Astronomical Myths of Mercury & the Sun

The Messenger spacecraft has its inaugural fly-by of the planet Mercury today. Once again we hear the mantra that it will answer the solar system’s big questions. Once again it will fail to do so because our modern myths of astronomy and solar system history prevent insight and understanding.

Artist's impression of MESSENGER over Mercury

At 2:04 p.m. EST MESSENGER skimmed 200 kilometers (124 miles) above the surface of Mercury in the first of three flybys of the planet. Initial indications from the radio signals indicate the spacecraft is still operating nominally.

In a New Scientist cover story, “Unlocking Mercury’s secrets,” 5 January 2008, the author Stuart Clark writes, “If you want answers to the solar system’s big questions, get as close to the sun as you can.” That may be true but it is unnecessary. We already have enough information to figure things out. Yet we may expect the usual “it’s back to the drawing board,” comments after the fly-by and after Messenger goes into orbit about the planet in March 2011. The problem for scientists lies in the indelible myths inscribed on their drawing board a century and more ago. The following New Scientist story is a clear illustration.

“For more than 30 years we have virtually ignored Mercury. Yet that’s all about to change thanks to NASA’s Messenger spacecraft. Launched on 3 August 2004, the probe is about to begin a series of three fly-bys which will manoeuvre it into position to enter orbit around Mercury on 18 March 2011.

Messenger orbit

The inaugural fly-by on 14 January will provide the first opportunity to explore Mercury since 1975, when NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft completed its third and final fly-by. Planetologists are getting excited. McNutt, the mission’s project scientist, and his colleagues have a big list of Mercurial mysteries to solve, and believe that Messenger could crack some of them on its first pass.

Of all the planets in our solar system, Mercury is an enigma. The chimeric planet has a face like the moon, yet conceals a metal heart larger than that of Mars; while all of the major planets go around the sun in more or less the same plane, Mercury opts for a jaunty angle; while Earth’s orbit is essentially round, Mercury prefers an ellipse; and let’s not forget the magnetic field that it shouldn’t have. Clearly, the closest planet to the sun is trying to tell us something.

How Mercury measures up

It even had a famous fan: Albert Einstein. Mercury’s odd motion around the sun was impossible to explain with Newton’s theory of gravitation alone. The puzzle remained until Einstein used it as the first convincing evidence for his general theory of relativity.”

Myth No. 1. Mercury’s motion is convincing evidence for Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Einstein’s geometric theory of general relativity makes no real sense whatsoever. It leaves more unanswerable questions than it appears to solve. How, precisely, does matter have an effect on empty space? Nobel Prize nominee, the late Professor C. L. Kervran, stated the problem: “..the word “matter” has no exact meaning; we just do not know what matter is; we do not know what a proton or electron is made of; the word only serves to cloak our ignorance. Matter has not been proved to come from energy.”

In addition, the concept of curved or ‘warped’ empty space has no physical reality. It is a purely mathematical concept where the word ‘dimension’ has a broader meaning than mensuration. It seems that the esoteric theoretical geometry of general relativity may have defeated Einstein too. A fellow Australian has issued a quite simple and specific, yet unanswered, mathematical challenge to hundreds of experts. His conclusion? “The relativists have all fatally erred in their analysis of black holes and relativistic cosmology.* General Relativity does not predict black holes or expansion of the Universe with or without a big bang.” The stark nakedness of our ‘emperors of science’ underlines the power of myth to blind us to reality. Mercury’s perihelion advance is telling us something different. But no one can see that—yet.

* One mistake is a school kid howler. The mathematical infinity generated by treating an extended object as a point mass and letting the radius of gravitational attraction tend to zero is invalid. The center of mass is a geometric convenience that has its uses for such things as calculating moments of inertia and deriving planetary orbits, but to reify it into a gravitating “thing” is an exercise in human imagination, not reality. The expression for gravitational field strength at a point inside an extended object isn’t the same as for a point outside it. But invoking a point mass makes every part of the object “outside.” Within a gravitating mass, the force diminishes as you move inward from the surface and more of the downward pull is offset by mass that now lies above, until at the center of a sphere it becomes zero. The surrounding region is therefore not under intense compression, which precludes any formation of a black hole. The debate over general relativity is ephemeral and of no real consequence. Massive public funding of research in relativistic cosmology should stop and those responsible for the unconscionable waste of time and resources held to account. It should be obvious that gravity is a property of matter and not of empty space.

Myth No. 2. We can use Newton’s law of gravity to determine the mass of a celestial body and from that its density.

All subatomic particles are composites of electric charge. Gravity is a weak manifestation of a dipolar electric force between distorted subatomic particles. The distortion is a sum due to the presence of matter in the rest of the universe. I will present more on this topic in a forthcoming news item, following the publication of my paper for the UK Society for Interdisciplinary Studies 2007 Cambridge conference. Empirically, we observe subatomic particles accelerated in an electric field apparently gaining in mass. That apparent mass increase is not due to the particles’ motion but the absorption of energy in the form of particle distortion instead of acceleration. So the mass of a body is an electrical variable! Mass is not directly related to the quantity of matter. And Newton’s ‘universal constant of gravitation,’ G, which has the dimensions of length cubed, divided by mass and by time squared, is neither ‘universal’ nor ‘constant’ since it includes mass. It means that we cannot determine the density of a planet from its gravitational field and make assumptions about its internal composition. Mercury does not conceal a metal heart larger than that of Mars. It will be found eventually to have a composition and structure like that of similar looking bodies in the solar system. Analysis of Mercury’s surface mineralogy will validate that superficially at least.

“Now astronomers think it holds another secret: how the solar system itself was formed. Ralph McNutt, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, is in no doubt about the planet’s importance. “Mercury is the key to the solar system,” he says. If you can explain how such an oddball planet came together, it would go a long way to explaining how all the others formed.”

Myth No. 3. The solar system was formed in a single gravitational collapse event of a widely dispersed cloud of gas and dust, 3.7 billion years ago. The solar system has no recent history.

The obligatory mantra about uncovering the secret of how the solar system was formed is repeated. Each time silence follows, or else a smile and a wave as scientists head back to the drawing board. There is no acceptable gravitational theory of the formation of the solar system from an initial rotating cloud of gas and dust. In a recent expert forum I attended it was admitted that it is difficult for an object to accrete to 1 km in size and to make planets. In contradiction to the accretion theory it is then necessary for a planet to lose a lot of mass. In fact it requires a separate theory for each planet! And critical to our understanding of gravity — it is not understood why planets have such circular orbits. (The simple answer to that question will be addressed in the forthcoming paper).

Star formation

Observations of rings of dust about nearby stars seems to have confirmed in astronomers’ minds the notion of an ‘accretion’ disk. But this is an unwarranted assumption when we also see stars ejecting colossal jets of matter in defiance of gravity. Stars are formed in an electrical Z-pinch at the intersection of cosmic ‘power lines’ or Birkeland current filaments. The electromagnetic scavenging effect of these entwined Birkeland filaments falls off slowly with distance from their linear axis. Gravity falls off much more rapidly — with the square of the radial distance from a central mass. Electric stars are formed in a linear group and provided with an initial spin by the rotary electromagnetic forces inherent in the plasma Z-pinch. In the laboratory, as the Z-pinch decays, the plasmoids (stars) “scatter like buckshot.” However stellar axial alignments may remain as a signature of their common birth. Stars remain attached to their electrical umbilical cords and draw their power from them. The magnetic fields detected by radio telescopes trace the cosmic circuitry.

Planet formation

In a suddenly changing electrical environment a star may ‘split’ into pieces to accommodate electrical stress. It presents a larger surface area to the discharge current. Of 100 nearby stars 40 are binaries, 15 triplets and 5 quadruplets. The partitioning usually includes smaller objects — ‘hot’ gas giants — so-called because they have been found to orbit a star extremely closely.

Not all stars shine brightly like the Sun. There is a discontinuity in plasma discharge phenomena that causes the bright ‘anode tufting’ seen as granulation on our own Sun. At lower power densities there is no need for ‘tufting’ and the red chromospheric ‘anode glow’ becomes dominant. That is the realm of red stars, both so-called dwarfs and giants. Both appear giant relative to the physical size of the star because their red chromospheric anode glow expands into space seeking electrons to satisfy their discharge. Brown dwarfs are like our own gas giants but leading an electrical existence independent of a bright star. They are more abundant than bright stars in the galaxy. All bodies in the universe are supplied with electrical power.

Capture of another star by the Sun is likely because orbits are changed strongly by charge exchange. Change the charge on a celestial body and its mass is changed. By simple conservation of energy, its orbit is changed in the same proportion. Entering the Sun’s circuit, the electric light goes out on a captured dwarf star and it becomes a gas giant planet in a distant orbit. It seems that electrogravitic restoring forces due to repeated passages of a strongly discharging planet (comet) through the Sun’s equatorial current sheet during capture causes the captive star to settle toward that plane.

Given this scenario we are much better placed to understand our ‘fruit salad’ of a solar system. The distant gas giant planets are captured brown dwarf stars, each bringing its entourage of minor planets (moons), some actually being born (expelled electrically from the core) in the process of charge exchange and capture. Saturn retains its ‘expulsion disk’ and is the most recent addition to the solar system. Saturn is remembered by the earliest civilizations as THE SUN! (See “Cassini’s Homecoming.” Our book, Thunderbolts of the Gods, details the global petroglyph evidence for powerful electrical effects witnessed in Saturn’s transition from star to gas giant. The strange, complex figures are accurate renditions of plasma instabilities seen only recently in the highest energy electrical experiments on Earth.

This throws into sharp relief how recently the solar system last changed. It is exactly as it appears — a blended family. The Sun is our foster parent. Looking for gradations in properties of the planets according to a retrocalculated theoretical order is futile. We must learn to appreciate the familial differences and in the process learn more about our neighborhood in the Milky Way. We don’t need to travel to study the nearest stars. Some have come to us!

Myth No. 4. Radioactive dating can give reliable estimates of the ages of rocks. The solar system is 3.7 billion years old.

Radioactive dating relies on a planet being essentially a closed system since shortly after its formation. However, powerful plasma discharges are a copious source of neutrons, which can introduce radioactive species to planetary surfaces. Matter is also irradiated and transferred between planets by cosmic discharges. Radioactive ‘clocks’ cannot be relied upon under such circumstances. This also explains isotope anomalies in some meteorites, for example, in the Allende meteorite (and others of its type) where short-lived radioactive decay products like Mg26 are found to excess. It suggests conventionally that there was more than the expected amount of Al26 in the early nebula when the meteor was formed. This, in turn, has led to speculation that there was a nearby supernova at or near the same time. No such implausible explanation is required in an Electric Universe. The meteor is a remnant of debris removed from a planetary surface by a plasma arc, which has the power to generate radioactive species in situ in the meteorite.

“Was Mercury once twice the size?

Mercury is peculiarly dense, suggesting it hides a huge iron core, which would account for more than 40 per cent of the planet’s volume. This is a gigantic proportion compared to Earth’s core, which fills just 17 per cent of its interior, and its origin is one of the planet’s biggest mysteries.

One possibility is that the large core may simply reflect the fact that Mercury formed from the hot gas cloud surrounding the sun, where only metals with high melting points could have solidified. Rockier materials would not have condensed so close to the sun, leaving a metal-rich embryonic planet. Or perhaps proto-Mercury formed before the sun’s fierce heat began and had rocky outer layers which then evaporated as the young sun heated up.”

Myth No. 5. The Sun evolves over time as a result of consuming itself in a central thermonuclear furnace.

A star is not just a fancy version of the old ‘campfire in the sky.’ It is not self-immolating. A star’s size and appearance are a plasma discharge phenomenon, the discharge being powered externally via galactic circuits. That is the simple explanation why the Sun’s corona is millions of degrees hotter than its surface. As commonsense would dictate, stars are chemical element factories, producing in their intense photospheric plasma discharge all of the heavy elements observed in their spectra. Stars may therefore change appearance and apparent age at any time in response to their environment and in some instances have been observed to do so rapidly. The usual evolutionary story of stars’ youth and senescence is fictional.

Myth No. 6. Mercury was formed where we find it today.

Mercury had nothing to do with the Sun in its early history. Mercury was never twice the size. All planets and moons are born fully formed from their parent body — usually a flaring dwarf star (or gas giant planet). The birth process involves intense plasma discharging between the parent and its departing newborn satellite, which modifies the infant’s atmosphere and ‘spark etches’ the surface electrically, forming circular craters and distinctive Lichtenberg figures of canyons, or rilles. Subsequent near encounters with other bodies result in further electrical scarring, matter transfer and atmospheric modification. Cometary surface arcing also occurs while orbits are adjusted for a new stability within a stellar system. Mercury will be found to bear globally the hallmark scars of such events. Presently only 40% of its surface has been mapped.

“New ideas have emerged as computing power has increased. Planet-formation models suggest that enormous asteroid-like objects were hurtling around the early solar system, colliding and coalescing. Perhaps one of these, from as far away as Mars or beyond, smashed into Mercury so violently that it blasted most of Mercury’s outer layers into space, leaving the planet just half its original size.

The clues to Mercury’s formation should lie in its surface composition, but even there the planet shrouds itself in mystery.”

Myth No. 7. Planets collide mechanically.

Modern astrophysics has degenerated into computer games based upon mechanical and gravitational concepts that are a century out of date. That is when Kristian Birkeland, in his brilliant but little known Terrella (little Earth) experiments, electrically modeled auroras and many other phenomena seen on the Sun and in space. However, the space age discovery of magnetic fields and charged particles (plasma) permeating space has not changed thinking one iota. Electricity is rarely mentioned except to say that “it does nothing” in space. Yet recently the magnetic field tracing the circuit between the Sun and our auroras was discovered. All bodies in the solar system are electrically charged. Asteroid-like objects do not simply “collide and coalesce.” The smashing scenario suggested is entirely imaginary.

Collisions are generally avoided. Before mechanical contact can be made, electrical exchanges will occur. This is particularly so for large bodies. It is the missing element in explaining why planetary orbits are so circular. It is the missing element in all fanciful renditions of an asteroid or comet collision with the Earth. The Tunguska explosion in Siberia is an example where the incoming bolide was destroyed in the upper atmosphere by discharges from the ground. Of course, such cosmic discharges can be very destructive, leaving characteristic electrical scars on each body and/or entirely destroying the smaller interloper. Meteor crater in Arizona is a neat circular electrical crater with no buried meteorite. It is accompanied by nearby sinuous channels or rilles carved by surface lightning. Electrical discharges last longer than an impact, resulting in less collateral damage and sharp features. That’s why the overlapping craters on Mercury and the Moon show little disturbance of each other. Lightning seeks the highest point, which explains another feature that cannot be explained by impact cratering. Small secondary-discharge craters are perched preferentially on the rims of larger craters. Material spark-machined from the craters is lofted upwards against gravity into space by powerful electrical forces. This gives the craters an astonishingly fresh appearance — as the Apollo astronauts remarked when orbiting the Moon. Mercury’s craters show the same freshness and lack of fallback debris.

“If Mercury formed close to the sun, there shouldn’t be much iron oxide on its surface, since this otherwise common molecule forms more easily at low temperatures. If, however, Mercury formed when building blocks from across the inner solar system coalesced, then its crust should have about the same iron oxide content as Earth’s, regardless of whether a giant impact once blasted Mercury’s surface layers into space.

The trouble is that Mercury sits between these two extremes. Direct observations from Earth indicate that it is 3 per cent iron oxide by mass, compared to Earth’s 8 per cent. Messenger should be able to clarify this situation. The probe will also measure other key elements and identify the minerals they combine to create across the surface of the planet. For example, if Mercury’s outer layer evaporated long ago, planetary scientists would expect very low quantities of silicon dioxide and large amounts of magnesium oxide, which has a higher melting point. Other formation scenarios predict different combinations and quantities. But what if Messenger sees something that no one has predicted? “People can always come up with explanations,” Jeffrey Taylor of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology in Honolulu.”

Comment: Mercury’s familial connections in the solar system are unknown at present. Similarities with other large moons in the solar system should be sought. Taylor’s frank admission demonstrates how the astrophysical myths are perpetuated.

“Why does Mercury have a magnetic field?

Mercury’s large, dense core generates more than just confusion. It also gives rise to a magnetic field, as Mariner 10 discovered. The field itself is small – just one-thousandth of the strength of Earth’s – but its mere presence was perhaps the biggest surprise of the discoveries made in the 1970s. Put simply, it should not be there.

A magnetic field is usually generated in the core of the planet from a circulating region of electrically conducting, molten material. As large as Mercury’s iron core is in relation to the planet, it is still only half the diameter of Earth’s core. This, combined with the thinner layer of insulating rocks around it, means that Mercury’s core should have long since radiated away its heat and solidified, putting an end to any magnetic field.”

Myth No. 8. Planetary magnetic fields are generated by a hidden ‘dynamo’ in the core.

A rotating charged body will produce a dipolar magnetic field. Scientists discard this simple explanation because it is calculated for the Earth that the moving charge would have to constitute a current of a billion Amps, which implies a tremendously strong electric field at the Earth’s surface. But this simple electrostatic argument fails in a plasma environment. The electric field at the Earth’s surface reflects merely the difference in voltage between the Earth and its plasma sheath at the magnetospheric boundary with the solar wind. Like a bird sitting on a high-voltage transmission line, we are unaware of the electrification beneath our feet.

In Mercury’s case, its strong gravitational field for its size indicates a high level of internal electrical polarization. That means a high surface charge. So Mercury’s slowly rotating charge will produce a small magnetic field. Other effects will modify that field. For example, currents flow in the plasma above the surface and are induced in the surface of the planet. And there is remanent magnetism associated with old cosmic thunderbolt surface scars. The eccentric orbit of Mercury within the Sun’s electric field should ensure electric current is flowing to the planet throughout its year. The current flow is usually in the sense of a Faraday motor, via the poles and an equatorial plasma sheet.

“There is a slim chance that it is a “fossil field”, created by magnetic material deposited in Mercury’s crustal rocks as the planet solidified. Fossil fields have been detected on both the moon and Mars, but they are relatively small-scale phenomena, dubbed crustal anomalies, which seem unlikely to account for a planet-wide field.
Recent measurements from radio telescopes suggest that there is a molten mantle churning inside Mercury, because of the way the planet wobbles. Such wobbles depend upon the distribution of mass inside a planet – whether it is moving as a single, solid entity or instead sloshing around because part of it is liquid. Jean-Luc Margot of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and his colleagues have recently shown that Mercury’s wobble is twice that expected from a completely solid object (Science, vol 316, p 710).”

Comment: Mercury may have a liquid core. We don’t know the planet’s history. However, there is a possible electrical cause of the observed wobble (longitudinal librations, or variations in the spin rate of a planet). The Sun occasionally dumps charge onto the Earth following a solar outburst. The length of the day changes suddenly then slowly recovers to its original duration. The effect is a mystery. But as argued earlier, the mass of a planet changes when charge is gained or lost. Simple conservation of angular momentum argues that the planet will exhibit the kind of rotational disturbance observed on Earth. The high eccentricity of Mercury’s orbit in the weak radial electric field of the Sun ensures that this effect will be present in a periodic fashion and must be taken into account before pronouncing that Mercury has a liquid core.

“So what’s keeping the interior molten? A popular theory is that the iron is mixed with sulphur, which would lower the freezing point of the core, allowing it to remain fluid.

There will be no way to probe the composition of the core during Messenger’s first fly-by, but the path the spacecraft takes as it slingshots around the planet will reveal much about Mercury’s internal structure. “With a closest approach of 200 kilometres, we will be able to measure the mass distribution of the planet and tell the extent of the molten core,” says McNutt.
At the same time, Messenger’s magnetometer will be studying the shape of Mercury’s magnetic field to see whether it resembles that of a classic bar magnet. This would prove the field is generated in the core, as is Earth’s field.

Yet even if they see this, the job is far from over, says Sean Solomon at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, and the principal investigator for Messenger. He points out that simply scaling down the size and speed of Earth’s liquid core to Mercury proportions would produce a field far stronger than Mercury’s. “Something different must be going on inside Mercury,” he says.

What that might be is still anyone’s guess, but Messenger’s fly-bys will help find out. “We should get a good measurement of the internal field, and possibly some crustal anomalies also,” says Solomon.”

Comment: If Mercury’s magnetic field is the shape of a bar magnet it does not “prove the field is generated in the core.” Certainly, there is no proof that the Earth’s field is generated in a molten core. The rotating charged sphere model has been rejected on erroneous electrostatic grounds. And no account is taken of the electrical power from the Sun driving currents and generating magnetic fields around the Earth.

“What does the far side of Mercury look like?
Mariner 10’s carefully planned trajectory around the sun took it repeatedly past the planet, rather than into orbit around it. For every loop the probe made around the sun, the planet completed two orbits. This and Mercury’s slow rotation rate meant that Mariner 10 always saw the same hemisphere bathed in sunlight, while the other remained hidden in darkness.
As a result, Mariner 10 only managed to image 44 per cent of the planet’s surface. Being the first craft to orbit the closest planet to the sun, Messenger should finally reveal the rest. One of the structures awaiting us is the whole of Mercury’s Caloris Basin, one of the biggest impact structures in the entire solar system. Mariner 10 photographed only half of it.

Caloris basin

Caloris is estimated to stretch for 1350 kilometres and is seemingly ringed by mountains. The basin contains a flat, dark lava plain similar to the lunar maria. The crater may also allow us a glimpse “inside” Mercury because the impact will have excavated vast quantities of material from deep within the planet. “Caloris is a drill hole – a messy one – but a drill hole nonetheless,” says Taylor. He suggests that the smash may have thrown lower-crust and even upper-mantle material onto the surface, where Messenger will soon be able to see it.
Messenger will capture images of half of the remaining hemisphere starting this month and fill in the gaps on its second pass, on 6 October. The planet preserves a virtually unblemished record of impacts across its near airless surface. Once the map of Mercury is complete, astronomers will be able to deduce the frequency and ferocity of collisions close to the sun during Mercury’s lifetime – crucial for the understanding the how the solar system formed.”

Comment: The surface of Mercury should exhibit global electrical scarring features. The APOD website offers the misinformation: “..the Caloris Basin, ..resulted from a collision with an asteroid.” As argued earlier, massive collisions are avoided electrically. The huge ringed basin is an electrical scar. One of the characteristic features seen in cathodic electrical cratering, and inexplicable by impact, is terracing of crater walls. Another is the concentric ringed structure accompanying the blisters found on lightning arrestors following a lightning strike. Electric discharges always hit a surface vertically to form neat circular craters, often with flat melted floors. Impacts do not. Impacts cause little melting but extensive collateral damage. Cosmic discharges take the form of rotating pairs of Birkeland filaments, which drill into a surface to form rotary and corkscrew patterns. Corkscrew walled craters are found on the Moon. In many craters the rotating Birkeland filaments may leave a central peak untouched. Changing discharge current may generate corkscrew patterns and pulsations in the current or cylindrical particle beams create concentric configurations.

“Does Mercury have polar ice caps?

As bizarre as it seems for a planet whose sunny side is hot enough to melt lead (see How Mercury measures up), Mercury may have icy deposits. “Radar echoes from Mercury’s polar regions are very strong and look like the echoes we get from Mars’s polar caps, and from the icy satellites of Jupiter,” says John Harmon of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The specific radar bright spots that the astronomers can see all seem to coincide with known polar craters. This evidence suggests that these craters are “cold traps” – permanently shaded regions of Mercury’s surface where molecules freeze out of the planet’s ultra-tenuous atmosphere.

Messenger will be unable to peer into the polar craters during its fly-bys, as its closest approach is above Mercury’s equatorial region. However, mission controllers will turn the probe’s cameras towards the poles on its first pass to look for telltale signs of icy material boiling off.

“Even though the crater floor is in shade, the walls can still heat up,” Harmon explains. These walls radiate their heat, warming the ice on the floor sufficiently for some of it to boil back into Mercury’s pseudo-atmosphere.

What the ice is made of is another question. While it could be water ice, it could also be anything that reflects rather than absorbs the radar signals, such as sulphur. If the polar deposits turn out to be water ice, they must be the remains of comets that have collided with Mercury. If they are sulphur, they will have originated in the planet’s interior and seeped out as a result of volcanic activity. Once Messenger settles into orbit in 2011, it will investigate the polar deposits in greater detail.”

Comment: Water ice is a highly unlikely answer to the puzzle. Once again, there is an electrical possibility. Mercury is likely to have a weak dipolar magnetic field. Mercury, like all planets is connected to the solar circuit. That connection follows the magnetic field down to the poles. Any remanent magnetism of the electrical craters at the pole will tend to focus the plasma discharges upon those craters. In the near vacuum at Mercury’s surface, electrons will strike the surface and form more dense plasma. If sufficiently dense, the plasma layer acts like a metallic surface coating and returns a strong radar echo. I have addressed this issue in the “The Shiny Mountains Of Venus.” If this view is correct the strong radar returns may change abruptly or flicker as the auroral-type discharge moves about.

“Why is Mercury’s orbit so tilted?

Of all the major planets, Mercury has the weirdest orbit. It is elliptical, swinging 46 million kilometres from the sun right out to 70 million kilometres and back again. The 88-day orbit is tilted too, inclined at about 7 degrees to the orbital plane of Earth.
At first glance, Mercury’s odd orbit seems to be compelling evidence that it was walloped by another large body – perhaps the same impact that may have stripped its outer layers. As ever, though, things are not clear-cut.

“You don’t need a giant impact to do this,” says Solomon. “Gravitational interactions can pump up oddities in planetary orbit.” Such interactions occur when planetary objects continually pass close to one another, which could have happened to Mercury during the formation of the solar system. Repeated gravitational nudges can force bodies into increasingly elongated orbits. “All you need is for an orbit to be stable, rather than circular,” says Solomon, citing the various “exoplanets” now being found around other stars, many of which also have elliptical orbits.

There is probably no single observation that Messenger can make to determine the origin of Mercury’s orbit. Instead, when results from the probe’s many investigations are collated to provide the big picture of the planet’s formation history, we will know whether a large impact was likely sometime in its past. If it was not, the focus will turn to modelling Mercury’s orbit using the softly, softly approach of gravitational interactions.”

Comment: Mercury’s orbit can tell us nothing about Mercury’s origin or that of the solar system. There is no single “origin” of the solar system. It is a complex genealogy with new actors appearing and many chapters of chaos, which makes a retrospective evolutionary story impossible. However, due to gyroscopic action, axial and orbital tilts may indicate possible related solar family members. For example Saturn, Mars and Earth have similar axial tilts. It is very interesting to note that Mercury and the Moon have practically the same negligible tilt of their equators to the ecliptic. In addition, Mercury has a large orbital tilt, referred to the ecliptic, of 7 degrees and the Moon 5 degrees. Mercury and the Moon may be related. Their appearance certainly suggests so. The Sun captured Mercury while the Earth captured the Moon. Capture of a satellite is a quick and easy process electrically. Gravitationally it is very unlikely. Mercury’s marked orbital tilt and eccentric orbit suggest a recent arrival there.

“Is there physics beyond Einstein?

Orbiting so close to the sun, Mercury feels its gravitational pull most keenly, making it the perfect place to test general relativity. As Einstein showed, the effects of general relativity constantly alter the planet’s path. On its elliptical orbit, Mercury dips in and out of the dent in space caused by the sun’s mass, and this turns the planet’s orbit. Any slight inconsistencies in this motion might reveal new physics in action.

However, Messenger was not designed to test fundamental physics. “We’ll feel the effects of relativity – and have to correct for them – but we won’t be able to test relativity to more stringent limits than before,” says McNutt.

Fortunately, Messenger is not the only Mercury mission we have to look forward to. The European and Japanese space agencies plan to launch a joint mission to Mercury in 2013, and this one does plan to probe fundamental physics. Called BepiColombo, it is larger than Messenger and will consist of two orbiting spacecraft. One will scrutinise the surface of Mercury while the other will investigate the details of its magnetic field. Researchers are already referring to Messenger as the appetiser to BepiColombo’s main course.

For general relativity, BepiColombo will carry radio equipment that allows mission controllers to track the position of the spacecraft to an accuracy of 10 centimetres. This accuracy will enable them to deduce the motion of the planet to within 10 metres. At present, the planetary position is only known to an accuracy of several kilometres.

Gravitational physicists and cosmologists are becoming increasingly convinced that general relativity must break down beyond a certain level of accuracy, as a result of the new energy fields they postulate to account for the accelerating expansion of space. Each new field that theorists introduce produces a subtle deviation from the behaviour that relativity predicts for gravity. If BepiColombo detects such violations of general relativity, they will discover a strong clue as to the nature of these mysterious energy fields.

Once in orbit around Mercury, the craft will test general relativity in two ways. First, it might simply detect a subtle deviation in the position of the planet that relativity cannot account for. Second, and more decisively, mission scientists will time the delay in radio signals the spacecraft sends back to Earth as Mercury begins to go behind the sun. This delay will be caused by the signal dropping into the sun’s gravitational well before “climbing” out the other side.

This phenomenon is predicted by relativity to be the equivalent of the radio signals travelling an extra 70 kilometres through space. With a tracking accuracy of 10 centimetres, BepiColombo will measure this distance more accurately than before and spot any anomalies.

Luciano Iess at the University of Rome La Sapienza, Italy, conducted a similar experiment with the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn in 2003. It just reached the accuracy at which violations of relativity are expected to show up, but none was seen. Iess is now principal investigator of BepiColombo’s radio science experiment. “We will improve on the accuracy of the Cassini experiment by a factor of 10,” he says, making it the sharpest test of general relativity yet.”

Comment: Since gravity is a property of matter, which in turn is an electrical phenomenon, Einstein’s hyper-dimensional geometry is not going to reveal the true nature of gravity whether general relativity gives the right answers or not. The two tests mentioned ignore the possibility that both phenomena may be explained or influenced by factors considered in another more simple and all-encompassing theory. Subtle deviations in the position of Mercury will occur as a result of charge transfer with the Sun due to the planet’s eccentric orbit. Charge transfer alters the internal electrical stress of Mercury. That subtly alters the planet’s mass, which by the law of conservation of orbital energy shifts its orbit. The second test amounts to simple diffraction of the radio signal through an atmosphere. The “atmosphere” is the æther, so cavalierly discarded by Einstein. He never explained how an electromagnetic signal could be transmitted through empty space. Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism requires an æther — “something to carry the wave.”

That “something” is a universal plenum of ghostly neutrinos. Though they have vanishingly small mass, they respond to the gravitational field of a star or planet to form a tenuous but extensive “atmosphere.” It is that atmosphere which refracts light or radio signals.

There is definitely real physics beyond Einstein’s speculations. The unquestioning acceptance of his idiosyncratic theories of relativity has diverted untold resources down blind alleys for almost a century. It is time to divert attention to the Electric Universe in this 21st century!

Wal Thornhill

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