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Part Three: The Plasma Universe

There is a model for an infinite, continuously evolving universe that conforms to almost every observational test. This model is built, not from a cataclysmic fraction of an instant, billions of years ago, but from the easily observable behavior of the fourth state of matter: plasma. Plasma is a state of matter in which electrons are not bound to a nucleus, and flow freely. In the presence of a magnetic field, an electrical current will flow exactly along the magnetic field lines. The electrons, exercising a familiar habit, are following the path of least resistance; if they flow exactly along the field lines, no magnetic forces act on them. This flow of electrons generates its own magnetic field, spiraling around the linear flow. Other electrons can flow along the new, helical field (pp. 193-195).

At this point, something interesting happens. The electrons in the helical field create a magnetic field of their own, which supports the flow along the axis. Hold up your right hand in front of you, fingers curved, thumb extended. Let your thumb represent a flow of electrical current. Your fingers curve in the direction of the magnetic field lines that surround the current. Now bring your forearm into the picture. It represents a large axial flow, actually flowing behind your hand. If you stretch your thumb back, it now represents the magnetic field around your forearm, along which the helical electrons flow, surrounded by their own magnetic field, still represented by your fingers. The secondary field flows down your fingers, then around and up through the back of your hand, supporting the current running up from your forearm. But wait, there's more! Electrons can flow through your fingers, generating a tertiary magnetic field. Picture your finger tips replaced by a row of tiny right hands, palms away from you. Their wee fingers represent the tertiary magnetic field lines, along which more electrons can flow.

This model represents a force-free filament, in which electrons help each other flow more easily. Force-free filaments can carry enormous currents, growing larger and larger as the level of complexity increases.

Plasma filaments have been studied in laboratories for years. They are tiny, current carrying, electromagnetic vortices that weave through a plasma, and are produced by the "pinch effect": a current creates cylindrical magnetic field, which attracts other currents flowing in same direction. They pinch together, drawing the plasma into thin filaments separated by voids (pp. 42-43).

This effect can concentrate matter and energy much more effectively than gravity. The magnetic force of a plasma thread increases with the velocity of the plasma, causing a positive feedback cycle: as the threads move closer, they are pulled together faster, increasing the magnetic force on them, pulling them still faster. As they move together, the angular momentum of the plasma causes centrifugal force that resists contraction, but the filaments are able to carry away excess angular momentum, whereas gravity cannot (p. 44).

This process, understood from numerous laboratory observations, has implications on larger scales. The solar system, for instance, formed from the gravitational collapse of a vast gas cloud. As this cloud contracted as a result of gravity, it started spinning. If gravity were the only force involved, the process would have stopped there. The centrifugal force of the cloud would have resisted further collapse, with the solar system stabilizing as a diffuse cloud of gas, roughly twice its present diameter. But the solar system did form. Hannes Alfvén, the father of plasma cosmology, theorized that the inner part of the protostellar plasma cloud spun faster than the outer part, generating an electric current, "flowing out along the solar magnetic field lines, through the cloud and back to the sun at its equator" (p. 189). The interaction of the currents and magnetic fields caused the inner cloud to slow down, and the outer cloud to speed up, transferring angular momentum out of the system, and allowing further collapse.

By this mechanism, the early solar system lost 99.9% of its angular momentum, allowing the sun the collapse to the point at which it was able to ignite. The magnetic field action does not stop there, though. The sun, which represents over 99% of the mass of the solar system, retains only two percent of its angular momentum, while Jupiter has 70%, and Saturn has 27%. Two planets, which represent about a thousandth of the mass of the solar system, possess nearly all of its angular momentum (p. 188). In 1972, Alfvén and Gustaf Arrhenius developed a model of the early solar system in which self-pinched filaments swept through the dense protoplanetary plasma, their concentrated magnetic fields transferring angular momentum from the sun to the protoplanetary disk, pinching the plasma together into planets, which use the same process to form satellites (p. 209). The existence of planetary currents and filaments was confirmed in the sixties and seventies, when space probes detected them around Earth and the outer planets, exactly as Alfvén and his colleagues predicted (p. 45). This process may also be the key to solving a long-standing mystery: the origin of the moon. I propose that an analysis of the angular momentum of the Earth and moon will reveal whether the moon formed with the Earth, or was captured later.

Using the magnetic field model for solar formation, Alfvén made the leap to the galactic scale. In 1977, Alfvén and Per Carlqvist proposed that a protogalaxy behaves like a protostar, transferring away angular momentum and using filaments to form irregularities in the plasma (p. 209). The result is a galactic circuit, in which "...the entire galaxy acts as a disk generator, spinning in an intergalactic field. Currents flow inward on the plane of the galaxy, along the spiral arms, and out along the axis of rotation." (p. 211). Inside the spiral arms, smaller irregularities would form dense clouds, stellar nurseries like the Orion nebula. "In 1989, this hypothesis... was confirmed when scientists observed that the rotation axes of all the stars in a given cloud are aligned with the cloud's magnetic field" (p. 209). In other words, star clusters are just scaled up solar systems.

Most of Sweden's electrical power is generated in the north, then transmitted down south. Bear with me; there is a point to this. Before transmission, mercury-vapor rectifiers convert the electricity from AC to DC for cheaper transmission. Occasionally, to the chagrin of the power company, a rectifier would explode. In the early sixties, Alfvén and Nicolai Herlofsen discovered that the explosions were caused by exploding double layers. Irregularities in the rectifiers' mercury plasma caused a separation of ions and electrons, which caused a gap to open between them. "As the gap widened, fewer electrons could pass, so the current... dropped." The collapsing magnetic field generated a huge electrical field, in accordance with Maxwell's laws, raising the voltage so high that the rectifier exploded (pp. 196-198).

Sweden's power company is not the only entity that has been plagued by exploding double layers. Solar prominences are "filamentary, constricted currents, generated by a vortex's motion in the sun's atmosphere." It appears that exploding double layers may form in these currents, resulting in solar flares, which release as much energy in a region the size of the Earth as the entire sun produces in roughly the same amount of time, less than ten seconds (p. 198). Scaling the effect up to the size of a galaxy gives an even more dramatic result. As a young galaxy collapses, a huge electric current flows inward along the developing spiral arms. This current concentrates energy at the center of the galaxy, where a torus-shaped plasmoid develops. The plasmoid "generates a powerful electrical field along its axis, accelerating beams of protons and electrons" in opposite directions (pp. 249-251). The energy released in this manner is up to a hundred thousand times that released by an entire galaxy (p. 148).

Plasmoids probably exist in the center of every galaxy. The currents that power them are probably responsible for the acceleration of gas to extremely high velocities, up to 1500 km/sec, a phenomenon usually attributed to a black hole. In 1989, however, G.H. and M.J. Rieke found that the stars near our galaxy's center are moving at only 70 km/sec. If gravity were solely responsible for the acceleration of the gas, the stars would have to move as fast as the gas. The Riekes' observations prove that there is no black hole at the center of our galaxy (p. 256). In fact, if plasmoids (which require only ordinary lab physics) exist throughout the universe in various sizes, it is evident that black holes simply do not exist.

A laboratory example of how plasmoids concentrate energy also demonstrates an extreme example of the scalability of plasma theories. The plasma focus, invented independently in the sixties by N.V. Filippov and Joseph Mather, holds much promise as a source of cheap energy. Dr. Lerner's description of the device's operation follows:

The [plasma] focus consisted of two conducting copper cylinders, several centimeters cross, nested inside each other. When a large current is discharged across the cylinder, a remarkable series of events ensues.

The current rapidly ionizes the plasma and forms into eight or ten pairs of force-free filaments, each a millimeter in diameter, which roll down the cylinder, propelled by the interaction of their currents with the background magnetic field. When they reach the end of the cylinder, they fountain inward. Each pair, consisting of two vortices rotating in opposite directions, annihilate each other, leaving only one survivor to carry the entire current. This survivor pinches itself off into a doughnut-shaped filamentary knot—a plasmoid.

The plasmoid, only half a millimeter across, now contains all the energy stored in the magnetic field of the entire device—a million or more times bigger in volume. For a fraction of a microsecond, as the plasmoid continues to pinch itself, it remains stable. But as its magnetic field increases, the electrons orbit in smaller circles, giving off radiation of a higher frequency. Because plasma tends to be opaque to low-frequency radiation and transparent to high frequency, the radiation suddenly begins to escape.

This sets in motion a second series of events. As the electrons radiate their energy away, the current drops and the magnetic field weakens. Since the electrons are traveling along magnetic field lines, the weakening field tangles the electrons' path up as its shape changes—causing the current to drop still further.

The result is like turning off a switch, as in the double layers Alfvén had observed. [see above: the Swedish rectifier problems] The falling magnetic field generates a huge electrical field, which shoots two high-energy beams out of the plasmoid—the electrons in one direction, the ions in the other. The beams consist of extremely dense, helical filaments, each a micron across. In the course of this process some of the ions are heated to such high temperatures that they fuse.

The plasma focus has an enormous advantage over the tokomak, the model for a fusion reactor that dominates the field. Whereas the tokomak uses mathematical models that "make assumptions about plasma that rarely apply", trying to make plasma behave as it should instead of how it actually does, the plasma focus exploits the plasma's ability to compress itself, enhancing the reaction (p. 376). More importantly, it gives us an easily manipulable model for the behavior of plasmoids of all sizes, throughout the universe. If it is difficult to believe that objects of such vastly different sizes can have any common characteristics, Dr. Lerner compares the ratio of mass to radius of stars, galaxies, clusters, and super clusters, a difference of a factor of 10,000 trillion in terms of radius, and 40,000 trillion in terms of mass. The mass-radius ratios of all of the structures are virtually identical, as is the ratio of the structure's mass to its nearest neighbor (p. 260).

More evidence for the scalability of plasma theory came in 1979, when James Green used a computer simulation that accurately models the behavior of laboratory plasma, and made a short movie of his results. Anthony Peratt, a former student of Alfvén's, noticed a stunning similarity between Green's simulations and the form of a "grand design" spiral galaxy. Peratt ran simulations of his own, varying certain parameters, and was able to match up each frame of his results to a picture in Halton Arp's Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies (pp. 230-232. The photographs on page 233 illustrate the amazing similarities Peratt observed). Green and Peratt had accidentally found a mechanism for the formation of spiral galaxies that was already confirmed by hundreds of examples.

The plasma universe solves many of the problems that arise from conventional cosmology. The Big Bangers use the cosmic microwave background as evidence of a cataclysmic ancient explosion. In 1986, Dr. Lerner proposed that interstellar electrons could absorb, then re-emit radio waves in a random direction, a process known as synchrotron radiation, well understood in the laboratory (p. 269). Lerner's hypothesis was confirmed in 1989, when he used data on the radio vs. infrared brightness of 237 galaxies, plotted against their distance, to show exactly the dimming he predicted (p. 276). The CMB is generated throughout intergalactic space, scattering radio waves as a dense fog scatters light. Like Nicholas of Cusa's Earth, the CMB only looks stationary because it is moving with us. And since no process can occur that does not result in some loss of energy, perhaps this intergalactic Rayleigh scattering provides an alternative explanation to the Hubble shift.

Another problem involves the rotation curves of galaxies. If gravity was the only force governing a galaxy's rotation, the speed of gas rotating around the center should decrease smoothly with distance. But the rotation curve is flat; after a sharp initial decrease, the rotation speed remains the same to the edge of the galaxy. Big Bangers used dark matter to explain away the phenomenon, but in a galaxy controlled by magnetic fields, a flat rotation curve is a natural result (p. 240).

Perhaps the greatest ramification of plasma theory comes from the recent discovery of the universe's polarity. If the universe does have an overall orientation, it would be sensible to conclude that it is formed from one cosmic plasma filament. And since plasma filaments must form in an external magnetic field, it can also be concluded that there are other such filaments out there. In other words, we are not alone in the overall, cosmic sense. There are other universes out there (CNN).

This explanation of the plasma universe has concentrated on ongoing processes, rather than what happened in "the beginning." The plasma universe has no beginning, just distinct phases of evolution. According to Dr. Lerner, the earliest phase that concerns the visible universe is the development of supercluster chains, which stretch billions of light years through space "like the rungs of a titanic ladder" (p. 25). Next, galactic-cluster-sized clouds contracted, then galaxies, then star clusters, then finally stars, planets, and moons (p. 249).

Plasma cosmology conforms to every observed phenomenon except one. It does not account for the Hubble redshift, the very phenomenon (and the only one) that led to the development of the Big Bang. Dr. Lerner gives several theories that attempt to explain the Hubble shift in terms of the plasma universe, but none are firmly rooted in observed fact, like plasma theory itself. Fortunately, it does not matter. In architectural terms, the Big Bang is an incorrect structure. A broad, complex theory rests on an extremely narrow foundation, in fact, just one brick (the Hubble shift). The plasma universe, meanwhile, rests on an extremely broad foundation of observation. It does not require the creation of any new, exotic building materials, just the reliable concrete and steel of ordinary physics. If the "Hubble brick" is not added for a while, the building will not collapse. On the other hand, a light gust of solar wind (made of plasma, naturally) has brought the Big Bang building crashing to the ground.

We are approaching a time of social and economic transition. Our society has evolved from a peak of post-war prosperity to the ravages of recurring recession. Such a social climate seems to encourage a Big Bang universe, as it runs down into chaos. Despite its arbitrary nature, the millennial transition is important. If people's hopes and dreams are harnessed at the beginning of the third millennium, we can create a general optimism about the next thousand years. In such a positive social climate, we can slip the surly bonds of Earth, and finally touch the stars.

Part One: A Brief History of Cosmology | Part Two: The Big Bang | Part Three: The Plasma Universe

Original Articles | Main Page


CNN Headline News, April 1997.

Flamsteed, Sam. "Crisis in the Cosmos", in Discover, March 1995. New York: Disney Publishing.

Humez, Alexander; Nicholas Humez, Joseph Maguire. "Zero to Lazy Eight". New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Lerner, Eric. "The Big Bang Never Happened". New York: Random House, 1991.