Left: Specimen produced in the laboratory of CJ Ransom.
Right: Comet Hartley.

For thousands of years, the appearance of a comet in the terrestrial skies has provoked deep anxiety and even collective hysteria in humans the world over. The reasons for this response are not entirely clear. Working with historical testimony, David Talbott and his colleagues have concluded that comet fears originated in a global experience of catastrophe and terror. Behind all of the regional traditions and stories is the memory of the "Great Comet," the mother of all comets. The memory traces to the origins of world mythology, according to Talbott, and is particularly vivid in the story of a cosmic serpent or dragon threatening to destroy the world. The most common ancient ideas attached to a comet were the death of kings, the fall of kingdoms, cosmic upheaval, and the end of the world.

It is well worth asking why this collective anxiety can be provoked with the first appearance of a mere wisp of gas in the heavens. The question is especially appropriate today because of the approach of the Comet Elenin, which is predicted to pass within about 0.233 AU of the Earth in October of this year. Speculations about Elenin range from a theoretical NASA coverup of an "extinction level event," to theories that the comet is actually the ever-elusive planet "Nibiru" of author Zecharia Sitchin's lore. (For a thoughtful meditation on the credibility of some of these theories, see the piece, "Is Google Censoring Nibiru?"). It should be noted here that the leading proponent of the electric universe, Wal Thornhill, has refrained from predicting specific behaviors of Elenin due to the number of unknowns. These unknowns (discussed below) include the Sun's activity, and the constituent material of the comet itself.

One can understand the frustration NASA likely feels when witnessing the carnival of theories surrounding space science news stories today. However, NASA must surely bear some of the responsibility for the evident mistrust and even anger so often expressed toward the agency. On the issue of comets NASA has never acknowledged the failures of the standard theory. We are still told that comets are "dirty snowballs" that formed billions of years ago in a theoretical "Oort cloud." The idea makes no sense and has been repeatedly falsified by the observed behaviors of comets. Silence on such matters is not helpful. When the institutions of science choose a path of denial on controversial matters, rightly or wrongly it can only fuel perceptions of secrecy and suppression.

The unpredictable behavior of comets continually contradicts the tenets of traditional comet theory - to the point that some experts now wonder if a theory even exists. "It's a mystery to me how comets work at all," said Donald Brownlee, principle investigator of NASA's Stardust Mission.

One need only review the extraordinary spectacle provided by Comet Holmes 17P to see how deep the crisis in cometology reaches. In October of 2007, Holmes suddenly and unexpectedly brightened by a factor of a million. In less then 24 hours, it grew from a small 17th magnitude comet to a magnitude of 2.5, so large it was easily visible to the naked eye on Earth. Holmes' coma continued expanding until by mid-November of '07 it had become the largest object in the solar system, vastly larger than the Sun. The coma's diameter had grown from 28 thousand kilometers to 7 million km.

At the time of Holmes' extraordinary display, the comet was actually moving away from the Sun, and therefore cooling. Among the common sense questions posed by the enigma: how does such a gravitationally minuscule body hold in place a uniform, spherical coma 7 million kilometers in diameter? If Holmes' flare-up was the result of a collapse or explosion (as some scientists speculated) why was the ejected material not asymmetrical (as one would anticipate from an explosion)? Why did the claimed explosion not produce a variety of fragmentary sizes instead of the extremely fine dust that was actually observed? What explosive event could have caused the comet to luminate for MONTHS, rather than the SECONDS typical of an explosion's luminescence? Why did the comet's gaseous, dusty, spherical cloud persist for months, rather than dispersing quickly away from the comet?

Unfortunately, the science media and the astronomical community had barely anything to say about Comet Holmes. This seems nearly unbelievable, considering the enormous interest the comet generated on the Internet. As Thunderbolts contributor Scott Wall explained in his 2008 article, " Comet Holmes - a Media Non-event":
You might think that this remarkable behaviour would be big news, particularly among astronomers. A prominent Astronomy magazine recently published their top ten news stories of 2007. Surprisingly, this spectacular comet was not named as the top story. It didn't even finish in the top ten. In fact, the entire magazine completely ignored the comet. There was not even an editorial comment. Additionally, there was little if any newspaper or TV coverage....
One might think that the bizarre and unpredictable behavior of comets would inspire a fundamental reconsideration of comet theory. But comet science as a whole continues in a state of drift, never asking the questions that could change the picture entirely. For years, however, the questions have been asked by proponents of the Electric Universe, who contend that comets are charged objects moving through the electric field of the Sun. In recent years only the electric comet model has anticipated the major surprises in comet science, a fact anyone can confirm for himself. It is only reasonable, therefore, to ask if an electrical explanation might help us to understand the explosive behavior of Comet Holmes.

The electric comet theory sees comets as leftovers of relatively recent catastrophic events in the solar system (see below). Comets have elliptical orbits for good reason, and the most dramatic comet displays will typically involve highly elliptical orbits. During its time in the outer reaches of the solar system, the comet will acquire a negative charge with respect to the Sun. Then, as it approaches the inner limits of its orbit, accelerating through the electric field of the Sun, it will begin to discharge to the plasma surrounding it, producing the familiar bright coma and tail. Comet jets are electric discharges to the nucleus - the jets electrically machine the comet surface in a process similar to the industrial process known as spark discharge machining.

The electric view of comets can explain most if not all of the so-called mysteries that have long plagued cometologists, including: unexpectedly high temperatures and X-ray emissions from cometary comas (something never anticipated by mainstream theorists); the sharply carved relief of comets -- the exact opposite of what astronomers expected under the dirty snowball model; comets breaking apart or exploding considerable distances from the sun; explosive cometary jets that occur too far from the sun to be plausibly explained as eruptions of subsurface gas and water from solar heating; ejection of larger particles and even "gravel," something never imagined under the standard comet model (which supposes that nuclei accrete from primordial clouds of ice, gas, and dust); a short supply or complete absence of water and other volatiles on comets' nuclei; and the unexplained ability of a relatively minuscule comet nucleus to hold in place a highly spherical coma, up to millions of miles in diameter, against the force of the solar wind (a phenomenon graphically displayed by Comet Holmes).

When asked to interpret Holmes' "flare-up," Wal Thornhill suggested in a private email:
Outbursts from comets at great distances from the Sun seem to be correlated with a sudden change in the solar 'wind' plasma environment due to a solar storm. The point about sudden comet outbursts is that we are dealing with a sudden, discontinuous process of plasma discharge - a switch from dark current mode to normal glow mode. It is a complex surface phenomenon that cannot be predicted. The best we can do is to say that the passage of a sudden change in the solar wind is the most likely time to see a flareup.
And in fact, the sun had been electrically active in the days before Holmes' so-called "explosion". Investigator Michael Mozina noticed that there was a large spike in the density of the solar wind on October 22 at 19:45, two days prior to the flare-up (See this movie or this graph). This could have switched the comet into what Thornhill describes as normal glow mode, allowing the plasma coma to become visible.

Obviously, an electric comet will require more than a minor theoretical adjustment in the space sciences. In fact, any honest consideration of the electric comet must open the door to a vast reassessment of astronomical theory. The electric comet means an electric Sun - the Sun is powered by electric currents. Then the great enigmas of the Sun - especially the "mysterious" acceleration of the solar wind - would find an answer that so far have remained off the grid of solar physics. This reassessment wouldn't stop with the Sun, since the Sun is just one of billions of stars. A reconsideration of comets would lead to a sweeping revolution in the space sciences, changing our picture of space altogether.

Sadly, NASA did not capitalize on a golden opportunity to definitively test the electric comet hypothesis in 2005, when scientists fired an 800-pound copper projectile into comet Tempel 1 as part of the Deep Impact mission. However, the electrical view of comets was clearly not on the table for NASA's consideration. If it had been, a very simple test could have proven that we live in an electric solar system with an electrified Sun. A Langmuir probe or simple current metering system attached to a corona discharge point could have registered the discontinuities in the plasma discharge (dark current to glow to arc) between the impact probe and the surrounding plasma as the probe closed on the comet nucleus. Given what was learned in the mission, we have reason to believe the test would have been favorable to the electric comet. In fact, Wal Thornhill expressly predicted the most "surprising" of these findings in advance of the mission. In 2001, shortly after the announcement of Deep Impact, Thornhill wrote:
Given the erroneous standard model of comets it is an interesting exercise to imagine what surprises are in store for astronomers if the plan is successful. The electrical model suggests the likelihood of an electrical discharge between the comet nucleus and the copper projectile, particularly if the comet is actively flaring at the time. The projectile will approach too quickly for a slow electrical discharge to occur. So the energetic effects of the encounter should exceed that of a simple physical impact, in the same way that was seen with comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 at Jupiter.
Twenty-four hours before the impact event, in collaboration with the group, Thornhill predicted that an electrical "flash" might precede the impact and explosion, and that the explosion would be far more energetic than NASA anticipated. And this is precisely what happened on July 4, 2005, much to the astonishment of NASA and astronomers around the world.

Other successful Thornhill predictions included:
  • a lack of increase in water production in the cometary coma (indicating a lack of subsurface water anticipated by astronomers);
  • an unexpected lack of ice on the comet nucleus, or water in the immediate ejecta from impact;
  • a sculpted comet surface with sharply defined craters, valleys, mesas, and ridges (the precise opposite of what one expects of a "dirty snowball");
  • a rearrangement of the comet's jets due to charge re-distribution.
In Internet discussions on the predictive successes of the electric universe, some anti-EU activists have asserted that the Deep Impact (and many other successful EU) predictions can be dismissed because they have not been quantitative to the mathematicians' satisfaction. In other words, a successful prediction does not count as evidence if the prediction does not give a numerical value. This meaningless response would not be accepted by any self-respecting scientist. The primary goal in any science must be to first get the concepts established to coherently fit all available observation. If the concepts are correct, mathematics become a useful tool in completing the picture at a higher level of precision. But mathematical precision in and of itself is useless in the absence of simple and direct explanatory power.

Note also that Alfvén's plasma cosmology is an excellent theory when measured by its successful predictions. Despite this, "..the continuing resistance to Alfvén's work is based on a widely held opinion that his predictions are not derived from a plausible physical theory (i.e., a theory that conforms to the dominant paradigm). If a theory is not acceptable, it does not gain credit by making successful predictions. This would imply that the role of prediction as a means of evaluating scientific theories has been exaggerated." - Stephen G. Brush, Alfvén's Programme in Solar System Physics, IEEE Transactions On Plasma Science, Vol. 20, No. 6, December 1992, p. 577.

In the electric universe, an essential contribution comes from experimental work in the laboratory, work that is foundational in establishing a frame of reference logically prior to any mathematical experiments. Due to the scalability of electrical events, patterns that can only be created by electric discharge in the laboratory become extremely significant when these patterns are observed on objects in space. Of this principle, numerous examples can be given. The formation of comets and asteroids is an excellent case in point, due to the unique but repeated forms of these bodies, often exhibiting a double-lobed peanut shape. Electric universe advocates have long contended that comets and asteroids were excavated from the surface of planets and moons in a prior epoch of planetary instability and electrical discharge activity. The evidence suggests that these bodies were fused by electric arcs acting on surfaces. The best example of this process is likely the planet Mars, since it is now known that material was removed from the crust (from the surface down) from the Martian northern hemisphere. Additionally, planetary scientists now suggest that the asteroid-like Martian moon Phobos was formed out of material violently removed from the surface by cosmic events not well-understood. In the documentary The Lightning Scarred Planet Mars, David Talbott presents a strong evidential case that Phobos was fused by electrical discharge acting on the surface of Mars.

This interpretation of comet and asteroid formation is supported by the experimental work of plasma physicist C J Ransom at Vemasat Laboratories. Ransom subjected a bed of hematite to an electric arc, creating a number of fused spheres alongside occasional double-lobed configurations. The latter were remarkably similar to the incongruous shapes of numerous comets and asteroids. For a side-by-side comparison, note the shape below on the left and similarity to the comet Hartley, shown on the right:

In light of this extraordinary comparison, the anti-EU activists's relentless demands for mathematical quantification grow more absurd. Institutionalized astronomy, with its massive advantages in the forms of billions of dollars of funding, biased educational and peer-review systems and the uncritical support of science media, has failed to resolve the "mysteries" of comets. In contrast, a few plasma experimentalists working with virtual pocket change have delivered findings that can and should revolutionize comet science.

In many scientific controversies today - from global warming to Genetically Modified Organisms to the safety of nuclear power - the public's trust in officialdom grows evermore tenuous. A failure by NASA to honestly and thoroughly reassess comet theory may have unforeseen, long-term consequences for the agency's credibility and the public trust. Such a reassessment must not ignore the contributions of plasma physicists and electrical engineers, no matter how far-reaching or uncomfortable the ramifications may be for conventional theorists. In this regard, perhaps the world's leading astronomers would be wise to heed the words of the Professor Randy Pausch who once quipped, "When there's an elephant in the room introduce him."