Mwc 922 The Red Square Nebula

The Astrophysical Crisis at Red Square

“The history of science shows that the progress of science has constantly been hampered by the tyrannical influence of certain conceptions that finally come to be considered as dogma. For this reason, it is proper to submit periodically to a very searching examination, principles that we have come to assume without discussion.”
—Louis de Broglie, Revolution in Physics, 1953.

Hannes Alfven

In 1970, Hannes Alfvén, the ‘father of plasma physics,’ warned that cosmology was headed into crisis. He was referring to the treatment of plasma—which makes up about 99.9% of the visible universe—as a magnetizable gas. Alfvén was responsible for the theory, known as ‘magnetohydrodynamics’ or MHD. But he publicly repudiated its use for space plasma in his 1970 Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

“The cosmical plasma physics of today is far less advanced than the thermonuclear research physics. It is to some extent the playground of theoreticians who have never seen a plasma in a laboratory. Many of them still believe in formulae which we know from laboratory experiments to be wrong. The astrophysical correspondence to the thermonuclear crisis has not yet come.”
—H. Alfvén, Plasma physics, space research and the origin of the solar system, Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1970

But astrophysicists didn’t want to know. MHD made their theoretical work easy compared with the intricate behavior of plasma discovered in attempts to harness fusion power—the so-called ‘power source of the Sun.’ Their ignorance of the real behavior of plasma was certain to lead to divergence between theory and reality, just as it did for fusion power.

In fact each specialist group fuelled the mistakes of the other. It is a common situation in institutionalized science today. The astrophysicists misled the nuclear physicists into thinking the Sun is powered internally, which led nuclear physicists to try unsuccessfully to mimic the Sun’s hypothetical thermonuclear ‘engine.’ The nuclear physicists have nevertheless misled the astrophysicists into thinking that a stable thermonuclear reaction is possible inside the Sun even though it results in a weird body that transfers internal heat unlike any other—by radiation instead of conduction and convection. And the Sun is a cosmic body that is assumed to have much the same composition at its center as at the top of its atmosphere! Clearly, it has been a theoretical ‘deadly embrace.’

Alfvén was considered a brilliant maverick. He railed against the consensus of big bang cosmology and insisted that we live in an ELECTRIC UNIVERSE®. He argued that it was not enough to treat magnetism in space without considering the electric circuits in space necessary to generate and sustain magnetic fields. Yet no book on astronomy mentions electricity or circuits. Future historians of science will find this beyond rational understanding, like the belief in a flat Earth. Astronomy labors in the space age under the yoke of gaslight era science. Our model of stars is little better than the ancient one of a ‘campfire’ in the sky. Only the fuel is different.

Thirty-seven years after Alfvén’s speech, the astrophysical crisis is becoming more obvious. Adaptive optics and space telescopes give us much clearer views of stars, nebulae and galaxies, which theorists are floundering to explain. Some express mild concern that their models aren’t working. No one recognizes that there is a deep crisis. Denial, minimization and obfuscation can be expected before a paradigm shift begins. Two reports in the April 13 issue of Science highlight the situation.

The first report, “Surveys of Exploding Stars Show One Size Does Not Fit All,” says:

“Type Ia supernovae are regular enough that astronomers can use them to measure the universe. But some of the “standard candles” are breaking the theoretical mold. When astronomers wish upon a star, they wish they knew more about how stars explode. In particular, experts on the stellar explosions known as supernovae wonder whether textbook accounts tell the true story.”

Supernova model
A fanciful computer generated cartoon (above) of a supernova type Ia explosion is presented. The description raises more questions than answers: "a bubble of fusion beginning inside the star can burst out through its surface and then, confined by the star's gravity, wrap around the star in all directions, until encountering itself on the other side. When the fusing material collides with itself, a jet of material fires back down into the star, detonating the full fusion explosion." Heath Robinson would be proud of this! The pictures bear no relationship to observations of supernova remnants.

Various other comments in the same report are revealing:

“We put the theory in the textbooks because it sounds right. But we don’t really know it’s right, and I think people are beginning to worry,” says Robert Kirshner, a supernova researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We keep saying the same thing, but the evidence for it doesn’t get better, and that’s a bad sign.” Kirshner was among more than 100 experts on stars and their explosions who gathered to discuss their worries last month at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. General agreement emerged that the textbook story “is a little bit of ‘the emperor has no clothes,’ ” as Lars Bildsten, an astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute, put it.

“There’s a lot of holes in the story.” “I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis,” [Kirschner] said. “But if you ask, ‘Are the pieces falling into place?’ I’d say the answer is no.” Understanding type Ia supernovae has become an urgent issue in cosmology, as they provide the most compelling evidence that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

How can any deductions based on evidence from type Ia supernovae be “compelling” when supernovae are not understood? The paper above demonstrates the classic signs of minimization of the problem and obfuscation with complex and improbable computer models.

The textbook accounts of stellar explosions are fiction

The second report is titled obscurely “A Symmetric Bipolar Nebula Around MWC 922.” The nebula is known by the term ‘The Red Square’ (see below). Click here for a more readable account.


Mwc 922 The Red Square Nebula
MWC 922: The Red Square Nebula. The image above combines data from the Mt Palomar Hale telescope and the Keck-2 telescope. It was taken in near-infrared light (1.6 microns) and shows a region 30.8 arcseconds on a side around MWC 922. As the outer periphery of the nebula is very faint compared to the core, the image has been processed and sharpened to display the detail and structure. Credit: Peter Tuthill (Sydney U.) and James Lloyd (Cornell)
MWC 992 Red Square nebular geometry
If we imagine moving away from the precise (and fortuitous) edge-on viewing angle onto this object that we find from Earth, we might get a view like that depicted above. The left-hand panel shows the skeleton of the twin opposed cones as we see them from earth, but if we rotate away from our view at 90 degrees to the axis (middle panel) we can visualize that the bright bars seen edge-on become elliptical rings encircling the polar axis of the system (right panel). Credit: Peter Tuthill (Sydney U.)
MWC 922 Red Square nebula structural elements
Model skeleton structural elements fitted to the filtered image. This model also depicts spurious linear features from imperfect mosaicing and charge persistence (blue) and bright neighboring stars (green), whereas real Red Square nebula structures are plotted in red. The system's principal symmetry axis is given as a dot-dashed line, together with a compass rose and annotations labeling key features in black. Credit: Peter Tuthill (Sydney U.) and James Lloyd (Cornell)


The Red Square image is very important because it is only 5,000 light years away. It is compared in the report with the structures seen around supernova 1987A, which is 169,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

SN 1987A
The enigmatic and beautiful structure of SN1987A with its three axial rings. The two bright stars are just in the field of view and are not associated with the supernova. Credit: NASA/STScI/CfA/P.Challis.

>> The enigmatic and beautiful structure of SN1987A with its three axial rings. The two bright stars are just in the field of view and are not associated with the supernova.
Credit: NASA/STScI/CfA/P.Challis.

In August 2005, I wrote a news report titled Supernova 1987A Decoded. I argued that all of the detailed features of that spectacular supernova remnant could be explained in terms of a cosmic ‘Z-pinch’ plasma discharge, focused on a star.

Supernova structure diagram
Experimental and simulation derived geometries for extreme plasma currents in a plasma column. The Birkeland current filaments will only be visible where the plasma density is high. The diagram above shows the essential features of a plasma Z-pinch (left), the detailed filamentary current structure (center), and the 'witness plate' result of the Birkeland current filaments interacting with the equatorial expulsion disk of supernova 1987A. The number of filaments forming a cylinder follows a regular pattern. Plasma physicist Anthony Peratt writes, "Because the electrical current-carrying filaments are parallel, they attract via the Biot-Savart force law, in pairs but sometimes three. This reduces the 56 filaments over time to 28 filaments; hence the 56 and 28 fold symmetry patterns. In actuality, during the pairing, any number of filaments less than 56 may be recorded as pairing is not synchronized to occur uniformly. However, there are 'temporarily stable' (longer state durations) at 42, 35, 28, 14, 7, and 4 filaments. Each pair formation is a vortex that becomes increasingly complex."

I wrote in the August 2005 report:

“If the equatorial ring shows the Birkeland currents in the outer sheath of an axial plasma current column, then the supernova outburst is the result of a cosmic z-pinch in the central column, focused on the central star. It is important to note that the z-pinch naturally takes the ubiquitous hourglass shape of planetary nebulae. No special conditions and mysteriously conjured magnetic fields are required.”

The Red Square shows the stellar Z-pinch in close-up and we can see the Birkeland filaments for the first time, called ‘combs’ in the Science paper. They match the electrical model. Supernova 1987A was successfully decoded. The hallmark of a successful theory is its ability to predict or explain new discoveries with no additional assumptions.

For comparison, the report in concludes:

“Structures such as this are rarely seen in nebulae, and the high degree of regularity in this case may point to the intriguing possibility that these bands are shadows cast by periodic ripples or waves on the surface of an inner disk close to the star at the heart of the system,” said Lloyd. But the most compelling and important implication for astronomy comes from the three-dimensional structure implied by the Red Square images.

If you can really get a mental grasp of the three-dimensional geometry implied by the Red Square images,” said Tuthill, “then it is fascinating to take a second look at one of the most famous astronomical images of them all: SN1987A. We are not saying that the star MWC 922 at the heart of the Red Square is about to explode as a supernova,” said Lloyd, “but we’re not ruling it out either, and if it did it would certainly put on quite a show as it kindles the outer reaches of its nebula.”

Whatever the fate of the central star, the remarkable series of bars seen in the Red Square make it the best astrophysical laboratory yet discovered for studying the physics of generating the mysterious sharp polar-ring systems like that around SN1987A.

According to Tuthill, “This is just the beginning—a system as complex and fascinating as this is bound to keep us guessing for years to come.”

Meanwhile, plasma cosmologists don’t have to guess. They know what the three-dimensional geometry implies. The bipolar hourglass shape is a stellar circuit made visible. The ‘combs’ are Birkeland current filaments in a Z-pinch configuration, so it can be confidently predicted that their number will match the sequence found experimentally.

The most important plasma circuit element—the ‘Double Layer.’

Alfvén writes, “Since the time of Langmuir, we know that a double layer is a plasma formation by which a plasma—in the physical meaning of this word—protects itself from the environment. It is analogous to a cell wall by which a plasma—in the biological meaning of this word—protects itself from the environment.” This concept of a star “protecting itself” from the environment throws an entirely different light upon the real nature of stars. They are powered from without, electrically, not from within! This is impossible in the language of MHD, the lingua franca of astrophysicists. Neither double layers nor circuits can be derived from MHD models. Yet Alfvén was moved to suggest, “…double layers in space should be classified as a new type of celestial object.” He proposed, “…X-ray and gamma-ray bursts may be due to exploding double layers.”

Exploding double layers are very important in stellar outbursts. It is the only stellar explosion mechanism that naturally produces bipolar remnants and equatorial ejection disks (as distinct from hypothetical ‘accretion’ disks) and lends itself to empirical testing in the lab. Alfvén gives a practical example:

“In Sweden the waterpower is located in the north, and the industry in the south. The transfer of power between these regions over a distance of about 1000 km was first done with a.c. When it was realized that d.c. transmission would be cheaper, mercury rectifiers were developed. It turned out that such a system normally worked well, but it happened now and then that the rectifiers produced enormous over-voltages so that fat electrical sparks filled the rectifying station and did considerable harm. In order to get rid of this, a collaboration started between the rectifier constructors and some plasma physicists at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Mercury arc rectifier
Mercury arc rectifier.

An arc rectifier must have a very low pressure of mercury vapor in order to stand the high back voltages during half of the a.c. cycle. On the other hand, it must be able to carry large currents during the other half-cycle. It turned out that these two requirements were conflicting, because at a very low pressure the plasma could not carry enough current. If the current density is too high, an exploding double layer may be formed. This means that in the plasma a region of high vacuum is produced: the plasma refuses to carry any current at all. The sudden interruption of the 1000 km inductance produces enormous over-voltages, which may be destructive.”

In 1964 Jacobsen and Carlqvist suggested that exploding double layers produced violent solar flares. In an extreme situation the power from a galactic circuit is catastrophically released in an exploding double layer near the surface of a star to produce a supernova.

A 500 kilovolt circuit breaker
A 500 kilovolt circuit breaker reveals the concentration of destructive energy possible at a double layer.

A number of double layers develop in series between a star and its galactic environment. Strong electric fields exist across them summing to the voltage difference between the star and the galactic plasma environment. Cosmic rays allow us to estimate the voltages of stars at tens of billions of volts. Ions and electrons are accelerated across the thin double layers and collide. The ‘linear rungs or bars’ of the Red Square fit Alfvén’s circuit diagram as polar ‘double layers,’ symmetrically situated along the Z-pinch filaments, some distance from the star’s two poles. Their thinness and electrical excitation results in the enhanced glow and sharp definition of the ‘rungs or bars.’

Alfvén pioneered the stellar circuit concept and it seems his ‘wiring diagram’ is essentially correct but incomplete because it does not show the star’s connection to the larger galactic circuit. Alfvén remarked, “The current closes at large distances, but we do not know where.” Plasma cosmologists have supplied the answer by mapping the currents flowing along the arms of spiral galaxies. It is but a small step from there to see that all stars are the focus of Z-pinches within a galactic discharge. Normally the current flows in ‘dark mode’ so we don’t usually see the spectacular bipolar ‘wiring harnesses’ of hyperactive stars, like that at the heart of Red Square. All we witness, closest to home, are the effects on the Sun’s ‘surface,’ in its superheated corona, and the solar ‘wind.’

De Broglie says:

“the progress of science has constantly been hampered by the tyrannical influence of certain conceptions that finally come to be considered as dogma.”

The problem in astrophysics runs deep because dogma has ensured the practitioners are not trained appropriately for their task. They look upon structures like Red Square and supernova 1987A and cannot recognize them as plasma discharges. But what scientist would volunteer that they have been wasting their careers and our money and don’t know what they are talking about?

Astrophysicists will not be motivated to change anything while supine journalists allow them to ignore plasma cosmology. But as the evidence for an ELECTRIC UNIVERSE® stacks up ever faster, the truth can only be delayed; it cannot be avoided. The astrophysical crisis is here now at Red Square.

Wal Thornhill

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