The Simple Electric Universe

“Some people in each successive generation believe that theirs is the one that has at last seen everything clearly, that their insights point to the truth, the final answer. Yet scientific discovery marches on and today’s truth will become tomorrow’s anecdotes.”
—Gerrit L. Verschuur, Interstellar Matters

Wal Thornhill in front of the Millennium Bridge, London, August 2009.

The Southbank & the Millennium Bridge, London, August 2009. Cameramen: Chris Phillips, Gerald Pecksen. Photo: John Morgan.

Since my last report I have been in England where I convened a meeting of people actively concerned with the Electric Universe and the problem of educating the public. Gaining attention for a simple electrical model of the universe is a problem because the media is devoted to the science fiction of the big bang. The noted astronomer, Fred Hoyle, wrote prophetically in Of Men and Galaxies (1964):

“More and more the professions will cross over into the entertainment field. Those of us who are not employed directly in industry will come to realize that what we are really in is ‘show biz.’”

Much earlier, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) was even more prescient, “a man cannot strongly enough ask of Heaven: if it wants to let him discover something, may it be something that makes a bang. It will resound into eternity.” For the sake of science I hope not. The big bang was not “discovered” but contrived by mathematicians following the proposal of a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and astronomer, George Lemaitre, for the origin of the universe from a “primeval atom” or “Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation.” The theory defies physics principles and is unrealistic, needing most of the matter in the universe to be invisible (not even dark) and a mysterious ‘dark’ energy. Even galaxies must have mathematical figments (black holes) at their hearts to explain just a few of their characteristics. Hoyle believed one single, usually simple, observation could unseat a strongly established prejudice like the big bang. But when you believe in theories like the big bang, logic has no dominion and any observation can be accommodated.

Non Sequitur cartoon.

How is it that cartoonists can see through humbug while others cannot? Credit: Wiley Miller

The Electric Universe is developed upon plasma cosmology, which is a recognized discipline within the practical electrical engineering profession through the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Refereed papers on plasma cosmology are published in the IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science. The freewheeling discussion in that journal is reminiscent of the science journals of more than a century ago, not the monoculture of the big bang today. My paper on the electrical nature of supernovae and stars was published there in 2007. [It is curious that astronomers’ plot stellar colors and brightness (the Hezsprung-Russell diagram) like “Alice through the Looking Glass.” Left and right are reversed, which makes it difficult to see the obvious connection between the electrical power arriving at a star and the star’s color, size and brightness]. Unlike big bang cosmology, plasma cosmology is subject to experimental tests in the laboratory and follows the Lichtenberg experimental tradition. Any ‘bangs’ it creates are real and noisy. Plasma cosmology can demonstrate with simple physical principles the electrical formation and behavior of spiral galaxies and stars without recourse to hypothetical dark matter and black holes.

Almost the entire visible universe is composed of plasma—a gas where some of the atoms have lost an electron or two. However, unlike the gases we are familiar with on Earth, plasma reacts strongly to the presence of electromagnetic fields and is a better conductor than copper. Its behavior has been described as complex and “life-like.” That should be a clue! The universe is principally an electrical plasma phenomenon.

Electricity exists in space. Magnetic fields detected in space can only be generated by electric currents. Radio telescopes routinely map galactic magnetic fields and their field configuration matches that found in plasma cosmology experiments. If science were the advertised open pursuit of truth, we should expect big bang cosmologists to be rushing to the plasma labs. Not a bit of it. They are principally theoretical mathematicians. We strike the artificial modern barrier of specialism. The cultural historian, Jaques Barzun, defined specialism as:

“a piece of etiquette which decrees that no specialist shall bother with the concerns of another, lest he be thought intruding and be shown up as ignorant. Specialism is born of what the philosopher Arthur Balfour called ‘the pernicious doctrine that superficial knowledge is worse than no knowledge at all.’ Rampant specialism, an arbitrary and purely social evil, is not recognized for the crabbed guild spirit that it is, and few are bold enough to say that carving out a small domain and exhausting its soil affords as much chance for protected irresponsibility as for scientific thoroughness.”
—Science: the glorious entertainment.

The plasma cosmologist Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang never Happened, says:

“one of the most destructive features of the methodology of the big bang is that it conveys the idea that only people versed in extremely complicated mathematics can understand the universe… This is, of course, the argument of the emperor’s new clothes. If you can’t see the emperor’s new clothes you must be either stupid or incompetent.”

Engineers are neither stupid nor incompetent. Much of the hyped success of science over the last century can be attributed to engineers. And it is engineers who tend to prefer the real-world simplicity of the Electric Universe to the metaphysics of the big bang and black holes.


The Simple Electric Universe

A signature of a good theory is its simplicity. One of the participants at the London meeting concluded:

I think the Electric Universe is actually very simple.

In essence, everything hinges on the question of whether or not electricity exists in space. The mainstream view is that it does not; we argue that it does. Everything else flows from that.

What we are attempting to do is bring about a scientific revolution; The Electric Revolution. This Revolution will have as far-reaching consequences as the Copernican revolution, which was also based on one simple idea, is the Earth or the Sun at the centre?

Like the Copernican revolution, the data can be interpreted in both ways; Copernicus did not phrase his argument that the Sun was at the centre; he merely suggested that it was an awful lot easier to interpret the data if, for the sake of calculation alone, one pretended that it was. In the same way, I believe we are essentially suggesting that it’s an awful lot easier to explain the observed behaviour of the universe if one allows electricity to have a role. Yes, you can develop a gravity-only model that gives the right answers, but having to live with 96% of the resulting universe being dark and unobservable is no better than having to have multiple levels of epicycles to explain the planetary motions around the earth.

That’s why it’s so simple. Just assume electricity is there and it all becomes a whole lot easier.”
—Bob Johnson


History will show that our present big bang cosmology is an unfortunate accident of timing. The foundations of the big bang story were being laid down early in the 20th century. At the same time, electric lights were just being introduced and the study of electric discharges in gases was in its infancy. The result was that Einstein’s new, esoteric geometric theory of gravity that treats empty space as an ‘object’ capable of being warped, was combined with a curious interpretation of the redshift from faint extragalactic objects (that was not favored by Hubble himself as being physically likely) to produce the notion of an expanding universe. The fact that this defied a principle of physics in creating matter from nothing at the beginning, or big bang, seems not to have concerned theorists. It should have. Invoking “the ultimate free lunch” is not science. On the other hand, based on observation the Electric Universe assumes a universe of unknown age and extent.

“Who, indeed, are we as a species to dare ask such mighty questions as concern the origin of the universe and in unique arrogance believe we may have the correct answer within cosmic microseconds of the asking.”
—Gerrit L. Verschuur, Interstellar Matters.

Gerrit Verschuur

Gerrit Verschuur, radio astronomer and popularizer of astronomy. Past director of the Fiske Planetarium, U. of Colorado, Boulder, CO. Radio astronomy is a crucial tool for mapping cosmic circuitry in an Electric Universe.

The intellectual hubris of big bang theorists is shocking when we find that science cannot explain the simplest phenomena associated with matter. Mass, gravity, magnetism, and light are a mystery. We have equations that describe what happens when a charged particle is accelerated; you drop something from a height; a current passes down a wire; and light strikes a surface. But mathematical descriptions do not constitute a physical explanation.

Meanwhile, the last century has seen great progress in understanding the phenomena of electricity in vacuum tubes, arc lamps, arc welders, industrial electric discharge machining and ultra high-energy experiments at Los Alamos National Laboratories and Sandia Laboratories. Electrical engineers were the first to see striking parallels with astronomical phenomena, beginning with the Earth’s aurorae.

The Norwegian, Kristian Birkeland, in the early 1900s set up an electromagnetic observatory inside the Arctic circle. He associated the magnetic effects of aurorae with electric currents flowing between the Sun and the Earth. His electrical “Terrella” or “little Earth” experiments were able to reproduce the features of aurorae, sunspots, comets, etc. The BIG LESSON from the Terella experiments is that they required EXTERNAL ELECTRICAL POWER GENERATED SOME DISTANCE AWAY. In recent years his name has been applied to the electric currents discovered in space—“Birkeland currents.”

Composite image of the Earth at night.

Composite image of the Earth at night. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.

Engineers find it easy to light our cities with electrical power generated at some distance from the city. It never occurs to astronomers that Nature uses the same simple method of lighting galaxies. They have never considered that stars might be a cosmic electrical phenomenon, like streetlights tracing the path of power lines. It was Dr. Charles Bruce, a fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers as well as of the Royal Astronomical Society, whose work on lightning allowed him to identify electrical activity on the Sun, on stars and in galaxies.

The Nobel Prize winning Hannes Alfvén was trained as an electrical engineer but went on to produce much of the theoretical underpinning of electrical behavior in the Electric Universe. An article about his work with the title “Alfvén’s Electric Universe” appeared in the Boston Globe on Monday, March 20, 1989. Alfvén insisted that it was of prime importance to understand cosmic circuitry. But astronomers ignored him.

So discoveries about lightning and auroras continue to surprise physicists even in this space age. Perhaps there is a good reason for this. Our Earthly experience is one of solids, liquids and gases. The region we inhabit between the ionosphere, some 80km above us, and the surface of the Earth, is one of the rarest environments in the universe. We inhabit part of the .001% or less of the universe where plasma is not to be found naturally except in the lightning bolt and occasional aurora. Plasma has been termed ‘the fourth state of matter’ but in view of its ubiquity it would be better termed ‘the fundamental state of matter.’

It is a state where neutral atoms are mixed with charged particles, positive and negative. These particles may be as small as electrons and protons or may range up to the size of molecules and dust particles. In a gaseous plasma, like we find throughout the universe, the charged particles respond more strongly to electromagnetic forces than they do to mechanical or gravitational forces. One of the results we see in lightning is the constriction of electric currents to form long filaments. And the filamentary nature of plasma in space is well documented. No dark matter, sprinkled where required to save a theory, is necessary.

Survey of the nearby universe maps the distribution of about 75,000 galaxies.

Survey of the nearby universe maps the distribution of about 75,000 galaxies (small blue dots). The placement of each galaxy in the radial direction is proportional to its distance from the Earth (which is located at the intersection of the two wedges), and its angular position (or right ascension in hours of arc) corresponds to its location along a thin strip in the sky. The galaxies clearly trace a network of filamentary structures. Image courtesy of the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey team.

The Electric Universe assumes that Nature is not wilfully hiding her secrets. The complexity we observe in the universe comes from very simple electrical principles, some of which can be tested with very simple apparatus. Science is open to everyone. The visible universe is an electrical phenomenon, from the structure of subatomic particles to the superclusters of galaxies in deep space.

Playing with a magnet and a plasma discharge tube, the "Aurora Borealis Tube Display," by Resonance Research Corporation.

Playing with a magnet and a plasma discharge tube, the "Aurora Borealis Tube Display," by Resonance Research Corporation.

The Electric Universe model is simple enough that it can be taught to young children, but it first requires that cosmology is actually included in the science curriculum and then treated with a reasonable level of importance (the subject of a forthcoming article). For the more mature student, the science curriculum should include studying the behaviour of electricity in gases. Everyone is familiar with lightning. Most have seen fluorescent and neon lights. And the writhing “life-like” filaments in the novelty ‘plasma ball’ are a favorite with kids. But familiarity with lightning and neon lights does not equate with understanding. Lightning and the plasma behavior inside those glass tubes and balls are a mystery to almost everyone. Yet the environment inside those objects most closely equates to that of the rest of the universe.

Plasma ball and planetary nebula NGC 6751.

Plasma ball and planetary nebula NGC 6751. Credit for NGC 6751, NASA and STScI/AURA.

The outgoing president of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) 2009, Catherine Cesarsky, said recently:

“I think young scientists should guard themselves against brainwashing. They should look beyond the road maps, even if we put the best we know in them. Also, they should resist specializing too much at the cost of the big picture. The best way to escape [the] bandwagon effect is to look at things from a distance, to connect different ideas.”

It is time for another idea in astronomy. The Electric Universe is a new ‘big picture’ of the universe that “looks at things from a distance and connects different ideas.” If science has become ‘show biz,’ the broad panorama of the Electric Universe is fitted for an Imax theatre show like nothing else before it. The Electric Universe releases us from the confining eggshell of big bang metaphysics and propels us into the real universe. Our future depends on it. The possible scientific, technological and cultural advances will be, as Arthur C. Clarke so ably expressed it, “indistinguishable from magic.”

My thanks to Bob Johnson and Gerald Pecksen for their help in London and their valuable views about an Electric Revolution.

Wal Thornhill

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