Electric Universe Model on Wikipedia (2005)

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Note: This is a copy of the article "Electric Universe Model" as it appeared on Wikipedia in 2005. See also:

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The Electric Universe Model

File:Sunspot TRACE.jpg
A sunspot. Juergens's Electric Sun hypothesis compares solar granules to the electrical breakdown in an anode glow in a gas discharge tube
The Electric Universe model is an interdisciplinary approach to astronomy and the sciences, which considers electricity to play a more significant role in the shaping of our universe and our history, than generally accepted. The model is founded on plasma physics, but includes some radical proposals:
  1. Cosmic electrical activity in the past has been much greater than we see today.
  2. The Sun and stars are powered by an external electric current
  3. Cratering and some other planetary surface features may have been caused by mega-lightning or cosmic thunderbolts as a result of electric discharge machining
  4. The Big Bang, black holes and dark matter are not necessary in our understanding of physical cosmology.

The interdisciplinary approach to the electric universe also finds support in

  1. Rock art and petroglyphs, where similar styles of image suggest a cosmic plasma instability that was seen in the skies.
  2. The ancient histories and the mythologies of cultures around the world, where similar stories suggest similar events
  3. Catastrophism, whose effects left evidence on the Earth and other planets
  4. Geology and other Earth sciences.
<p> A history of people involved in various aspects of the Electric Universe model, can be found below. The Electric Universe model may also be considered a protoscience, and is testable.



Several factors suggest that electricity may play an important role in the universe:

  1. Electricity is an important part of other sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology
  2. The electromagnetic force, that is, the force between two charged particles, is many times greater than the force of gravity between them (it is <math>10^{39}</math> times more powerful)
  3. Over 99% of the Universe is made up of plasma, a state of matter that is made up partly of charged particles
  4. The characteristics of plasma, especially low density space plasma, lends itself to various electrical phenomena.

Background: Space plasmas

The foundation of the Electric Universe model is Hannes Alfvén's research on space plasmas, for which his work on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) won him the Nobel Prize in 1970. MHD is used as an important tool by scientists to model plasma as a fluid, but as Alfvén himself wrote: "there are also a number of phenomena which cannot be treated this way, but which require an approach in which the electric current is taken account of explicitly" (emphasis in the original, Cosmic Plasma, 1981, p.6). Some of these more complex phenomena of plasmas, which can not always be modelled successfully with MHD, include:

  • Double layers, a plasma region in which charge separation occurs, resulting in a large potential difference across the layer. Double layers can accelerate ions and produce synchrotron radiation (such as x-rays and gamma rays), and may become unstable and explode.
  • Filamentation, the striations or "stringy things" seen in a "plasma ball", the aurora, lightning, and nebulae. They are caused by larger current densities, and are also called magnetic ropes or plasma cables.
  • Electric currents, that were first observed in the Earth's aurora, and also found in plasma filaments. They are called Birkeland currents. Other examples of electric currents in the universe can be found below.
  • Circuits. All currents flow around an electric circuits that follow Kirchhoff's circuit laws. Circuits have a resistance and inductance, and the behaviour of the plasma depends on the entire circuit. Disrupting such as a circuit, for example, in an unstable plasma double layer, results in the inductive energy of the whole circuit being released in the plasma. Plasma circuits can also transfer energy from one plasma region to another.
  • Cellular structure. Plasma double layers may separate regions with different properties such as magnetization, density, and temperature, resulting in cell-like regions. Examples include the magnetosphere, heliosphere, and heliospheric current sheet.

Alfvén's Cosmic Circuits

File:Cosmic-plasma circuits.gif
Hannes Alfvén's circuit representation of a cosmic plasma (click to enlarge)

Hannes Alfvén considered a cosmic plasma to be part of a circuit, in the same way a laboratory plasma tube is part of a circuit. A battery with an emf Vb transmits a current around a circuit with a resistance Ro and inductance L. The voltage between the electrodes of the plasma depends on the current I, and various plasma parameters such as density, magnetic field, temperatures, etc. A plasma double layer behaves in a similar fashion.<p> Depending on the total resistance of the circuit, R + Ro (R can be negative), the plasma may be in equilibrium, or oscilate at a frequency that depends on the inductance L. So even if the plasma's parameters are known, the behaviour of the plasma depends on the outer circuit.<p> Every electric circuit is potentially explosive. If the plasma circuit is disrupted in the plasma double layer, the inductive energy in the whole circuit will be released in the plasma, and is equivalent to ½LI2.

Application of Alfvén's Current Circuits

File:Heliospheric circuit.gif
The Heliospheric current sheet (click to enlarge)

Alfvén applied his cosmic circuit diagrams to produce

  • an auroral current circuit, showing how the auroral current system is constructed
  • the heliospheric current sheet, detailed below
  • a galactic circuit
  • current systems for magnetospheric tails, comets, and Venus

Alfvén's Heliospheric Current Circuits

Hannes Alfvén considered the heliospheric current sheet to be part of a heliospheric current system. The Sun behaves as a unipolar inductor producing a current that flows outwards along both axes B2, and inwards in the equatorial plane, C, and along Solar magnetic field lines B1. The current closes at a large distance, B3.

Alfvén envisaged that since the Sun is behaving as a unipolar inductor, the e.m.f is produced in the Solar atmosphere: current transfers angular momentum from the Sun to the surrounding plasma, resulting in a non-uniform rotation of its atmosphere.

The model also suggests that far from the Sun, there may be double layers, where energy may be released without an apparent source; this is analagous to how energy is released in the double layers in the Earth's auroras.

Ralph Juergens "Electric Sun" Hypothesis

Glow discharge tubes and their characteristics: 1. Cylindrical 2. "funnel-shaped" 3. Cyclindrical (click to enlarge)

An electrical engineer by training, Juergens wondered what might happen to a cosmic plasma if (a) an electric currently flowed through it, as described by Hannes Alfvén, and (b) it behaved like a plasma in a glow discharge tube, as described by earlier scientists such as Irving Langmuir.

In a laboratory discharge tube, a stream of electrons generates a glow on an anode. So Juergens considered what might happen if (a) he scaled up a discharge tube to cosmic proportions, and (b) one end of the cylindrical tube was stretched or expanded into a sphere.

Juergens felt that a glow discharge tube, in particular the anode and anode glow, shared characteristics with the Sun (the anode) and its atmopshere (the anode glow), in particular that the Sun's "granules might not be akin to certain highly luminous tufts of discharge plasma variously described in the literature as anode glows, anode tufts, and anode arcs" [Ref. and maths].

Juergens notes that Irving Lanmuir had studied anode glows (who describes them as plasma sheaths):

  • "...as we decrease the size of an anode in a tube .. the sheath breaks down .. and an anode glow appears usually in the form of a sharply defined globular or semispherical region several times more highly luminous that the surrounding region."
  • "With anodes of small size compared to the tube diameter ..strong ionization occurs and the anode sheath breaks down. A ball or sharply defined region of intense glow thus appears on the anode.." (Ref. Langmuir Collective Works).

Theory modifications

Trained physicist Wal Thornhill notes that an extended postive column has similarities to interplanetary space. Electrical engineer J. D. Cobine writes that, "The positive column is a region of almost equal concentrations of positive ions and electrons and is characterized by a very low voltage gradient". The positive column also features a weak radial electric field which may explain the anomalous deceleration of the Pioneer spacecraft.

Analogies of the Electric Sun model

File:Fusor running.jpg
Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor during operation in so called "star mode" characterized by "rays" of glowing plasma which appear to emanate from the gaps in the inner grid.

The Electric Sun model also bares some resemblance to the Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor, an Inertial-Electrostatic-Confinement (IEC) Fusion device which accelerates postive ions towards a central anode. Invented by Philo T. Farnsworth and Robert L Hirsch, the origin of IEC work is based on Langmuir and Blodgett's 1924 work on concentric, spherical conductors.

In 1959 W.C. Elmore, J.L. Tuck, and K.M. Watson investigated an "inverted" fusor, in which an outer cathode accelerates electrons to a central anode. Philo T. Farnsworth himself patented the "Inverted Farnsworth Fusor" (US Patent No. 3,258,402 dated June 28, 1966, "Electric Discharge Device for Producing Interactions Between Nuclei"). See the entry for Philo T. Farnsworth for US Patent links.

Examples of Electricity in the Universe

Earth's Environment

  • Auroral Currents, also called Electrojets or Birkeland Currents (More)
  • Electric currents (as jets) between thunderclouds and the ionosphere (Abstract)

Solar Sytem Environment

  • The Heliospheric Current Sheet (More)
  • Mercury's Birkeland current system (Abstract)
  • A Global Electric Circuit on Mars (Abstract)
  • The Current Systems of Jupiter (More)
  • Extraterrestrial lightning on Jupiter, Venus, Uranus, Neptune and Saturn (Abstract)
  • The Sun-Earth auroral (electric) circuit (Abstract)
  • Small Bodies (asteroids and comments)
    • Predictions that Deep Impact's meeting with comet Tempel 1 would reveal the electrical nature of comets (4 July 2005)
    • Analysis of Deep Impact data for evidence of electrical characteristics (5 July 2005 - )
    • Official Deep Impact home page with images and most recent published findings and press releases

Intergalactic Environment


The origin of the Electric Universe model lies in the work of several researchers who featured electricity in their own theories (but would not necessarily have endorsed the Electric Universe themselves). These include:

  • Kristian Birkeland (1867-1917), the Norwegian scientist and explorer whose studies of the aurora led him to suggest that electric currents flowed in a circuit along the Earth's magnetic field lines. They were subsequently discovered by satellite in 1963, and are today referred to as auroral electrojets, or "Birkeland currents". (Ref). Birkeland himself also wrote: "According to our manner of looking at the matter, every star in the universe would be the seat and field of activity of electric forces of a strength that no one could imagine." (The Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition 1902-1903, Volume 1, Sec. 139., p.720)
  • Irving Langmuir (1881-1957), a chemist and physicist who made some of the first studies of ionized gases, coining the name "plasma" in 1928 because its properties reminded him of blood plasma. He also did important work on discharge tubes, investigating how electric currents passed through low-pressure gases in tubes.
  • Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979), a psychoanalyst by training, whose research into ancient history, comparative mythology and geology, led him to conclude that the Earth had been subjected to interplanetary catastrophes in the past. To fascilitate these cosmic upheavals, Velikovsky proposed that electromagnetic forces played a greater role in the universe. Velikovsky relates a discussion he had with Albert Einstein: "All the sciences—neurology, physiology, physics, and chemistry -— recognize the overwhelming role of electromagnetic forces; only astronomy lives in an age before kerosene, in the age of candles. Einstein agreed with the thought I had expressed in my letter to him that it is my introduction of electromagnetic forces into celestial mechanics that caused the vehement opposition of the scientists." (Before the Day Breaks, Unpublished, "July 21, 1954")
  • Hannes Alfvén (1908-1995), a power engineer whose research into plasma won him the 1970 Nobel Prize in physics, for his developement of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). He also highlighted a number of features that he felt were understated in cosmic plasmas, including (a) the scalability of plasma (b) double layers (c) electric circuits (d) cellular structure of space. He noted that "as soon as an electric current is passed through a quiescent plasma, a number of complicated phenomena are produced which require an extensive development of classical theory, sometimes even a new approach. (Cosmic Plasma, p.5, 1981)
  • Ralph Juergens (1924-1979), an electrical engineer, who felt that the works of Irving Langmuir, Charles Bruce and Hannes Alfvén, may be able to reconcile Velikovsky's views of celestial mechanics. He went on to develop a model of the Sun based on its similarities with a gas discharge tube. For example, he wrote: "The structure of the solar atmosphere strongly suggests that the Sun is fuelled not from within but from without, and that the energy-delivery mechanism is an electric discharge" (Kronos Vol. IV No. 4 (Summer 1979), "The Photosphere: Is It the Top or the Bottom of the Phenomenon We Call the Sun?").
  • Wallace Thornhill, a physicist by training, has further developed the Electric Universe model, in particular, aspects of the Electric Sun model, and planetary cratering as the result of electric discharge machining.
  • Don Scott, an electrical engineer, who has investigated the Electric Universe model for many years, in particular, aspects of the Electric Sun model and cosmic plasma.

Recognition of Electricity in Astronomy

The recognition of the role of electricity in astronomy has been slow. Between 1930-1959, only three papers mention electric currents at all. The 1970s saw the suggestion of electric currents in the solar wind, 1980 in Jupiter's moon, Io, and the identification of the Heliosphereic Current Sheet

Date Author Description References
1930 V. C. A Ferraro A note on the possible emission of electric currents from the sun (Text)
1948 Lyman Spitzer, Jr. An electric current around the Galactic Center (Text)
1959 Laurence J., Cahill, Jr. Detection of an Electrical Current in the Ionosphere above Greenland
1960 D. H. Menzel Solar Flares from action of electric currents and associated magnetic fields (Text)
1968 R. J. Stening Calculation of electric currents in the ionosphere by an equivalent circuit method
1969 Hannes Alfvén Small-Scale Structures as Produced by Electric Currents
1970 R. Jayanthan Electric Current in a Sunspot (Text)
1974 D. Dravins Magnetic field and electric current structure in the chromosphere (Abs) (Text)
1975 Hannes Alfvén Electric Current Structure of the Magnetosphere
1975 W.-H. Ip; D. A. Mendis The cometary magnetic field and its associated electric currents (Abs)
1975 P. J. Coleman Jr. Electric currents in the solar wind (Abs)
1977 Hannes Alfvén Electric currents in cosmic plasmas (Abs)
1977 Hannes Alfvén Double radio sources and the new approach to cosmical plasma physics (Abs) (Text)
1980 F. Herbert; B.R. Lichtenstein Induced Electrical Current System at Io. (Text)
1981 J. M. Wilcox The origin of the warped heliospheric current sheet (Abs)
1982 C. Mazaudier Electric currents above Saint-Santin. I - Data (Abs)
1982 Y. Q. Hu;B. C. Low The energy of electric current sheets (Abs) (Text)
1982 D.P. Stern Electric currents and voltage drops along auroral field lines (Abs) (Text)
1986 D. S. Colburn; R. T. Reynolds Calculations of electric currents in Europa (Abs)
1998 Luiz C. Jafelice Current generation in extragalactic jets (Abs) (Text)


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