The magnetic tendrils of NGC 1275

By Phil Plait | August 20, 2008 12:42 pm

NGC 1275 is a weird galaxy. It’s a giant elliptical and sits at the center of the Perseus Cluster of galaxies; a kind of megalopolis of galaxies. It sports a gigantic black hole in its heart that belches out enormous bubbles of gas, which drag tendrils of cooler gas thousands of light years out from its core (yes, black holes can eject material as well as gobble it down).

The magnetic tendrils of NGC 1275

But these tendrils have been a problem for astronomers: they’re very narrow (only a couple of hundred light years wide), have masses a million of times that of the Sun, and should fall apart rapidly (they’re blasting out into hot gas which should disrupt them, they’re massive enough to collapse under their own weight to form stars, and tides from the galaxy itself should shred them). Yet they seem at least semi-stable, lasting for hundreds of millions of years. What holds them together?

Turns out it’s that old standby, magnetism. Recently released Hubble images (like the one above) have given astronomers insight into the structure of these tendrils. Hubble’s hi-res view shows details previously unseen in the tendrils, allowing astronomers a better view and the ability to determine the magnetic strengths needed to hold the tendrils together against the forces that would rend them asunder.

Magnetism is a very important topic in astrophysics (despite some pseudoscientists lying and saying this force is ignored), but it’s not well-understood. It’s fiendishly complex, so much so that it’s a joke in astronomy: when giving a colloquium about an astronomical object’s weird features, saying it’s due to magnetism will always get a chuckle out of an audience. And it’s a standard joke that if you want to derail a talk, ask the speaker about the effects of magnetism. In three dimensions, magnetism is ferociously difficult to model.

But these fantastic images of tendrils show that magnetism is still a major player in galactic dynamics, and if we want to understand the effects of this long-reaching force, we may need to get comfortable in its loving arms. Or tentacles.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (62)

  1. JHill

    It’s FSM, and he obeys the laws he created for the universe. What a consistent and loving creator.

  2. Helioprogenus

    I’m certain PZ’s going to take credit for this cephalopodian galaxy.

  3. Mmmm, suddenly I’m craving pasta

  4. All hail His Noodly Appendages!

  5. WJM

    That is TOTALLY scientific proof of the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In your face, Zoroastrianism!

  6. changcho

    Of course, the joke in astronomy is that when you don’t know what’s going on, you offer ‘magnetism’ as an explanation…

    It does remind one of FSM; it may be message from the creator itself! Pretty galaxy, though.

  7. BMcP

    Of course seeing some crazy galaxy like NGC 1275, my first question is, “does anything live there?”

  8. Corey

    You got the “ferociously difficult” part of magnetism correct.

    I just finished senior undergraduate electricity and magnetism (UH math / physics major here) and it does bend the brain.

    However… I am doggedly determined to continue with it until I have mastery. The secret to fusion energy for humanity is going mean we “need to get comfortable in its loving arms.”

    If we can get as sophisticated with magnetism as we are with some of the other previously-difficult physical phenomena that is now commonplace, we might open up a whole new era.

  9. I suppose it makes sense from the perspective that electromagnetism is generally a stronger force than gravity, at least that’s how I explain it to myself using my own limited knowledge. Still, what’s generating it? Or do we not know that yet?

  10. It looks like there’s spiral structure in the core of that elliptical. Maybe it’s a new elliptical and hasn’t shed it’s spiral roots yet… Magnetic chaos rules that roost, fer sher!

    ”image
    Rich in Charlottesville

  11. Mike

    If Halton Arp is right, these ‘tendrils’ are low mass objects ejected from the core , and created from the universal C-field.

    They must’ve been initially zero mass ejecta, ejected at the speed of light and that later gained mass by interacting with the universe (Mach’s principle)

  12. Bobby Thomas

    When I see pictures like this–from Hubble–not only am I dazzled, I’m stunned into humility when I try to fathom what all those points of light are.

  13. JHill,

    The New Scientist agrees with your assessment in their article on the matter entitled Galactic ‘spaghetti monster’ powered by magnetic fields

    A commenter there also bows to the visage of His Noodliness.

  14. IVAN3MAN:
    What am I doing wrong? I’m pwned by the HTML, not the other way around!
    :lol:
    Rich

  15. Diane

    I’m utterly baffled by this. Sorry for my utter ignorance, but what about these tendrils says “magnetism”? I’m not doubting the conclusion, but as an interested non-scientist, I would love to know how they got this info (as in AstronomyCast’s tag: “What [scientists] know and how [scientists] know what they know”)
    I’m certainly willing to do the self-learning, but what keywords should I use when googling besides “galactic tendrils”?

  16. kuhnigget

    Fantastic image! And great topic for a post, Phil. Stuff like this is why I love astronomy.

  17. Philip

    Phil,

    please, the black hole can not, never ever, eject material. (I know you know) Its against the law.
    By interacting with its environment, incoming material can be ejected out of the system.

    I do think it is important in reporting to keep this subtle difference clear. Especially since this interaction is extremely fascinating in itself.

  18. I have a question: will the possiblities of multiple dimensions help further our understanding of magnetism?

    I ask because of the way that the large hadron collider will have a chance to test the idea of multiple dimensions in terms of superstring theory and other various physics realms, so perhaps this may help with the modeling of magnetism.

  19. Daniel

    What about the possibility of dark matter? That seems to have made rounds for explanations about everything lately.

  20. Cool! I wonder how the magnetic field strength from those calculations would size up against measurements done with Faraday rotation along the line of site with the radio jets. Er, blobs. I guess it’s sort of blobby. Anyway, that’s also on different size scale.

    The Perseus cluster is preeeeeettyyyyyyy…..

  21. occam's comic

    “But these fantastic images of tendrils show that magnetism is still a major player in galactic dynamics, and if we want to understand the effects of this long-reaching force, we may need to get comfortable in its loving arms. Or tentacles.”

    A good place to start is with the basics: magnetic fields are created by electrical currents (moving charged particles) in this case, electric currents must extend for light years.
    Therefore they are not tendrils of gas extending for light years,
    they are bolts of electrically conductive plasma that extend for light years.

  22. This is cool beyond words, but I am with those who would want a little more detail as to the modeling problem that is so “fiendishly difficult.” That statement is unquestionably true, from what little I know about magnetism, but the devil is in the details, so more Satanism please.

    [That’s a joke BTW; it is not a request for a theological explanation of magnetism in 3D].

    As for the comment about black holes not ejecting anything, I think that is a reference to the complex effects that BH gravity can have outside the event horizon — i.e. in real space interacting with real objects, e.g. stars. Things can be ejected in those circumstances, but the scenarios as I understand them are quite complex and it takes a bit of exposition for the explanation to be plausible.

  23. Really beautiful! It’s like watching a magnetic field in action. Oh, it is?

    Make sure to click on the picture to go to the Hubble site, so you can zoom in the picture. Reminds me of exploring fractal images…

  24. madge

    Thanks for the new screensaver and all the info that goes with it. Astro pics can be awesome but so much more so when you know what you are looking at :)

  25. Nathan Myers

    If Phil were interested in being honest, he would say (1) that plasma scientists (not “pseudoscientists”) criticize astronomers (2) not for claiming magnetism plays no role, but for pretending that plasma fluid dynamics, electric fields, and electric currents play no role, in astronomical phenomena. Furthermore, he would (3) admit that astronomers, himself included, make every effort to avoid invoking electromagnetic effects if they can at all avoid it (they don’t like to be laughed at by other astronomers), to the extent that they (4) prefer to make up new physical phenomena from whole cloth, such as neutron stars and dark matter, rather than learning to apply known physics of plasmas. He would admit that if they (5) cannot explain an observation even using undemonstrable physics, they simply refuse to discuss it (e.g. the QSO in front of NGC 7319).

    But he’s not. Never let an astronomer who believes in neutron stars and dark matter pretend skepticism.

  26. I’m one of the authors of the paper. If you’re interested in seeing some more beautiful pictures of this object you can have a look at this website http://www-xray.ast.cam.ac.uk/papers/ngc1275/ This also has a copy of the paper so you can look at the physical details, and a movie of a recent talk about the results.

  27. The paper for this is now available on astro-ph!

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.2712

  28. occam's comic

    Hey Phil,
    Why is a neutral gas affected by magnetic fields?

    Are you sure you are not making the same mistake I called you on before: mistakenly calling plasma a gas?

  29. The link to the “pseudoscientists lying” actual says “Why Do Astrophysicists Ignore Electrical Phenomena”. So Liar! Liar! Pants on fire.

    And there is no gas around the Black Hole, it’s a plasma, so it’s no wonder that the effects of magnetisim are not well understood. But magnetism and its effects on plasma are well understood by plasma physicists. Hannes Alfven was describing the filamentation of astrophysical plasma by magnetic fields in 1960 (Arkiv för Fysik, 19:25)

  30. Nice post, Phil. But perhaps you should also add it to the category “pareidolia”.

  31. IVAN3MAN

    Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum:

    IVAN3MAN:
    What am I doing wrong? I’m pwned by the HTML, not the other way around!

    I have successfully posted the image (awaiting moderation) for you. It appears that the problem you were encountering was due to a “space” between the “<" tag and "img"; next time write it like this: "<img". (The small details are always the most annoying!)

    Furthermore, where it says "image name", you should write what that image is called. It's not essential, but it tells viewers what the image is called when they place the cursor over it.

  32. IVAN3MAN

    To Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum:

    ADDENDUM: I have successfully posted the image (awaiting moderation) for you. It appears that the problem you were encountering was due to a “space” between the “<” tag and “img”; next time write it with NO "space" between the "<" tag and "img". (My post above did not submit correctly due to the computer misinterpreting my initial example! It's always the little details that are the most annoying!)

    Furthermore, where it says “image name”, you should write what that image is called. It’s not essential, but it tells viewers what the image is called when they place the cursor over it.

  33. SJC

    Plait is also wrong again about a black hole being involved. Nobody has ever found a black hole because nobody has ever found the alleged tell-tale signatures of the black hole: (a) an infinitely dense point-mass singularity and (b) an event horizon, contrary to the routine claims of the astrophysicists and astronomers . This latest allegation by Plait is no different. Moreover, infinite density is forbidden by Special Relativity because infinite density implies infinite energy (or equivalently that a material body can acquire the speed of light in vacuum), which violates the fundamental postulates of Special Relativity. And since General Relativity cannot violate Special Relativity, it too necessarily forbids infinite density. Thus, the Theory of Relativity forbids infinitely dense point-mass singularities and hence forbids black holes. Also, the fundamental black hole is obtained from Ric = 0, with is a statement that there is no matter in the Universe. So the black hole can interact with nothing because no matter is present it the associated spacetime by definition. And since the ‘Principle of Superposition’ does not apply in Einstein’s theory, one cannot just insert lumps of matter into a given spacetime by a thoughtless analogy with Newton’s theory, in which the ‘Principle of Superposition’ applies. There are no known solutions to Einstein’s field equations for the interaction of two or more objects and there is no existence theorem by which it can be asserted that his theory even contains latent solutions for configurations of two or more objects. To date General Relativity has not been able to account for the simple experimental fact that two fixed objects will approach one another upon release. And it is easily proven that Einstein’s field equations violate the usual conservation of energy and momentum, and so if the usual conservation of energy and momentum is valid then Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is invalid. The experimental evidence is not with Einstein.

  34. SJC

    Plait is also wrong again about a black hole being involved. Nobody has ever found a black hole because nobody has ever found the alleged tell-tale signatures of the black hole: (a) an infinitely dense point-mass singularity and (b) an event horizon, contrary to the routine claims of the astrophysicists and astronomers . This latest allegation by Plait is no different. Moreover, infinite density is forbidden by Special Relativity because infinite density implies infinite energy (or equivalently that a material body can acquire the speed of light in vacuum), which violates the fundamental postulates of Special Relativity. And since General Relativity cannot violate Special Relativity, it too necessarily forbids infinite density. Thus, the Theory of Relativity forbids infinitely dense point-mass singularities and hence forbids black holes. Also, the fundamental black hole is obtained from Ric = 0, with is a statement that there is no matter in the Universe. So the black hole can interact with nothing because no matter is present it the associated spacetime by definition. And since the ‘Principle of Superposition’ does not apply in Einstein’s theory, one cannot just insert lumps of matter into a given spacetime by a thoughtless analogy with Newton’s theory, in which the ‘Principle of Superposition’ applies. There are no known solutions to Einstein’s field equations for the interaction of two or more objects and there is no existence theorem by which it can be asserted that his theory even contains latent solutions for configurations of two or more objects. To date General Relativity has not been able to account for the simple experimental fact that two fixed objects will approach one another upon release. And it is easily proven that Einstein’s field equations violate the usual conservation of energy and momentum, and so if the usual conservation of energy and momentum is valid then Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is invalid. The experimental evidence is not with Einstein.

  35. Rip

    Someone wake me up when we actually find a black hole… a real one, like direct observation. Dark matter and dark energy too. Until then, *YAWN*.

  36. IVAN3MAN

    occam’s comic:

    Hey Phil,
    Why is a neutral gas affected by magnetic fields?

    Are you sure you are not making the same mistake I called you on before: mistakenly calling plasma a gas?

    I am sure Dr. Phil Plait has better things to do — like, eh, cutting his toe nails! — than to reply to your comment, so I’ll do it for him.

    Plasma is an ionizied gas (See astrophysical plasma), in which a certain proportion of electrons are free, rather than being bound to an atom or molecule. Click on the link(s) and see for yourself!

  37. IVAN3MAN

    RE: The long-winded comment by SJC.

    1. What “experimental evidence is not with Einstein”?

    2. Where is the source of your ‘information’?

    3. The fact that you posted that pseudoscience jabberwocky of yours twice in the space of one minute, suggests to me that you simply copied and pasted the half-assed article from some pseudoscience web-site.

    Plait is also wrong again about a black hole being involved. Nobody has ever found a black hole because nobody has ever found the alleged tell-tale signatures of the black hole…

    4. Au contraire: http://cosmology.berkeley.edu/Education/BHfaq.html#q7

    This latest allegation by Plait is no different. Moreover, infinite density is forbidden by Special Relativity because infinite density…

    5. Experiments proving Special Relativity: http://tinyurl.com/6dqgst

    …it is easily proven that Einstein’s field equations violate the usual conservation of energy and momentum, and so if the usual conservation of energy and momentum is valid then Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is invalid.

    6. In general — it depends on what you mean by “energy”, and what you mean by “conservation”: http://tinyurl.com/yeow2v

    So stick your unsubstantiated pseudoscience up your Khyber Pass!

  38. occam's comic

    IVAN3MAN,
    I know the difference between a gas and a plasma, (plasma is called the 4th state of matter for a reason: it behaves differently than a gas).

    I think that it is reasonable to expect a scientist who is writing about science to use the correct terms. In this case Phil is again making the mistake of calling plasma a gas. A gas would not be affected by magnetic fields, but plasma would be.

  39. It seems my comment has not been posted for some reason… *Annoyance*

    Let’s try this again! I’ve removed the reference links, so the system doesn’t think it’s spam. *Grumble* Anyway, the source articles are pretty easy to find online. If nothing else, put a line or two into google in quotation marks and that should bring up the parent article right quickly.

    Original post (more-or-less):

    ———-

    What is so doggedly difficult about this Phil??

    Magnetism is predicated on electric currents. Period. Look it up. Such silly statements about magnetism being a terribly difficult problem to understand should be embarrassing.

    The only problem is that astronomers like yourself steadfastly refuse to acknowledge or talk about electric currents in space. Please get your scientific house in order in astronomy. Learn from a competent electrical engineer or a plasma physicist who knows what they’re talking about, and stop showing your ignorance of the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Or, better yet, LOOK IT UP!

    (From the hyperphysics site: Magnetic Field)

    “Magnetic fields are produced by electric currents, which can be macroscopic currents in wires, or microscopic currents associated with electrons in atomic orbits.”

    (From a NASA educational site: Magnetic Fields)

    “People not familiar with magnetism often view it as a somewhat mysterious property of specially treated iron or steel.”

    COMMENT: People not familiar with magnetism… Like astronomers, apparently? Phil Plait?

    “It is all related to electricity

    […]

    In 1821 Hans Christian Oersted in Denmark found, unexpectedly, that such an electric current caused a compass needle to move. An electric current produced a magnetic force!

    Andre-Marie Ampere in France soon unraveled the meaning. The fundamental nature of magnetism was not associated with magnetic poles or iron magnets, but with electric currents. The magnetic force was basically a force between electric currents”

    (From the World Health Organization site: What are electromagnetic fields?)

    “Electric fields are created by differences in voltage: the higher the voltage, the stronger will be the resultant field. Magnetic fields are created when electric current flows: the greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field … If current does flow, the strength of the magnetic field will vary with power consumption but the electric field strength will be constant.”

    (From Wikipedia: Electromagnetic field)

    “The electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects. It affects the behaviour of charged objects in the vicinity of the field.

    […]

    The field can be viewed as the combination of an electric field and a magnetic field. The electric field is produced by stationary charges, and the magnetic field by moving charges (currents); these two are often described as the sources of the field. The way in which charges and currents interact with the electromagnetic field is described by Maxwell’s equations and the Lorentz force law.”

    (From Wikipedia: Electric current)

    “Electric current produces a magnetic field. The magnetic field can be visualized as a pattern of circular field lines surrounding the wire.

    Electric current can be directly measured with a galvanometer, but this method involves breaking the circuit, which is sometimes inconvenient. Current can also be measured without breaking the circuit by detecting the magnetic field associated with the current.”

    You are now informed. Please speak in correct ELECTRICAL terms from now on, and stop mistaking cause and effect. Magnetic fields are diagnostic for electric currents. The strength of the magnetic field is directly dependent on the strength of the electric current. Statements to the contrary go against known laws of physics from Maxwell, Ampere, Lorentz, etc.

    Your ignorance is showing, Phil. And it’s ugly!

    Like it or not, the magnetic fields observed ubiquitously in space track back BY DEFINITION to source electric currents. Deal or no deal? I suggest you take the deal and switch to the light side (puns vaguely intended)…

    Regards,
    ~Michael

  40. I’ve got it now! There was a space after the first & second characters!
    I’m workin’ on it!
    NCG
    You can see the spiral structure now…
    Rich

  41. Occam’s Comic says:
    “But these fantastic images of tendrils show that magnetism is still a major player in galactic dynamics, and if we want to understand the effects of this long-reaching force, we may need to get comfortable in its loving arms. Or tentacles.”

    A good place to start is with the basics: magnetic fields are created by electrical currents (moving charged particles) in this case, electric currents must extend for light years.
    Therefore they are not tendrils of gas extending for light years, they are bolts of electrically conductive plasma that extend for light years.

    ———-

    Precisely my point above. Plait needs to get straight the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Then once he realizes magnetic fields are predicated on electric currents, perhaps he’ll realize that when we see “magnetic fields” doing things in the cosmos, we must consider what the electric current systems are that happen to be CREATING the magnetic fields we see. You can’t have one without the other Plait. It *IS* that simple.

    “Frozen in” field lines in plasma is an incorrect paradigm. As is “magnetic reconnection.” Both seek to deny or usurp the role electric currents play in science, as progenitors of magnetic fields.

    See the references above for the relationship between the two. I’d provide links, but that seems to get my posts flagged, moderated or deleted. So much for science, if one can’t even provide valid references when asked… *Grumble*

    In any event, have a good one. Maybe we’ll all have learned something today.

    Regards,
    ~Michael

  42. Well, apparently it will only let me post one link at a time. *Annoyance* Even then it’s moderated. Anything more than one apparently gets it tossed out, despite the links being valid references?

  43. Now I see Ivan’s already said that too! Thanks, Ivan!
    I’ll teach myself HTML if it’s the last thing I do!
    :lol:
    Rich

  44. IVAN3MAN

    You’re welcome!
    Practice makes perfect, man!
    :)
    Ivan

  45. Nathan Myers

    Ignorance is much like innocence. One can be relieved of it, and therefore forgiven it after it is lost.

    Phil hasn’t earned such indulgence. He must have taken undergraduate electromagnetics. Furthermore, he probably endured a unit of “magnetohydrodynamics”, in which, solely for the sake of mathematical tractability, one treats the electric field as everywhere zero, equivalent to assuming free space is infinitely conductive. Most astronomers have had this unit, and (judging by their behavior) credulously take it to describe reality. It’s a workable approximation for describing nuclear explosions, but little else. It’s the basis for describing those electromagnetic phenomenon that cannot successfully be denied or ignored as “magnetic”, and insisting that all plasma is just “hot gas”.

    Phil gives himself away when he describes the mathematics of magnetic fields as “fiendishly difficult”. This is the conventional description not of E-M field mathematics (which is more usually described as “starkly beautiful”), but of plasma fluid dynamics, which might more prosaically be described as simply intractable. While one cannot doubt that the younger Phil found undergraduate E-M “fiendishly difficult”, in the absence of free charged particles it amounts to classical newtonian dynamics. Plasma fluid dynamics, with its negative charge carriers three orders of magnitude lighter than its positive carriers, is full of so many instabilities as to make astronomers try to pretend it doesn’t exist at all.

    Pretending that plasma fluid dynamics doesn’t exist works when one is with other astronomers. Other astronomers will go along with making up “neutron stars” and “dark matter” to account for plasma phenomena. They will go along with pretending trillions of tons of plasma in motion can have no effect on anything, and need not be mentioned. They are in on the scam. That won’t work here. Phil will, instead, have to be careful to avoid calling any attention to plasma phenomena. That will be difficult, as everything visible except planets are made entirely of plasma, and there are plenty of plasma phenomena around the planets as well.

    Let no plasma-denying astronomer describe himself as a “skeptic”.

  46. Because Michael Gmirkin has repeated his “What is so doggedly difficult about this Phil??” comment from digg here, allow me to repeat my 2 cents here, too:

    Michael, of course you’re right in respect to the basics of EM fields you’re reffering to above, and in respect to lab experiments, dynamos, loudspeakers, motors, magnetic resonance imaging and particle accelerators, where we have controlled conditions, proved and tested manufacturing processes and, most importantly: free and arbitrary access to the machinery to do any measurements we want.

    In respect to EM fields of astronomical scale, all we have is photons. Starting from this “light residue” that we are detecting, “[it’s] fiendishly complex, so much so that it’s a joke in astronomy: when giving a colloquium about an astronomical object’s weird features, saying it’s due to magnetism will always get a chuckle out of an audience. And it’s a standard joke that if you want to derail a talk, ask the speaker about the effects of magnetism. In three dimensions, magnetism is ferociously difficult to model.” (maybe you should have added this part of Dr Plaits blog post immediatly following what you have quoted, Michael). So the problem with magnetic fields is not the basics, but the how and why on the cosmic scale, the interplay of EM fields and interstellar matter etc.

    Let’s also not forget the timescales involved: Here on Earth, we can just switch our machines on and off, directly witnessing the effects; the cycle of sunspot frequency on the sun we got down to 13 years, and again scientists have been observing them for quite long (details are afaik indeed not well understood, as is the fact that the corona is much hotter than the sun’s surface). Why is Saturn’s magnetic field so much weaker than Jupiter’s? Again the account of that can date back over 4 billion years, when our planets were forming.

    In case of the NGC 1275 galaxy in BA’s blog post, we neither have detailed models for the of the interaction of EM fields with “stuff” of that scale, nor it’s development over huge amounts of time — nor do we have any way of measuring, other than taking snapshots of the photons that are happening to reach us now from the Perseus cluster.

  47. For want of an Edit feature: apologies for the weird sentence structur, the typos and silly errors like “reffering” and “it’s”.

  48. Bob

    wouldn’t this tendril structure be a result of the other throw-away, catch all astronomical answer: a super-massive black hole, powered by dark matter spewing out dark energy in the form of dark magnetism.

  49. Seems Phil likes to post his garbage, but refuses to answer valid criticisms. Bad manners seem to go hand in hand with bad astronomy…

    Cheers, davesmith_au.

  50. Victor

    All you brilliant comedians confuse me. I thought I was looking at a supernovae remnant on line of sight with a more distant galaxy. Please educate me and let me know how you know it is a single object.

    Cheers, Victor (75 yrs and still trying to learn)

  51. DeiRenDopa

    @MichaelGMirkin: “Frozen in” field lines in plasma is an incorrect paradigm. As is “magnetic reconnection.” Both seek to deny or usurp the role electric currents play in science, as progenitors of magnetic fields.

    Er, sorry to have to break bad news to you, but you’ve been reading too much “Electric Universe” nonsense … in plasma physics you choose a representation (or simplification) that best suits your objectives, and as all plasma physics incorporates Maxwell’s equations (with relativistic add-ons, if necessary), no one is in any doubt as to the roles of magnetic fields and electric currents … except those who do not know their basic physics.

  52. Marnee

    “So the problem with magnetic fields is not the basics, but the how and why on the cosmic scale, the interplay of EM fields and interstellar matter etc.”

    No not really. This is only true if one holds the gravity premise (and even then not so much if one is familiar with relativistic jets). If one replaces one’s premise with electromagnetism (interacting with plasma and charged bodies, of course) as the dominant force, then one can logically recognize that these “tendrils” (amongst many other structures) are the results of electrodynamics in plasma. (I think the notion that plasma physics is infinitely scalable has been shown well enough.)

    I say check your premises!

  53. DeiRenDopa

    Marnee said: “If one replaces one’s premise with electromagnetism (interacting with plasma and charged bodies, of course) as the dominant force, then one can logically recognize that these “tendrils” (amongst many other structures) are the results of electrodynamics in plasma.”

    I guess you don’t mean to imply this, but it’s there in what you wrote: in sciences such as astrophysics, “logically recognizing” something is rather underwhelming, somewhat akin to ‘that cloud looks like a doggie’.

    The good news is that astronomical observations are, these days, fully quantitative, and estimates of things like the density, state of ionisation, strength and direction of magnetic field, and temperature of the “tendrils” can be made. From there, quite a few good MHD codes could be used to model the tendrils … but before that the kind of consistency checks reported in the Fabian et al. paper are well worth doing. Only after those checks have been done – and the plausibility of magnetic support for the filaments demonstrated quantitatively – does it make sense to dive deeper into detailed, MHD-based, models.

  54. Davidlpf

    I say to the electric universe people check your own premise, for electricty to produce an magnetic field the charged particles have to be moving, also the number of charged particles matter, fewer charged particles and slower the velocity of the particles lower the magnetic field.

  55. Mark Spann

    Note to Phil Plait :

    Please have the common courtesy to respond to your many critics who have consistently called on you to declare whether or not you accept the basic premise that ALL magnetism observed in space is, by definition, a product of electric currents in that space.

    Do you accept this basic tenet of Electromagetism, or do you deny it?

    Stand and deliver your answer sir.

  56. The author is in a bind. This website furthers the popularization of astronomy (a worthy goal). But electric currents in space divides the conventional astronomy ‘community’. Many in the ‘community’ still cling to the idea that “electric” currents do not exist in space. But others recognize Maxwell’s Equations, and other proofs that demonstrate the physical law: Electric currents cause magnetic fields.

    Therefore, if magnetic fields exist in space, then electric currents also exist in space by definition of physical law.

    This divides the atronomical ‘community’.

    If one is in the business of ‘popularizing’ a field of knowledge then one is most reluctant to acknowledge anything that divides the ‘community’.

    The popularizer can’t win — half the ‘community’ will end up distancing itself, either way, and badmouth the popularizer. Not the result a popularizer wants.

    Better to hunker down and weather the storm.

    But this dilemma should not be satifactory to searchers of the truth, i.e., matching theory with reality.

    In essence, it’s a political dilemma and not a scientific dilemma.

    Scientifically, the answer is irrefutable: Electric currents exist in space.

    (Although, there are people who will argue in the face of irrefutable evidence that electric currents don’t exist in space. Sadly, this only exposes their ignorance or cynicism and complicity.)

    And that, perhaps, is the biggest dilemma in astronomy, today. If astronomy is being held together by political considerations, such as group-think, rather than scientific compulsion, then the last thing you want to do is divide the ‘community’, lest the ‘community’ splinter into unreconcilable political factions.

    And another note that adds complexity to the whole painful situation:

    The hated Plasma Cosmology has been stating emphatically that electric currents exist in space for a century. Should conventional astronomy announce across the board that electric currents exist in space. That affirms a basic tenent of a hated rival school of astronomical interpretation.

    And many in conventional astronomy would rather suppress the “small truth” (electric currents in space) in order to preserve their “larger truth,” (“big bang”, “black hole” theory) as they see it.

    (It should be strongly pointed out, there are sincere folks that acknowledge electric currents in space, but maintain these are generated by black holes, and the big bang created, with it’s high temperatures and pressures, the charge seperation ubiquitous in space, today.)

    Because it’s simple: Once you admit that electric currents exist in space and that magnetic fields are only a result of electric currents, then the whole fabric of conventional astronomy begins to unravel.

    Conventional astronomy, protests not withstanding, does not have enough internal consistency and scientifically rigorous evidence to support itself when exposed to a coherent, encompassing alternative theory. One that encompasses and explains the dominant matter (99%) in the Universe: charged particle plasma.

    The mission to the popularizer, should he choose to accept it (“play Mission Impossible music please”), is to move astronomy to a foundation that encompasses what can’t be scientifically denied (electric current in space), but still holds together the basic tenents of the field (“big bang”, “black hole” theory).

    The strategy at this point in time seems to be this (only speculation): Place black holes on firmer scientific foundation. De-emphasize “dark matter” and “dark energy”. Don’t beat the drum for big bang, but then again, never disavow it, either.

    The danger: Those that won’t drop this insistence against ‘electric currents in space’ and the clear history of conventional astronomy.

    It’s a daunting task.

    It may, in the end, turn out like Soviet Communism. Mikhail Gorbachev knew he needed to reform Russian Communism from the inside or it would fail. But the internal inconsistencies were too great, any reform allowed the inconsistencies to be exposed to full examination, and it couldn’t survive that. So, in essence, Gorbachev was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

    Gorbachev ended up being a “scape goat” of history.

    Who wants to step up and take that task or role on for astronomy?

    So, the impasse stands unresolved.

    But, as long as the “impasse” stands unresolved, events will continue to come forth (scientific observations and measurements) that undermine and contradict the sterile notion that electromagnetic force has little influence in space and the ‘plausible denial’ with become increasingly threadbare (it’s pretty frayed right now) and the eventual collapse will be too mind numbing to contemplate.

    A dilemma, yes, but ultimately unavoidable.

    The longer one waits that harder it will be to solve.

    “Que up the Mission Impossible music.”

  57. JACQUES MEADE

    @ Anconda,

    B.I.O.Y.A.!

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