Hey, sometimes planets just explode.
In fact, for some gravity theories the trick is to figure out why all planets don’t explode all the time. Astronomer Tom Van Flandern is up to the challenge.
I’d often read and heard references to Tom Van Flandern and his exploding planet theories, but I’d never taken them seriously enough to check. After reading some of Halton Arp’s articles I tracked down Van Flandern’s website and read the details of his theories.
I’m still not sure if Van Flandern is on the level or if he is just having fun by tweaking the antennas, by tugging on the tin foil, of internet fringe amateur scientists by making up theories that kinda sorta come close to something kinda sorta like reason.
However since Van Flandern’s theories are certainly no less odd than currently acceptable speculation about dark matter, dark energy and string theory, I’m going to deal with his theories as if he’s on the level. At least for this week.
For the most part, I’m interested in theories of exploding planets and increasing mass just for their impact on solar system formation. I’m going to talk about that tomorrow, because I haven’t seen—yet—either Arp or Van Flandern address that issue directly and it seems to be the most attractive aspect of such thinking.
As background to tomorrow’s post, here is Van Flandern writing about exploding planets. Prior to this excerpt, he has identified three mechanisms which can cause a planet to explode. He briefly discusses two of them—phase changes and natural fission—and then turns his attention to the key dynamic, gravitational heat energy. [This excerpt is heavily footnoted, but I’ve removed the notes. You can check out the references in the original by following the link at the end of the quote. As some experienced internet readers would probably guess, most of the footnotes refer to other writings by Van Flandern.       ;-)       ]
The third planetary explosion mechanism involves an unexplored potential source of energy. Its main strength is that it provides an indefinitely large reservoir of energy, quite sufficient for exploding giant planets and even stars. Its main weakness is its break with conventional thinking, which should not at all be equated with implausibility. In fact, the energy source itself is just our familiar old friend, gravity.
The theory of general relativity (GR) has one mathematical form but two different physical interpretations – the field and the geometric. Unfortunately for both physics students trying to learn the theory and for the progress of science, only the geometric or “curved space-time” interpretation of GR is still taught in most schools and textbooks. In the geometric interpretation, gravity is not a conventional physical force at all, but is merely a consequence of the curvature of “space-time”. Bodies follow the nearest equivalent of a straight line available to them through this space-time conception. (Note that “space-time” is quite different from space plus time separately. For example, time must be factored by the unit for imaginary numbers i, and the path of a body through space is quite different from a straight line through space.) Because of the passive nature of motion changes in this conception (i.e., no force acts), gravity adds no internal energy to the bodies it acts upon. However, this geometric interpretation has the disadvantage that it violates two principles of physics – causality and momentum conservation. In brief, a body at rest lacks a cause to commence motion; and changes in the momentum of any target of gravity must be created ex nihilo rather than by assimilating momentum from a source mass via some propagating momentum carrier.
However, GR has an alternative “force” interpretation, the view preferred by Einstein, Dirac, and Feynman, among many other physicists of their times. In this view, gravity is an ordinary physical force. It differs from Newtonian gravitational force only by the addition of a few small effects such as the bending of light rays passing a source mass. These small effects may be thought of as either due to a curvature of space (although a taut rope is unaffected) or alternately as a refraction effect in an optical medium – the light-carrying medium (LCM). We will hereafter refer to this medium as “elysium”, an appropriate concept from Greek mythology that is phonetically similar to “LCM”. This “refraction in an optical medium” way of interpreting GR effects was apparently first mentioned in print by Eddington in 1920, but has been discussed more extensively by later authors. Its importance here is that it allows GR to be consistent with models of gravitation that invoke momentum-carrying entities propagating between source masses and target bodies. Such models provide a proximate cause for gravitational acceleration and convey momentum from the source mass to the target body, eliminating the two major objections to the geometric interpretation. But such propagating carrier entities also deposit energy, usually in the form of heat, in the target bodies that absorb them.
The model of gravity we will adopt here is of the Le Sage type, wherein the universe is filled with a flux of tiny, fast particles called “gravitons” (not to be confused with the spin-2 “gravitons” of quantum physics) that interact weakly with matter. In this conception, the apple falls from the tree because more of this flux strikes the apple every second from above than from below because the Earth blocks many gravitons trying to strike the apple from below. Likewise, any two bodies in space shadow one another from some graviton impacts, and hence feel a net push toward one another. In this model, the force of gravity exists because real gravitons are missing from the flux emerging from the Earth, which therefore fail to push on the apple from below enough to balance the net push it receives from above. For convenience, however, it is easier to think of the missing gravitons as if they were real gravitons with negative mass emerging from the Earth and pulling on the apple.
It has been demonstrated that Le Sage-type models give all the properties of Newtonian gravity. A modern variant on the model, in which space is filled with elysium that is in turn made denser near any mass by gravitons, also reproduces the exact first-order predictions of GR through the mechanism of refraction. But this model also predicts several new properties of gravity. Of importance here is the consequence that gravitational fields in this conception are dynamic and continually regenerated, as opposed to static with no moving parts as in the geometric interpretation of GR. As such, these gravitons deposit their momentum as energy in the masses that continually absorb them from the universal flux.
The energy deposited is in fact so much that, when Maxwell and Kelvin debated the merits of a Le Sage model in the late 19th century, the primary argument against the model was that it would vaporize masses in a very short time by excessive heating. Slabinski has now found an elegant solution to this problem. In essence, he showed that if all gravitons are scattered, no net force results. If all gravitons are absorbed, the heat excess is enormous and the body vaporizes. But with a mixture of absorption and scattering, the parameters for the mass, speed, and flux density for gravitons have a solution that allows the force generated to be proportional to Newton’s universal gravitational constant, yet the heat deposits in masses to remain consistent with the excess heat flows from planets actually seen in observations.
In other words, hypothetical graviton properties exist that allow the model to match observations, yet provide no contradiction with other data or experiments. Therefore, gravitons provide an elegant and intuitive explanation for all known properties of gravity and in addition a potential source of vast amounts of energy. The problem to be solved became one of how to keep large masses from exploding during most of their lifetimes, rather than how to explode them. To fill out the picture, a bit of ordinary matter small and compact enough to absorb all gravitons that hit it (called a “matter ingredient”, or MI for short) is surrounded by elysium that gets denser near matter very much as a planetary atmosphere would. Both the MI and its surrounding elysium are immersed in a continual flux of gravitons. Most gravitons pass through the denser, nearby elysium, and are scattered by that process. Any asymmetry in the directionality of the graviton flux will produce a contribution to the acceleration of the MI. But only the relatively infrequent direct collisions of gravitons with the MI add heat to it. Over time, this heat builds up, and is eventually expelled by spontaneous emission of a photon or by radioactive decay. The totality of this heat from all MIs in a body is radiated back into space and observed as the excess heat flow of that body.
Of course, graviton impacts within the elysium add heat to this medium as well. However, elysium is composed of entities (called “elysons”) small enough that they easily flow through masses. Even the elysium “atmospheres” of MIs are continually exchanged by this flow with fresh elysium. So the bulk of the heat generated by gravitons near MIs is carried away by the elysium (undetectably, because we cannot yet observe elysium). This medium is itself in thermal equilibrium with the graviton flux. Indeed, all bodies would normally reach a thermodynamic equilibrium with the graviton flux, whereat they radiate just as much heat away as they continually absorb.
But imagine what would happen if matter became dense enough to interfere with the free flow of elysium. In that case, heat would be accumulated from all graviton impacts, including those “scattered” by the elysium. And that heat could not freely flow away. Potentially, 30 orders of magnitude (the ratio of scattered to absorbed gravitons) more heat could accumulate than happens normally – perhaps 1050 ergs/s in the case of the Earth. A typical nova is said to release about 1042 ergs in total. The excess energy needed to cause a nova might be accumulated from the graviton flux in as little as 10-8 seconds (10 ns) if the process operated with 100% efficiency.
So we have enough energy to explode even the largest of planets, and probably stars of any size too. But what could trigger such an event? We already have part of the answer in the first explosion mechanism above, phase changes. But now, we are more interested in the possibility of implosions than explosions. An imploding planet might create a state of ultra-high density in the core capable of impeding the free flow of elysium and normal penetration by gravitons. And it could create that condition rapidly because the gravitons have speeds far higher than lightspeed, so all parts of the planet ready for a phase change are capable of communicating and coordinating that change almost instantly. As soon as flowing elysium becomes trapped in a super-dense core, the heat deposits from the graviton flux quickly exceed the energy needed for a nova explosion, and the planet explodes – in less than a millisecond!
One obvious objection to this model is that, under normal circumstances where elysium is free to flow, it will still take many seconds, perhaps even minutes, to travel completely through a planet at astrophysical speeds. So why doesn’t it accumulate enough heat from gravitons during that time to explode the planet? The answer is that free elysium, whether traveling through a planet or traveling through isolated, otherwise empty space, is always being bombarded with gravitons and accumulating heat. In effect, elysium must be a “boiling” medium. But as we remarked above, it is in equilibrium with the graviton medium, emitting as much energy back to the gravitons as it absorbs from them. This energy is temporarily stored as a high vibrational motion of individual elysons – vibrations comparably fast to graviton speeds. Elysium inside a planet is only mildly denser that elysium in free space. (E.g., at the surface of the Sun, the difference is only about a part in ten thousand.) So as long as the elysium does not get trapped, it can easily carry away the excess heat. But the denser it is, the hotter it will make the nearby matter.
The equilibrium with gravitons is maintained for all elysium in open space. But where elysium or matter gets denser, absorption of gravitons increases. Where elysium is trapped by ultra-high matter density, graviton absorption is correspondingly high and the heat builds up because the elysium is not free to flow. For example, light on a sunny day can pass through a windshield, be absorbed within a car, be re-emitted at a longer wavelength, and then be unable to pass freely back out through the windshield because of the wavelength change, trapping heat in the car. An ultra-high-density matter layer may act in the manner of a windshield to trap elysium and heat deposits. When that happens, the body quickly builds up heat energy until it explodes.
Applications of this model to astrophysics are numerous, including solving the puzzle of coordinated collapse of supernova interiors (because gravitons travel much faster than light), and providing a means of turning on thermonuclear reactions in all stars without need of a specific trigger mechanism. In general, we note that, the larger the mass, the more heat that mass is likely to contain. As stars accrete and their cores get gradually denser, the mildly impeded elysium flow would build up core heat until the million-degree trigger temperature was reached. The resulting thermonuclear processes themselves radiate away so much heat that they could prevent further core-density increases, stabilizing the star. Indeed, the continual low-level disturbance of elysium by gravitons throughout open space would seem likely to produce the continual emission of low-energy “light”-waves to maintain thermodynamic equilibrium. To observers, this would look like a low-level radiation from otherwise empty space. Because the elysium must extend beyond the limits of the visible universe, it would effectively be optically thick, giving the radiation a blackbody character. So this might be the origin of the 3°K microwave radiation.