the presence of
Electromagnetic forces will cause charged particles to move
differently from neutral atoms. Complex behavior of the plasma can
result from collective movements of this kind.
A significant behavioral characteristic is plasma's ability to form
large-scale cells and filaments. In fact, that is why plasma is so
named, due to its almost life-like behavior and similarities to
cell-containing blood plasma.
The cellularization of plasma makes it difficult to model
The use of the term 'ionized gas' is
misleading because it suggests that plasma behavior can be modeled
in terms of gas behavior, or fluid dynamics. It cannot except in
certain simple conditions.
Alfvén and Arrhenius in 1973 wrote in Evolution of
the Solar System:
"The basic difference [of approaches
to modeling] is to some extent illustrated by the terms ionized
gas and plasma which, although in reality synonymous, convey
different general notions.
The first term gives an impression
of a medium that is basically similar to a gas, especially the
atmospheric gas we are most familiar with. In contrast to this,
a plasma, particularly a fully ionized magnetized plasma, is a
medium with basically different properties."
3.6 Conduction of electricity
Plasma contains dissociated charged particles which can move freely.
Remembering that, by definition, moving
charges constitute a current, we can see that plasma can conduct
electricity. In fact, as plasma contains both free ions and free
electrons, electricity can be conducted by either or both types of
By comparison, conduction in a metal is entirely due to the movement
of free electrons because the ions are bound into the crystal
lattice. This means plasma is an even more efficient conductor than
metals, as both the electrons and their corresponding ions are
considered free to move under applied forces.
The efficiency of plasma conduction in compact fluorescent lights
has rapidly replaced most metal filament (resistance heating) light
3.7 Electrical Resistance of Plasmas
In the Gravity Model, plasma is often assumed for simplicity to be a
perfect conductor with zero resistance.
However, all plasmas have a small but
nonzero resistance. This is fundamental to a complete understanding
of electricity in space. Because plasma has a small nonzero
resistance, it is able to support weak electric fields without
The electrical conductivity of a material is determined by two
factors: the density of the population of available charge carriers
(the ions and electrons) in the material and the mobility (freedom
of movement) of these carriers.
In space plasma, the mobility of the charge carriers is extremely
high because, due to the very low overall particle density and
generally low ion temperatures, they experience very few collisions
with other particles.
On the other hand, the density of
available charge carriers is also very low, which limits the
capacity of the plasma to carry the current.
Electrical resistance in plasma, which depends on the inverse of the
product of the charge mobility and the charge density, therefore has
a small but nonzero value.
Because a magnetic field forces charged particles moving across the
field to change direction, the resistance across a magnetic field is
effectively much higher than the resistance in the direction of the
magnetic field. This becomes important when looking at the behavior
of electric currents in plasma.
Although plasma is a very good conductor, it is not a perfect
conductor, or superconductor.
3.8 Creation of Charge Differences
Over a large enough volume, plasma tends to have the same number of
positive and negative charges because any charge imbalance is
readily neutralized by the movement of the high-energy electrons.
So the question arises, how can
differently charged regions exist, if plasma is such a good
conductor and tends to neutralize itself quickly?
On a small scale, of the order of tens of meters in a space plasma,
natural variations will occur as a result of random variations in
electron movements, and these will produce small adjacent regions
where neutrality is temporarily violated.
On a larger scale, positive and negative charges moving in a
magnetic field will automatically be separated to some degree by the
field because the field forces positive and negative charges in
opposite directions. This causes differently charged regions to
appear and to be maintained as long as the particles continue to
move in the magnetic field.
Separated charge results in an electric field, and this causes more
acceleration of ions and electrons, again in opposite directions. In
other words, as soon as some small inhomogeneities are created, this
rapidly leads to the start of more complex plasma behavior.
Moving through Jupiter's intense magnetic field creates strong
charge separation (voltage differential) and a resulting electrical
current in a circuit of some 2 trillion watts power flowing between
Io and Jupiter's polar areas
Over all scales, the signature filamentation and cellularization
behavior of plasma creates thin layers where the charges are
separated. Although the layers themselves are thin, they can extend
over vast areas in space.
3.9 Important Things to Remember About
The essential point to bear in mind when considering space plasma is
that it often behaves entirely unlike a gas. The charged particles
which are the defining feature of a plasma are affected by
electromagnetic fields, which the particles themselves can generate
In particular, plasma forms cells and filaments within itself, which
is why it came to be called plasma, and these change the behavior of
the plasma, like a feedback loop.
Plasma behavior is a little like fractal behavior. Both are complex
systems arising from comparatively simple rules of behavior. Unlike
fractals, though, plasma is also affected by instabilities, which
add further layers of complexity.
Any theoretical or mathematical model of the Universe that does not
take into account that complexity, is going to miss important
aspects of the system's behavior and fail to model it accurately.
Back to Contents