Monday, August 01, 2005
THE DREXELITES. It's not often that an amateur can get a clear glimpse inside the ongoing combat between official science and what has come to be called alternative science. By accident I just stumbled on one of these and thought it might be fun to share.
I was looking for eccentric news items -- there's only so much we can all take about Valerie Plame and Judge Roberts day after day -- and following a series of "weird" links, I came to a site called Surfiing the Apocalypse, which publishes short features on everything from UFOs to New World Order conspiracies to oddball relics like the Voynich manuscript. Buried among what were mostly provocative teasers I found a rather lengthy piece recapitulating the troubled and troubling history of Immanuel Velikovsky, who brought the fury of academic science on his head by proposing that Venus had caused worldwide catastrophe in ancient human history. His cause has now been taken up, it seems, by "plasma physicists" who are turning away from traditional cosmological theory to something called the electric universe. I gather this is a pretty radical model and pretty darn unacceptable to the NASA and university hotshots.
Reading along, I suddenly hit a specific prediction about an event that was still in the future when the piece was written:
On July 4, 2005, the Deep Impact probe will reach comet Tempel 2 and fire an 800-pound projectile into the comet’s nucleus. NASA’s comet investigators do not doubt that hidden beneath the surface of comets is a great abundance of water ice. How else could comet tails be produced, except by ices sublimating in the heat of the Sun?
The revolutionary electric Sun model set forth by Juergens in the early 70’s included a view of comets as electric discharge phenomena. If the Sun is a glow discharge at the center of a radial electric field, then comets moving on highly elliptical orbits through this electric field will experience increasing stresses that can only be relieved through electrical arcing, removing material and accelerating it away from the nucleus, along the path of solar magnetic field lines.
Though electrical experts cannot categorically say there are no volatiles beneath the surface of comets, they all consider it most likely that the projectile will strike a solid rock and not a pile of ice and rubble. According to Thornhill, some of the water we normally detect in comet tails appears to be a result of electrical exchange within the coma of the comet. Oxygen is removed from the negatively charged comet nucleus by electric arcs, before uniting energetically with the positively charged hydrogen ions of the solar wind. The surfaces of the comets, Borrelly and Wild 2, which gave us the best close-ups, were bone dry.
So the Deep Impact mission could prove to be an acid test. The electric theorists have made their position clear, and there won’t be much wiggle room for the conventional “dirty snowball” hypothesis. If water is not observed to explode from the surface at the projectile’s impact, a domino effect will be set loose. An absence of water would mean there is no mainstream model left, only the electric model would remain.
Well, I thought. V-e-e-e-ry interesting. It's the first of August. Deep Impact is now in the past. I should be able to find out pretty quickly if the electric universe folks are as loony as the da Vinci Code crowd. I googled Deep Impact and Tempel 1. Here's what I found first:
US space agency (Nasa) scientists are celebrating after seeing a probe crash into the heart of a comet.
The washing machine-sized "impactor" collided with Comet Tempel 1 at a relative speed of 37,000km/h, throwing up a huge plume of icy debris.
The probe's mothership, the Deep Impact spacecraft, watched the event from a safe distance, sending images to Earth.
"We hit it just exactly where we wanted to," said an ecstatic Dr Don Yeomans, a Nasa mission scientist.
"The impact was bigger than I expected, and bigger than most of us expected. We've got all the data we could possibly ask for."
Comets - giant "dirty snowballs", as some have called them - are believed to contain materials that have remained largely unchanged since the formation of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago.
Scientists hope that by getting "under the skin" of Comet Tempel 1, they can gain new information on the Solar System's original composition and perhaps even how life emerged in our corner of the Universe.
This sure didn't sound good for the electric universe predictions. There was a "huge plume of icy debris." And the BBC repeated the standard description of comets as "dirty snowballs." I wondered if the electric universe set had anything to say about the defeat of their theory. Their website is named Thunderbolts.info. There was not one but a pair of recent articles about the Deep Space probe. The upshot?
Jul 15, 2005There's more for those who are interested, including additional predictions about what subsequent NASA analysis will uncover. And here's the other Thunderbolts article on Deep Impact.
The Missing Water of Comet Tempel 1
We have long suggested that, after Deep Impact, scientists would be scratching their heads over the lack of subsurface water—the last hope of the dirty snowball theory. Early results confirm this prediction.
Early in the morning of July 3, we registered our predictions for Deep Impact (July 4), when a widely heralded “impactor” would strike the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1. We presented these predictions based on the electric comet hypothesis as interpreted by Wallace Thornhill and other members of the Thunderbolts crew. To the best of our knowledge, we set forth the most specific and detailed scientific predictions offered by any group in anticipation of the event.
We stated our purpose explicitly—
“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 analysis of the ‘electric comet’ model”.
It has now been almost two weeks since we posted these predictions, and the Deep Impact investigative team has made it clear that it could be many weeks before an analysis of certain crucial details will be released. Yet information already disclosed provides a good sense as to how well the electric comet model has performed against the “dirty snowball” model of popular theory.
In this and following Pictures of the Day we shall begin an analysis of specific results.
We stated: “An abundance of water on or below the surface of the nucleus (the underlying assumption of the “dirty snowball” hypothesis) is unlikely”. Though this was never a deal killer for the electric model, the absence of sufficient water in a comet is a deal killer for the dirty snowball model. We wrote: “In fact none of the electrical theorists will be surprised if the impactor exposes a subsurface with little or no ices.
In a July 8 press release, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics summarized the early findings with the headline, “Deep Impact Was a Dust-up, Not a Gusher“.
Smithsonian astronomers had monitored the impact using the ground-based Submillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawaii and NASA's orbiting Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS). Early reports showed “only weak emission from water vapor and a host of other gases that were expected to erupt from the impact site. The most conspicuous feature of the blast was brightening due to sunlight scattered by the ejected dust”. This was not what they had expected by any means.
"It's pretty clear that this event did not produce a gusher," said SWAS principal investigator Gary Melnick of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "The more optimistic predictions for water output from the impact haven't materialized, at least not yet."
Astronomer Charlie Qi (CfA) also expressed surprise at these results. "Theories about the volatile layers below the surface of short-period comets are going to have to be revised," Qi said. Was he raising a question about the underlying model here? No, he was only “deepening” the contradictions. The impact result, he said, “indicates that these effects [presence of water] could be much deeper.”
So the crisis for standard comet theory grows. Proponents of the dirty snowball model had already been forced into an untenable position by prior discoveries of dry comet surfaces. So they began to speculate about water buried beneath the surfaces—a speculation that only increased the difficulty for models having to explain why observed ices in the Jovian and Saturnian system do not produce explosive jets while comets at the same distances do.
Only recently, some astronomers abandoned the phrase “dirty snowballs” and began calling comets “icy dirtballs”. The dirt, they said, was on the surface, and the water was underneath. Strangely, this shift in theory was never accompanied by any attempt to reckon with the problems inherent in placing an insulating layer around ice which, even when directly exposed to the Sun (as on the planet Mars at Tempel’s distance from the Sun) does not behave the way their models required.
It was hoped that Deep Impact would show that sufficient water existed beneath the surface. By excavating material from the comet's interior, they could rescue the theory. But it didn’t happen. “SWAS operators were puzzled by the lack of increased water vapor from Tempel 1”. In fact there was no change in measured water after the impact. Another observation from the Odin telescope in Sweden found that the total amount of water appeared to decrease after the impact, probably because of the injection of quantities of dry dust.
Two things are intriguing here. First, that the limited mass media coverage of the event seems to have been tailored to the traditional theory and discloses little that might be unsettling to our high school cosmology. Second, that the account of the dispute between traditional cosmologists and electric universe theorists seems strangely parallel with what is happening in the field of evolutionary science: an old guard zealously and ferociously protects a very old theory from any major impact by newer scientific observations, discoveries, and hypotheses. The proponents of heretical ideas appear to be consigned to the muddy waters occupied by crackpots and paranoids, although their content seems much more substantial than wishful thinking.
I have no idea at all whether the electric universe is a valid theory or not. But I do see that its advocates are behaving like scientists -- making verifiable predictions in advance and permitting their theory to be judged by the results.
Just how much of the science that is supposed to be settled and so true as to be fact is actually besieged and frightened and desperate?
I can hear the know-it-alls readying their pipe bombs already...
UPDATE. Yup. here they come. For all of you are clicking through from the Cathouse Blog or whatever you call it, take a look here before you go.