Plasma cosmology

From Academic Kids


Plasma cosmology is a non-standard cosmological model which attempts to explain the large scale structure of the universe using electromagnetic interactions in astrophysical plasmas. It was proposed by plasma physicist Hannes Alfvén and in his 1966 book Worlds-Antiworlds and by Oskar Klein in 1971. The model has since been refined by Anthony Peratt and Eric Lerner.

Many astrophysical processes are widely agreed to rely on plasmas, including stellar fusion and active galactic nuclei. The Big Bang model of cosmology suggests that the early universe was composed entirely of plasma from reheating until recombination. Plasma cosmology, however, proposes that many cosmological processes that are explained through gravitational physics in Big Bang cosmology are in fact electromagnetic in nature. It is outside the mainstream of academic cosmology.



Despite the general importance of plasma in astrophysics, and the standard model's use of electromagnetic forces for describing local phenomena, the standard model asserts that these forces are not important at large cosmological distances. Unlike gravitation, which is attractive only, electromagnetism is both attractive and repulsive. Over large distances electromagnetic forces are believed to cancel each other because structures in the universe are generally neutral.

This is not always the case however. It can be shown that the electromagnetic forces are several orders of magnitude greater than the gravitational forces in certain plasmas and that the electromagnetic forces can have a longer range than gravitational forces. On the largest scales, evidence that plasmas exhibit external forces on physical objects such as galaxies is the same as that which has led standard model researchers to derive the existence of both dark matter and dark energy.

In the mid-1990s, interest in plasma cosmologies was piqued by a limited few in the standard (Big Bang) cosmological community, mostly as a "fallback" theory, in case COBE failed to discover variations in the CMB (cosmic microwave background) or in case primordial helium abundances turned out to be unexplainable by standard cosmologies. This interest rapidly waned as more precise measurements, such as those from COBE, appeared to support standard cosmologies in the late 1990's.

Both Anthony Peratt and Eric J. Lerner have proposed how the CMB can support plasma cosmology. In particular, Lerner has shown how the COBE results themselves can support plasma cosmology by means of an ambient radiation field due to synchrotron radiation. This model fails to predict detail modelling from the CMB anisotropy peaks in the power spectrum. In particular, it fails to predict the 1 degree mode on the sky or the strength of this feature. Plasma cosmology apologists point out that researchers at the University of Durham have analyzed results from the WMAP probe and discovered cluster correlations in certain modes of the CMB's anisotropies. A specific kind of tiny measured anisotropies in the CMB are seen to correspond to the location of local galactic clusters. The Durham researchers attribute it to the standard model's Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect and since this effect isn't universal (the majority of inhomogeneities do not correspond to clusters), it is unclear how or if Lerner's cosmology could predict this feature.

Alfvén's model

One of the first and most well developed models of plasma cosmology was put forth in 1965 by Nobel laureate Hannes Alfvén. In his model, the universe exists as a mixture of matter and antimatter which he called ambiplasma. The cellular regions of matter and antimatter can mutually annihilate, leaving protons and electrons. This can cause a rapid expansion of the region local to the annihilation, which Alfven considered as a possible explanation for the observed apparent expansion of the universe. The Alfvén model deals with the problem of cancellation explained above by postulating that the regions of matter and anti-matter are larger than the presently observable universe, and are separated by double-layers in the plasma. Alfvén stressed the importance of the cellular and filamentary nature of plasmas at any scale, from the laboratory to the galactic.

Alfvén's model possesses a number of highly appealing properties. Firstly, it addresses the question of what happened before expansion. Alfvén postulated that the universe has always existed, and that the expansion we might now be seeing is merely a local phase of a much larger history. Secondly, the model does not invoke any exotic physics (other than antimatter, which has been verified on Earth in high-energy colliders), instead modelling the universe using the well-understood electromagnetic forces along with gravity. Indeed, Alfvén based his ideas on experimental work in plasma physics here on earth. He strongly advocated experimental work as a necessary and dominant part of any theory. Even in the field of earth-based plasma physics, he had to overcome the inertia of the purely theoretical approach among his colleagues, whose analysis could not make any accurate predictions.

Criticisms of Alfvén's model

Alfvén proposed that the bubble of matter we are in is larger than the observable universe. This brought the question of how one would go about testing the model if the very large structures that it predicts cannot be observed. However, many stuctures can be observed, such as intergalactic Birkeland currents, double-layers, velocity-selection effects at multiple scales, etc.

Unfortunately, from a theoretical point of view, there remain a number of problems with Alfvén's model. Alfvén did not formalize his model to the point where it is possible to perform numerical simulations similar to those now routinely performed to model the behavior of early galaxies in the standard cosmology and which are used to predict the correlation function of the universe. Instead, Alfvén, in his usual style, outlined a very general view of how galaxies are disc-generators. He was quite unconcerned with conforming his model so that it can make the same predictions as the Big Bang.

Although 3-D formation simulations of single galaxies have been performed using a plasma model (see articles by Anthony Peratt) wherein electromagnetic forces are taken into account along with gravitation, there have been no published papers which attempt to calculate correlation functions and therefore allow detailed comparison with observations. However, when one compares the simulation cross-section with radio isophotes of AGN, one sees a remarkable resemblance. This resemblance is not surprising, however, since it is well-understood that the high-energies associated with AGN should be similar to plasmas.

Another problem is, ironically, that plasma cosmologies depend on physics which is, while not completely well-understood, quite well-documented from laboratory experimentation. Because the standard Big Bang model involves physics that is poorly understood, one can adjust Big Bang models to fit observations by invoking wiggle room parameters and exotic physics, such as the existence of as-yet unobserved particles. Due to its empirical foundations (Alfven was a laboratory physicist at heart, developing power-transmission systems and the like), it is much harder to modify Alfvén's model to fit cosmological observations.

From an observational point of view, the gamma rays emitted by even small amounts of matter/antimatter annihilation should be easily visible using gamma ray telescopes. However, such gamma rays have not been observed. One could rescue this model by proposing, as Alfvén does, that the bubble of matter we are in is larger than the observable universe. This then brings up the question of how one would go about testing the model if the structures that it predicts cannot be observed. In order to test the model, one would have to find some signature of the model in current observations, and this requires that the model be formalized to the point where detailed quantitative predictions can be made. That opens the theoretical problem mentioned in the last paragraph.

Other work

It must be remembered that Alfvén's model of the universe is not the only model within the field of plasma cosmology. Alfvén did play a very large role in founding the fields of plasma physics and plasma cosmology, however many physicists have expounded on his model and there are in fact versions today which greatly account for much of the observable phenomena in the universe, including the CMB, the distribution of galaxies, the formation of galaxies, redshift, large-scale energy flow and storage, etc..

Eric Lerner and Anthony Peratt have both played a large role in further developing this cosmology. Lerner has taken a different view on the anti-matter problem, dismissing parts of it and formulating a more approachable physical mechanism to account for quasar->galaxy formation. ... more to come


Although there are many local redshifting mechanisms observed in laboratory experimentation with plasmas, one problem in using a majority of them to explain cosmological redshifts is that it is difficult to account for a change in the energy of a photon going through plasma without photon scattering (changing the photon's direction of propagation.) In some non-linear optical phenomena there are forms of scattering in which the direction of propagation of the photons is not changed. Specifically, one promising candidate for astrophysical application is Forward Brillouin Scattering, found locally in Laser Fusion devices, as an example. This form of forward scattering causes a redshift and a broadening of spectral lines without changing the direction of propagation of the incident light.

Future work

There is much work to be done in this field. Lerner's model of quasar and galaxy formation can be compared with Halton Arp's observations of quasars and AGN. The non-linear redshift phenomena can also be compared with Arp's data and Peratt's data.

Within plasma cosmology, there have been no published papers which make predictions on the primordial helium abundance (although this subject is addressed in Lerner's book,) or which calculate correlation functions.

The Electric Universe

A variant of plasma cosmology has become popular among catastrophists since the late 20th century. Dubbed the "Electric Universe" theory by many of its proponents, it appears to be a heavily modified version of the plasma cosmology models of Lerner and Peratt. It also places heavy emphasis on Arp's redshift theories. Another central concept in the Electric Universe model is the "electric star" theory, which was first proposed by Ralph Juergens, a civil engineer from Arizona. In this model, stars are powered by external electric currents rather than by fusion reactions in their cores. It thus runs contrary to standard models of stellar physics and evolution.

It is uncertain why plasma cosmology was incorporated into the theories. It appears to be used by them as an explanation of catastrophes that they insist took place in ancient history. Their heavy emphasis on Halton Arp's work in addition to plasma cosmology indicates that it is most likely also a part of a general opposition to the Big Bang theory, rather than an attempt to reconcile the theories of Arp and the plasma cosmologists.

The Electric Universe model does not appear to be taken seriously by most plasma cosmologists. It is not mentioned in the books, websites, or journal publications of Alfven, Peratt, Lerner, et al. (On page 4 of his book The Big Bang Never Happened, Lerner stated "[W]hat I describe here is not... a Velikovskian fantasy." This serves as an indicator as to how plasma cosmologists view Velikovskians.) Plasma cosmologists have likewise ignored the electric star theory, and have always accepted the standard (fusion) theory.

Figures in plasma cosmology

The following physicists and astronomers helped, either directly or indirectly, to develop this field:

  • Hannes Alfvén - Along with Birkeland, fathered Plasma Cosmology and was a pioneer in laboratory based plasma physics. Received the only Nobel Prize ever awarded to a plasma physicist.
  • Halton Arp - Astronomer famous for his work on anomalous redshifts, "Quasar, Redshifts and Controversies".
  • Kristian Birkeland - First suggested that polar electric currents [or auroral electrojets] are connected to a system of filaments (now called "Birkeland Currents") that flowed along geomagnetic field lines into and away from the polar region. Suggested that space is not a vacuum but is instead filled with plasma. Pioneered the technique of "laboratory astrophysics", which became directly responsible for our present understanding of the aurora.
  • Eric Lerner - Claims that the intergalactic medium is a strong absorber of the cosmic microwave background radiation with the absorption occuring in narrow filaments. Postulates that quasars are not related to black holes but are rather produced by a magnetic self-compression process similar to that occurring in the plasma focus.
  • Anthony Peratt - Developed computer simulations of galaxy formation using Birkeland currents along with gravity. Along with Alfven, organized international conferences on Plasma Cosmology.
  • Nikola Tesla - Developed the rotating magnetic field model.
  • Gerrit L. Verschuur - Radio Astronomer, writer of "Interstellar matters : essays on curiosity and astronomical discovery" and "Cosmic catastrophes".

See also

Links and resources

  • Royal Astronomical Society. "Corrupted echoes from the Big Bang?". RAS Press Notice PN 04/01 (
  • Wright, E. L. "Errors in Lerner's Cosmology (".
  • Lerner, E. J. "Dr. Wright is Wrong (". Lerner's reply to the above.
  • Peratt, Anthony, "Plasma Universe (". (Frameset)
    • Peratt, Anthony, "Plasma Universe (". (Navigation : no frames)
    • Peratt, Anthony, "Plasma Cosmology (" (Related Papers.)
  • Wurden, Glen, "The Plasma Universe (". Los Alamos National Laboratory. University of California (U.S. Department of Energy). (General Plasma Research)
  • Melrose, Don B., "Plasma Astrophysics: Personal Recollections of the Start of a New Field (". Research Centre for Theoretical Astrophysics. School of Physics, University of Sydney.
    • Melrose, Don B., "Quantum Plasmadynamics (". Research Centre for Theoretical Astrophysics, School of Physics, University of Sydney.
  • "US / Russia Collaboration in Plasma Astrophysics (". (Started in 1990.)
  • Marmet, Paul, "Big Bang Cosmology Meets an Astronomical Death (". 21st Century, Science and Technology,Washington, D.C.
  • Thornhill, Wal, "Electric Universe (". Solution of the mystery. (Neo-Velikovskian site)
  • Arp, Halton, "Website (". (Community forum and access to some papers.)
  • Eastman, Timothy E., "Plasma Astrophysics (". Plasmas International. (References, Parameters, and Research Centers links.)
  • "Plasma Astrophysics (". Laboratory for Laser Energetics, University of Rochester.
  • Goodman, J., "The Case for Plasma Cosmology ("
  • "Lecture (". Some more info


  • IEEE Xplore, IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science (, 18 issue 1 (1990), Special Issue on Plasma Cosmology.
  • G. Arcidiacono, "Plasma physics and big-bang cosmology", Hadronic Journal 18, 306-318 (1995).
  • J. E. Brandenburg, "A model cosmology based on gravity-electromagnetism unification", Astrophysics and Space Science 227, 133-144 (1995).
  • J. Kanipe, "The pillars of cosmology: a short history and assessment". Astrophysics and Space Science 227, 109-118 (1995).
  • O. Klein, "Arguments concerning relativity and cosmology," Science 171 (1971), 339.
  • W. C. Kolb, "How can spirals persist?," Astrophysics and Space Science 227, 175-186 (1995).
  • E. J. Lerner, "Intergalactic radio absorption and the Cobe data", Astrophys. Space Sci. 227, 61-81 (1995)
  • E. J. Lerner, "On the problem of Big-bang nucleosynthesis", Astrophys. Space Sci. 227, 145-149 (1995).
  • B. E. Meierovich, "Limiting current in general relativity" Gravitation and Cosmology 3, 29-37 (1997).
  • A. L. Peratt, "Plasma and the universe: Large-scale dynamics, filamentation, and radiation", Astrophys. Space Sci. 227, 97-107 (1995).
  • A. L. Peratt, "Plasma cosmology", IEEE T. Plasma Sci. 18, 1-4 (1990).
  • C. M. Snell and A. L. Peratt, "Rotation velocity and neutral hydrogen distribution dependency on magnetic-field strength in spiral galaxies", Astrophys. Space Sci. 227, 167-173 (1995).

Related Books

  • H. Alfvén, Worlds-antiworlds: antimatter in cosmology, (Freeman, 1966).
  • H. Alfvén, Cosmic Plasma (Reidel, 1981) ISBN 9027711518
  • E. J. Lerner, The Big Bang Never Happened, (Vintage, 1992) ISBN 067974049X
  • A. L. Peratt, Physics of the Plasma Universe, (Springer, 1992) ISBN 0387975756

Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools