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Credit: A. Zijlstra (UMIST) et al., ESA, NASA


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Electric Cosmos

The Universe

Plasma Cosmology

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Apr 26, 2005

NGC 6302: Bug Nebula

A hundred years ago astronomers assumed that any body larger than an asteroid would be
constrained by gravity to a spherical shape. But as telescopes got better, reality intruded.
Planetary nebulae in particular, now thought to be the final explosive stage of large stars,
fail to live up to spherical expectations. Over 60 years ago, Dr Charles Bruce, of the
Electrical Research Association in England, began to note the similarities between
planetary nebulae and electrical discharge phenomena. In this Hubble Telescope image of
the planetary nebula known as the Bug Nebula, you can see many examples of these
electrical characteristics. The overall shape is an hourglass, not a sphere. The central star
is hidden by a dark dust torus. The light of the star is rich in ultraviolet, one of the
signatures of electric discharge. And the shapes within the nebula mimic the twisted
filaments, spirals and pillars typical of electrical discharge in plasmas.

Plasmas in the lab form cellular structures separated by thin layers of opposite charge
called double layers. Does the same thing happen in nebulas? That's a tough question to
answer, because the only known way detect a double layer is to send a probe through it,
and nebulas are far beyond the reach of our spacecraft. But everywhere we've sent probes
in our solar system, we've found cellular structures separated by double layers, just as we
found in the plasma lab. We call these structures magnetospheres, magnetotails, bow
shocks, comet heads and tails.

Hannes Alfvén says, "... it is unpleasant to base far-reaching conclusions on the existence
of a structure which we cannot detect directly. But the alternative is to draw far-reaching
conclusions from the assumption that in distant regions, the plasmas have properties
which are drastically different from what they are in our own neighborhood. This is
obviously far more unpleasant ... " Although the answers are not yet known, Electric
Universe researchers begin by assuming that the behavior of plasma will be the same
whether you encounter it in the plasma lab or in a far-away stellar formation like the Bug
Nebula. And that assumption offers a whole new viewpoint for the universe we live in.

See related Pictures of the Day:

Oct 22, 2004 A Cosmic Egg
Sep 16, 2004 Crab Nebula

July 30, 2004 Cygnus Loop Nebula
Dec 24, 2004 On the Wings of a Butterfly

EXECUTIVE EDITORS: David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong, Dwardu Cardona,
Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
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