What is the electric universe?
Written by S Schirott
Open a standard textbook in astronomy and read the discussion of galaxies, stars, and planets. It will appear that gravity alone organized the cosmos and now keeps it running. We all know that electricity powers our lights runs our computers and, in an unleashed form, creates static shocks and awe-inspiring lightning bolts.
But for hundreds of years astronomers believed that across interplanetary, interstellar and intergalactic distances, only gravity could do the real work. Only gravity could gather clouds of gas and dust into a star or a planet. Only gravity could produce galaxies and massive clusters of galaxies.
The Electric Universe challenges this gravity-centric viewpoint.
Lightning is electric—like a welding arc. The Northern Lights are electric—like a neon sign. A sunny day is electric. We work and play in an electric field. We don’t think about it because we’re used to thinking only gravity is there. Space probes find electric features in comets, planets, stars, and galaxies. X-ray and radio telescopes find electric features connecting stars and galaxies. The Electric Universe is a way to begin thinking about all that electricity in the cosmos.
~Mel Acheson, Contributing Editor, Thunderbolts Picture of the Day
Though not replacing gravity, the Electric Universe adds the essential role of charged particles in motion. Charged particles fill all of space as electrically conductive plasma. Plasma behaves differently than gas. The Sun is plasma. Stars are plasma. Galaxies are plasma. The filaments of magnetized and radiating matter between stars and between galaxies are plasma. The isolated islands we once imagined in space do not exist. A web of electromagnetism connects planets, moons, stars and galaxies.
The movement of charged particles is an electric current. These currents give rise to pervasive magnetic fields and to high-energy electrical events. They power exploding stars and erupt as intensely energetic jets from galactic cores. Modern telescopes can now view these events at high resolution and across the full electromagnetic spectrum. Unexpected, elaborate structure has sprung to life in radio, infrared, ultraviolet, and X-ray wavelengths. These surprises of the space age call for a reexamination of long-held theories about how the universe works.
The EU is a growing body of fact and theoretical interpretation—a new perspective on the cosmos. The factual content comes primarily from space observations and laboratory experiments. In contrast, much of the gravity-centric view is based on mathematics. Gravity is relatively easy to model mathematically. But electricity in space is a much different matter, due to the complex interplay of electric currents and magnetic fields. It will not be mathematics that opens the door to the Electric Universe, so much as direct observations and experimental analogies. See Common Misconceptions 3, “Where’s the Math?”
Our subject in these pages is not just a theory, but a new paradigm. At every scale, the electric force plays a vital role. Its effects range from the most subtle interactions of subatomic particles to the immense alignments of galactic clusters.You can begin your personal investigation at either end of the scale, or anywhere in between. And wherever you begin, you’ll be surprised at how many of today’s scientific discoveries support this new view of the cosmos.
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