Friday, March 25, 2011

Every Manjack's an Astronomy Theoretician

What is it about certain sciences (like astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology) that draws the nuts and cranks out of the woodwork? In the past year, no fewer than five individuals who've no astronomy background, not even taking a single college course, have proffered five different theories for my reaction, consideration and assessment. In no case did any of these meet even basic requirements, including articulating a testable hypothesis, and making predictions based on it.

One example was a guy who postulated “Earth flares” or explosive eruptions similar to solar flares, but occurring on the Earth. As I pointed out to him:

Technically speaking one need not have magnetic reconnection to qualify for a flare. However, one would need to have at least a magnetic mirror system in place, according to one paper by Lennartson (in 'Planetary Science' , 1979). The paper, as I recall, showed that it is known, for example, that both magnetic mirrors and double layers are active simultaneously with the former presence necessarily leading to double layers in which a voltage drop is produced.

If the voltage drop is large enough, one can observe flare conditions. According to Alfven ('Cosmic Plasma', 1981), any double layers within region "separators" will explode before a saturation level of current is reached such that:

I_s = [V(b) – V(D)] / R

where V(b) = L(dI/dt) + RI

with L the inductance, and I the current, R the resistance and the flare power :

(P) = I V(D)

where V(D) is the voltage across the double layer. The problem with the Earth flare hypothesis is that it is impossible to see how a magnetic mirror system would operate for it, given the low altitudes at which the phenomenon appeared to be seen by the observer(s) you cite. No magnetic mirrors, no likely Earth flares! (Since no double layers would form to enable an explosive release independent of reconnection- and the mere existence of plasma is no signature for a flare.)

I then went on to press him to look more closely and specifically answer a number of direct questions about his "theory". I wrote:

You have still not proposed even a hypothesis to test this. What will the hypothesis be? How will you test it? What indicators for the test will show the phenomenon is an Earth flare? What observations will you require to support that? What observations will falsify it? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for an "Earth flare" to occur or exist?

Without all of these answers, all you really have to work with is a random (apparently) set of possibly unrelated phenomena.Your job now has to be to compile ALL the ancillary data and observations you believe are relevant and then:

1) perform statistical analyses (e.g. multiple regression or other) to show some kind of correlation between them, and then

2) construct a model (mathematical) that is capable of predicting when the next occurrence will manifest.

Right now, all you really have is a constellation of peculiar observations or anomalies to which you have attached some significance or physical meaning via intuition (for lack of a better word) but devoid of any formal measurements you yourself have performed.When you perform those measurements, or at least publish the photographs of the assorted phenomena (YOU have taken), I will be more inclined to take "Earth flares" as something substantive and not merely another UFO manifestation.

Again, 'UFO' is not intended as a putdown, but a simple statement of fact of what you actually have here, minus any compelling data of your own or photos, measurements. When I asked him to at least provide a basic model to show how an”Earth flare” inception might work, say similar to a solar flare model, he wrote:

I can't give you any models etc. I'm not that knowledgeable. I have never claimed to be well educated. I claimed i used reasoned speculation. Sometimes reason fly's in the face of education, while other times it's all we have

And I then replied:

Even if you can't provide a model, you should still be able to at least hypothesize based on observations-data that you yourself obtain. It is all very well to go back to historic sightings, magnetic records, but these still don't make the case that an entity such as an "Earth flare" really exists. As I pointed out in another answer, when one uses the term "flare" one means something specific in a context of rapid emission of energy. I noted that in every case for a genuine flare or what we understand by such, there is a MAGNETIC component to the actual energy release.

At minimum, even if magnetic reconnection is not present, there is a magnetic mirror system in place. (For double layers to form and be prominent in the energy discharge). Up to now, while you referred to historic observations of magnetic aberrations, you have not shown that the phenomenon you accept as an "Earth flare" has an actual magnetic aspect to its energy release. I don't dispute there are many ways that our existing knowledge is limited, but that does not mean one eschews the basics of solid hypothesizing and observations and simply jumps to conclusions. (Which to an extent you have done, i.e. in associating your phenomenon with a plasma when you have not validated this by any measurement.)

It is good you are trying to "reach out" with your experiences, and have them validated. And I think I have done so, at least to the extent of granting they are "somewhat reasonable speculations". But to make them reasonable (fully) you need to at least give necessary and sufficient conditions for the existence of the "flares" you claim can occur on Earth. Or, more concretely, what are the n-s conditions for them to operate in the Earth's atmosphere? Let's also be clear, that I never said your experiences "don't make sense".

I said that you haven't proven or demonstrated that they are consistent with what we know about actual flares. If you are going to have a more productive outcome, then I suggest you try to at least come up with your own observations, or - failing that- tie together all the observations and data you have collected- into at least a working hypothesis for an "Earth flare".

Until that time, they fall more or less into the category of more or less exotic UFOs. He never did get back to me, and I've no idea where his "Earth flare" idea went. Likely no where.

Then we had another clueless guy who insisted he had a "theory" of how stars form from other stars by ejecting (via “explosions’) the sufficient mass that can become a star. He wrote:

"I am of the (new) theory that Suns shed/eject/birth Suns. We now see a "sustainable size" Sun of ours which is only capable of Solar Flares and prominences. If, however, as it evolved and reached a maximum unsustainable size, it would have no choice but to shed/eject "a portion of itself intact." Wouldn't this be possible (and logical)?"

Because the question was way too vague and besides, there was no quantitative support, I asked him to expatiate within definite guidelines to weed out the ambiguity. I wrote:

There are actually serious problems with your proposal, not least of which is where the energy will come from to force an "ejection" on the scale you suggest. First, one of the more basic physical principles that applies is the Virial theorem, which is a cornerstone of all such major energy changes such as you propose. Briefly: According to the virial theorem:

2K + W = 0

for any spherical system in hydrostatic equilibrium, where K is the gas kinetic energy:

K = 3/2[y - 1] U

with y the ratio of specific heats (c_p/c_v) and U the internal energy while W is the gravitational potential energy. From this one can obtain the binding (or total energy) of a star as:

E(S) = K + W

Thus, in order to eject "another Sun" (effectively) you'd need energy on a scale equal to half the gravitational potential energy (e.g. W/2)or equal to the total energy of the star. In this case the remnant object (original or source star) wouldn't be able to sustain itself. Even a nominal ejected mass of 0.3 solar would -in order to escape a solar mass star- need a velocity of v= 300 m/s or a kinetic energy K' of nearly 2 x 10^34 J.

The final kinetic energy from the virial theorem would then be:

K(f) = K - K' so E(S) = K - K' + W , and dU ~ K'.

But one must account for the origin of such a large internal energy increase! Thus, it is preposterous that (already stable) Suns "eject suns" to get other suns. The energy simply isn't there (although I'd be willing to be open about this if you can show me quantitatively WHERE it would come from). Typically, it is the protostar phase at which initial mass (usually of the order of 0.0001- 0.001 solar masses is thrown off, accompanied by suitable transfer of angular momentum, which then forms a planetary system.

The comparison with ejecta from solar flares (and prominences, or CMEs, coronal mass ejections) is also egregious since there is no remote analog at all to the energy involved in those ejections vis-a-vis the scale of what you are proposing (essentially, another independent Sun).

Again, if you can show me some quantitative basis for your claim, I'd be much more willing to consider it as a serious theory. But right now, it is more a conjecture based more on qualitative perceptions, which aren't accurate. Keep in mind if you follow this up you need to show where the energy to detach an existing portion of a stable star is coming from.

Is it from a neighboring massive object passing very close by which then triggers tidal disruption or ejection? If internal, innate to the star itself, WHAT is the process, and how is the internal energy (U) affected in contributing to it? (See the link on the virial theorem). Then an element of mass (m) of the source star with mass M' accelerates at a rate MG(r- r')^2 toward the external ('intruding') mass M where r' is the distance of the element from the stellar center, and r is the distance from the stellar center to the influencing mass.

In order for the proposed stellar element to be pulled away from the source mas, you'd need the condition fulfilled:

MG{- 1/r^2 + 1 /(r - r')^2} >mG/r'^2

So the question of note is: WHAT agent do you have (flares don't cut it) that will produce the same result in a source star, and such that the mass element detached, m ~ 0.3 M' (about the minimum needed for a putative new star to fire up and attain its own equilibrium)? Instead of following up the development of his proposal along these lines, he grew defensive (as most cranks do) and wrote:

"Your statement: "Thus, it is preposterous that (already stable) Suns "eject suns" to get other suns. The energy simply isn't there.." What I am talking about is a small core of a newborn sun. It does not come from a "stable" sun. It comes from a growing and evolving sun in its stages BEFORE it ever becomes "stable."

As for WHERE (your caps) it would come from, the obvious answer would be from an explosion within the sun. (You may equate it to a volcano.) Solar flares are just a minute example of what a stable sun is capable of emitting."

But of course, this tells me nothing, nada as well as being contradictory. (And this is an object lesson for all wannabe astronomy theoreticians who've never taken an astronomy or even a physics course!) Anyone can say something like "there's an explosion like a volcano". But that is useles gibberish! Further the small core of a "newborn sun" is already under enormous gravitational weight (to allow fusion), and if newborn sun, then by definition, pressure -gravity balance must already have commenced, so it must already be stable in terms of hydrostatic equilibrium!

So how will the "new born" sun muster ample energy to overcome the gravitational force of all the overlying layers? No mere explosion will suffice, other than possibly a nova - but in that case all the outer layers would be blown off. Nor would these violently detached layers form a "new sun" as he thinks, but rather a planetary nebula like the Ring Nebula in Lyra. Thus, the issue is not relying on some vague words based on faulty perceptions, but actually quantifying how the source energy can be explained in a consistent manner! For example, one way solar flare energy (and origin) can be accounted for is via electrostatic double layers. (See earlier treatment in previous answer).

To fix ideas, on Nov. 5, 1980, one particular flare was found to have an onset electric current of magnitude, I_o= 2.7 x 10 ^10 A.

The GOES (1- 8 Å)Soft x-ray record shows the time duration is ~ 1000s, so the power available to the flare can be computed from:

P = I_o ^2 R = (2.7 x 10^ 10 A)^2 (0. 0047 Ohm) = 3.4 x 10 ^18 W

where the second factor is the flare associated resistance, R, obtained from D.S. Spicer's flare inductance analog relation:

dR/R = [dL/dt] (5 x 10^ 2) 1/dL = 3.3 x 10^ -7,

the rate of increase of resistance in the region given the current change. From this the ambient total resistance, R (=0. 0047 Ohm) is obtained from the circuit analog relation:

R = (rmr_s ^m-1)^1/m

where r_s is the singular surface (e.g. r_s= 0.1 r), and there are 100 tearing mode ’ islands’ spaced uniformly, This implies a flare energy, where P = 3.4 x 10 ^18 W was the flare power:

E_f = P t = (3.4 x 10 ^18 W) (10 ^3 s) = 3.4 x 10 ^21 J

Thus, the quantities in place were adequate to account for a small flare such as the event was recorded as. THIS is what I expected from the guy, but all he did was fall flat, finally ending with:

"Thank you for your input. Sorry to disturb you. The details of my theory are not for discussion. My theory was written in 2008. A follow-up document with mathematical figures is forthcoming. Thank you for your time but you did not answer any of my question. You first needed to know what I meant by certain words"

To which I delivered my final reply:

No, I didn't need to know what you meant by "certain words". Words are no use to me, zippo. What I wanted was to see the quantitative ballast to support what you claimed was a theory. You refuse to give those to me, saying your theory "isn't up for discussion" and you are still trying to work out the mathematical formalism. This tells me that it isn't yet clear in your own mind.

How can I possibly answer something when you refuse to provide me with the quantitative details that would make it physically plausible to me, and for which you don't even know yourself? (As Lord Kelvin once said, 'If a man can't quantify what he's talking about he isn't talking about anything')

When you have this all worked out, feel free to get back to me...or not..

I believe I may save this as a template for all the crank theories I receive in the future!

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