Magnetic Fields in Spiral Galaxies – Explained at Last?

Article written: 3 Apr , 2010
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

That spiral galaxies have magnetic fields has been known for well over half a century (and predictions that they should exist preceded discovery by several years), and some galaxies’ magnetic fields have been mapped in great detail.

But how did these magnetic fields come to have the characteristics we observe them to have? And how do they persist?

A recent paper by UK astronomers Stas Shabala, James Mead, and Paul Alexander may contain answers to these questions, with four physical processes playing a key role: infall of cool gas onto the disk, supernova feedback (these two increase the magnetohydrodynamical turbulence), star formation (this removes gas and hence turbulent energy from the cold gas), and differential galactic rotation (this continuously transfers field energy from the incoherent random field into an ordered field). However, at least one other key process is needed, because the astronomers’ models are inconsistent with the observed fields of massive spiral galaxies.

“Radio synchrotron emission of high energy electrons in the interstellar medium (ISM) indicates the presence of magnetic fields in galaxies. Rotation measures (RM) of background polarized sources indicate two varieties of field: a random field, which is not coherent on scales larger than the turbulence of the ISM; and a spiral ordered field which exhibits large-scale coherence,” the authors write. “For a typical galaxy these fields have strengths of a few μG. In a galaxy such as M51, the coherent magnetic field is observed to be associated with the optical spiral arms. Such fields are important in star formation and the physics of cosmic rays, and could also have an effect on galaxy evolution, yet, despite their importance, questions about their origin, evolution and structure remain largely unsolved.”

This field in astrophysics is making rapid progress, with understanding of how the random field is generated having become reasonably well-established only in the last decade or so (it’s generated by turbulence in the ISM, modeled as a single-phase magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) fluid, within which magnetic field lines are frozen). On the other hand, the production of the large-scale field by the winding of the random fields into a spiral, by differential rotation (a dynamo), has been known for much longer.

The details of how the ordered field in spirals formed as those galaxies themselves formed – within a few hundred million years of the decoupling of baryonic matter and radiation (that gave rise to the cosmic microwave background we see today) – are becoming clear, though testing these hypotheses is not yet possible, observationally (very few high-redshift galaxies have been studied in the optical and NIR, period, let alone have had their magnetic fields mapped in detail).

“We present the first (to our knowledge) attempt to include magnetic fields in a self-consistent galaxy formation and evolution model. A number of galaxy properties are predicted, and we compare these with available data,” Shabala, Mead, and Alexander say. They begin with an analytical galaxy formation and evolution model, which “traces gas cooling, star formation, and various feedback processes in a cosmological context. The model simultaneously reproduces the local galaxy properties, star formation history of the Universe, the evolution of the stellar mass function to z ~1.5, and the early build-up of massive galaxies.” Central to the model is the ISM’s turbulent kinetic energy and the random magnetic field energy: the two become equal on timescales that are instantaneous on cosmological timescales.

The drivers are thus the physical processes which inject energy into the ISM, and which remove energy from it.

“One of the most important sources of energy injection into the ISM are supernovae,” the authors write. “Star formation removes turbulent energy,” as you’d expect, and gas “accreting from the dark matter halo deposits its potential energy in turbulence.” In their model there are only four free parameters – three describe the efficiency of the processes which add or remove turbulence from the ISM, and one how fast ordered magnetic fields arise from random ones.

Are Shabala, Mead, and Alexander excited about their results? You be the judge: “Two local samples are used to test the models. The model reproduces magnetic field strengths and radio luminosities well across a wide range of low and intermediate-mass galaxies.”

And what do they think is needed to account for the detailed astronomical observations of high-mass spiral galaxies? “Inclusion of gas ejection by powerful AGNs is necessary in order to quench gas cooling.”

SKA central region with separate core stations for the two aperture arrays for low and mid frequencies and for the dish array. Graphics: Xilostudios and SKA Project Development Office

It goes without saying that the next generation of radio telescopes – EVLA, SKA, and LOFAR – will subject all models of magnetic fields in galaxies (not just spirals) to much more stringent tests (and even enable hypotheses on the formation of those fields, over 10 billion years ago, to be tested).

Source: Magnetic fields in galaxies: I. Radio disks in local late-type galaxies


72 Responses

  1. Member
    Aqua says

    This story makes my fillings tingle… and my EU shoes tap dance! (Here come the anti-EU forces! LOL then grins and grunts..)

  2. Jon Hanford says

    Have magnetic fields in ANY elliptical galaxies been quantified and/or mapped (aside from any ‘peculiar’ features like jets)?

  3. solrey says

    “We present the first (to our knowledge) attempt to include magnetic fields in a self-consistent galaxy formation and evolution model.

    Not the first to include magnetic fields by a long shot. Peratt’s been there done that, as well as his mentor Alfven with what amounts to a homopolar motor model of spiral galaxies which is essentially what’s described in this “new” model and “dynamo”. It seems to be a matter of figuring out how the electric currents that produce the magnetic fields are sustained for so long.

  4. Member

    @ Aqua,

    You sound like the punter at the racetrack, who screams, shouts, rants and raves when the favourite horse, that he backed at odds of 4/5(!), romps home — BIG DEAL!

  5. Member

    @ solrey,

    For your information…

    “For a typical galaxy these fields have strengths of a few ?G. […]”

    Like, er… that’s just 2 to 3 magnitudes more than the magnetic field produced by electrical activity in the human brain — BIG DEAL! 🙄

  6. Member

    ERRATUM: That should be µG, not “?G”.

  7. Jean Tate says


    Fraser Cain has made it crystal clear that posts which promote personal, alternative physics ideas will be deleted.

    I have, accordingly, edited your last comment. In future I will delete such comments in their entirety.

  8. Jean Tate says


    Please, take the time to read the paper that my Universe Today article is about. I have provided a link to the arXiv preprint; alternatively you can wait until it is published in MNRAS (it’s “in press”).

    Neither I nor the authors made a claim as ridiculous as yours or solrey’s; of course there are published models of magnetic fields in spiral galaxies, some of them a half century or more old, Shabala et al. reference many of them, and at least two are key to their own model!

    May I also suggest that you re-read this Universe Today comment of mine, barely two weeks’ old, addressed explicitly to you?

    And, to quote from an earlier comment of mine (addressed to solrey):

    Ideas stand or fall on the scientific merits, … Peratt’s stuff, for example, is about the formation and evolution of galaxies (and, while certainly creative, clearly fails).

  9. Jean Tate says


    If you want to present Peratt’s ideas on galaxy formation, evolution, and magnetic fields, may I suggest that an appropriate place to do so is BAUT Forum’s Against The Mainstream section?

    While Alfvén made some early contributions to developing our understanding of magnetic fields in spiral galaxies, he was but one of many dozen who did so.

    Shabala, Mead, and Alexander’s statement seems to be correct; no one else has, up till now, attempted to include magnetic fields in a self-consistent galaxy formation and evolution model.

    Which of the three key physical processes do you not understand, supernovae, star formation, and gas infall? Or are you, perhaps, uncertain about how the ISM’s turbulent kinetic energy and the random magnetic field energy equalize quickly?

  10. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    The energy density of these fields is very small. Micro-Gauss fields are tiny. However, these fields extend over thousands of light years so their total energy

    E = int d^3x B^2

    when integrated over that volume is very large. So their impact of most physics is rather small. They have an integrated effect which is observed in the radio energy produced. High energy electrons in these fields experience a force F = evxB, and the deflected charged particle emits radiation.

    This is pretty normal physics I should think, or at least nothing to start jumping up and down over with some idea of an EU paradigm shift in the foundations of physics.

    I figured there would be EU wogs drooling all over this blog entry. I was not disappointed.


  11. solrey says

    From the article:

    That spiral galaxies have magnetic fields has been known for well over half a century (and predictions that they should exist preceded discovery by several years), and some galaxies’ magnetic fields have been mapped in great detail.

    In the citation above, the prediction of galactic magnetic fields they refer to is by Alfven in 1937:

    Alfven (1937) first suggested that cosmic rays might be a confined galactic phenomena; and he (Alfven 1949) and Fermi (1949) were discussing confinement by a 10 ?G field…

    From Wiki on Alfven:

    In 1937, Alfvén argued that if plasma pervaded the universe, it could then carry electric currents capable of generating a galactic magnetic field. After winning the Nobel Prize for his works in magnetohydrodynamics, he emphasized that:

    “In order to understand the phenomena in a certain plasma region, it is necessary to map not only the magnetic but also the electric field and the electric currents. Space is filled with a network of currents which transfer energy and momentum over large or very large distances. The currents often pinch to filamentary or surface currents. The latter are likely to give space, as also interstellar and intergalactic space, a cellular structure.”

    That was Alfven warning that magnetohydronamic’s “frozen-in” magnetic fields was a simplified representation of the more complicated reality of the electric fields and currents that create the magnetic fields.

    [promotion of personal theories removed]


  12. Jean Tate says

    Jon Hanford,

    Yes, they have; for example The Westerbork SINGS Survey: I. Overview and Image Atlas.

    However, most magnetic fields in early-type galaxy research is on jets, SMBH, and cooling flows (i.e. giant ellipticals in rich clusters), as you noted.

  13. Jean Tate says


    The part of solrey’s comment I deleted contained no references to any publications, peer-reviewed or otherwise.

    Shabala et al are not presenting any personal or alternative physics, in the sense of Fraser’s Comment policy.

    My earlier advice to solrey would seem appropriate for you too; if you wish to present Peratt’s ideas on galaxy formation, evolution, and magnetic fields, or Alfvén’s that are no longer cited, then BAUT Forum’s Against The Mainstream section may be a good place to do so.

  14. Jean Tate says

    Aqua, Lawrence B. Crowell, and others,

    Thanks to Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, iantresman, solrey, and others, I have spent quite a bit of time recently, researching the “Electric Universe” and “Plasma Cosmology” ideas.

    I was astonished at what I found.

    As a result, I have decided to delete all and any future comments concerning the “Electric Universe”, and refer those interested in discussing these ideas to other internet fora, starting with BAUT Forum’s Against The Mainstream section.

    So, no more phrases like “EU wogs”, OK?

  15. mgmirkin says

    Hmm, seems plasma physicists at LANL beat them to the punch long, long ago (1986)…

    [references deleted]

    But, science has a short memory… Happy to refresh it.


  16. Jean Tate says


    These are some of the papers solrey introduced in comments on an earlier story of mine, and so my advice to you is the same as that to him and iantresman; namely, if you wish to present Peratt’s ideas on galaxy formation, evolution, and magnetic fields (which is what those papers are about), or Alfvén’s that are no longer cited, then BAUT Forum’s Against The Mainstream section may be a good place to do so.

    Accordingly, I have deleted the references in your comment.

    I’ll also repeat what I said in the same thread I reminded iantresman of (but my comment was addressed to blueshift0_0):

    If you can’t spot at least some of the most obvious flaws, astronomically speaking, in Peratt’s Plasma Cosmology papers yourself, a few minutes spent googling will turn up lots of detailed rebuttals, here for example, and here.

    Whatever Peratt’s models are, they cannot be models of spiral galaxies! For example, they contain no stars.

  17. Jon Hanford says

    Jean Tate,

    Many thanks for your reply and linked paper in regards to my query. I haven’t kept up on developments in this field of astrophysics since I attended school in the early 80’s and obviously much has changed. And hang in there (wrt some of the comments above). I enjoy catching up on many fields in astrophysics that I am not well acquainted with (like magnetic fields in galaxies) as these are worthy of serious discussion.

  18. Olaf says

    Thank you Jean Tate.
    It is the right thing to do.

  19. wjwbudro says

    Jean Tate,
    I read this article the other day and thought it quite interesting to the point I learned a bit more about particle physics in the early universe. Would it contribute to the discussion here?

  20. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    No comment on these replies, except the EU/ PC proponents are dead wrong. The organisation of these fields is far from known Show me the highly detailed polarisation measurement, and I might change my mind.

  21. Jean Tate says


    That’s one, of several, Universe Today stories I’m already working on.

    iantresman, Hon. Salacious B. Crumb,

    Universe Today does not permit, for example, promotion of perpetual motion machines/overunity devices, in the comments on its stories and articles (see Fraser Cain’s explanation of the comment policy for more details).

    The “Electric Universe” has at its heart ideas which also violate the conservation of energy (or charge, or both). (One of the astonishing things I discovered in my research is that even people with degrees in science are actively promoting these obviously crackpot ideas; showing that conservation of energy – or charge, or both – is violated is very simple and straight-forward).

    No censorship here.

  22. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says


    I would like to kindly point out that their is some difficulty assessing what is an “alternative theory” or “personal theory” – and this is especially hard with novices. Such people have in regard EU/PC been heavily influenced by the “serial EU/PC proponent”, who has little or poor comprehension of science. You might be a little less tough on these individuals, because isolating them by delete posts might reinforce the distorted view instead of reinforcing real and interesting astronomy and astrophysics contained in the story.
    Aside from this, one of the interesting problems is which “alternative theories” are acceptable. I.e. Comparison, say, between Ptolemy and Galileo compared to the “way-out there” ones.
    With EU/PC perhaps better definition is an interesting on-line paper entitled “The Electric Sky, Short-circuited (2008)” by Dr. W.T. Bridgeman. This outlines (and answers) many of the common claims of the EU/PC proponents’ views, as here by, from the published book “Electric Sky” (2006) by Donald E. Scott. (It is I believe/know part of their “indoctrination.”) Bridgeman’s technical by well thought out presentation nicely highlight the problems with these “alternative views” – leaving a guideline in rejecting EU/PC “alternative theory.” There is an example relevant to this article that can be found on “Galaxies” on page 30 – whose words are far better than mine in debunking the “alternative theory.”
    If you want to understand this debate, I suggest anyone question responses here would be well advised to read. Alternatively, and in fairness, if you really want to read about electric universe or plasma cosmology, then reader should refer to “Thunderbolts.Info” (just Google it.)
    If you need to make up your own mind, both views given are adequately available for consideration.
    I’d also like to openly comment (and clearly as the authors here do so too), that I personally like reading comments from honest inquiring minds, and like others here, and do not mind helping out in real questions on astronomy or so aspects of astrophysics which I have experience. The biggest question is what Universe Today does often and regularly face. Is this comment forum designed for inquiring minds or those taking over with agendas with unscrupulous commentators desperate for attention?
    I much prefer to understand what we do know about cosmology, astronomy and astrophysics rather than some hair-brained scheme that either lacks in imagination or just ignores whole swathes of real facts and accessible knowledge.

    Note: In future, I suggest Bridgeman (2006) work here be the deemed cut-off of EU/PC alternative theories.

    Note 2: Personally, I’d like to see a few articles directly on polarisation measurements and observations. This really is the only way the magnetic/ electric fields in space can be proven and show the degree of influence on astrophysical phenomena.

  23. Jean Tate says


    I did not compare peer-reviewed papers with perpetual motion machines/overunity devices.

    Nor did I compare any to “Electric Universe” ideas.

    This is the second time, in the comments on this story, that you have misrepresented what I said.

    Help me, please; how can I make it clear to you?

    Here, again, is what I said:


    “EU” has come up several times in comments on my Universe Today stories, so I have done some research on it. Here’s what I found.

    Plasma physics is a part of astronomy today, just as much as is nuclear physics, atomic physics, general relativity, etc. However, those who post comments with an EU flavor (so to speak) seem to not mean any of this huge body of research.

    There are several old papers by Alfven (and others) with ideas on the application of plasma physics to astronomy. For the most part, these ideas are now of largely historical interest only, having had their day (just like thousands of other, now out-dated, ideas).

    There is a fringe element, with Lerner and Peratt as the leading proponents (so it seems), with rather wild and borderline non-scientific ideas about astronomy (though they have published little in the last decade or so).

    And there are cranks and crackpots, promoting nonsense ideas such as the Sun being powered by giant intergalactic currents (sorry, there is really no polite word to describe them).

    “Plasma Cosmology” seems to be used in two respects: the specific cosmological theories associated with Alfven (now thoroughly outdated), and fringe ideas concerning the application of plasma physics to cosmology (and astrophysics in general). This is the middle two above.

    “Electric Universe” seems to apply exclusively to the last, the cranks and crackpots. As such, it seems to be a clear example of exactly what should not be written in the comments on Universe Today stories (“Don’t promote your personal theories”).

    Let me conclude by saying that Fraser Cain seems to be a big fan of people coming up with new ideas, and developing them to the point where they become part of mainstream astronomy. Not only is there an Against the Mainstream section of his BAUT forum, but also there’s an Astronomy Cast episode devoted to sound advice on this topic: How To Be Taken Seriously By Scientists.

  24. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    iantresman said;

    “But the papers that have been cited are not personal theories of the posters here, and nor do they contain any new or alternative physics.”

    No. There is a big difference. These papers are mostly NOT astrophysical or astronomical papers. Peer review mean not only that the reviewed by others of the discipline they need to be peer reviewed by the discipline in question. You keep quoting papers that are really irrelevant to astronomy and astrophysics.

    There is also a difference between an observational article and a theoretical one.

    1) When you produce an observational article you can only determine some solution and conclusion by the observation made, combined with previous observation related to the phenomena.

    2) A theoretical paper discuss theory via mathematics to attempt to explain phenomena. However more importantly it makes various predictions that can be tested. No doubt the best theoretical papers can lead to new discoveries which can be built upon.

    In regard much of the papers you seemingly quote, the prediction of these theoretical papers have been disproved to the extent that that avenues is closed as it doesn’t really explain the observed phenomena satisfactorily. This is position of much regarding EU/PC – it is no longer really relevant to the progression of astronomy and astrophysics. Even worst, much of it is dead wrong.

    I am almost amusing the almost desperate plea here – saying this is some relevant science (which works within the same boundary of principles) but is ‘right’ because it looks like some totally unrelated phenomena.

    That is not science that is speculation, and worse, already disproved speculation.

    The real extension in nearly all of these ‘doctrines’ held by EU/PC are clearly based by those who desperately hanging on to already disproven or on some wrong premise.

    Why you do doggedly persist with all this still baffles me!

  25. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    iantresman said;

    “After all, current theories on galaxies are “flawed” (eg flat rotation curves).,”

    No, and yet another deliberate deception. Current theories on galaxies are incomplete. There are far from being “flawed”. You frequently quote Bostock’s work which dates back to 1958! He actually said; “The magnetic field would crawl right across the galactic arm without difficulty. The galactic arm would be polarized along its length from the centre to the tip.”

    Is this actually true? Of course it is not. Look at the image leading this article, it look nothing like it! Worst (as I said) show me the detailed polarisation measurement of spiral galaxies, and show me the observational evidence.

    Now to explained why your own arguments here are misguided;

    I already have noticed that you often quote this as some “citation article”. This appears only in two papers by of; Armale, R. & Rostoker, N., “APS Division of Plasma Physics” (1990) and Wessel, F.J., “Physics of Plasmas”, (1996). Both of these amazingly are quite unrelated to spiral galaxies but relate to presumed plasma beams!

    The only astronomical paper that could be considered (that I could find) was the mostly theoretical de Vaucouleurs, G. “Interpretation of Velocity Distribution of the Inner Regions of the Galaxy”, . IAU. Symposium No.20, pg. 195 (1964). Aspects of galaxy structures caused by Bostock’s theories have been completely dispelled.

    As I’ve said, Bostock and these other are not astrophysics or astronomical related.

    As to the basics of spiral galaxies and their structures, well this is mostly kids stuff.

    You can create spiral arms, for example, by differential rotation, where the motion of the inner stars travel small orbits than the outer parts of the galaxy. Stars do not move faster closer to the galactic centre than those near the edges of the boundaries (like the planets in the Solar System). they actually all move virtually the same velocity! The differential motion winds up forming the familiar spirals. I.e. Famously turning a normal image of a cow into spiral galaxy. It is so familiar, that even simple computer simulations on home computers can solve.

    Why don’t you look at the short but cute’“Why do we see spiral galaxies in some galaxies? in the “Ask the Astronomer” video made by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – California Institute of Technology”

    So according to you this is wrong and “flawed”, and should be instantly supplanted with some already known to be totally wrong and sensibly rejected EU/PC explanation.

    What you say just makes absolutely no sense.

    Yes it is true that weak magnetic field pervades the galaxy, and there is little detailed knowledge of their structure or interaction. Yes it is true magnetic field are important to remove angular momentum from star forming regions. Yes it is true that the fields produced by supernova influence some of the structures along the spiral arms. (They are each formally called dynamo modes – and are superimposed over each other and NOT some solitary EU/PC explanation (like Bostock.) Together they do vary the energy density (as forces) in the interstellar medium (ISM) – and as such, affect gas flows, collision of gas cloud in spiral arms, and may influence the spiral arms to a small degree.

    However, it is unlikely this is the predominate force that drives the spiral arms, (they do vary from spiral galaxy to spiral galaxy) which are mostly formed by strong density waves.

    Yet the magnitude of gravitation, and simple calculations, easily explains much of the nature of spiral galaxies!

    As you have already said, “but we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

    In galaxies, the total measured field strengths in the spiral arms (by polarisation from pulsars – too complex to explain here!) is about 6+/-2 microGauss and in the local region about 4.4+/-0.9 microGauss. The range of field strengths beyond the arms is between 1 to 5 microGauss. The strongest field measured about 15 microGauss in an area in the spiral arm within M51. The total magnitude of all these dynamo modes are insufficient to explain the vast structures seen in spiral. It is likely such fields are more localised than being ‘global’ phenomena. These are the facts.

    Note; I could give heaps of references to support these views. You might want to read some of the early interesting papers (of the German born Rainer Beck (Most papers between 2002-2010), which are far more relevant than any paper quoted in your EU/PC website. Beck, in any argument, easily supplants Peratt!

  26. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    I should add, if you want to continue in the debate here, you should perhaps read Rainer Beck’s broader “Wide Field Polarimetry and Cosmic Magnetism” [The picture beginning the article here is also placed in this referenced article.]

    Really, you might learn something quite useful!

    Comment: Why doesn’t your PU web page present such updated information?

  27. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    He, it wasn’t too hard to predict that EU anti-science (in that they reject established science result and methods) agents would surface here in their never ending quest to “understand” science by completely destroying it. Buffoons, but dangerous buffoons.

    The idea to have an isolated “sandbox” for them to play out their methods in is a sensible one. Kudos to UT!

    That said, on the science: I love these type of space physics, the beautiful reduction of a complicated large series of observations into an emergent model with a few parameters reminds me of solid state physics when it is at its best.

  28. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    iantresman said;

    “@Hon. Salacious B. Crumb: for the first time (in my opinion), a reasonable answer.”

    Yes, but I (or Nancy) should not have to wet-nurse you through things you should already know or have spent time properly investigating.
    I already know the edict of EU/PC to use argument with others to sharpen future responses to EU/PC – learn from you mistakes. In this instance Peratt (and Bostock) is completely wrong. End of story. Next item!

  29. Aodhhan says

    Since we have changed the subject from Magnetic Galaxies to deletion of EU crap, I must lend my support to deleting it.

    There are many people who believe (or choose to argue) man has yet to set foot on the Moon. Yet, I don’t wish to hear their banter on here, when we already know they are full of crap.

    Removal of something which is largely known to be incorrect or wrong IS NOT CENSORSHIP.

    Just like spreading misleading or false information isn’t FREE SPEACH.

  30. Aodhhan says

    errr… SPEECH too.

  31. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    current theories on galaxies are “flawed” (eg flat rotation curves),

    HSBC has made such outstanding comments that I, who doesn’t know much about the subject, hesitate to add.

    But I think it behooves to point out that the flatness of rotation is indeed explained by modern physics, and that it is essentially predicted by > 5 year old standard cosmology. You may want to read up on that.

    The deviations from predictions are of lesser degree than the above flatness, and some of the interesting ones have been discussed recently on this blog. (“Cuspy halos”.)

    for the first time (in my opinion), a reasonable answer.

    No, it isn’t the first time. The general outline has been explained again and again, and detailed references have been given before.

    If you have been mollified for now, it is predictable that you will come back in a few weeks and repeat the same claims again. I.e. known physics are always wrong and EU “science” is always the answer.

    More to the point, what would it take to demonstrate to you that EU is wrong/not science? Certainly not what scientists accept, you have demonstrated that plenty, and certainly not “a reasonable answer”.

    But since you feel that there is, finally, some sense of communication that you accept, would you take the opportunity to lay out what you expect of correct science respectively of wrong science? I think the answer would help us towards actual communication.

  32. Olaf says

    Plasma, magnetic field and electric currents are very interesting to me, as long as it is science and not pseudo-science.

    But when a forum gets flooded with speudo-science the you have no idea what is real and what is fake. It is pure SPAM.

    I hope this stays a science site.

  33. Jean Tate says


    Peratt’s ideas on galaxy formation and evolution, as presented in his 1986 papers (and ones which reference them) and his book “Physics of the Plasma Universe” have been introduced many, many, many times in comments on Universe Today articles (just google on “Peratt” and limit your search to this site). And those who have done the introducing have, in most cases, repeatedly done so, despite the often detailed rebuttals of others (solrey, and mgmirkin, to give just two examples).

    It’s time to move on.

    Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, and others,

    Your point about novices is well taken.

    However, at least here in Universe Today, those bringing up “Electric Universe” ideas are few in number (less than ten, I think), they have done so repeatedly, and have – almost always – refused to engage in discussion of the scientific merits of those ideas.

    I would be delighted to direct any interested novices to the BAUT Forum, say (it is, after all, part-owned by Fraser Cain), but the days of promoting those ideas here, in comments on Universe Today articles, are over.

  34. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Funny, the BAUT forum moderators (Swift, for one) told me that I was not to discuss EU on there. He also said point blank “I am not going to piece through all of this but you are NOT going to continue this battle here.
    That has been in force, I believe, at least two years!
    It seems BAUT got really sick of this too, and has significantly discouraged it! I think that is why these individuals arrived here at UT in the first place!

  35. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Jean and all

    Mostly, the development of this subject in the last decade is how to measure these fields. The highlighted Rainer Beck’s “Wide Field Polarimetry and Cosmic Magnetism” that I referenced (and didn’t link properly) gives an excellent up date of the nature of this whole topic.

    Hope this is of use.

  36. ND says

    These guys are obsessed with EU/PC without understanding the science they are obsessed over (plasma physics). And this obsession justifies, for them, the persistent insistence that EU/PC is a valid and up and coming area of scientific study. That said, if someone pointed out that we’re being obsessive over their obsessiveness and that makes us rather foolish, I might agree with that person.


    The association fallacy you assert does not hold up because perpetual-machine comparison is not the sole argument against EU/PC. The scientific arguments against EU/PC has been made across forums for years!

  37. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Give it up guys, you won’t change their / his mind. He want to debate this!

    He is just after an excuse for the ostracism, so it can be bantered about like some trophy! – a badge of honour! (I answered his challenge so he had no excuse that no one explained it to him in black and white.)

    After this thread it should be kaput on UT

    Where he / they goes next, who knows, but adios amigo!

  38. Jean Tate says

    Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, ND, iantresman,

    I have made a clear distinction between “Electric Universe” (EU) ideas and Plasma Cosmology (and Plasma Universe, PC/PU); the former are no longer welcome here (and will be deleted), the latter are acceptable (particularly if they are backed up by references to peer-reviewed papers).

    It is very clear that some of those promoting EU ideas here have presented them in PC/PU clothing, so to speak. That will not, in future, save them from immediate deletion.

    As far as I can tell, there are only a handful of PC/PU papers, perhaps not even a hundred. Of those, Peratt’s on galaxy formation and evolution – there are only ~five – dominate what has been cited on this topic, here. We don’t need yet another discussion of those half dozen. However, if someone, especially a novice, introduces ambiplasma, or one of Peratt’s papers on the CMB, say …

  39. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says


    I consider this a bit of problem that you say;

    “I have made a clear distinction between “Electric Universe” (EU) ideas and Plasma Cosmology (and Plasma Universe, PC/PU)”

    Sorry, you got this slightly mixed up. All THREE are in fact the same thing ¡ I.e. Type “Electric Universe” in Wikipedia, and you see it directed to “Plasma Cosmology.”

    The confusion here has been deliberate by proponents of such ideas, whose multiple terms focus them back to these psuedo-science notions. (I mean one of their main books is called “Electric Universe.”!)

    What you should be called is either plasma astrophysics (astrophysical plasma) or plasma science under the umbrella physics known as magnetohydrodynamics (MHD).

    [Technically, I would much prefer magnetoastrophysics, but this is not in common usage.]

    So. This is not commonly called “electric universe” !! (No wonder iantresman is probably joyfully happy.)

    Note: I notice you don’t have a ‘dummy’ or secondary e-mail address to write to you personally regarding your article. Other authors here do so, but not you for some reason.

    Note 2 : Perhaps an odd comment. Is ‘Jean’ male or female? It can be both!

  40. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Clearly you can’t even read..

    I say; “Technically, I would much prefer magnetoastrophysics, but this is not in common usage.”

    You then say; “And “magnetoastrophysics”? You’re still making stuff up. No-one uses this term. Just provide one peer-reviewed example.”

    I say; “I.e. Type “Electric Universe” in Wikipedia, and you see it directed to “Plasma Cosmology.””

    You then say; “Claiming that two phrases are the same because Wikipedia redirects one to another is rather desperate. Not even research students would rely on Wikipedia.”

    Usual insidious deceptions yet again!

    (The latter point is interesting isn’t it. You have been banned form Wikipedia for sock-puppetry, you attack what it says, even though one of your other mates adds little teases to direct others to your obviously wrong way of thinking.)

    You know as well as I do that “Electric Universe” as a term is a divisive con- job – and as usual you think you can get away with all sorts of deceptive stuff under different naming umbrellas – when it is all really exactly the same nonsense. Anything to remove the poison of pseudo-science needs to be done.

    The only term worth discussing, and what we are interested here, is plasma astrophysics– astrophysicist observing plasma and electric / magnetic fields in the universe based on observational evidence.

    The rest of the nonsense will be deleted. End of story.

  41. Jean Tate says

    Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, and others,

    I thought I’d been very clear; apparently not.

    “Plasma Cosmology” and “Plasma Universe” (and the same, without the caps) are terms with a wide range of meanings; we must not rush to infer which meaning is intended, especially in comments by novices. And we must be especially careful to recognize the limitations of Wikipedia.

    In some cases, e.g. Peratt’s ideas on galaxy formation and evolution, presented (or mis-presented) many times by regulars (with no evidence that they have read the detailed explanations of why these ideas are dead, scientifically speaking), it’s easy for me to decide.

    It’s equally easy with regards to “Electric Universe” (it’s astonishing just how clear-cut this is, in the history of Universe Today comments; in my research I found essentially no ‘gray’ cases!)

    Several recent blogs by Tom Bridgman are quite interesting, on the topic of ‘dead ends’ in scientific research, and their misuse by cranks: here, here, and here.

    Finally, please focus on the scientific content (and not on what you perceive others’ motives to be).

    (I have added an email address to my profile; ‘Jean’ is the name of one of my distant relatives; my brother came across this remarkable, early 19th century guy in his research on our family history)

  42. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    @ Jean

    Thanks for response. No you are clear, but the manipulative nature of these guys is extraordinary, and the gate need to be shut and locked!

    Actually, as far as I know, the usage terms have been debated in the IAU for sometime. The developments in the expanding range of topics has made it necessary to be more specific roles in research.

    As a consequence, to distinguish from the broader brush of “Plasma physics”, which has implications that clearly separate the applied science, solar physics, and astrophysics
    One of the interesting Symposium 274 will be held between 6th and 10th September, and is entitled “Advances in Plasma Astrophysics.”

    The topic is summarised as;

    “The symposium topics will focus on recent observational, theoretical and experimental efforts in understanding the basic plasma processes in the Universe, with broad synergies with many areas of astrophysics, including the origin and dynamics of magnetic fields (the dynamo problem), the origin of x-ray emitting coronas and the role of magnetic reconnection, acceleration of charged particles and cosmic rays, the ejection of winds and jets from highly- evolved stars and supernova remnants, plasma radiation processes, MHD turbulence in astrophysical objects and in the interstellar medium and the solar wind, and other key problems in modern plasma astrophysics.”

    (I would look forward to a UT story on this event!)

    As I understand the term “Plasma astrophysics” now specifically applies to extra-solar phenomena. Solar system studies or better deem “Interplanetary Plasma”

    I don’t know this “electric universe” is really appropriate anymore – as it when it was already out of fashion in the 1990s.

    Note : IAU Symposium 277 will be on “Tracing the ancestry of galaxies (on the land of our ancestors),” between 13 and 17 December in Africa. One of the topics will be on “Models of galaxy evolution and cosmological simulations” No doubt there will be discussion on topics touched upon in this UT story.

    This was my main point in said reply.

  43. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says


    This is a plain silly response to just a simple suggestion, so why do it? All I did was stated it as an opinion, my opinion.
    The term “magneto-astrophysics” is very liberally used in the Cambridge book “Relativistic Fluids and Magneto-fluids : With Applications in Astrophysics and Plasma Physics” (2005) – mostly to differentiate between nuclear and astrophysics studies.
    I think you know my point. The problems being generated by multiple disciplines touching astrophysics (in both plasma and magnetic fields) no long fits in narrow parameters.

    However, this term is trivial, and diverts from what “electric universe.” The better modern term is plasma astrophysics The definition given in the IAU Topic of the Symposia 274, I think, puts it all in a nutshell!

  44. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    @ iantresman

    Now to the Wiki claim;

    Well here is the link. Category:Wikipedia sockpuppets of Iantresman

    Now you say this is by me is ; “…a falsehood you have repeated”

    Irrefutable evidence now seems to dispute this, doesn’t it? it is not a falsehood. So logically, what I said must be true!

    End of story.

  45. Jean Tate says

    Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, iantresman,

    Universe Today is not Wikipedia, and there is no relationship between the two.

    Please, let’s have no more on this.

  46. wjwbudro says

    Does your secretary moonlight? Just joking…lol

  47. Anaconda says

    This is the furthest edge of scientific understanding.

    “But how did these magnetic fields come to have the characteristics we observe them to have? And how do they persist?”

    Yet, only the “approved” ideas may speak their name; any others will be “immediately deleted” as ordered by the powers that be.

    Censorship. There’s no other way to describe this discussion thread. There are always rationalizations…but never justified in the arena of ideas…if astronomy can still be called that.

    Censorship is the death of Science — only dogma is allowed…how sad…how very sad.

    Time to look in the mirror.

    You lurkers…are you proud that this is what astronomy has come to: Censorship.

    This is what Plato was speaking to in his allegory of the cave…

    Perhaps, this comment will be censored, too…as dangerous to the faith.

  48. Jean Tate says


    I see that you have, in the past, been a very vocal commenter here (google ‘Anaconda’ within this domain; there are a great many hits).

    In case you missed it, earlier in these comments I made an analogy with the promotion of perpetual motion machines/overunity devices; just as such promotion is a violation of Universe Today’s clearly stated comment policy, so is promotion of “Electric Universe” ideas here.

    The ideas of Peratt, per his published papers and book, on the formation and evolution of galaxies has been presented here, many times, and discussed. Until there’s a new paper published on these ideas, there’s nothing more to discuss.

    No censorship here.

  49. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Here’s an interesting fact about the Peratt simulations: they do not include stars.

    Do galaxies have stars, Anaconda?

    Isn’t that censorship too?

    Just curious.

  50. Anaconda says


    Yes, Galaxies have stars — and galaxies have magnetic fields, too.

    Seems likely they have electric fields, too, per Maxwells equations.

    And, no, Maxwell’s equations are not my “personal theory”.

    Essentially, when two bodies of plasma, each possessing a magnetic field, collide at perpendicular angles the result is a charge seperated electric current.

    And that’s also not my “personal theory”, that’s what the experimental results demonstrate, and Leif Svalgaard, notable helio-astrophysicist readily assents.

    [material deleted]

    Older scientific papers speak for themselves and can be applied to new observations & measurements as the observations & measurements are made — numerous times in Science ideas that were earlier proposed are later vindicated.

    There is often a period of non-acceptance until a body of observations & measurements accrue.

    [material deleted]

  51. Jean Tate says


    Please, read and then re-read my comments above.

    Also, please read the paper by Stas Shabala, James Mead, and Paul Alexander that my article is based on, and the dozens of papers it references, directly or indirectly (there’s a link to the preprint at the end of the article).

    If you think they have overlooked some key element in their application of physics, including plasma physics, write them a letter explaining your insights in detail. Alternatively, write a paper of your own pointing out the shortcomings in Shabala et al.’s, and submit it to MNRAS.

  52. Jean Tate says

    I have removed several recent comments, and edited some others, both in this thread and another.

    Fraser’s comment policy has been in effect for nearly a year now. I strongly urge those whose comments I have removed or edited to re-read that policy, paying particular attention to the “Be nice” point.

  53. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Anaconda said;

    “Essentially, when two bodies of plasma, each possessing a magnetic field, collide at perpendicular angles the result is a charge seperated electric current.
    And that’s also not my “personal theory”, that’s what the experimental results demonstrate, and Leif Svalgaard, notable helio-astrophysicist readily assents.

    Eh? Helio-astrophysicist?

    So here we again see the solar system now mimicking galaxies. We have already proven that this gobbledygook in NOT scaleable,

    As to collisions of plasma. Eh? Where is all this plasma colliding in galaxies, then? Look the image leading the story, confirms this isn’t true?

  54. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    @ Jean

    One thing that needs to be pointed out.

    Calling this stuff “plasma physics” is quite wrong. The story is talking about “plasma astrophysics” NOT plasma physics. Electricians know little about astrophysics – hence why they publish little (that would be acceptable) in the astronomy and astrophysical journal. This was the point I originally eluded too.

    If such an article were to be in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, they would completely reject the plasma physics article as irrelevant.

    Plasma physics articles would usually appear within IEEE or other physics journals. (Where they mostly should stay.)

  55. Member

    @ Jean Tate,

    It’s hard to “Be nice” when [not nice words edited out]

  56. Jean Tate says


    What part of Fraser’s ‘Be nice’ policy are you having difficulty understanding?

  57. Member

    @ Jean Tate,

    I’ll “take the Fifth” on that question.

  58. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Science has been under multi-pronged attacks in recent years, being gradually extinguished by agenda of unscrupulous individuals who just want to upset the apple cart. Sure tolerance and “being nice” is great in the ideal world, but this is not and ideal world.
    Cutting words and sentences is absolutely wrong. If you don’t like what is being said then you should delete the whole text to allow bloggers the opportunity rephrase what they say. Else the words don’t become comments anymore they just become what you expect everyone to say – toeing the party line, if you like….
    Nothing beats context, and when you edit out stuff, as it just loses most of its meaning.
    Do it too often, and the responders will not respond anymore. Pity.

  59. Member

    I second the Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, above, and I would like add this from Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (pp. 26-27):

    I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us – then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

  60. Member

    Somebody pinched my “to” above.

  61. Jean Tate says

    Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE,

    Cutting words and sentences is absolutely wrong. If you don’t like what is being said then you should delete the whole text to allow bloggers the opportunity rephrase what they say.

    Good point.

    No more editing of comments (except for things like fixing erroneous URLs) … it’ll be leaving them in, in their entirety, or deletion (which is what Fraser actually says, in the comments policy). However, until he changes it, “Be nice” is top of the list, in that comment policy.

  62. Member

    @ Jean Tate,


  63. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Oh well. There goes 98% of my posts!

  64. Jean Tate says


    I erred; your comment should be deleted in its entirety (see my earlier comments, above).

    Regarding persistence: A simple answer would seem to be that the magnetic fields persist because the electric currents driving them persist. The question is more simply: “from whence the electric currents?” That is to say, what started them, and what keeps them running?

    As most of the interstellar medium, in spiral galaxies, is a non-relativistic plasma, it can be modeled as a fluid, and analyzed using MHD. As you know, in MHD the Ej and Bv approaches are identical (they have to be, given the assumptions in MHD and Maxwell’s equations).

    So your ‘simple answer’ is a non-answer (I recommend the BAUT Forum’s Q&A section as a good resource if you are interested to understand this fascinating topic further).

    Likewise what is the nature, strength and configuration of the circuits involved? Is there a driving voltage (one would think so)? Of what magnitude? Etc. Plenty of interesting questions worth pursuing.

    May I recommend that you read the paper my article is based on? And in particular, read the papers in which the two main models Shabala et al. rely on are published.

    In short, all the questions you have asked are either non-questions (based on a misunderstanding of basic plasma physics) or have already been answered, in very great detail.

  65. mgmirkin says

    “[references deleted]”?

    What kind of a science site deletes references to peer-reviewed research from LANL? Strange… Well, whatever.

    As to the question from the article:

    “But how did these magnetic fields come to have the characteristics we observe them to have? And how do they persist?”

    The persistence question seems to have a simple answer.

    “Electric fields are created by differences in voltage: the higher the voltage, the stronger will be the resultant field. Magnetic fields are created when electric current flows: the greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field. An electric field will exist even when there is no current flowing. If current does flow, the strength of the magnetic field will vary with power consumption but the electric field strength will be constant.
    (Extract from “Electromagnetic Fields” published by the WHO Regional Office for Europe in 1999 (Local authorities, health and environment briefing pamphlet series; 32).”

    Do feel free to Google the first sentence of the above direct quote from the WHO site, since apparently reference URLs are not allowed.

    Regarding persistence: A simple answer would seem to be that the magnetic fields persist because the electric currents driving them persist. The question is more simply: “from whence the electric currents?” That is to say, what started them, and what keeps them running?

    Likewise what is the nature, strength and configuration of the circuits involved? Is there a driving voltage (one would think so)? Of what magnitude? Etc. Plenty of interesting questions worth pursuing.

  66. Jean Tate says


    I did some searching (google is my friend) and found quite a few comments by you, on other, older Universe Today articles.

    From those, and the sometimes quite lengthy responses by others here, I’m a bit surprised at the content of your last comment. While I applaud your curiosity and most certainly would encourage you to go deeper in your studies on plasma physics, I’m having difficulty understanding why you seem to be working from the same, erroneous, perspective that you have presented for several years now.

    Do you mind if I ask you what seems to be the problem?

  67. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Jean why all the pandering to these guys… I mean the complete audacity of mgmirkin saying;

    “What kind of a science site deletes references to peer-reviewed research from LANL?”

    Surely this is provocation! (it has been said even in the comments within this very story.) Clearly these published articles are NOT “astronomical / astrophysical peer-reviewed, and this is especially relevant as this is a astronomical / astrophysical science site.

    As for saying;

    “Regarding persistence: A simple answer would seem to be that the magnetic fields persist because the electric currents driving them persist. The question is more simply: “from whence the electric currents?” That is to say, what started them, and what keeps them running?”

    Same old spin. Time and again we show these fields are NOT scaleable. Time and again we point out the problem of the energy source that drives the field.

    Jean then says “I’m a bit surprised at the content f your last comment…”

    I’m not. It is part of the persistence of the organised agenda.They’ve learn regardless where the debate goes, always bring it back to core tenets. Follow the central edict of ‘spreading the word’ where; “Productive long term relationships will require patience, but we need collaborators who are eager to learn, to communicate with others, and to share in world-altering discovery.”

    My own question lately is; “Are these guys being paid for their comment by some eccentric electrician with plenty of cash?”

    Sorry. We’ve seen this same old story all before.

  68. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Question 2.

    Why do these guys always want the last word – slotting it in when everyone has moved on?

    I mean. 10 days since this story was first posted!

  69. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    @ mgmirkin

    In response to your question, if you want an astrophysical based paper on magnetic fields, I suggest you have a look at an article by Arieh Konigl and Raquel Salmeron entitled The Effects of Large-Scale Magnetic Fields on Disk Formation and Evolution

    Although this paper discusses some aspects of protostellar disks, the relationship between them and large interstellar or galactic fields give a different perspective that the now antiquated ones once held by Peratt and Alfen.

    Those under the advisement of Jean in this story might like to take head of the nature of this linked astrophysical article by Konigl and Salmeron. It content mirrors very well the voices of reason who have moderate and realistic views on this subject.

  70. Member

    @ Hon. Salacious B. Crumb,

    Hey, you might like to know that our ‘friend’ solrey has been whinging about you here.

  71. Jean Tate says

    Hon. Salacious B. Crumb,

    I firmly believe we should all be taking every opportunity to not only marvel at the successes in astrophysics that I, and other Universe Today writers, describe, but also explain the underlying science as well as we can. And it’s very pleasing to see that so many of those who comment on Universe Today stories do take so much trouble to do just that.

    mgmirkin seems very interested in plasma physics (google is everyone’s friend), and seems to be a pretty smart guy. Yet it’s obvious that he has yet to grasp one of the most basic aspects of the topic (see my comment above), despite a long history of interest in it (so google tells me).

    He also writes politely, so I have every expectation that he’ll do me the courtesy of responding to my comments and questions.

  72. Member

    Jean Tate:

    [MGgmirkin] also writes politely, so I have every expectation that he’ll do me the courtesy of responding to my comments and questions.


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