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Old 18th December 2010, 06:48 PM   #947
Tim Thompson
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Lightbulb An Electric Sun Q&A

An Electric Sun Q&A

One of the annoying habits we see from some posters is an obvious assumption that any mention of the word "electric", or any variation thereof, is a strike against the mainstream theories, and a move towards some vague electric star hypothesis. But of course this is not true. The mainstream does not ignore electric field and electric currents. Rather, the mainstream simply tries to put electric fields and electric currents into their proper place in the overall physics of a star.

Since the arguments are spread over numerous threads and thousands of posted messages, I thought I would summarize my understanding of the situation all in one place, in a simple Q&A format.

Question: Do stars carry a net electric charge in standard theory?
Answer: Yes.
This has been pointed out before, but a lot is forgotten when arguments are spread over many long threads. In fact, we can go back to the dawn of modern stellar theory, and the book Internal Constitution of the Stars by Sir Arthur Eddington, published in 1926 and reprinted in 1930 (still in print via Dover Publications). Specifically, see page 272, section 191, "Electric Charge in the Interior". By combining the Boltzmann distribution for the energies of electrons & protons in a stellar interior with gravity, Eddington determined a charge deficiency of roughly 1 electron per million tons of matter. Applied to the Sun he determined that this would generate an electric field of about 6.3x10-8 Volts/cm and a total potential at the surface of about 4370 Volts. As Eddington points out, "Our provisional assumption that there is no appreciable separation of charges is thus verified." And a little later, "The electric force, which varies in proportion to gravity in the interior, is absurdly weak, but it stops any diffusion of electrons outwards."

The point made by Eddington, that there should be some separation of charges in the sun, is usually ignored in studies of the sun simply because the effect is, as Eddington said, "absurdly weak". So in the vast majority of applications studying the sun, or any other star, it is simply not worth bothering with. And it is easily overlooked in discussions such as this. We were reminded of this stellar behavior in more recent times, with an update on the physics, in the paper On the global electrostatic charge of stars (Astronomy and Astrophysics 372: 913-915, June 2001). I first pointed out this paper to electric sun advocates shortly after it was published. Curiously, since then, I have never yet seen an electric sun or electric star advocate be the one to introduce this paper into the conversation. It has always been introduced by critics such as myself, usually questioning why, if they are so interested and well informed about electricity and stars, they did not already know about this paper? His results lead to a net global charge for the Sun of about 77 Coulombs. At a distance of 1 AU (the average Sun-Earth distance) that should result in an electric field of about 3x10-11 Volts/meter (treating the Sun as a point charge, which is not exactly correct, but certainly a good enough approximation for this task). This too is absurdly small.

The net global charge on the Sun comes about because electrons, being rather less massive than protons, are more able to escape the sun as part of the solar wind. The net charge achieved is a result of the balance between the forces that eject the solar wind, which push electrons more efficiently then protons, and the attractive force on the electrons of the net positive charge that results. Equilibrium of these forces establishes the allowed net charge.

Question: Does standard theory recognize electric current flow in the Sun?
Answer: Yes.
Despite claims to the contrary, mainstream solar & stellar physics certainly does not ignore the presence of electrical current systems in the sun & stars. In the book Solar Astrophysics by Peter Foukal (Wiley-VCH, 2004; 2nd, revised edition) there are several descriptions of electric currents and electrostatic fields in the sun. Electric currents are described in the general photosphere & corona, and in connection with active regions (i.e., sunspots), as well as the solar/stellar interior. And of course there are numerous research papers in the journals that reflect the present state of the science (e.g., Grigoryev & Ermakova, 2002 and Abramenko, 2008 for the general photosphere; Spangler, 2007 in the corona; Feldman, 2002 for coronal & flare activity; Ji, et al., 2003 and Deng, et al., 2009 for flares and active regions). The study of electric currents flowing in the sun, by itself, is not a point that distinguishes between the standard theory of stars and the alternative electric Sun/star hypothesis.

Question: Where do stellar magnetic fields come from?
Answer: They are generated by the bulk motion of charged particles.
You note in my answer that I did not say "electric currents". We have a colloquial meaning in mind when we use the words "electric currents", and that meaning is embodied by the electric currents that flow in our household wiring and electronic technology. Those electrical currents are flows of charged particles where all of the particles in the flow have the same sign of electric charge (in this case, all are negatively charged electrons). That is what I meant by "electric currents" in my previous answer, and that is what the proponents of the electric Sun/star hypothesis mean when they use the same words. We must all now understand a critical point: While it is true that all electric currents, as defined here, will generate magnetic fields, it is not true that all magnetic fields must be generated by electric currents, as they are defined here.

I think that the failure to recognize this undeniable fact of physics is one of the critical weaknesses of the electric Sun/star hypothesis, at least as that hypothesis is presented to us here. The reason that the proponents of this alternative hypothesis so heavily overestimate the role of electric currents in the physics of the sun is that they wrongly think that the observed solar/stellar magnetic fields can only be generated by such pure electric currents as we understand the words in common usage. But in reality, such currents are not required. It is enough to have bulk motion of a plasma (a liquid or gas of charged rather than neutral particles) to generate magnetic fields. This is the root of dynamo theory, a well developed field of physics, which has its roots in the early 20th century. I discuss the history and physics of dynamo theory in my online article, On Creation Science and the Alleged Decay of the Earth's Magnetic Field. For our purposes we can consult the book Stellar Magnetism by Leon Mestel (Oxford University Press, 1999 & 2003). It is sufficient for now to realize that classical, household style electric currents are not required for the generation of solar/stellar magnetic fields.

Question: Is the "frozen flux" approximation valid?
Answer: Yes
Simply put, the frozen flux approximation tells us that if the energy density of a plasma is higher than the energy density of a magnetic field imposed on the plasma, then the magnetic field will tend to behave as if it is locked (or "frozen") to the plasma; as the plasma moves, it will tend to carry the magnetic field along with it. The greater the difference in energy densities, the greater the tendency of the magnetic field to act "frozen". It is important to plasma astrophysics to note that the converse is also true; if the energy density of the magnetic field is greater, then there will be a tendency for the plasma to behave as if it is locked to the magnetic field, and move with the field moves. In practical terms, there is a diffusion time scale that describes the relative motion between a plasma and the magnetic field. If that time scale is long compared to the time scale of your study, then for that study you can assume that the magnetic field is frozen to the plasma. It is important to recognize that this is an approximation and nobody thinks it is exactly true in all cases.

The proponents of the electric Sun/star hypothesis deny the validity of this fundamental process in plasma physics. But in doing so they offer no justification based on physics, only a fallacious claim that the discoverer of the "frozen flux" approximation, Hannes Alfven, later denied it. Bur he did not, arguing only that the approximation was being misused. Modern plasma physics has addressed Alfven's valid concerns, invalidating the argument presented by the proponents of the electric Sun/star.

Question: Is magnetic reconnection a valid physical process?
Answer: Yes.
We know that the impulsive release of energy in a flare event on the sun, or any other star, happens much too fast for magnetic induction to be responsible. On the other hand, magnetic reconnection will release large amounts of energy on impulsive time scales, as observed. I have already discussed magnetic reconnection in great detail over many posts, with sources. I will say here only that, once again, no justification in physics is offered by the proponents of the electric Sun/star hypothesis, only the claim that Alfven denied the validity of magnetic reconnection. In this case the claim is true, but now irrelevant. We now know that Alfven was wrong and that magnetic reconnection is a valid physical process both in theory and in laboratory practice. See my extensive posting on this issue, e.g., Electric Sun & Magnetic Reconnection V, Electric Sun & Magnetic Reconnection I, Comments on Magnetic Reconnection III, Comments on Magnetic Reconnection, Magnetic Reconnection Redux XIII, Magnetic Reconnection Redux XII, Magnetic Reconnection Redux XI and links found therein.

Question: What is the source of the energy that powers the Sun and stars?
Answer: Nuclear fusion in the stellar interior
Stellar nuclear physics is well developed and extensive field of study. See, for instance, the book Nuclear Physics of Stars by Christian Iliades (Wiley-VCH, 2007) or my webpage Solar Fusion and Neutrinos. Extreme versions of the electric Sun/star hypothesis suppose that the stars are powered by electric currents flowing into the Sun from outside. But that part of the hypothesis is trivially falsified by the observation that the alleged electric currents do not in fact exist. The energy generated by fusion reactions deep inside the Sun flows out through the Sun, the solar atmosphere, and eventually into deep space in the form of electromagnetic radiation and the solar wind.

There is literally a huge body of cross disciplinary science involved in the standard physics of the sun & stars; e.g., electromagnetism & plasma physics, thermodynamics & statistical mechanics, nuclear, atomic & quantum physics. These extensive disciplines work just fine to explain every single observed aspect of the sun & stars. By this I do not mean that we know everything there is to know. I do mean that there is no observed behavior of any star which we can say with confidence cannot be explained by any mainstream physics. So there is no valid justification for seeking an alternative model in the first place.
The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it. -- Bertrand Russell
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