The Deep Impact of Comet Theory

(I hope my readers will forgive the absence of news items for the past few months while I took a break and gave some presentations in Europe on the Electric Universe. I did manage to keep an editorial eye on the Thunderbolts website, where my colleagues dealt very well with breaking news).

This news item deals with the Deep Impact mission to Comet Tempel 1, hours before the copper projectile is due to strike the comet’s nucleus.

Deep impact artist's impression

Artist's conception of the Deep Impact spacecraft observing the birth of the new crater on Tempel 1. Image: NASA/JPL/UMD (art by Pat Rawlings)

There is more riding on this mission than may be apparent from regular news sources. At issue is the assumption of an electrically neutral universe, upon which every conventional astronomical theory rests. The story of the formation of the solar system from a cloud of gas and dust – and comets as the leftovers – is a work of fiction that has never predicted anything useful. Like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down its hole, each surprising new discovery has resulted in an increasingly absurd story.

In the Electric Universe comets are not primordial. They are debris produced during violent electrical interactions of planets and moons in an earlier phase of solar system history — a phase that persisted into early human history. Comets are similar to asteroids, and their composition varies. Most comets should be homogeneous, their interiors will have the same composition as their surfaces. They are simply “asteroids on eccentric orbits.”

A comet is a negatively charged object moving through the extensive and constant radial electric field of the positively charged Sun (see below). A comet becomes negatively charged during its long sojourn in the outer solar system. As it speeds into the inner solar system, the increasing voltage and charge density of the plasma (solar “wind”) cause the comet to discharge electrically, producing the bright coma and tails.

It is this electrical dimension to comets, the Sun and the solar system (in other words, the Electric Universe) that may be revealed by this daring experiment. An electric comet would forever change the picture of the solar system and eventually force astronomers to consider the overwhelming evidence that electricity lights not only our Sun but also all the stars in the heavens. Moreover, this would only be the beginning of a more sweeping revolution touching all of the theoretical sciences and in the end recasting our understanding of earth history and the human past.

If impact is achieved it will be a singular success story for the engineering team of Deep Impact. However, no thanks will be due to the science team. Under their misguided view of the nature of comets, the spacecraft and its impactor section will be subject to an electrical environment that could cause failure of the guidance electronics and result in a near miss rather than a bulls-eye.

In October 2001 I wrote a news item titled “Comet Borrelly rocks core scientific beliefs.” At the end I said:

In future: There is a plan for a comet mission called Deep Impact. Scheduled for July 2005, Deep Impact’s spacecraft will arrive at comet Tempel 1 and become the first mission to impact the surface of a comet. A 350-kg (770-lb) copper mass impactor will create a spectacular football field-sized crater, seven stories deep on a comet 6-km (approximately 4 miles) in diameter. This is the first attempt to peer beneath the surface of a comet to its freshly exposed material for clues to the early formation of the solar system.

Given the erroneous standard model of comets it is an interesting exercise to imagine what surprises are in store for astronomers if the plan is successful. The electrical model suggests the likelihood of an electrical discharge between the comet nucleus and the copper projectile, particularly if the comet is actively flaring at the time. The projectile will approach too quickly for a slow electrical discharge to occur. So the energetic effects of the encounter should exceed that of a simple physical impact, in the same way that was seen with comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 at Jupiter. Changes to the appearance of the jets may be seen before impact. The signature of an electrical discharge would be a high-energy burst of electrical noise across a wide spectrum, a “flash” from infra-red to ultraviolet and the enhanced emission of x-rays from the vicinity of the projectile. The energy of a mechanical impact is not sufficient to generate x-rays.

If the arc vaporizes the copper projectile before impact the comet will not form the crater expected. On the other hand, any copper metal reaching the surface of the comet will act as a focus for an arc. And copper can sustain a much higher current density than rock or ice. There would then be the likelihood of an intense arc, with possibly a single jet, until the copper is electrically “machined” from the comet’s surface. Copper atoms ionized to a surprisingly high degree should be detectable from Earth-based telescopes. Electrical discharges through the body of a poor conductor can be disruptive and are probably responsible for the breakup of comets. It is not necessary for them to be poorly consolidated dust and ice and to simply fall apart. So there is some small chance that astronomers will be surprised to see the comet split apart, if the projectile reaches the surface of the comet and results in an intense arc.

The Deep Impact mission seems rather pointless when the cathode arcs are doing the job of exposing the comet’s subsurface. However, if comets are an electrical phenomenon and have nothing to do with the formation of the solar system then astronomers are bound to be baffled once more. And that could be worth every dollar NASA spends on Deep Impact.

These predictions remain but the intensity of the electrical effects depend upon the degree to which the comet is charged with respect to the solar plasma at the impact point. So it is disappointing that NASA chose a short period comet that only ranges between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Long period comets spend more time travelling slowly in the lower voltage regions of the outer solar system. So when they rush toward the Sun their electrical display is more energetic than the short period comets. Also, the same electrical circuit that drives the Sun energizes comets. The Sun’s activity is near minimum, so we may expect reduced cometary activity. Of course, none of these electrical considerations figured in NASA’s thinking.


With the imminent arrival of the Deep Impact spacecraft at the comet Tempel 1, it is time to test competing theories on the nature of comets. The predictions and lines of reasoning offered here will set the stage for future analyses of the electric comet model.

To facilitate clarity here is a brief outline of the two theoretical models. As for predictions, NASA scientists seem to have retreated from such an essential scientific practice.


• Comets are composed of undifferentiated “protoplanetary debris,” dust and ices left over from the formation of the solar system billions of years ago.
• Radiant heat from the Sun sublimates the ices (turns them directly into vapor without the intermediate step of becoming liquid). The vapor expands around the nucleus to form the coma (head of the comet) and is swept back by the solar wind to form the tail.
• Radiation damage over billions of years in the “deep freeze” of a hypothetical distant Oort cloud, or reservoir of comets, blackens their surface.
• Over repeated passages around the Sun, the Sun’s heat vaporizes surface ice and leaves a ‘rind’ of dust.
• Where heat penetrates the surface of a blackened, shallow crust, pockets of gas form. Where the pressure breaks through the surface, energetic jets form.


• Comets are debris produced during violent electrical interactions of planets and moons in an earlier phase of solar system history — a phase that persisted into early human history. Comets are complex, differentiated bodies similar to asteroids, and their composition varies. Most comets should be homogeneous — their interiors will have the same composition as their surfaces. They are simply “asteroids on eccentric orbits.”
• Comets follow their eccentric orbits within a weak electrical field of constant strength, centered on the Sun. (See “A Mystery Solved – Welcome to the Electric Universe!“. They develop a charge imbalance with the higher voltage and charge density near the Sun that initiates discharge and the formation of a glowing plasma sheath – appearing as the coma and tail.
• The observed jets of comets are electric arc discharges to the nucleus, producing “electrical discharge machining” (EDM) of the surface. The excavated material is accelerated into space along the jets’ observed filamentary arcs.
• Intermittent and wandering arcs erode the surface and burn it black, leaving the distinctive scarring patterns of electric discharge machining. The primary distinction between a comet and an asteroid is that, due to its elliptical orbit, electrical arcing and ‘electrostatic cleaning’ will clean the nucleus’ surface, leaving little or no dust or debris on it.


• Tempel 1 has a low-eccentricity orbit. Therefore its charge imbalance with respect to its environment at perihelion is low. (It is a ‘low-voltage’ comet.) Electrical interactions with Deep Impact may be slight, but they should be measurable if NASA will look for them. They would likely be similar to those of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 prior to striking Jupiter’s atmosphere: The most obvious would be a flash (lightning-like discharge) shortly before impact.
• The impactor may form a sheath around it as it enters the coma, becoming a ‘comet within a comet.’ The plasma sheath could interfere with communications in the same way as experienced by the Space Shuttle during reentry.
• Internal electrical stress may short out the electronics on board the impactor before impact. That could compromise the guidance system and the success of the mission.
• More energy will be released than expected because of the electrical contributions of the comet. (The discharge could be similar to the “megalightning” bolt that, evidence suggests, struck the shuttle Columbia).
• The electrical energy will be released before impact.
• X-rays will accompany discharges to the projectile, which will not match X-ray production through the mechanics of impact. The intensity curve will be that of a lightning bolt (sudden onset, exponential decline) and may well include more than one peak.
• If the energy is distributed over several flashes, more than one electrical crater on the comet nucleus could result – in addition to any impact crater.
• Any arcs generated will be hotter than can be explained by mechanical impact. If temperature measurements are made with sufficient resolution, they will be much higher than expected from impact heating.
• The discharge and/or impact may initiate a new jet on the nucleus (which will be collimated — filamentary — not sprayed out) and could even abruptly change the positions and intensities of other jets due to the sudden change in charge distribution on the comet nucleus.
• The impact/electrical discharge will not reveal “primordial dirty ice” but the same composition as the surface.
• The impact/electrical discharge will be into rock, not loosely consolidated ice and dust. The impact crater will be smaller than generally expected .
• An abundance of water on or below the surface of the nucleus (the underlying assumption of the “dirty snowball” hypothesis) is unlikely.

Following are some of the issues considered:


For the survival of the standard model, nothing is more crucial than finding an abundance of ices on or below the surface of the nucleus of Tempel 1. It is not sufficient to find water merely in the comet’s coma. Negative oxygen ions from cathodic etching of rock minerals in the nucleus will combine with protons from the solar wind to form water in the coma and tail. Spectra of comets already reveal the presence of negative oxygen ions. Moreover, the ions exhibit forbidden lines characteristic of a strong electric field. There is no conventional explanation for these observations.

There is a high probability that scientists will find less water ice and other volatiles than expected, both on the surface and beneath the surface of Tempel 1. It will not be surprising if the impactor exposes a subsurface with little or no ices. For popular comet theory this would be disastrous, since it now calls upon volatile ices beneath the surface to drive the comet’s jets and create the glowing coma. This requirement is due to the surprising discovery, through prior comet probes, of dry surfaces. The surface of Comet Borrelly, for example, was parched.

But the problem for comet theory is more severe, since evidence for subsurface volatiles also ranges from minimal to non-existent. Examination of Shoemaker-Levy 9 after the comet broke apart revealed no volatiles. When comet Linear disintegrated astronomers were astonished by the absence of meaningful water content. Comets do not “disintegrate” by solar heating but explode electrically like an overstressed capacitor.

There are plenty of icy moons in the solar system. So if comets and asteroids are part of the ‘afterbirth’ of electrical expulsion of planets and moons from their parent primary it does not exclude the possibility of water ice on Tempel 1. But it is not required in the electrical model of comets for the production of jets, comas and tails.


The electric model claims that the comas and tails of comets are generated by cathode arcs excavating surface material from the nucleus, in the fashion of electrical discharge machining (EDM) in industrial applications. The model predicts a sculpted surface, distinguished by sharply defined craters, valleys, mesas, and ridges — the opposite of the softened relief expected of a sublimating “dirty snowball.” (A chunk of ice melting in the Sun loses its sharp relief.) Surprisingly sharp relief was discovered in the closest images taken to date of a comet nucleus – Comet Wild 2. See “Comets Impact Cosmology.”


The first photographs of comet nuclei astonished astronomers with the blackness of the surfaces. The nuclei were darker than copier toner. This observation alone should have called into question the “dirty snowball” hypothesis. But an ad hoc adjustment of the theory followed, arbitrarily assuming that comets were parked for billions of years in deep space, where they suffered radiation damage that conveniently blackened their surfaces.

Electric discharge machining ‘burns’ and darkens the rocky comet surface. It requires no additional hypotheses or contrived history of the comet. We see examples of the darkening effect from electrical discharge on Jupiter’s moon Io and the dust devils on Mars.


The comet is rushing toward the copper projectile at almost 23,000 mph, which will not give time for the copper projectile in the exceedingly thin cometary plasma to balance its electrical potential with that of the more negative comet nucleus.

If (and it’s the biggest “if”) Tempel 1 is sufficiently electrically active before impact, we may see the usual non-linear behavior of plasma when subjected to increasing electrical stress. That is, there will be a sudden electric discharge, or arc. An electric discharge between the comet cathode and the copper projectile anode will result in X-ray emission, just as in any X-ray machine on Earth. Such X-rays are easily identifiable and in large amounts would be anomalous for a mere impact.

So, before physical impact occurs, we may expect a sudden discharge between the comet nucleus and the copper projectile. It will have the characteristic light-curve of lightning, with rapid onset and exponential decay. The question is, will it be a mere spark or a powerful arc?

Whether due to impact or electric arc, positively charged copper ions may be expected to produce radiation by recombination with free electrons. A small proportion of that radiation may be in the x-ray region. But the spectrum and intensity curve for radiation from an impact should be quite different from the flash of an electric arc impinging on a copper anode.

The arc should also give a restricted, almost point, source for the radiation from the target sites on the impactor and the comet nucleus. This is quite different from anything expected from distributed explosion products.

Because electric arcing causes the craters seen on comets, there is the possibility that the Deep Impact projectile will form an electrical crater as well as, or instead of, an impact crater.

When the impactor arrives, it is likely that active jets will move or switch off, since the comet’s electrical field will have been suddenly disturbed. The simple thermal out-gassing model does not expect this.


Outbursts from comet nuclei frequently occur, giving rise to expressions of astonishment from comet observers. Such events do not fit well with a model of sublimating ices. The cause remains mysterious, though cometologists speculate about heating processes inside the comet. In the electrical model, energetic outbursts are expected due to the non-linear behavior of plasma in the changing electrical environment of the solar “wind.” Comets have flared beyond the orbit of Jupiter, even beyond the orbit of Saturn, where known icy bodies do not sublimate under solar radiation. A potentially embarrassing, ad hoc proposal has been put forward that attributes the outbursts to collisions with meteoric material.


Despite years of photographs showing collimated jets (narrow filaments that maintain their coherence across considerable distances), the artists’ conceptions of comets still show jets as geyser-like eruptions, spraying out into space. An expanding jet is the expected behavior of neutral gas and dust entering a vacuum. But it is not characteristic of an electric discharge in plasma. A good look at the jets of Tempel 1 reveals the characteristic features of a plasma discharge, with coherent current filaments that do not obey the physics of neutral gas jets. A look at a novelty-store plasma ball demonstrates the effect nicely.


There is a huge problem for the sublimating ices model of jet production on cometary nuclei. Expanding gases carrying dust cannot produce the observed filamentary and highly collimated jets that are observed. A heated gas in the vacuum of space must rapidly disperse.

The Electric Universe model argues that the so-called ‘volcanoes’ on Jupiter’s innermost large satellite, Io, are active cathodic jets. Professor Tommy Gold in 1979 first identified Io’s supersonic volcanic jets as a plasma arc phenomenon. Further theoretical work by Peratt and Dessler in 1987 confirmed the identification and also showed that the jet features could be accurately modelled by the ‘plasma gun’ experiment. The speed of cometary jets matches closely that of the plasma gun.


If an arc is struck between the comet nucleus and the projectile, we may expect to see metals such as Li, Na, K, Ca, Mg and Fe in a flash spectrum before impact. They will have been etched from the rocky comet in the cathode arc.

The sulfur molecule S2 is one of the great unsolved mysteries of comet chemistry. It has been identified in several, but not all, comets. The molecule has a very short lifetime and sublimes at a higher temperature than those found on cometary surfaces or grains. It is not the equilibrium form of the molecule either. But S2 is the kind of molecule that could be produced from rocky minerals in the extreme electrical environment of a plasma arc.


Negative ions were discovered in the inner coma of Comet Halley with densities 100 times greater than expected from conventional theory. NASA investigators should look for an abundance of negative ions in the impact ejecta. This would be an obvious signature of a negatively charged comet. Forbidden spectral lines from negative oxygen ions have been detected spectroscopically in comet comas in the past. They indicate the presence there of a strong electric field.

It is advisable that investigators look at water abundances both close to the nucleus and in the far coma to see to what extent water is being formed away from the nucleus by the combination of negative oxygen ions with protons from the solar wind. The concern is that these reactions will give inflated values for the water ice abundance in the comet nucleus.


The copper projectile has a camera that is supposed to be active until impact. There is some doubt that the camera will be able to provide images closer than a few tens of kilometers to the nucleus because of anticipated damage to the lens by high-velocity dust particles. However, transmissions should continue until impact, according to NASA investigators. But if an arc to the projectile occurs, transmissions will cease before impact.


A mechanical impact will not produce the temperatures of an electric arc, which can be tens of thousands of degrees over a very small area. The problem will be whether temperature readings will have the resolution to be able to distinguish a very high temperature over a tiny area or merely an average over a large impact area. Anomalous high temperature readings could precede physical impact, accompany impact, and follow impact. An indicator of arcing would be the presence of atoms ionised to a higher degree than can be explained by the energy of the impact.


Tempel 1 is a magnitude dimmer than — less than half as bright as — expected from previous approaches to the Sun. Conventional theory has no explanation for this lower energy. The electrical model notes that the Sun is approaching the minimum in its sunspot cycle, which means that the solar electrical energy input is at a minimum. Because the comet’s brightness depends on electrical energy from the Sun’s circuit, the effect is analogous to turning down the dimmer switch on an electric light. This lower energy level unfortunately reduces the likelihood of ‘electrical fireworks’ during Deep Impact’s encounter.

Wal Thornhill

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