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December 18, 2007

Ropes In Space

The Solar Connection

Around a century ago, in the latter years of the 1800s and the early 1900s, the Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland conducted extensive research on the northern aurora through both field expeditions and laboratory experiments, and concluded that they were powered by electrical currents flowing through space from the Sun. His work was largely ignored by the reigning theoreticians of the time, whose mathematical models treated the Earth as an isolated body and were not suited to dealing with the Earth, Sun, and the medium in between as components of a single interacting system. In the 1930s, the Swedish physicist and pioneer of plasma dynamics, Hannes Alfvén, building upon Birkeland's work, developed a theory of the Solar System that recognized the role of electrical currents, but his work was dismissed on the grounds that such currents were impossible in the vacuum of space. When, in the 1960s-70s, interplanetary space was shown to be not a vacuum but pervaded by plasma, the objections swung to the opposite exteme by arguing that a an infinitely conductive plasma was incapable of supporting the voltage drop necessary for current to flow, and therefore once again electrical currents in space were impossible. Alfvén's attempts to point out that while this might be true of idealized dense plasma such as that existing in the solar interior, it didn't apply to the rarified conditions of space were in vain, and he was probably the only Nobel Prize winner to caution at his award ceremony speech (Physics, 1970) that the work it recognized was being misrepresented.

From electrodynamics fundamentals, parallel conductors carrying currents in the same direction will experience a mutually attractive force. When the currents are in the form of freely mobile plasma filaments, the converging rotational motion that results gives rise to shorter-range repulsive forces that prevent the filaments from merging, causing them instead to twist about each other to form elongated braided structures that are the signature of electrical currents flowing through plasma, and occur on scales from millimeter laboratory discharges to cosmic. Such structures can then interact in turn to form thicker braids, and so on.

A recent press release on NASA's Themis mission announced NASA Spacecraft Make New Discoveries about Northern Lights. It goes on to describe the investigators' "surprise" at finding the data from the five space probes involved mapping gigantic "magnetic ropes" the width of the Earth connecting back to the Sun and powering the Earth's auroras. However, the notion of electrical currents flowing through space still persists as an anathema to the professional mind, and the NASA finds are characteristically interpreted in terms of mechanics and fluid dynamics. Maybe the next pronouncement will be that the ropes are woven from cosmic string. Michael Goodspeed provides a more comprehensive commentary at http://www.thunderbolts.info/webnews/121707electricsun.htm

While on the subject, my good friend Dave Smith, in Australia, has put together a great page of plasma cosmology links and resources to plasma cosmology at http://www.plasmaresources.com/essential_eupc.html

Dave's fellow Australian, Wal Thornhill, also has some informative papers on the subject posted on his site at http://www.holoscience.com

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