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Supernova remnant RJX1713.7-3946 with contours indicating gamma ray production.
Credit: JAXA/HESS Takaaki Tanaka

Nov 14, 2007

Cosmic Ray Guns

The "shock fronts" of exploding stars passing through gas clouds are said to create cosmic rays. Could electric discharges be a better explanation?

In the November 4, 2004, issue of Nature, NASA and a joint Japanese research team announced the discovery of gamma rays from supernova remnant RXJ1713.7-3946. The data introduced the first ever image created by analyzing the flashes of light produced by energetic photons impacting Earth's atmosphere. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS), a four telescope array in Namibia, detected Cerenkov radiation resulting from gamma ray collisions with nitrogen and oxygen atoms at altitudes of more than 20 kilometers.

When electrically charged particles move through space, they generate electromagnetic radiation (EMR) that is carried by photons. Should the particles accelerate to a high enough velocity, they will emit frequencies that we call gamma rays. In the supernova remnant cloud, ions are being accelerated so rapidly that they exceed the speed of light through the gas, leaving their high-energy photons (gamma rays) behind. This creates a magnetic "shockwave" in the gas that manifests itself as flashes of blue light called Cerenkov radiation.

Now, with new information provided by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Suzaku X-ray Satellite, the high-energy photons are theorized to be the signature of cosmic rays coming from the same sources.

Cosmic rays are ionized particles from fragmented atoms, leaving free electrons and positively charged nuclei. The majority of cosmic rays are single protons, but nuclei as heavy as uranium have been detected. As standard theory states, heavy particles are accelerated to relativistic velocities by unknown forces and then whipped out into the galaxy like a shotgun blast, scattering in every direction. Most cosmic rays are at low energy levels – less than one billion electron volts - so when they hit atoms in Earth's atmosphere they initiate small secondary showers of particles and are absorbed before they reach the ground.

RXJ1713.7-3946 was chosen for observation by the Japanese team because of the historical data from other resources, including the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared instruments, and because of the gamma ray discovery by HESS. Using Chandra's much higher resolution, isolated points of x-ray emission have also been seen within the cloud that rise in intensity and then fade away rather quickly. The magnetic fields have been calculated to be stronger than the current theory predicts.

According to Yasunobu Uchiyama of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

"Magnetic field strength lies at the heart of cosmic-ray acceleration theory. Previous estimates of magnetic fields in supernova remnants were based on indirect arguments. In our study, we determine the magnetic field in a direct manner."

Although the mention of magnetic fields and ionized gas has entered into the discussion of cosmic rays and their associated EMR, the connection between the theories and the data is tenuous. The theory does not identify the strong electric fields in sheaths around stars as the cause of cosmic ray acceleration.Rather the cause is said to be the compressive effect of "shockwaves bouncing particles around like pinballs" until they are sped up to their incredible velocities.

In the Electric Universe, there is another mechanism for cosmic ray production and that is the "exploding double layer". Irving Langmuir first described a double layer in 1929. It forms when electric current flows through plasma and is treated as a circuit element that dissipates energy. The flowing current multiplied by the voltage across the double layer determines the rate of dissipation.

Hannes Alfvén described a double layer as, "... 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."

At times, a double layer may actually cutoff the current flow in the circuit causing a catastrophic rise in voltage across the double layer. The powerful energy release of the "exploding double layer" is sometimes observed in power transmission switchyards when a circuit breaker is opened incorrectly.

Alfvén, in a NASA sponsored conference on double layers in astrophysics in 1986 (NASA CP 2469) said:

"Double layers in space should be classified as a new type of celestial object (one example is the double radio sources). It is tentatively suggested that x-ray and gamma ray bursts may be due to exploding double layers. In solar flares, DL's with voltages of 109 V or even more may occur, and in galactic phenomena, we may have voltages that are several orders of magnitude larger. Examples are given of possible galactic DL voltage differences of 10'2 V. This means that by a straightforward extrapolation of what we know from our cosmic neighborhood, we can derive acceleration mechanisms which brings us up in the energy region of cosmic radiation."

Thornhill, in a recent IEEE paper suggested (following Alfvén's prediction of double layers occurring above the Sun's poles) that the two smaller axial rings of Supernova 1987a are actually glowing double layer phenomena. In other words, supernovae are a catastrophic stellar electrical discharge. A hallmark of double layers is their variability, or flickering, which would match the observation that "isolated points of x-ray emission have also been seen within the cloud that rise in intensity and then fade away rather quickly."

Meanwhile astrophysicists, untrained in the physics of double layers, treat supernovae remnants as a problem in fluid dynamics, using mechanical shockwaves to provide the observed cosmic ray energies. It is an approach that Alfvén warned, more than half a century ago, is doomed to fail.

Hopefully, future missions will uncover more evidence that points to electricity in space as the cause for so many of the effects we see. Plasma is the first state of matter and makes up more than 99.99% of all that we observe in the universe. It is far past time that scientists actually look at what they see with critical eyes.

By Stephen smith

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The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe available now!


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In language designed for scientists and non-scientists alike, authors Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott show that even the greatest surprises of the space age are predictable patterns in an electric universe.

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David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
Steve Smith, Mel Acheson
  CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Michael Armstrong, Dwardu Cardona,
Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
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