Has Electrodynamics Solved the Mystery of Saturn's Dual Hotspots?
It is generally believed that falsifiability and predictive ability are two cornerstones of science. As a corollary, the critical experiment (experimentum crucis) is a widely accepted method of determining which of two mutually exclusive theoretical viewpoints hits closest to the mark. Recent data from Saturn may provide just such a critical experiment, but the answer doesn't appear to be what many scientists expected.
Opposing viewpoints were registered back in 2005 with respect to a peculiar feature at Saturn's south pole. The issue stems from a 2005 Keck Observatory press release that noted a strange hot spot at Saturn's southern pole. The issue was not the hot spot itself, according to the Keck team, but that fact that its structure did not conform to that predicted by a solar heating model.
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.”
Despite the southern pole's nonconformity with the solar heating model, the Keck team nonetheless continued to apply the solar heating model in speculating about what might appear at the northern pole of Saturn when measurements became available.
"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."
The Keck team's prediction, thus registered, was an expectation of a hot southern polar vortex due to solar heating and a cold northern polar vortex due to lack of solar heating.
However, for a good experimentum crucis there must be mutually exclusive opposing opinions. Enter Australian researcher Wal Thornhill whose predictions were briefly reported by Wired on prior to the Deep Impact mission. He proposes a controversial and radically different interpretation of the same structure based upon electrodynamics and plasma physics.
In Thornhill's view, the south polar vortex is energized by electrical processes which also account for the otherwise unexpected structure of the pole.
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."
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.
In contrast to Keck's surprise and uncertainty at the structure of Saturn's south polar vortex, Thornhill confidently speaks of electric currents flowing through the sparse plasma between ponderable bodies in space, continuing on to address Saturn explicitly.
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.
The stage was thus set in 2003 for a showdown between competing models. The "Standard Model", which asserts that gravity is the only force of consequence in the cosmos, registered the prediction that Saturn's poles would consist of a hot southern, sunward polar vortex (already in evidence) and a cold northern polar vortex (yet to be observed). Thornhill's "Electric Universe model", which asserts that the role of electricity in the cosmos has been erroneously disregarded, registered the prediction that Saturn should exhibit two warm polar vortices, due to the electrical forces he asserts are sculpting them and in contrast to the Standard Model's solar heating model.
2008 appears to be the Year of the Electric Universe. In January of 2008, new data from Cassini appears to have decided who hit closest to the mark. As it turns out, the Standard Model interpretation got it wrong. Thornhill's Electric Universe model got it right. Cassini found that the northern pole of Saturn displays a warm polar vortex with a similar structure to the southern pole's vortex (though the north pole threw in a somewhat hexagonal-shaped vortex to spice things up).
LONDON (Reuters) - Saturn's chilly north pole boasts a hot spot of compressed air, a surprising discovery that could shed light on other planets within our own solar system and beyond, researchers said on Thursday.
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 unexpected finding from Cassini has falsified the Standard Model's prediction (one hot sunward facing pole and one cold antisunward facing pole) and affirmed the Electric Universe model's prediction (two hot poles, despite one facing antisunward), thus resolving the experimentum crucis in Thornhill's favor.
But why is a critical experiment necessary in the sciences?
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.
Critical experiments are necessary in order to figure out who is closest to the truth, scientifically, when opposing viewpoints clash. In essence, the theory with the best predictive ability is the theory that science prefers. Theories that have been falsified should be either reworked or discarded.
This critical experiment, at the least, suggests strongly that the scientific community should sit up and take notice (if they're interested in predictive ability), then take a closer look at Thornhill's Electric Universe model to see what other insights or predictive successes it can provide with respect to the solar system and the cosmos at large. This promises to be an interesting year, and these results may mean opening a new vista for research in the fields of space physics, astronomy and cosmology from an electrical engineering or plasma physics perspective.
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