- The unexpected breakup of comets, some at considerable
distances from the Sun, has long baffled comet researchers. But there is
no mystery if comets are solid bodies discharging electrically as they
move into regions of different charge in the Sun's electric field.
- In 1976, Comet West never approached closer than 30 million
kilometers from the Sun. So when a disruption occurred and the comet split
into four fragments (subsequent to the display pictured above), astronomers
- More recently, the explosive break up of Comet Linear
in the summer of 2000 provoked even greater amazement. The event occurred
well over a hundred million kilometers from the Sun.
- In fact, eighty percent of comets that split do so when
they are far from the Sun, according to Carl Sagan and Nancy Druyan, authors
of the book Comet. Comet Wirtanen fragmended in 1957 a little inside the
orbit of Saturn, and something similar occurred to Comet Biela/Bambert.
- Strangely, other comets have approached much closer to
the Sun and not broken apart. The perihelion of the Great Comet of December
1680, studied by both Newton and Halley, was less than 100,000 kilometers
from the Sun, but did not split.
- Noting such considerations, Sagan and Druyan write: "The
gravitational tides of the Sun or unequal heating cannot be sole causes
of the splitting of comets. We still do not know why comets split".
- In a paper published in the 1960's Dr. Brian G. Marsden,
an astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, drew attention to the anomaly of comet fragmentation. Discussing
the "sungrazing" comets, he noted that two instances -- 1882
II and 1965 VIII -- look as if they had split apart near aphelion (their
farthest distance from the Sun), well beyond the orbit of Neptune and far
above the ecliptic plane. Moreover, the relative velocity of their separation
was far greater than could be due by solar heating.
- Marsden wrote: "Although most of the comets observed
to split have done so for no obvious reason, one really does require an
explanation when the velocity of separation is some 20% of the velocity
of the comet itself! A collision with some asteroidal object at 200 A.U.
from the sun, and 100 A.U. above the ecliptic plane, even though it would
only have to happen once, is scarcely worthy of serious consideration".
- Thus, according to Sagan and Druyan, "the problem
is left unsolved". But the authors appear to have found a clue without
recognizing its significance. "Splitting and jetting may be connected
. At the moment Comet West split, the individual fragments brightened noticeably,
and propelled large quantities of dust into space in the first of some
dozen bursts". The same could be said for the more recent Comet Linear
- Why would intense, high-velocity jets and explosions
of dust, traveling at supersonic speeds, precede the fragmentation of a
comet nucleus? In the electrical model of comets, the answer is obvious.
The behavior of comets will never be understood in simple mechanical terms
because they are electrified bodies orbiting within the plasma environment
of an electrified Sun. The solar plasma behaves like a very good conductor
in the Sun's electrical connection with the galaxy. And just like any good
conductor, the electric field within the plasma is very low. But unlike
good metal conductors, the solar plasma is of extremely low density and
therefore its current-carrying ability is limited.
- Comets must adjust to the changing plasma potential as
they move radially toward or away from the Sun. This adjustment is not
so difficult on the long, slow journey through the outer reaches of the
solar system. But it usually involves visible electric discharge effects
as the comet dashes through the inner solar system.
- The comet nucleus behaves like a capacitor. And as any
electrical engineer knows, if a discharge occurs within a capacitor it
will explode violently. That is what causes comet nuclei to fragment and
it is why the event is commonly preceded by outbursts far more energetic
than could be explained by sublimating ices. The energy is provided by
the stored electrical energy within the nucleus.
- All that is required to trigger the comet fragmentation
is an electrical breakdown within the comet. In this sense, it may be analogous
to the electrical breakdown evident in an earthquake (link: http://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/2005/arch05/051221earthquake.htm).
And that breakdown in the comet may happen with any sudden change in the
solar plasma environment. The more sudden the change in the comet's electrical
environment, the more likely that flaring and fragmentation will occur.
Electrical theorist Wallace Thornhill has noted that the remarkable 300,000
km wide flare-up of comet Halley between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus
followed some of the largest solar flares ever recorded (under the assumptions
of the "snowball" theory of comets, the nucleus should be frozen
and inert at that distance).
- The electrical model also explains why we should expect
long-period comets to put on a brighter display than short-period comets.
The long-period comets spend a longer time in a region of lower plasma
potential than the short-period comets. Consequently, their voltage difference
on their approach to the Sun will be higher, leading to a brighter and
more energetic discharge.
- The "puzzling" absence of small (house-sized)
comets may be explained in equally simple terms electrically. Such small
objects would readily lose their charge before reaching the inner solar
system. But a comet nucleus kilometers in diameter presents a much different
electrical profile and its charge could not be dissipated so quickly.