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# What Medium is Propagating Electromagnetic Waves?

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posted on Jul, 25 2019 @ 09:26 AM

In The Absolute Theory (a link I've posted above a few times) you will find an alternative theory for the Michelson-Morley result that has been peer reviewed several times and presented at a major national lab (the SSC) with no refutation thus far. The proposal is this: if there is an aether, and light is an oscillation on that aether, then what a mirror does is to locally pin the electric field of the oscillation to zero at the mirror. (The electric field is zero at the mirror - the field of the reflected wave cancels that from the incident wave at the mirror surface.) This explains the null result of the Michelson-Morley test, without the need for a physical length contraction.

The proposal is analogous to setting up a standing wave on a rubber band and then moving the boundary conditions. If you use pins to attach a rubber band to a wall, you can take your forefinger and thumb of each hand and hold the rubber band at two places. Then you can wrap your middle finger around and pluck it. (I have done this, but it is awkward. It may be better to get a third person to assist.) Then you can slide your fingers along the rubber band. The rubber band has zero oscillation where you constrain it from moving, but a for-the-most-part standing wave exists between the places where the motion is constrained. Your fingers enforce nulls in the oscillation at the ends of the for-the-most-part standing wave.

In Michelson-Morley it is possible that the mirrors are creating enforced nulls in aetherial oscillations and a for-the-most-part standing wave exists between the mirrors. This for-the-most-part standing wave can be decomposed mathematically into forward and backward moving waves which have a speed of light between the mirrors that is c with respect to the mirrors. With such speeds of light between the mirrors, a null result is expected.

During reviews, one reviewer remarked that it was surprising that no one had proposed such a simple solution in over 100 years. I too was surprised, and spent many weeks doing a literature search. One paper did propose that Michelson-Morley involved a standing wave, by J. P. Wesley. I wrote to him, and he informed me that yes, it involved a standing wave, but that his analysis was completely different from mine.

The paper found at The Absolute Theory was sent to many journals before it eventually got published. It was never rejected because of any real flaw, but instead because other reasons were found, often spurrious. Laughably, a shorter version was rejected by Physical Review Letters with a claim that special relativity did not contain a length contraction! Even after an appeal! The theorists at the SSC agreed that PRL really messed up the review, but there was nothing that could really be done about that so it was eventually published in Physics Essays.

Importantly, it is possible to do a new experiment that might give a non-null result. One could do an equivalent of the Michelson-Morley test with short pulses and look at the magnitude of the pulse rather than its phase. It is possible that the mirrors only affect phase measurements. On the other hand, it is also possible that the mirrors could affect the speed of the magnitude of the pulse too, since the individual components of a Fourier decomposition of the pulse each would each be affected by the mirrors. So the theoretical underpinning isn't entirely clear. In any event, it would be interesting to do the experiment, as it is in tests that nature sometimes surpises us. But when we proposed the test to the NSF it was roundly rejected with a reasoning that everyone already knows that the result must agree with Einstein, so why do the experiment when there are so many good science efforts starving for money?

With access to a short pulse laser, the test could likely be done for a few thousand dollars.
edit on 25-7-2019 by delbertlarson because: lit search took weeks

posted on Jul, 25 2019 @ 10:00 AM

posted on Jul, 25 2019 @ 06:00 PM

Hey Arbitrageur,

Thanks for acknowledging my comment about visible light.

I'm not convinced that visible light should be considered as part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Radio, micro, infrared, uv, x, and gamma rays: these seem to be waves.

But visible light appears to be particles. Just look at sunlight poking through holes in clouds. All straight lines. No waves seen. It doesn't seem like visible light has resonance either...

Although I've never seen it photographed, I can usually see torus like rings pulsating around the sun, or the sun's reflections, or street lamps at night. Although if I look at the sun through a tinted window I can't quite seem to make out the pulsating torus rings.

I'm not sure that science has a good definition of visible light. Here is their definition.

"Visible: This is the only part of the electromagnetic spectrum we can see. We see the different wavelengths in this band of the spectrum as the colors of the rainbow. The sun, for example, is a natural source of visible waves. When looking at an object, our eyes see the color of light reflected, and all other colors are absorbed."

If I look at a patch of green grass, I feel like my eyes are seeing the actual color of the grass, not the color of green light reflected back at me. If I stare directly at a light source, it is white; my eyes will start seeing flashing colors that seem immaterial, red being the most widespread all over, green being more concentrated around the source of the light, and blue, violet , and white often seen within the concentration of green. Occasionally, before falling asleep at night, I can observe the flashing colors form into lucid dream images. Increasing exposure to visible light also appears to speed up your eyes shutter speed.

posted on Jul, 25 2019 @ 07:13 PM

originally posted by: delbertlarson
But when we proposed the test to the NSF it was roundly rejected with a reasoning that everyone already knows that the result must agree with Einstein, so why do the experiment when there are so many good science efforts starving for money?

With access to a short pulse laser, the test could likely be done for a few thousand dollars.
I see tests of relativity still happening, in fact LIGO experiment to detect gravitational waves was a test of general relativity, was it not? I think over a billion dollars was spent on that project. A few thousand dollars would be a drop in the bucket by comparison.

In fact I've seen talk of possibly another 1.3 billion dollars being spent on LIGO space observatories.

But your proposed experiment is a test of relativity, not to be written up as an experiment to show relativity wrong, though if that happens, so be it, right? After all sometimes experimental results are unexpected. Michelson-Morley didn't get the results they expected, I think they expected their experiment to confirm the aether.

originally posted by: neutronflux

Good question.

originally posted by: IrisMoonie

Hey Arbitrageur,

Thanks for acknowledging my comment about visible light.

I'm not convinced that visible light should be considered as part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Radio, micro, infrared, uv, x, and gamma rays: these seem to be waves.

But visible light appears to be particles. Just look at sunlight poking through holes in clouds. All straight lines. No waves seen. It doesn't seem like visible light has resonance either...
Your comments don't make much sense to me. As already discussed numerous times EM radiation including light isn't particles or waves, it has properties of both as in wave-particle duality. Depending on what experiment is performed, visible light can show properties of waves, or properties of particles. Young's famous double-slit experiment from 218 years ago certainly shows wave-like properties, have you heard of it? If not, google it and watch some demos. The interference patterns are wave-like and 218 years ago that experiment convinced people that light has wave-like properties. Actually a physics educator tried to roughly replicate Young's 1801 experiment which can be seen in this video where ordinary people have the light bulb light up when they see a phenomenon they didn't expect, so watch this and it will catch you up to what was happening 218 years ago with people learning about the wave properties of light. (but then you still might want to catch up somewhat on the 217 years after that).

The Original Double Slit Experiment

Actually the way it shakes out experimentally is that with long wavelengths like radio waves, it becomes difficult to detect the particle-like properties of EM radiation, but the higher the frequencies the easier it is to detect particles. We have every reason to believe all frequencies of EM radiation have wave-particle duality, but it's just that radio waves have such low energy it's difficult to detect photons above the background.

posted on Jul, 25 2019 @ 10:50 PM

Hmmm...

Cool image inside the box lit by sunlight through 2 tiny thin double slits cut into an otherwise opaque paper box.

However if sun light shines through my large clear glass window in my living room, correct me if I'm observing inacurrately, I don't see an interference pattern shining on the wall behind the window. It's a square of light.

But when I put a turtle aquarium in front of the sunlight, I observe mesmerizing interference patterns.

This says more about the object the light is passing through than the light, yes?

There was an interesting experiment I just came across that shows when light hits a metal object it loses electrons.

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 02:19 AM

originally posted by: IrisMoonie
This says more about the object the light is passing through than the light, yes?
How can a particle nature of light explain the wave-like interference pattern seen in Young's experiment? If light was particles, wouldn't we expect to see two bands of light, one for each slit?

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 05:24 AM

Wonder if More1ThanAny1 will post in this thread again? Strange a person can post you don’t understand this and that, but then their posting drys up when someone like you starts posting documented fact......

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 06:52 AM

Thanks so much for commenting. I was unaware of the Hughes–Drever experiments prior to your post, and no reviewer ever mentioned it. I am working on a response as I think things through.

I was just relaying what the reviews said 25+ years ago when rejecting funding for the group velocity test. I know that huge sums are spent all the time. The test I proposed was considered not to have any chance of seeing anything new, so it was rejected with two F's and a D when straight A's were needed to get funded. And yes, we made a political error in that we proposed that the test might show that relativity was wrong.

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 11:55 AM

It is largely because OP's like this typically want people to nod and say yes, and get a resounding "oh you are a genius" like response. You know the typical prophetic style of an OP that makes huge 'matter of fact' claims which are on the outside of reality.

When i pointed out that light / EM waves are generated by the acceleration of electrons, not just by the movement (that'd be just magnetic fields) rather than being refuted i was given a lecture wikipedia style about how electricity works. Which was not at all what was being discussed. But to this type of OP, thats fine, case closed, I was given a lecture and his theory is intact.

Eventually, they typically tire of repeating the same tired old thing, or if it is a troll, eventually they get bored.

Exactly as Arbitrageur said, and i should have pointed it out. Is that when light passes through a transparent material the reason why it is transparent is because the photons are not absorbed efficiently by the bulk material's atomic structure.

With the atomic structure of a element known, along with lattice properties, one can calculate what the transparency and adsorption of EM radiation will be like across the EM spectrum based on the process of promoting electrons to higher levels.
I'd recommend "Optical Properties of Solids" by Mark Fox, it is pretty much the go too text for this kind of stuff in long form.

So from OP's model, if the passing of photons through a material is via absorption and instant re-emission... you would actually expect light of different wavelengths to exhibit very different passage either as a function of velocity and frequency.

This also doesn't account for materials having properties such as flors in which you can absorb photons at one wavelength and emit them at another. This process is understood to occur with an isotropic emission profile in the visible spectrum and a partial evidence for a direction boosted profile at very high energy.

So what would the difference be? the model doesn't easily allow for one without introducing tacked on rules which are wholly empirical.

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 06:46 PM

I'm thinking it is because light is passing through a field of plasma in the double slit experiment, which is fluid like.

that plasma is everywhere and the most abundant thing in the universe. Also the earth's plasmasphere expands on the dark side of the earth and contracts on the light side of the earth. Inside a dark box, then, you should expect plasma to expand. When the light enters the dark box through 2 tiny slits, it passes through expanded plasma, the fluid like nature of which causes an interference pattern.

At least that's the theory I came up with after thinking about your question. Please feel free to respond with any kind of rebut if you notice I said anything inaccurate.

Cheers.

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 07:35 PM
There are several huge problems with your idea.

First, you have to read past the article headline saying plasma is everywhere to find out that it's not everywhere; the article says this:
""99.9 percent of the Universe is made up of plasma," says Dr. Dennis Gallagher, a plasma physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "Very little material in space is made of rock like the Earth."

So, have you figured out where is the 0.1% of the universe that is not made up of plasma? That's right, it's not where Young's experiment is duplicated in the video. The atmosphere near Earth's surface is considered a gas, not a plasma. If you had bothered to read the article you linked, you should already know what the article says about where the plasma is in the atmosphere:

The part of our atmosphere that contains plasma - the ionosphere - is generally 90 to 1,000 km (54-620 mi.) above the ground.
You can watch the video of Young's experiment duplicated again to confirm the box is not over 54 miles above the ground, which is where it would have to be to have plasma according to your source.

Second, you have provided nothing to suggest that plasma results in interference patterns, even if there was plasma inside the box seen in the video, which there isn't. Yet the video shows specifically how waves can produce such interference patterns when there are two sources of waves interfering.

So you've discarded a demonstrated explanation which makes sense and replaced it with an idea that doesn't make any sense, using a material that isn't even present, and which wouldn't even produce the observed phenomenon if it was present. Illogical much?

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 08:53 PM

I have to wonder sometimes if the authors of opening posts are failed authors, and forums are the only places they can turn to for being “published”.
edit on 26-7-2019 by neutronflux because: Added and fixed

posted on Jul, 26 2019 @ 11:48 PM

Hmm...

How do you know there is no plasma here on earth below the blue sky?

How do you suppose the plasma that starts around 90 km above sea level got there?

Why does the plasmasphere extend beyond the earth greater on the side opposite the sun and lesser on the side facing the sun?

posted on Jul, 27 2019 @ 12:39 AM

Oh another question for Arbitrageur, How do clouds conduct lightning in thunderstorms?

posted on Jul, 27 2019 @ 01:46 AM

My friend,

Sometimes one has to step away from the computer.

Also, I feel you went off course and started replying about how electrons flow, as if I claimed they didn't. You started trying to disprove something I didn't say. So I decided to take a break from the one sided conversation.

originally posted by: neutronflux
With all respect More1ThanAny1, I don't think you understand electrons actually flow in a circuit.

Or you do, and you want to see who jumps on the false narrative train conducted by you.

Yes, electrons do flow, and I never claimed they didn't. However, its more like a drift. You see, the electrons just vibrate, because they are waves too. They vibrate so fast that current science has to use probability to figure out where it might be at any time. It's kind of funny.

In general, an electron in a conductor will propagate randomly at the Fermi velocity, resulting in an average velocity of zero. Applying an electric field adds to this random motion a small net flow in one direction; this is the drift.

You see, in a conductor, electrons have "random motion" which I call vibration. I can tell you that a lot of the random motion is influenced by radio waves and other light, but that is another subject. What we should focus on is that in an open circuit the electrons only vibrate, they don't drift. You can make them drift a little with electric or magnetic fields, but they don't have many places to go. Once you give those electrons somewhere to go they still vibrate, but a drift is added to the vibration. Hence, a small net flow is added to the random motion, as quoted above.

Around 4:10 - "The electrons will still have the random motion, but also some forward motion."

Around 5:10 - "Once the switch is flipped, the electric field travels across the circuit at the speed of light".

That electric field is the same field light uses... because electricity is light.

I can't talk much today, I have a lot of work to do. I will catch up and reply to all comments later. Have a good one.
edit on 27-7-2019 by More1ThanAny1 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 27 2019 @ 02:14 AM

Yes, I am trying to tell you they are wrong.

Their reasons for why I am wrong are wrong.

Light is absorbed atom to atom. Some atoms, by themselves, can hold on to the light for a bit before emitting it randomly. Some can hold the light longer than others. For example, glass is almost an instantaneous absorption and emission, that is why glass is transparent. Other non-transparent materials trap the light for a bit before emitting, that is why you can't see through them. Also, atoms act different when they are a part of a structure compared to when they are alone, and that can affect how long they hold the light too, as you can imagine, because its just vibrations.

Also, none of their examples discuss light traveling the opposite direction through glass at the same time. Two people looking at each other through a window for example. That is when their theory of how light passes through glass really breaks down, especially if the slowdown is based on interference from electron emitted light. That would mean two identical color and amplitude lights on each side of a window will cause the window to become more opaque because they cancel each other out lol. My theory of electrons holding on to the light (absorbing and emitting) resolves this opaque issue.

I really have to go now. I'll be back later.
edit on 27-7-2019 by More1ThanAny1 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 27 2019 @ 04:47 AM

originally posted by: neutronflux

As I understand it (after only recent study) the Hughes–Drever experiments were looking for an effect caused by the anisotropic mass distribution near us due to our position relative to our Galaxy and nearby Galactic clusters, and neither The Absolute Theory, nor Special Relativity, nor the Lorentz Aether Theory will be affected by mass distributions. So that aspect of the experiments is moot.

From time dilation, there will be no effect on the nuclei and atoms from a reversal of the Earth's surface velocity over the course of a day. All nearby clocks will have the same effect, so this won't result in any observable changes as the earth rotates. This is true for Einstein, Lorentz and The Absolute Theory, all of which incorporate time dilation.

The length contraction effect could possibly result in an observable change, although the Lorentz Aether Theory will predict the same results as Einstein's Special Relativity for Hughes–Drever. The same Lorentz transformation equations are used in both theories. So the null result is expected in both. For The Absolute Theory an examination is needed.

Before getting into The Absolute Theory, notice that in the Lorentz theory there are actually two length effects. One is the physical shrinkage of objects as they move through the aether. The other is an illusory length expansion inferred by moving observers. To see this, consider observers in a frame moving with respect to the aether, and envision that they rotate a rod. They will always see the rod have the same length. However, the absolute observer knows that the rod shrinks when it is aligned with its motion, and the rod obtains its full length when it is aligned perpendicular to its motion. The illusory length expansion of moving observers cancels its actual shrinkage, and this comes about because of the incorrect coordinate system set up with the faulty instruments in the moving frame. Whether they set up their coordinate system via meter sticks or if they use light pulses and clocks to set up their coordinates, moving observers end up with the same mistaken coordinates and they think that the rod does not change length when rotated. (The illusory length expansion results from all of their measuring techniques using shrunken sticks, or because the round trip time of light pulses does not take into account their own motion. So their coordinate system incorrectly has increments too close together in their direction of motion.)

In The Absolute Theory, it is shown how the same Lorentz transformation can be derived from time dilation alone, without the need for a length contraction. Now recall that Lorentz used a proposal that clocks run slow and meter sticks shrink as they move through the aether, and once that happens you get his transformation equations. For The Absolute Theory, it is assumed that meter sticks do not shrink, but that moving observers incorrectly assume the light speed is c in their frame, and that is what leads to the Lorentz transformations. (See The Absolute Theory paper for the detailed derivation of this.)

The crucial difference between The Absolute Theory and Lorentz is that when a rod gets rotated in Lorentz Theory it appears to be the same length, as discussed above, but in The Absolute Theory it should actually appear to expand when it aligns with its velocity. This is because the illusory length expansion is still there (the coordinates are set by round-trip light and clocks) but there is no real length contraction to offset it. The problem is, how can we measure such an expansion? If all other objects also expand, we can't measure the expansion by comparing one object to another one. So the only thing we can do is to set up highly accurate light interference measurements, such as the Michelson Morley test. But if the apparatus affects the measurement by pinning the oscillations in place so that the speed of light changes, then we won't see the length difference that way either.

So what we are left with in The Absolute Theory is that we arrive at the Lorentz transformations from round-trip light and clocks, and we have no way to detect the illusory expansion of rods in our direction of motion.

Now for the case of Hughes–Drever, the issue is that some quantum orbitals will be aligned more with the motion through the aether than others, and the differential length effect is expected to lead to observable frequency differences in spectral measurements. But in The Absolute Theory there is no differential length effect at all, when observed from the preferred frame, so why would there be an expectation of energy shifts? The answer of course is that if we do a Lorentz transformation to the co-moving frame, then in that co-moving frame there are no differential lengths via Einstein nor Lorentz, but there are differential lengths from The Absolute Theory, even though they are illusory. No spectral change is expected to show up via Lorentz or Einstein, and so we assume it must show up under an alternative.

After a few days thought, I believe the question of Hughes–Drever boils down to - how does the wavefunction's size and motion relate to its energy state? With our present kinematic setup we have theories that agree with experiment, but we still don't know if there is or is not a physical length contraction. It is entirely possible that, in an absolute theory, the wave-functions absolute size (the size observed from the aetherial rest frame) is what determines its energy. Any of the three theories can therefore be correct.

When I worked through The Absolute Theory, my main thought was "how can we be sure of the fundamentals of physics?". I found that there was no real proof of a length contraction. The result of my study is that there is lots of proof of time dilation, but no real proof of length contraction. I don't believe the Hughes–Drever tests provide proof of length contraction either.

edit on 27-7-2019 by delbertlarson because: Clarity

posted on Jul, 27 2019 @ 06:56 AM

delbertlarson,

Thank you for all your posts, I have been enjoying them.

Here is a stream of thoughts regarding the motion of objects. At the foundation, the idea is that light is a wave, and all matter is made of a combination of various rings of light, so all matter is a wave too. That means that all objects have wave properties no matter what their current state is, because the foundation of all things is a vibrating wave in the fabric of reality.

One of the wave properties that I like to think about is the Doppler Effect. I imagine since all matter is a wave, when matter is in motion like a car speeding down a highway, every atom of the vehicle shrinks in the front and expands in the back, essentially deforming the vehicle length wise depending on the speed and direction its travelling. Its interesting to think about.

However, my focus was on the idea that an object at absolute rest would have a very symmetrical shape. So a bowling ball floating absolutely stationary in space would be completely symmetrical. Once you push the bowling ball you will feel a bit of resistance. That resistance is because you are forcing every atom to Doppler shift and it doesn't want to.

However, once you force the Doppler shift in all the atoms, it creates a situation were the atom is asymmetrical, bunched up in the front and spread apart in the back, meaning there is a potential difference due to the field being more dense in the front and less dense in the back. Naturally, the fabric of reality wants equilibrium, so in the processes of maintaining equilibrium and symmetry the atom is propelled forward. The denser part wants to move to the less dense part, and an equal and opposite reaction is to move the atom forward. Unfortunately, this causes the atom to Doppler shift again, and then equilibrium is attempted again, then Doppler shift again, then equilibrium once again, repeated forever. This causes the bowling ball to keep its motion going until it is acted upon by an outside force.

If you try to slow the moving bowling ball down, you will be faced with resistance as well. The bowling ball wants to resist a change of motion because the atoms are being propelled forward to obtain equilibrium. You are fighting this forward movement. You'd have to cancel out their forward movement to stop the repeated creation of the Doppler effect, to ultimately return all atoms to their symmetrical state.

edit on 27-7-2019 by More1ThanAny1 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 27 2019 @ 07:20 AM

You are so full of crap.

You

Yes, electrons do flow, and I never claimed they didn't. However, its more like a drift. You see, the electrons just vibrate, because they are waves too. They vibrate so fast that current science has to use probability to figure out where it might be at any time. It's kind of funny.

Then how does a capacitor work? You know, a simple electronic device that collects and stores electrons?

Again, current is defined as electron flow. As in electrons grouping and moving from locations. Not vibrations. Thus, how and why a capacitor does what it does in an AC circuit.

Then how a battery works.

More specifically: during a discharge of electricity, the chemical on the anode releases electrons to the negative terminal and ions in the electrolyte through what’s called an oxidation reaction

engineering.mit.edu...

A oxidation reaction

What is a redox reaction?

A redox (or oxidation-reduction) reaction is a type of chemical reaction that involves a transfer of electrons between two species. What is a "species"?

A battery consists of one or more electrochemical cells. Each cell contains two metal electrodes and at least one electrolyte solution (a solution containing ions that can conduct electricity). The battery operates through electrochemical reactions called oxidation and reduction. These reactions involve the exchange of electrons between chemical species. If a chemical species loses one or more electrons, this is called oxidation. The opposite process, the gain of electrons, is called reduction.

web.mst.edu...

For a battery to produce a current, electrons literal move between chemical species via a closed circuit.

edit on 27-7-2019 by neutronflux because: Added and fixed

edit on 27-7-2019 by neutronflux because: Fixed more

edit on 27-7-2019 by neutronflux because: Added and fixed

edit on 27-7-2019 by neutronflux because: Added and fixed

posted on Jul, 27 2019 @ 01:17 PM

originally posted by: IrisMoonie

Hmm...

How do you know there is no plasma here on earth below the blue sky?

How do you suppose the plasma that starts around 90 km above sea level got there?

Why does the plasmasphere extend beyond the earth greater on the side opposite the sun and lesser on the side facing the sun?

Plasma is by definition the state of matter that exists when a particle is stripped of most or all of it's electrons. This material has pretty interesting properties, doesn't thus by definition form molecules.

This doesn't mean that everything is black and white, we can create plasma, depending upon the conditions though these conditions are only present in the lab when particles undergo a high energy process that strips them of their electrons. In space, much of the plasma is generated by stars and drifts into space, it is also generated by rare phenomenon such as supernovae. The reason why the particles don't rapidly neutralize is because of the relative emptiness of space. Space is vast in volume, and the number of particles per cubic meter in an average area within a galaxy is something like 2-5 particles per cubic meter, which particles travelling very straight lines on the meter scale... In the larger scale they will be moving as according to local magnetic and electric fields.

The plasmasphere isn't a magical switch on point where the atmosphere is magically plasma, it is a region around the Earth in which plasma, captured by the Earths magentic fields is allowed to collect because it represents a stable and relatively well behaved environment. The particles in the plasmasphere have motions largely dominated by the Earths magnetic field.

Why does it extend differently? Well the movement of charged particles creates magnetic fields, the sun emits charged particles/plasma at a steady rate, referred to as solar wind. These particles impinging on the Earths magnetosphere result in a compression of the magnetic field on the side facing the sun, and a extended shock like trail on the opposite side.

Everything is interacting, the universe doesn't do defined edges very well just by a matter of how the physics works. The edge of the atmosphere of the Earth isn't very well defined and so we separated it as a matter of major observational states... like when one physics process dominates over another and there the boundaries are often defined as some equilibrium (for example).

On how clouds conduct, the answer is that when clouds form, at high altitudes the water droplets freeze due to low temperature and low pressure. As these interact while they drift electrons get knocked off and you end up the electrons being attracted back to the earth, and a separation between the positively charged particles at the top of the cloud than the bottom.

So how does lightening work? Well this situation creates a large potential difference and local electric field. The air between the cloud and the Earth has, much like all insulators, dielectric properties. If you look at Paschen's law and the generation of the Townsend coefficient, what we see is that there is a constant movement of electrons back to ground, though the presence of the potential difference will cause the acceleration of these electrons. In this condition you can undergo impact ionisation and the generation of further ions.

On the Paschen curve you have a representation at which this impact ionisation process becomes dominant and will generate a cascade of particles. In clouds, when this happens, the air will become conductive and due to the amount of free charge and results in a conduit through which the the cloud and ground will 'discharge' and neutralize HOWEVER this process results in the rapid production of heat due to this impact process and the gas will rapidly expand away from the conduction path. This basically flips you over the opposite side of the curve and prevents constant breakdown or discharge.

This is why lightening occurs typically as single or small multiplicity pops rather than a constant discharge. This process occurs both down up and up down, the different reaches being the dominent charged species, negative or positive. negative being light electrons which have long range, positive particles such as dust or ionised gas, much shorter range.

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