A Reuters news release dated January 3, 2008 reveals that Saturn (one of our large gaseous neighboring planets) has an unexpected feature: dueling hot spots at its poles. This unexpected news greeted astronomers reviewing the latest data beamed back by Cassini after surveying Saturn's north pole.
One might be inclined to ask why this could be an important discovery. An Australian physicist points out that this is interesting because it is a critical experiment with respect to competing predictions. What does that mean, you might ask? As will be revealed, it means that in 2005 predictions were made by competing models. Those predictions were polar opposites (no pun intended), and were the logical extensions of the competing models' scientific points of view.
As such, this new data gives us a chance to compare the predictive success of the competing models. As we should know, but some don't so it bears repeating, science seeks predictive ability. One of the end goals of science is to make models of the workings of reality sufficiently accurate that the results of any given interaction become predictable (given sufficient information ahead of time).
Let us now back up for a moment to put this new datum in context.
On February 4, 2005, Keck Observatory in Hawaii reported that they had imaged an anomalous hot spot at Saturn's south pole. It was not so much anomalous in that it existed. The south pole was facing the sun, and might be expected to be nominally hotter than the north pole. The anomaly was in the distribution of the hot spot.
The Keck Observatory press release stated:
The puzzle isn't that Saturn's south pole is warm; after all, it has been exposed to 15 years of continuous sunlight, having just reached its summer Solstice in late 2002. But both the distinct boundary of a warm polar vortex some 30 degrees latitude from the southern pole and a very hot "tip" right at the pole were completely unexpected.
"If the increased southern temperatures are solely the result of seasonality, then the temperature should increase gradually with increasing latitude, but it doesn't," added Dr. Orton. "We see that the temperature increases abruptly by several degrees near 70 degrees south and again at 87 degrees south."
The release went on to speculate that if seasonality were a factor in the polar vortex's hot spot, then perhaps an anomalously cold vortex would have been set up at the opposite [north] pole.
"One of the obvious questions is whether Saturn's north pole is anomalously cold and whether a cold polar vortex has been established there," added Dr. Orton. "This is a question that can only be answered by the Cassini's CIRS experiment in the near term, as this region can not be seen from Earth using ground-based instruments."
This expectation of one hot and one cold pole due to seasonality thus defined the standard model's prediction of what would be found at the north pole, if and when our technology (Cassini) enabled us to probe its secrets.
However, Australian physicist Wal Thornhill offered a different interpretation of the south polar hotspot. His interpretation rested upon what he considered to be well-understood foundational plasma physics and electrodynamics.
On February 5, 2005 (the day after Keck's press release), Thornhill released his own interpretation of the hot spot with a prediction that when astronomers probed the north pole they would find that, rather then being seasonally cold, it would bear a similar hot spot to the south pole (ostensibly ruling out seasonal variation as a factor).
An explanation of the electrodynamics of the Saturn polar hot spots can be found at his web site.
The [Keck] report states the "warm polar vortex at Saturn's south pole is the first to ever be discovered in the solar system." Keck researchers don't seem to have done their homework. Or maybe things that can't be explained get forgotten! Saturn's "warm polar vortex" is NOT "the first to ever be discovered." The Pioneer Venus Orbiter (PVO) discovered a warm "giant vortex of surprisingly complex structure and behaviour located in the middle atmosphere at the north pole of the planet, with a similar feature presumed to exist at the south pole also."
Just as was found in the very hot "tip" at the pole on Saturn, the polar vortex on Venus is the hottest spot in the planet's upper atmosphere!
Professor Fred Taylor of the of the University of Oxford Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department wrote about the Venusian polar vortex: "the absence of viable theories which can be tested, or in this case any theory at all, leaves us uncomfortably in doubt as to our basic ability to understand even gross features of planetary atmospheric circulations."
Thornhill's release continues, elucidating his assertion that electrodynamics must be taken into account, or the features will continue to remain "anomalous" for the foreseeable future:
This situation will not be changed until the electrical nature of the universe is acknowledged and scientists studying the solar system and deep space are appropriately trained. The Venusian polar dipole is immediately recognizable to a plasma cosmologist. But plasma cosmology is a paradigm only recently recognized by the electrical engineering fraternity of the IEEE. No university on Earth presents a course in the subject. Metaphysics is preferred in cosmology over sound engineering principles.
The Electric Universe takes plasma cosmology a step further in proposing that a star is primarily an electrical phenomenon, forming a focus within a galactic "glow discharge." Planets are minor "electrodes" within a stellar discharge envelope. The electrical energy is delivered to stars and planets in the manner of a simple Faraday motor.
It is obvious, looking at the diagram, that there is a concentrated current flow at the planet's poles. Plasma cosmologists explain that electric current is transferred over vast distances in space by cosmic current filaments. And the filaments tend to organize into "twisted pairs" according to the Biot-Savart force law. It is known as the principle of "doubleness" in current-conducting plasmas. It is intuitively pleasing to see that Nature uses this (well-known to electrical engineers) twisted pair arrangement of conductors to minimize losses. Such filament pairs are called "Birkeland currents."
So we should expect to see evidence of the twisted pair configuration at both poles of Venus, if the input current is sufficiently strong and this model is correct. And that is precisely what was discovered at the north pole of Venus. The two hot spots are the footprints of cosmic Birkeland currents. The Venusian polar dipole shows the precise configuration and motion of Birkeland current pairs in plasma discharge experiments. That includes a surrounding spiral vortex.
Returning to Saturn's polar very hot "tip", it should be found on closer inspection to exhibit a similar structure to the Venusian polar dipole. Its compactness is due to the electromagnetic pinch effect where it enters Saturn's atmosphere. The hot spot's behavior should be variable like that on Venus and correlated with the appearance of Saturn's ring spokes, which are a visible manifestation of a heightened equatorial discharge in that part of Saturn's Faraday motor circuit. The Electric Universe also predicts, experimentum crucis, that BOTH poles should be hot, not one hot and the other cold.
With a simple analogy to an electrical Faraday motor, Thornhill believes that the anomalies of Saturn's (and Venus') polar features can be readily explained. Furthermore, Thornhill asserts that the polar opposite position of his model to that of the Keck press release makes this a particularly critical experiment to validate his hypothesis.
In the sciences, an experimentum crucis , or critical experiment, is an experiment capable of decisively determining whether or not a particular hypothesis or theory is correct. In particular, such an experiment must typically be able to produce a predictable result that no established hypothesis or theory is capable of producing.
The production of such an experiment is considered necessary for a particular hypothesis or theory to be considered an established part of the body of scientific knowledge.
In some cases, a proposed theory can account for existing anomalous experimental results for which no other existing theory can furnish an explanation.
Thornhill asserts that his model's predictive ability will be better able to cope with the results of new data from Saturn's north pole. If so, these new data will be critical for gaining acceptance of his electrodynamic model.
Indeed, as the recent Reuters news release clearly states (and a NASA press release corroborates), a hot spot was discovered at the northern pole of Saturn catching researchers completely off-guard.
The Reuters story states:
Scientists already knew about a hot spot at Saturn's sunny south pole but data from the Cassini spacecraft now shows that the winter pole drenched in darkness also has a hot spot, said Nick Teanby, a planetary scientist, who worked on the study.
"With this Cassini mission we can also see the winter pole, which we are not able to see from Earth because of the tilt of the planet," said Teanby of the University of Oxford. "We didn't expect it to have a hot spot at the north."
The researchers were able to gauge different temperatures using the Cassini spacecraft's infrared spectrometer that measures the intensity of radiation emitted from Saturn's atmosphere. Cassini was launched in 1997 to examine Saturn.
Reconstructed images pinpointed the hot spot smack dab in the centre of the planet's north pole vortex, a swirling motion of high speed air traveling around the pole.
Scientists are now scrambling to understand what causes the pole of the planet facing away from the sun to develop a hot spot. The leading ad hoc theory involves a sinking cloud of gas being compressed and warming in the process.
The Reuters story continues:
Researchers said the southern hot spot was probably formed by the warm rays of the sun but added compressed air descending from the atmosphere best explained the newly-found hot spot on the north pole.
"We think it is due to air descending from higher in the atmosphere to lower in the atmosphere," Teanby said in a telephone interview. "The mass of air heats up as it's compressed -- like air in a bicycle pump."
Thornhill, however, believes that his electrodynamic model of the polar hot spots will inevitably prove to be a better fit with additional data that comes in. In addition, he believes that it is internally consistent with his interpretation of the Venusian double-eyed polar vortices which have astounded astronomers.
Some may wonder where the electrical input at the poles come from, if Thornhill's model is analogous to a Faraday motor?
This question can likely be easily resolved by referring back to the seminal works of the Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland who led an expedition to our own north pole to study the auroras. In his subsequently released books entitled Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition, he described both observations and subsequent electrodynamic laboratory work supporting his own prediction that the auroras were powered externally by thin, filamentary electric currents originating at the sun, which he hypothesized acted as a central electrode for the solar system.
Though his work was lauded abroad, it was not especially well received in England or America, where an electrically sterile concept of the universe has already gained a toe hold. Unfortunately, Birkeland's work was either lost or ignored for most of the 20th century, until satellites put into orbit in the 60s and 70s verified his model of flows of charged particles from the sun.
However, science sometimes has a short memory. Mercifully, a recent press release by NASA has re-verified Birkeland's work, almost exactly 100 years after it was published (coincidentally within a day of Birkeland's birthday)!
If Birkeland's work is accurate, as Thornhill believes it is, then the "wires" (so to speak) powering the Faraday motor at Saturn (and at Venus) consist of the threadlike filamentary Birkeland currents flowing through the conductive interplanetary light plasma.
If this electrodynamic interpretation of the sun and planets is verified and accepted by the scientific community, it may lead to exciting new vistas in understanding our local environment and predicting its behavior.
That predictive ability is extraordinarily important when considering other things as well, such as impulsive events at the surface of the sun (solar flare, coronal mass ejections, sunspots) that may endanger the personnel, equipment, and taxpayers' investment in the space program.
If these predictions and models are accurate, we cannot avoid at least considering them and their implications.