Sunspot Mysteries

‘If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.’
- Rene Descartes


The following report appeared in SPACE.com:

New Photos of Sun are Most Detailed Ever

By Robert Roy Britt Senior Science Writer
13 November 2002

The most detailed pictures ever taken of the Sun reveal the insides of striking snake-like filaments that reach from bright portions of the solar surface into the dark hearts of sunspots. The images promise astronomers a new way to reach deep into these magnetic beasts and extract their operational secrets. Made with a specially equipped ground-based telescope, the photographs reveal features never before seen on the solar surface. The images themselves, and more important the technique used to make them, promise a fuller understanding of the complex and poorly understood interplay of matter and energy that roil the hot surface, all driven by the thermonuclear reactions at the Sun’s core.


Comment: Expressions of surprise and puzzlement are commonplace at new discoveries in astrophysics and the detailed sunspot photos provide their share. It is because accepted theories have proven to be spectacularly non-predictive. It is a clear signal for independent minds that an opportunity exists to clear up mysteries that have dogged our finest scientists for most of the 20th century.

As Fred Hoyle long ago pointed out; the Sun does not conform to the expected behavior of an internally heated ball of gas, simply radiating its energy into space. Instead, its behavior at every level is complex and baffling. Nowhere is it more mysterious than in a sunspot. So, without any direct evidence that the thermonuclear powered model of the Sun is correct, and with strong evidence against it, we should begin by heeding Descartes advice and doubt it. Unfortunately it is a difficult path to take because science is a powerfully consensual organization. Yet it is consensus, or general agreement, that can delay new ideas for centuries and sometimes, millennia.


Researchers at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, led by Goran Scharmer, discuss the images in the Nov. 14 issue of the journal Nature:

Sun closeup

Team member Dan Kiselman told what he sees in the new views of the Sun: “A dark-cored filament looks like a glowing snake with a dark stripe painted along its back,” Kiselman said. “The ‘head’ of the snake is often a complicated feature where the stripe splits up among many bright points.”

The pictures were taken with academy’s recently installed solar telescope at La Palma, in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. Movies made by putting sequential images together show that that the dark cores of the filaments are long-lived and possibly more stable than the brighter portions. The scientists also identified canal-like structures in the so-called penumbra of sunspots that “could also be described as a pattern of cracks,” Kiselman said. The penumbra straddles a sunspots dark core and brighter regions elsewhere on the solar surface. “Whatever metaphors we use for these features, one should remember that everything is just glowing gas.”

The photos were taken on July 15 and were colorized to highlight details.

Sun closeup

Mysteries remain

Despite the detail ‘ the photos resolve things down to 62 miles (100 kilometers) — researchers still don’t know the details of how sunspots work. “It is clear that everything we see is the result of fields and the solar gas, or plasma,” Kiselman explained. “The heat of the Sun tries to push through, carried by convection currents which are hindered by the magnetic fields. But exactly what happens and why these kind of structures are formed, we don’t know.” Sunspots are cooler and darker than the rest of the Sun. They are launch pads for complex expulsions of plasma that race through the solar system, sometimes fueling the colorful lights near Earth’s poles known as aurora.


Comment: Is it likely that the poor understanding of sunspot phenomena arises from the incorrect assumption that we know most of what goes on inside the Sun? I think so. To have any confidence in our understanding of the Sun, and stars in general, we must first be able to explain simply the things we can see. Therefore it is crucially important to understand a sunspot because it is the only place on the Sun that gives a glimpse below the bright photosphere. And what do we see? It is cooler down there by thousands of degrees! That is not expected at all if the Sun is trying to rid itself of heat. The sunspot center should be much hotter and brighter than its surroundings. And what of the penumbral filaments? They and their behavior bear no resemblance to any known form of convection in a hot gas, magnetic fields or no.

There are many crippling agreements that hold up progress in astrophysics. One was succinctly expressed at a recent public meeting by a professor of astrophysics who admitted, “‘When we don’t understand something we blame it on magnetism.”‘ The Sun has had more features blamed on magnetism than any other celestial object. The cool sunspot center is a classic example. Certainly, strong magnetic fields are measured there but that raises questions of cause and effect. Magnetic fields are only produced by electric currents. Is there any other evidence of electrical activity on the Sun? Yes, practically every feature of the Sun can be understood in terms of electric discharge activity in plasma.

The penumbral filaments are a case in point. Electric discharges in plasma take the form of long thin filaments. Just like a neon tube, it is simply the discharge that causes the gases to glow. The penumbral filaments were observed to split near their ‘footpoints’ in the dark umbra and to move around. It is typical behavior of plasma filaments and can be observed in novelty plasma balls. But the greatest shock is that the penumbral filaments have dark cores! How could this be so if they are convecting gas? In that case, the filament center should be hottest and brightest.

An electric discharge offers a simple explanation. In an electric universe all bodies may receive electric current from the environment in a cosmic charging process associated with the normal development of a galaxy. And because electrical phenomena are scalable over at least 14 orders of magnitude, we may look to electric discharge phenomena in other atmospheres to gain insights into what may be happening in the Sun”s atmosphere.

There is a temptation to simply equate the penumbral filaments with gargantuan lightning bolts, but the features do not match all that well.

A typical lightning flash lasts for 0.2 seconds and covers a distance of about 10 km. The penumbral filaments last for at least one hour and are of the order of 1000 km long. If we could scale a lightning bolt 100 times we might have a flash that lasted between 20 and 200 seconds and was 1000 km long. The lifetime is too short. Also, measurements of scars on lightning conductors show that the lightning channel is only about 5 mm wide. Scaling that by 100 times would have solar lightning channels far below the limit of telescopic resolution.

Tornado

However, there is another familiar form of atmospheric electric discharge that does scale appropriately and could explain the mysterious dark cores of penumbral filaments. It is the tornado! Tornadoes, like the one pictured here, last for minutes and can have a diameter of the order of one kilometre. Scale those figures up 100 times and we match penumbral filaments very well. And if the circulating cylinder of plasma is radiating heat and light, as we see on the Sun, then the solar ‘tornado’ will appear, side on, to have a dark core.

Tornado of fire

An artificial tornado of fire shows the bright edges to the vortex near the base. © 2001, Reel EFX. Inc.

Meteorologists are not sure how tornadoes form but they do know that they are often associated with severe electrical storms. The key to understanding tornadoes is that they are the result of rapidly rotating electric charge. Just as electrons are the current carriers in the copper wires we use for power transmission, so they are in the tornado. The BIG difference is that the electrons are moving at many metres per second in the tornado while they take several hours to move one metre in copper wire! The result is that enormously powerful electromagnetic forces are in control of the tornado. The result has been called a ‘charged sheath vortex.’

Fluid vortex

Public science displays give the wrong impression when they equate a simple mechanical fluid vortex like this one with a tornado. A tornado is an electrical phenomenon subject to far more powerful forces created by swiftly rotating charge. If this were a true miniature tornado the young lad would be advised to not go anywhere near it. The possible damage caused by electromagnetic forces is far greater than that of a simple wind.

The shape of the vortex is strongly constrained to be long and thin with a circular cross-section. This true shape of the vortex is usually hidden in tornadoes because of the obscuring dust and clouds. The vortex itself will only be visible if it has sufficient electrical energy to ionise atoms in the atmosphere. That is clearly the case on the Sun. And some people who have survived the experience of being ‘run over’ by a tornado have reported an electrical glow in the inner wall of the tornado.

It is commonly thought that a tornado is a means for mechanical energy in the storm to be converted somehow to electrical power, which is then transmitted very effectively to ground by the electrical conduit of the charged sheath vortex inside the tornado. The ‘somehow’ arises only because no-one visualizes the electrical dimension of the solar system. Electrical power from space is partially dissipated in the mechanical energy of the encircling winds. Instead of generating the electrical effects, the tornadic winds are driven by the charge sheath vortex.

Dust devils comparison

Make no mistake, the Martian dust devils are tornadoes that dwarf their earthly counterpart. It shows that clouds are not required to generate them. They are an atmospheric electric discharge phenomenon.

The Earth and other planets receive electrical power from space in the same way as the Sun. Obviously, we receive far less than does the Sun, which seems to be covered with tornadic charge sheath vortexes. The solar tornadoes are seen most clearly at the edge of sunspots in the form of penumbral filaments. The strong solenoidal magnetic field created by each vortex gives rise to the observed filamentary magnetic field in the penumbra.

Why is the Sun covered in bright ‘granules?’

In his seminal papers of the 1970′s on the Electric Sun, Ralph Juergens noted the possible identity of solar granules with something that the pioneering plasma physicist, Irving Langmuir, termed ‘anode tufts.’ Anode tufts are small, bright, secondary plasmas that form above an anode that is otherwise too small to handle the current flow into it. In his experiments, Langmuir reported the tufts as small bright spheres moving above the anode surface. It seems possible that in the stratified atmosphere of the Sun those bright discharges rather take the distinct form of the charge sheath vortex.

The granules are bright because the gases inside the charge sheath vortex have been heated by compression and radiation from the walls of the vortex. Those hot gases fountain out of the tops of the vortexes to form the granules. Also, lightning in some form will deliver power to the top of the granule, creating unresolved bright spots. Above the granules the ions recombine with electrons to form neutral gas, which absorbs light. The gas would be constrained to flow down between the granules, its motion modified by collisions with ions moving under electromagnetic influences.

This may create the dark ‘canals’, which have the branched pattern of electric discharges. There would be a powerful influence from the strong electric fields of the plasma sheaths (double-layers) of the anode tufts. Varying levels of lightning activity above each granule could explain the observed variation in brightness of solar granules. It is noteworthy that large faint granules have never been seen. They would not be expected on this model.

What causes a sunspot?

Solar plasmoid

The solar plasmoid (Seen here from above the pole) has been imaged in ultra-violet light using data from the SOHO spacecraft.

In the electrical model, the Sun receives electrical energy from interstellar space in the form of a glow discharge. Plasma experiments show that some energy will be stored in a donut shaped ‘plasmoid’ above the Sun’s equator.

The energy is released sporadically from the plasmoid to the mid-latitudes of the Sun. (Incidentally, plasmoid resonances may give rise to simultaneous flares on opposite sides of the central body, as recently reported on the Sun). The global tornado storm is pushed aside by more powerful charge sheath vortexes that deliver electrical energy from the plasmoid to much lower levels. The resulting holes in the tornado level, or photosphere, are what we call sunspots. Rather than being a site where energy flow has been restricted, a sunspot is a site where it is enhanced. That explains why ‘they are launch pads for complex expulsions of plasma that race through the solar system.’ The giant electrical tornadoes that form sunspots accelerate particles in their powerful electromagnetic fields, generating UV light and x-rays instead of visible light. However, because temperature is a measure of random motion, the field-directed motion of the particles within the sunspot vortex appears ‘cool.’

This model can explain why sunspots of the same magnetic polarity are strangely attracted toward each other instead of being repelled. (Try pushing together two similar poles of two magnets). The sunspots are receiving electric current flowing in parallel rotating streams, which results in their being mutually attracted over long distances and repelled at short distances. That, in turn, explains why sunspots often seem to maintain their identity even if they come close enough to merge. There is also other evidence that suggests the presence of electric currents aligned with the magnetic field in a sunspot.

Granulation has been observed in the umbra, or dark centers of sunspots, by overexposing sunspot images. The umbral granules are more closely packed than photospheric granules. That is to be expected on this model because the current in the large charge sheath vortex forming the sunspot is being delivered to denser atmosphere at lower depths. Umbral granules should not be there if sunspots are formed by magnetic throttling of the convection process. .

The Nature article also mentions ‘fainter structures in the umbra’ These features are associated with the inward migration of a bright dot followed by repeated brightening and fading on a timescale of minutes. This suggests that a larger fraction of umbrae than observed so far could have faint or small-scale filamentary structure.’ The nature of a charge sheath vortex is to tend to compress material inside and lengthen the tube in both directions. Since it is also acting as a conduit for electrical energy, it seems that the moving bright dots are small-scale filamentary lightning emanating from the lower ends of the penumbral filament vortex.


One might expect astronomers to have a firm grasp of the mechanics of our own Sun, it being by far the closest star around. “Compared to other stars, one may say that it is true,” Kiselman said. “But the amazing zoo of structures and dynamic phenomena on the Sun are not well understood in general, though they have been observed for a very long time.” So imagine how little is really known about other stars. “We will never understand any other star better than the Sun,” he said.


Comment: This is a remarkably candid admission from an expert. If only the true state of our ignorance were more widely publicized instead of the hubristic pronouncements that we practically know everything, then we might find curiosity about science rekindled in our schools.

It is a fact that we do not understand the Sun. So we do not understand stars in general. Yes, we have complicated stories about them that have kept theoreticians happily engaged for centuries. But for so long as they convince themselves that they can ignore the electrical nature of all things in the universe their stories will be fiction. The electric force is the most powerful force in the universe, from which all other forces are derived, and it operates at all levels, from the subatomic to the galactic. When we understand the true electrical nature of our own star we will begin to understand the universe as it really is.

Wal Thornhill

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