Local Interstellar Cloud and Galactic Superwave effects on the Earth

Illustration courtesy of Linda Huff  (American Scientist), Priscilla Frisch (U. Chicago)

The Local Interstellar Cloud.

Illustration courtesy of Linda Huff  (American Scientist), Priscilla Frisch (U. Chicago)

Though we may have already been inside what is known as the Local Interstellar Cloud for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, scientists have been discussing regional areas, aka “cloudlets”, of variable density that we may have entered into as recently as the 1990’s. For example, see this NASA story from Feb. 2002 or this NASA story from Jan 2003:

“Some of those cloudlets might be hundreds of times denser than the local fluff,” says Priscilla Frisch, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago who studies the local interstellar medium. “If we ran into one, it would compress the Sun’s magnetic field and allow more cosmic rays to penetrate the inner solar system, with unknown effects on climate and life.”

A collection of articles with brief summaries about this phenomenon may be found here: http://www.susanrennison.com/Joyfire_Interstellar_Cloud_Index.php

There seems to be a large overlap here with Dr. LaViolette’s theories about the galactic superwave and the chain-reaction effect it would have on the solar system, Sun, and Earth, with past events being recorded in the Earth’s polar ice core record.  A few questions come to mind:

  1. How likely is it that the solar system’s movement through these variable density clouds will affect the Sun and Earth in a way similar to how a superwave has done in the past? Do you have any general thoughts on the significance of the Local Interstellar Cloud and its cloudlets with respect to its effects on our solar system/Sun/Earth/human bodies/minds?  Is this a real danger to be concerned with?
  2. Would such an event inject extra-terrestrial dust sufficient to produce increased concentrationsof cosmic dust indicators similar to those you found in ice age polar ice core samples?
  3. Is it fair to say that possibly some of the evidence for elevated cosmic ray activity found in ice age ice core samples could be evidence for this kind of “compression” of the Sun’s heliosphere/magnetic field/etc. by these cloudlets?


I will try here to answer Matt’s questions.

a) Regarding the first question about the incursion of this approaching interstellar cloudlet.  First we must ask how close is it and when will it actually be coming into our solar system?  In this regard, if you check carefully the news announcements made by astronomer Priscilla Frisch, she does not say that such a cloudlet has actually been detected, only that there is a high likelihood that cloudlets may be embedded in the Local Interstellar Cloud (i.e., within the Local Fluff) which have gas densities hundreds of times higher than the Local Interstellar Cloud average.  This Local Fluff is said to be 30 light years wide and travelling past us at 28 km per second.  So at that rate we will be going through it for the next 300,000 years.  If then such a cloudlet were as  close as 1 to 2 light years away from us, at this rate it would take 10,000 to 20,000 years before it reached us.  I would say that such an arrival date is a bit down the road and that there are more serious things to be concerned with before that time, such as the impending arrival of a galactic superwave which I expect a very great likelihood will occur in the next few centuries.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict a superwave’s time of arrival through satellite observation since a superwave travels towards us at the speed of light.  Hence when it has arrived, that is when we will see it.

In regard to getting a fix on any such cloudlet, as I understand it, our current satellite and spacecraft observations are not well enough refined to detect anything of this sort with any kind of certainty.  The energized plasma ribbon discovered by IBEX which is positioned at the outer boundary of the heliopause is an entirely different phenomenon.  In my opinion there is no relation of this to any so called impacting cloudlet.  I believe the ribbon to be a stationary phenomenon associated with the heliopause shock region.  The reason why it is so energetic is that our solar system was impacted by an intense volley of cosmic rays as recently as 11,000 to 16,000 years ago, with a very minor event possibly having impacted around 5300 years ago just prior to the emergence of Egyptian civilization.

Others do consider the possibility that there may be a connection between the ribbon and energization by the impacting interstellar wind.  Dr. Frisch believes that this high energy band could be the first sign of any change brought about by an interstellar cloud entering the heliosphere.  She says that the energetic neutral atoms in the IBEX Ribbon derive their energy from energetic ions in the solar wind and outermost regions of the heliosphere, and adjacent interstellar space.  But we have no direct measurements of energetic ions beyond the heliopause.  So all this is open to question.

However, suppose we assume for the moment that there is an impending threat from such a cloudlet incursion.  Would the solar and climatic effects be like that of a superwave?   Well we can do some calculations to find out.  Given that the Local Fluff (LIC) has a density of ~0.1 hydrogen atoms/cm3.  Above it was suggested that an approaching cloudlet inclusion could have a density hundreds of times greater than that in the Local Interstellar Cloud, hence a density of say around 20 to 50 hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter.  In a recent personal communication with me, Dr. Frisch related that the gas density in a very tiny dust cloud could even reach as high as 1000 atoms/cc.  If we take this extreme example, we calculate a cloud density of around 1.5 X 10-21 grams/cm3.  An interstellar cloud incursion of this sort, I believe, would have a significant climatic effect and a significant solar effect.  But the most dangerous phase would likely last for several years, rather than for centuries or millennia as is often the case for the effects from a superwave.

I discussed a similar interstellar cloud incursion scenario in my 1983 PhD dissertation which is available in updated form on the Galactic Superwave CD at etheric.com.  Pages 94 – 96 of this dissertation, mention the 1950 paper by Fred Hoyle and Raymond Littleton which examined this scenario of climate effects resulting from the incursion of an interstellar cloud having a density of 10-21 g/cm3 advancing toward the solar system at 1 km/s.  They had proposed that energy released from the infall of this dust into the Sun would aggravate the Sun and increase its luminosity by up to 10% mostly in the ultraviolet.

The dense cloud that Frisch talks about as having an outside possibility of encounter with us would have had a gas density similar to the cloud that Hoyle and Littleton were considering but would be travelling almost 30 times faster.  So, there would be a far smaller chance that any of it would be swallowed by the Sun and cause a luminosity increase of the sort they consider.  Dr. Frisch related to me that astronomers today aren’t considering anymore the type of gas cloud encounter effect that Hoyle and Littleton discussed 60 years ago, that they are instead modeling the trajectory of today’s interstellar dust grains as they pass through the heliosphere.  They find that the smallest of the grains don’t make it in at all because the Lorentz force excludes these high charge-to-mass grains.  The largest grains are ‘gravitationally focused’ downwind of the Sun because of gravity and the relative Sun-cloud motion.  There aren’t very many of these large grains because their number falls off with size as a power law.

So we might expect a similar situation for the passage of the dense interstellar cloud we were considering above.  Because of its high velocity relative to the solar system (28 km/s), most of this gas would be gravitationally focused downwind of the Sun and hence would not become accreted by the Sun.  Hence any luminosity change would be quite minimal.  Hoyle’s cloud was moving very slow (1 km/s) and because of this the Sun would have accreted a very large quantity of its material.  In the case of this much faster cloud passage, let us suppose that the Sun accreted only 5% as much gas causing a solar luminosity increase of just 0.5%.  By comparison, solar luminosity normally varies by ±0.1% over the sunspot cycle.  So this proposed local interstellar cloud incursion would cause solar luminosity to increase around 5 fold over the amount that normally occurs during the course of a typical solar cycle.

But the fractional increase in UV would be much greater. We know that currently the solar UV is maximum at solar max due to increased solar flare activity at the solar cycle peak with the variation amounting to about 10% – 20% of the total irradiance variation, hence this UV change amounts to about a 0.01% change in solar luminosity.  Consequently, a 0.5% increase in UV of the sort expected from this hypothetical cloud encounter would cause an increase in UV 50 fold greater than occurs over the course of a solar cycle!  This begins to approach the UV excesses seen in a T Tauri flare star and could pose a serious hazard.

The luminosity increase from this cloud encounter would be much smaller in magnitude than the climatic impact I had considered in my dissertation for a superwave dust incursion event.  On page 96 of my dissertation I propose that the estimated cosmic dust influx that occurred during past ice age superwave encounters could have increased solar luminosity by 0.5% due to cosmic dust accretion by the Sun.  This is in the range of luminosity increase we estimated above for the approaching interstellar cloudlet.  However, in a superwave event I was noting that there would be a ten fold greater effect on the Earth’s radiation budget due to what I called the interplanetary hot house effect (light scattered from cosmic dust blown into the solar system by the superwave).  I had estimated a 5% increase in radiation to the Earth just from this effect.  Also I had indicated that there would have been a significant warming effect due to the reddening of the Sun’s spectrum caused by a dust cocoon that would have formed around the Sun, and also a cooling effect due to an increase in stratospheric dust concentration.

These cosmic dust effects, however, would be negligibly small in the case of an interstellar cloud incursion.  According to Dr. Frisch, about 1% of the mass of the cloud would be in the form of cosmic dust.  So in the case of the extremely dense cloud we discuss above, we are talking about a cosmic dust concentration of around  10-23 grams/cm3 invading the solar system.  This would cause about a 5 % increase of the present interplanetary dust concentration, which is rather insignificant.

So how much of a climatic effect would a 0.5 % increase in solar luminosity have on climate?   Scientists have searched for whether there may be a solar cycle climatic effect due to the ±0.1% variation in solar luminosity over the 11 year solar cycle.  Generally they find there to be no impact on global climate.  However, a recent study coming out of the Imperial College of London and Oxford has found that locally in Europe winter weather is affected, with winters being warmer at the time of a sunspot cycle peak (and solar cycle luminosity peak).  So far we haven’t seen this to be the case with the current solar cycle since the European winter has been particularly cold this year, but we will see what happens next year.  It is difficult to extrapolate for the case of this interstellar cloudlet, but definitely a 5 fold increase in solar luminosity from the solar cycle peak should make winters in Europe far warmer than we can remember.  Maybe good from the standpoint of saving on heating bills.  But I would expect there would also be some global effect with a luminosity increase this large.  It is likely that it would worsen the past global warming trend and also reverse the current climatic cooling trend that some associate with the recent general reduction in the Sun’s flaring activity.  This could accelerate polar melting with its associated sea level rise and could cause increased drought in the lower latitudes (e.g., Africa, southwestern U.S., etc.).

However, it is likely that this solar luminosity increase would not last for many years.  Solar flare activity is tied to matter infall to the Sun.  So we would expect that solar flare activity should dramatically increase and it might occur continuously, even during solar cycle minimum.  We could likely expect a repeat of the 1859 Carrington Event, which if such occurred it could wipe out all satellite communication, down the electrical power grid on a global scale, and injure electrical appliances, plunging society back to the horse and buggy days.  The U.S. National Research Council report warning of such a scenario is discussed here.

Also last year I published a paper demonstrating that the mass extinction of megafauna at the end of the ice age was likely due to extinction level solar proton events bombarding the Earth.  This is discussed in the following press release.  I don’t believe that the Sun would reach the level of activity that it had at the end of the ice age which is evident from NASA studies of lunar rocks.  The reason is that the superwave incursion proposed to have been occurring at that time would likely have surrounded the Sun with a dust shroud that would have reflected light back onto the Sun and greatly participated in aggravating the Sun’s level of flaring activity.  No such dense dust shroud would be present during the proposed cloudlet incursion.  But I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that the increase in solar activity associated with the proposed cloudlet incursion might produce a super solar flare of a size capable of producing a solar proton event of such large a magnitude.

If solar flare activity were to substantially increase, the increased solar cosmic ray bombardment would also cause increased destruction of the ozone layer.  The polar ozone holes would likely expand to lower latitudes.  A reduction in ozone protection coupled with a 50 fold increase in solar UV output would be disastrous.  People would have to put sun block on any time they go out and would have to carry an umbrella with them to shield the Sun.  Even if humans took precautions, when they ventured out into the Sun, would animals also take precautions and come out only at night?  What about livestock?  A large increase in the UV level could have a substantial impact on the food supply.  There would be some negative effect on plant life, but would not nearly be as significant a hazard as it would be for animal life.

The only good thing about the elevation of solar activity is that this would increase the force of the solar wind and expand the heliopause outward, thereby helping to force this cloudlet away so that it travels around the heliopause rather than through it.  So the effects of the cloudlet incursion would likely diminish after a few years as the Sun’s activity picked up.  Thereafter, some lower long-term equilibrium level would likely be reached between the Sun’s level of flare activity and the rate of cloudlet gas influx.  Currently, due to the lower than normal solar activity, the heliopause sheath is pushed in closer to the Sun.  So the solar system is currently more vulnerable to a cloudlet incursion.

b) Regarding your second question, to compare this prospective increase in interstellar dust influx with the increases that occurred during the ice age (estimated from  my analysis of Greenland polar ice), we would have to first know what is the cosmic dust concentration in this cloudlet.  Above we estimated that this cloud would have a cosmic dust density of around 10-23 grams/cm3 which is 5% of the current interplanetary dust density.  So incursion of the cloudlet dust would not come anywhere close to the scenarios I describe for a superwave arrival which would create dust concentrations over 1,000 times greater than what would be supplied by this cloudlet.

c) Regarding your third question, whether the evidence for elevated cosmic ray intensities recorded in the ice age portion of the polar ice record could have been due to past cloudlets compressing inward the heliopause, I don’t think that these could be attributed to cloudlet encounters.  I still think that galactic superwaves are the best explanation for these recurring beryllium-10 peaks found in the ice record.  It is a point of debate whether a compressed heliopause sheath is due to the impact of a cloudlet or simply to a reduction of outward solar wind pressure.  I think that it is mostly dependent on the latter.  Keep in mind that the heliopause is always impacted by the interstellar wind, whether a cloudlet is present or not, and its position on this upwind side is largely determined by a balance between the inward interstellar wind pressure and outward solar wind pressure.  The presence of an interstellar cloudlet could increase the inward pressure, but the other side of the equation is the level of solar activity.

I understand that some astronomers are presently alarmed to find that the outer boundary of the heliopause is as close as 1000 AU with the inner boundary at ~70 AU.  The  heliopause sheath would be far more compressed during a superwave arrival.  As I pointed out in my dissertation, during a superwave event, similar to those that appear to have occurred during the last ice age, the inner boundary of the heliopause sheath could have become so greatly compressed that its upwind side would have been positioned between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, hence around 3 AU.  This would have allowed easier entry of vaporized cosmic dust.

d) Just to add a few more things in regard to the first question.  A superwave event would pose a far greater climatic hazard to the Earth and humanity and far more prolonged compared to the hazard that this cloudlet encounter would pose.  The presence of this interstellar cloudlet could only worsen the effects that a superwave would have on our solar system since it would provide a greater supply of gas that could become blown into the solar system by the superwave.  Since the superwave would compress the heliopause to a far greater extent than would otherwise occur, this material would enter far more easily than it would in the absence of a superwave.

Some speculate whether military forces around the world have been planning for such an event and this is why they have been building vast underground facilities and fallout shelters.  A few places that come to mind are the facilities beneath the Denver airport, and many others are rumored to have been outfitted in the U.S.  I was personally told about an abandoned gold mine which has been outfitted with living space far below ground level with space being leased out to people with money.  The Norwegian government has been building a vast network of underground shelter facilities, or arks, as well as many other governments.  Project Camelot has an interesting page on this.  Some industrialists may also be in the know.  Richard Branson has built 90% of his Virgin Galactic New Mexico Spaceport underground.  See this AP news article and this LA Times article.  Many in the area had wondered why so much of his construction was being built underground considering that land in the area is comparably inexpensive.  Could the CEO have been tipped off about the possible occurrence of a future catastrophic event?

So the question that arises is whether all of this may have been inspired from fears about this incoming interstellar cloudlet and kept secret so as not to cause financial panic.  By as early as 1963, the U.S. military reportedly had deployed satellites around all the inner planets and a few of the more distant outer planets at a time when NASA had only just announced sending a spacecraft to Venus; see Secrets of Antigravity Propulsion, page 396.  The military has always been several steps ahead of NASA in solar system surveillance.  Have they known about this cloudlet coming and have they for a long time been making preparations?  Could they have access to information that is presently unavailable to the astronomical community?  Or could it be they are preparing for a superwave arrival rather than an interstellar cloudlet arrival?  This is left to speculation.

Dr. Frisch has told me that our knowledge of the local interstellar environment is continuously increasing.  She says that we are getting more and better data on the Local Fluff, including high spectral-resolution Hubble Space Telescope data and measurements of the interstellar magnetic field in the Local Fluff.  She feels that if there is a tiny dense cloud within 30 lightyears, we might be able to figure out a way to identify it in the next several years.  Of course, even if such a cloud were at our doorstep, say 140 astronomical units (AU) away, we would have plenty of time before it arrived.  At the current 28 km/s velocity such a cloud would move about 5.7 AU per year.  So we would have 25 years before it reached Earth’s orbit at 1 AU.

Finally, some who are outside of the astronomical community and presumably are not themselves scientists, believe that the Local Interstellar Cloud may be hiding a planet X or brown dwarf that is approaching the solar system.  I find this totally implausible.  For one thing the amount of dust between us and the far end of this local fluff is so insignificant that it would not obscure such bodies.  Furthermore if such a body were present it would have to be detected with an infrared telescope since the intrinsic temperature of a brown dwarf or planet drifting through interstellar space that far from our Sun will be no more than 120° above absolute zero (i.e., minus 150° C).  Such objects can only be detected at infrared wavelengths in the range of 2 to 50 microns and such wavelengths are not affected by dust.  They go right through completely unattenuated.  In addition, the amount of obscuration is very low even at visible wavelengths.  If we were to suppose that this presumed planet were 1 light year away, the dust column density obscuring it would be only 10-8 g/cm2 which is 1000 times less than the amount of dust between us and the Galactic center.

Paul LaViolette March 2, 2012

Spiral 0313-192: The Right Kind of Galaxy

Spiral galaxy 0313-192 with its radio continuum lobes superimposed

The NASA website, in 2003, announced the discovery of radio lobes being found around the edge on spiral galaxy 0313-192.  They claimed that this was “the wrong kind of galaxy” for such radio lobe features to be seen in, noting that radio lobes are normally instead seen in giant elliptical galaxies.

I would counter this by saying, “No, this is the right kind of galaxy in which to expect to see radio lobes.”  In fact, back in 1983, in chapter 2 of my Ph.D. dissertation I pointed out that on occasion one should expect to see radio lobes around edge-on spirals extending approximately perpendicular to their galactic plane.  For those who have not had the opportunity, I recommend reading this reference which currently is available in expanded and updated form as the book Galactic Superwaves and their Impact on the Earth.  A brief explanation is also given in Appendix B of my book Earth Under Fire.

In my thesis I had taken the example of Centaurus A.  There I pointed out that Centaurus A is actually an edge-on spiral galaxy that has an ellipsoidal appearance because its high latitude gas is scattering visible emission from the core which is not seen at the galaxy’s equator due to the light attenuating effects of its edge on “spiral arm” dust lane.

Centaurus A with its inner radio lobes superimposed

Centaurus A is the nearest galaxy to us which is observed to have an active galactic nucleus.  The reason why we see it surrounded by light is because its nucleus is currently seen in its active state, as verified by the intense gamma and x-ray emission coming from its core.  When its core activity shuts off, this galaxy will once again appear as an edge on spiral galaxy having little or no activity at its core.  However, the cosmic rays forming its radio lobes will nevertheless continue propagating outward from the core beaming their synchrotron radio emission in our direction, just as galaxy 0313-192 is doing.  Thus 0313-192 would be an example of a spiral galaxy whose core Seyfert activity has recently shut off.  Evidence that this radio emission was associated with its core can be seen in this blow up image which shows a radio emission jet emanating from the galaxy’s core.

Close up of edge-on spiral galaxy 0313-192 showing a radio emission jet coming from its core.

Radio lobes are also seen flanking the edge-on spiral galaxy M82 seen below.

Edge-on spiral galaxy M82. The red lobes extended above and below its plane are radio emission lobes.

So, the discovery of spiral radio galaxy 0313-192, showing evidence of past cosmic ray emission from its core, is far from unexpected.  It in fact confirms the evolution sequence I had posited in 1983 where an edge-on active galaxy would evolve from a giant elliptical form to an edge-on spiral form as its core activity subsided.

For more information about this confirmed prediction and why an edge-on spiral galaxy would generate radio lobes in this fashion, see the above two cited books.

Paul LaViolette

Update on gamma/X-ray source GRB 110328A: Still active

The X-ray flux graph below shows the latest update for gamma/x-ray source GRB 110328A (J164449.3+573451).

X-ray flux for source J164449.3+573451

The average x-ray luminosity during its first day (up to s = 104 seconds) was estimated to be 2.5 X 1047 ergs/s (see earlier posting) source Almeida and De Angelis.  Since then, seven and a half months have elapsed and its intensity has declined about 30 fold.  So its luminosity can now be stated to average around 1046 ergs/s.

This is still in the energy range of a quasar, quasars typically having luminosities in this part of the x-ray spectrum ranging from 1043 to >1047 ergs.  To counter an opinion posted in August on physorg, this point should be further clarified.  One person claimed that I was overstating to term this source a quasar having an x-ray luminosity at the upper end of the quasar luminosity range.  I still stand by this.  To give a reference published in Monthly NoticesJames Reeves and Martin Turner (2008) state on page 5 of their paper that the quasar x-ray luminosity extends from “1041 erg/s for the least luminous Seyfert 1 to ~1047 ergs/s for the most luminous quasars.”  The intensity of GRB 110328A has declined considerably from what it was during its first day, but still at 1046 ergs/s it should rate as a moderately strong quasar.

Also the criticism was aired that the the high energy spectrum for this source does not match that of a quasistellar object.  In fact, Bloom et al. (2011) compare the emission of GRB 110328A to that of a blazar which is a particular kind of quasar.  So, again my original claim still stands.

The main point to consider is that this source is still active now after seven and a half months.  Almeida and De Angelis who first proposed that this was a black hole snacking on a star predicted that the source should fade out after at most a few months.  Indeed, its intensity is dimishing, but it has now lasted more than three times longer than what the snack theory had expected and is still going strong as a moderately luminous quasar.  I think it is time that the black hole snack theorists should admit defeat.  Invoking a repeating series of ongoing snacks also seems far fetched considering that this source is emitting a wind of relativistic particles.  Also, in August 2011 the radio-emitting region was reported to be expanding at half the speed of light implying a rapid matter outflow from the source.

The power source for quasars remains a mystery in conventional astrophysics given its inability to explain how matter would accrete against the force of such a wind.  To date the only feasible explanation is that proposed over 25 years ago by the subquantum kinetics physics methodology.

Paul LaViolette

Crab pulsar beams most energetic gamma rays ever detected from a pulsar

The Crab Nebula in the constellation of Taurus

On October 5, 2011, an international collaboration of astrophysicists announced that they had detected pulsed gamma ray emission from the Crab pulsar having the same period as the Crab pulsar.  Using the VERITAS Cherenkov telescope array in Arizona, they detected gamma ray energies in the range of 100 – 400 billion electron volts, higher than anything previously observed from a pulsar and so energetic that current pulsar cosmic ray acceleration models fail to explain it.


Earlier this year, astronomers announced that they had detected a gamma ray flare from the Crab Nebula that was produced by cosmic ray electrons having energies of up to 10 quadrillion electron volts.  See story at: http://starburstfound.org/superwaveblog/?p=75.  This is 100,000 times greater than the gamma ray energies observed to come from the Crab pulsar.  A conservative estimate would place the particle energies involved in producing the Crab Nebula flare as being several orders of magnitude higher than the particle energies inferred from the pulsar’s gamma emission.  So as concluded earlier, it is unlikely that the Crab pulsar is responsible for the Crab Nebula’s gamma emission.

Changes in the angular size of the Crab pulsar

Related to the earlier posting about the gamma ray flare observed in the Crab remnant, it is worth mentioning the findings of astronomer A. G. F. Brown published in 1976: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1976MNRAS.176P..53B

Brown made interplanetary scintillation observations of the Crab pulsar at a radio frequency of 81.5 MHz and found that over a four year period between 1971 and 1975 the angular diameter of the Crab pulsar radio source increased over three fold from 0.2±0.1″ of arc to 0.7±0.1″ of arc.  The angular diameter of a pulsar’s radio image is determined by the amount of scattering its radio signal experiences as it encounters electrons in the interstellar medium.  A larger radio image diameter implies greater scattering which in turn implies greater interstellar electron concentration.  Brown ruled out changes in the solar plasma as being responsible for the change.  He also finds it unlikely that it is caused by changes in scattering in the immediate vicinity of the pulsar.

I would suggest that these changes in interstellar medium scattering are produced by the superwave that is now passing through the Crab nebula’s vicinity and which can change the electron density encountered along the line of sight to the Crab pulsar.

Explaining the ring-like waves of X-ray emission around the Crab pulsar

X-ray map of the inner portion of the Crab Nebula.

Credit: NASA/CXC/MSFC/M.Weisskopf et al & A.Hobart

Click below to view video

In a recent comment, gmagee inquired about the rings of X-ray emission that are seen to be expanding away from the Crab pulsar and whether this activity might be more likely interpreted as being intrinsic to the pulsar wind rather than to an impacting galactic cosmic ray volley.  This ring motion was reported in the news today, one story appearing in PhysOrg (http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-crab-nebula-action-case-dog.html).
In answer to this question, I would respond, no.  The expanding ring of emission is most likely produced by the superwave, not by the Crab pulsar.  Much of the misconception on interpreting this phenomenon concerns the all too common belief that the Crab pulsar lies near the geometrical center of the Crab Nebula.  This misconception is perpetuated not only in technical papers but in media news reports such as the above cited report.  To the contrary, as I had proposed in chapter 5 of my 1983 Ph.D. dissertation (see in particular pp. 179 – 180 of the dissertation update), a careful analysis of the kinematics of the Crab pulsar and of the high velocity filaments traveling outward from the explosion center shows that the Crab pulsar is most likely situated at the forefront of the Nebula (4 – 5 light years from the center) and is traveling almost directly towards us at ~1500 km/s (2° angle deviation from our line of sight).  Only when viewed in projection from our vantage point does it “appear” to lie at the geometrical center of the Nebula.  I would rather not go into the details of this explanation here since it is rather extensive, but refer readers to my dissertation.  Also the peripheral nebular placement of the Crab pulsar is to a much less extent dealt with on page 74 of Decoding the Message of the Pulsars.  Other reasons why the pulsar is not the source of the cosmic rays energizing the Crab Nebula are given in my dissertation, in my 1987 Earth, Moon, and Planets paper, and in chapter 10 of my book Earth Under Fire.

This high velocity scenario I am proposing suggests either that 1) the Crab supernova explosion was asymmetrical in such a manner as to eject its central neutron star outward in our direction, or 2) that the Crab neutron star progenitor was part of a close binary and that its partner star destroyed itself in the explosion and simultaneously ejected and propelled its neutron star partner outward along the pulsar’s current trajectory.  Examples of such hyperfast pulsars are PSR B1508+55 and B1757-24.  An example of B1757-24 is shown in the image below.  If this were the Crab pulsar, we would be far off to the right viewing the pulsar and its nebula face on.

Pulsar B1757-24 in the constellation of Sagittarius

As I pointed out 28 years ago in my dissertation, an impacting superwave would create a bow shock region around the Crab pulsar.  Hence waves of superwave cosmic rays hitting this shock region, travelling way from us into the plane of the sky at the Crab location, would give the appearance to us of concentric rings of X-ray emission expanding away from the Crab pulsar as they proceded in the anticenter direction to the rear of the pulsar.  The shock front generating these moving X-ray rings (in the vicinity of the Nebula’s luminous wisps) may not necessarily correspond with the shock region that I have suggested is responsible for producing the gamma ray synchrotron emission flares.  There may be several such emission nodes in the supernova shell that would be emitting high energy radiation.  But they may not necessarily all be at the same distance relative to a given cosmic ray front in the superwave.  So although the Crab pulsar X-ray rings and the gamma ray flares are both being energized by superwave cosmic rays, they would not necessarily be impacted simultaneously by a given front.  This would explain why no correlative results are seen for the two emission phenomena.

[I would like to point out here that in giving the above explanation I am not constructing a model a posteriori to  fit the data.  My model was proposed 28 years ago and I see no reason to change it.  I am simply explaining how this apriori proposed model would produce the observed results.  In short, findings which astronomers say seem very mysterious, are seen not really to be that mysterious after all.]

Viewing coherent gamma synchrotron emission from the Crab Nebula

In a comment to the previous posting, gmagee has asked why a superwave hitting the entire remnant would  cause us to see a flare, given that the remnant is many light years in size.  He wonders why the emission due to a brief rise in superwave cosmic ray intensity would not average out over the entire remnant, thus preventing us from seeing an intensity change lasting only a few days.

The reason is that we are seeing gamma radiation from a very small area of the Nebula.  We don’t see the majority of the gamma ray emission radiated by the entire Nebula during a gamma ray flare; we only see the gamma emission that is directed precisely in our direction.  In other words, this gamma emission is coherent synchrotron emission, rather than incoherent synchrotron emission.  Consider that the cosmic rays producing this gamma emission are normally considered to have energies of between 1015 to 1016 ev.  This means that the cosmic ray electrons have Lorentz factors (γ) of between 109 and 1010.  Electrons of such high energy beam their gamma synchrotron emission in a narrow cone in the forward direction of their travel where the cone aperture has a half diameter of: θ =  1/γ radians = 10-9 – 10-10 radians.  This equals just 0.2 to 0.02 milliarc seconds!  So when these gamma rays are orbit around magnetic field lines encountered in the Crab’s magnetized plasma sheath, they will beam their radiation in a very limited direction which we will see only when those electrons are aimed towards us in their gyration orbit.  A deviation of more than this angle and their radiation will be entirely invisible to us.  The actual radiation cone that will be beamed out will be wider than this because the superwave cosmic rays impacting the Nebula will have some degree of angular dispersion.  Let us say that the incident volley has an angular variation of 1 degree of arc.  Then cosmic ray electrons spiralling around Nebula field lines a short distance away which beam their radiation, let us say two degrees away from our line of sight will be totally invisible to us.
If you calculate the depth of the Nebula in the line of site (considering that the superwave cosmic rays are travelling away from us toward the Galactic anticenter) then this calculates to d = r (1 – cos θ), where r = 4 light years, the approximate radius of the Nebula.  For θ = 1 degree this calculates to 0.0006 ly, or a depth of 0.2 light days.  So variations in cosmic ray intensity lasting 1 light day or more should certainly be reflected in gamma ray intensity variations of comparable duration.

In 1977 W. Kundt wrote that the incoherent synchrotron emission can only account for ~1% of the optical luminosity in the Crab Nebula’s wisp region and neither can it account for the 1% fraction of the optical emission which is circularly polarized.  This led him to propose that the Crab Nebula was being energized by a cosmic ray “beam” that was producing coherent synchrotron emission, the mechanism we are proposing above.  In particular, he proposed that the emission was being produced by stimulated synchro-Compton emission being beamed toward the observer.  As I pointed out in 1983 (p.177 – 179 of my Ph.d. dissertation), this emission is most likely stimulated by superwave cosmic rays propagating along our line of sight toward the Galactic anticenter and impacting the Crab Nebula.  The pulsar is an unlikely origin for the beamed emission comiing from the wisps since the vector from the pulsar to the wisps makes a large angle with respect to our line of sight.  The superwave source is left as the more plausible alternative.

Kundt, W. “The Wisps in the Crab Nebula: A Cosmic Laser?” Astronomy and Astrophysics 60 (1977):L19.


Crab Nebula flares again

Update to our previous posting about gamma ray flares being observed from the Crab Nebula, ongoing evidence that the nebula is being impacted by superwave cosmic ray electrons.

The Crab Nebula in the constellation of Taurus

BBC News story
PhysOrg.com news story

On April 12th, 2011, the Crab Nebula emitted a gamma ray flare lasting six days that was five times more intense than any of the others that were previously observed and 30 times brighter than the nebula’s normal gamma ray intensity.  On April 16th an even brighter flare occurred but faded out over a period of two days.

As stated in the previous post, I had predicted this high energy variability of the Crab Nebula almost 30 years ago in my Ph.d dissertation and in a subsequent 1987 journal publication.  It is only recently with the launching of the Swift gamma ray telescope that regular measurements of the Crab Nebula at gamma ray frequencies have been made possible.  As I proposed then, the Crab Nebula’s unusually strong luminosity does not originate from its associated neutron star but from a volley of galactic cosmic rays that are striking it face on.  Since this volley can change its intensity quite rapidly, so too the intensity of the Crab Nebula’s emission will change in step.  This would be most noticeable at gamma ray frequencies since the very high energy cosmic rays producing the gamma synchrotron radiation lose their energy quite rapidly, hence intensity changes become more noticeable than at, for example, optical frequencies where the lower energy cosmic rays have lifetimes of many years and hence smooth out any flare activity.

Current claims that the flares are attributable to the Crab’s neutron star are entirely off the mark.  In fact, there is no evidence of any correlated activity in the immediate vicinity of the Crab pulsar.  For example, NASA scientist Martin Weisskopf who was part of a team observing the pulsar with the Chandra X-ray telescope is quoted as stating:

 “Thanks to the Fermi alert, we were fortunate that our planned observations actually occurred when the flares were brightest in gamma rays,” Weisskopf said. “Despite Chandra’s excellent resolution, we detected no obvious changes in the X-ray structures in the nebula and surrounding the pulsar that could be clearly associated with the flare.”

Astronomers are currently at a loss to explain what they are seeing simply because they are ignorant of the superwave theory.  Do your part and inform them.

Gamma/X-ray source GRB 110328A still active

In response to Nick Darby’s comment on the previous post, a few days ago I checked with one of the Swift team astronomers, Jamie Kennea, who said that the source is “still well detected.” Swift observes this source daily and posts the data on the following page on their website (http://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov). Enter 110328A in the homepage search box and refer to found links. As seen from the X-ray light curve posted at http://www.swift.ac.uk/xrt_curves/00450158/, the source is still very active with no indication it is dying down, as some astronomers had expected; see graph below.

BAT X-ray intensity from GRB 110328A as of May 10, 2011

This shows that as of the date of this May 10th posting quasar source GRB 110328A has been active for one and a half months. So time is rapidly running out for the black hole snack theory. Those wishing to follow its progress on the Swift website, note that the source is also referred to as Swift J164449.3+573451.

GRB 110328A: First ever observation of a newly formed quasar!

Nascent Quasar GRB 110328A

When a formerly quiescent galactic nucleus is observed by astronomers to suddenly begin radiating high energy emission, it is probably natural for them at first to avoid interpreting the sighting as the birth of a quasar and instead propose something on a far smaller less dramatic scale.  Knowing very well the psychology of his astronomer peers, Sir Fred Hoyle forsaw a similar sighting downplay in his science fiction story The Inferno (1973). His story was about astronomers first sighting the explosion of our own galactic nucleus, its sudden activation into the quasar state.  A passage from his book describes how some members on the astronomical discovery team at first wrongly concluded that what they had discovered was a supernova explosion:

“Except this supernova does seem unusually bright,” interjected Tom Cook.
“Has brightened up still more,” announced Bill Gaynor, who had just come in. “Didn’t go to bed. I stayed up till it rose—in the east, about an hour ago.”
“What is it now?”
“I’d say about minus eight.” [25 times brighter than Venus]
There was a whistle around the common room.
“More like a bloody quasar than a supernova,” muttered someone.
A long silence followed this remark. It was broken by Almond. “Which would explain something that’s been worrying the hell out of me.”
“What’s that, Dr. Almond?” Gaynor asked, his eyes red with lack of sleep.
“Why the position of the thing is so precisely the same as the Galactic center. It’s obvious really, isn’t it? The center of the Galaxy has blown up.” Almond’s deep voice was grave as he made this pronouncement.

The Inferno, Sir Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle
passage quoted in Earth Under Fire by P. LaViolette

We may be seeing the same sequence of events playing out in real life with the discovery of the source GRB 110328A which may actually prove to be a quasar, the first ever to be seen turning on.  The initial appearance of this X-ray and gamma ray source was first detected by the Swift telescope on March 28, 2011.  It was found to be located at the center of a galaxy in the constellation of Draco situated about 3.8 billion light years away (z = 0.35).

Seeing that the source continued its highly energetic activity even days afterward, astronomers began to realize that what they had been observing was something other than a mere gamma ray burst (GRB).  Most gamma ray bursts, on the other hand, last from a minute or so to several hours at most.  But in seeking an alternate interpretation, astronomers have leaned towards the less dramatic and proposed that we are observing a “supermassive black hole” that is in the process of tidally disrupting and consuming a passing star.

For example, on April 14th, after the source had been active for over two weeks, astronomers Almeida and De Angelis proposed just this in a paper they had submitted for publication to Astronomy and Astrophysics journal.  They propose that we are seeing a black hole having a mass of ~107 solar masses ripping apart and consuming a red giant star of mass 0.5 to 5 solar masses which had happened to orbit too close to it.  They state that if their theory is correct, we should expect that the intense X-ray emission from GRB 110328A to not last more than a few weeks to a few months, i.e., the time taken for the red giant star’s mass to become completely consumed.  In fact in their April 14th paper to Astronomy and Astrophysics, they state that the emission should be seen to begin to fade within a few days to a few months.

Now more than a week has passed since the date they posted their paper, so the predicted lower limit of a “few days” has been well exceeded.  If the source continues its current variable activity after a few months from now, then like Dr. Almond in Hoyle’s novel, astronomers will be forced to consider the inevitable, that what we are seeing is more like a “bloody quasar” than the transitory burp of a black hole!

I predict that GRB 110328A is a quasar and that we just happen to be viewing it at a point in its cycle when it has happened to turn on.  I would prefer not to call it a supermassive black hole as has become customary in astronomy for the reason that I don’t believe in the existence of black holes.  I prefer to use the more neutral term galactic core or alternatively supermassive mother star.  Here are some facts to consider that favor the interpretation that GRB 110328A is a quasar:

1) the X-ray emission is coming from the exact center of the host galaxy, hence from its core.  Similarly, quasars are known to be galactic nuclei in their active state, hence a galactic core observed during its active phase.

2) the average long-term emission coming from GRB 110328A is seen to have an intensity in the range of what is observed to come from a quasar.  That is, quasars typically have X-ray luminosities that range from 1043 to 1048 ergs/s whereas Almeida and De Angelis report that this object has an average X-ray luminosity of about 2.5 X 1047 erg/s.  So GRB 110328A is near the upper end of the quasar luminosity range.

3) Whereas the X-ray luminosity from quasars is observed to erratically vary by many fold over a period of anywhere from hours to weeks, similarly the emission from GRB 110328A has been observed to vary erratically on a timescale of a few hours to a day, very similar to a more rapidly varying quasar.

4) Like a quasar, GRB 110328A emits synchrotron radio emission.  Radio emission from this source was reported on April 11th by Brunthaler et al.

X-ray intensity light curve for source GRB 110328A

X-ray intensity lightcurve for quasar PDS 456.

Considering that we may be observing for the first time the onset of a quasar, there are several interesting things that we can learn from GRB 110328A.
First we can get an idea about the rapidity of the onset of the quasar state.  The observed event occurred without prior warning and reached maximum intensity within 15 minutes.  I have previously stated that we could expect a similar sneak attack from the core of our own Galaxy.  (GRB 110328A instead lies several billion light years away.  So we need not worry about it.)
Second, when it initially turned on, its luminosity was about 20 times greater than the value it attained days later.  At its initial onset it achieved a luminosity of around 5 X 1048 ergs/s in two peak events separated a day apart.  Hence in its first days it would have been one of the most luminous quasars in the sky.  This is very significant.  For it implies that a first strike from our own galactic core may deliver its most deadly effects in the first day or two, with intensities an order of magnitude greater than what we would later be exposed to.

We will keep you updated with more as this story unfolds.  Meanwhile, for those interested about the core explosion phenomenon, click here.  For those who might have doubts that GRB 110328A is an example of a supermassive black hole tidally disrupting a passing star, and who might be interested in learning of an alternative way to conceive of the supermassive objects that form the cores of galaxies, click here.  For evidence that the core of our own Galaxy is most likely not a supermassive black hole, but a mother star, visit our subquantum kinetics forum (starburstfound.org/sqkblog/) and in particular the posting entitled “Evidence Against Black Hole in Galactic Core“.  Further evidence against the black hole theory is discussed in the books Subquantum Kinetics and Genesis of the Cosmos.