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Kristian Birkeland

Kristian Birkeland was born on the 13th December 1867.  He was a Norwegian scientist who became fascinated by the Aurora Borealis; postulating that the Sun’s electrical discharges travelled across space and caused the phenomena back on Earth, he conducted detailed experiments to test this hypothesis.  In 1903 his experiments found these electric currents flowing parallel to the aurora formation.  As currents must always flow in a circuit he proposed that the current must flow down from space and then back out.  Most scientists disregarded his experiments, not believing that these charge particles could travel from the Sun al the way back to Earth.

It was not until much more recently that this was rediscovered.  NASA now call this ‘auroral electrojets’ but is exactly what Birkeland had speculated and discovered.  In 1967 Dr Alex Dessler discovered these electric currents in space and named them after Birkeland – Birkeland Currents.  These auroral Birkeland currents carry about 1 million amperes and can heat the upper atmosphere causing increased drag on satellites.

The Dynamics of Birkeland Current

If you study these Birkeland currents you see that they tend to form long filament structures.   We all understand the principle that like charges will repel each other, so how is it possible for the charges to flow along these filaments without spraying out in all directions?  As soon as the charges start to move they start to generate a magnetic field, this will create a force of these charges (called the Lorentz force) which will cause them to be attracted.  These keep the charges together in these currents.  Increase the current and these forces increase causing the filament to contract.  The Birkeland currents have some very unique properties.  The current travels in the same direction as the magnetic field and are therefore termed force free currents.

The magnetic field consists of 2 separate components.  An axial component and a wrap-around component.  As you move further out from the centre of the current, the orientation of these components changes, creating distinct layers which rotate in opposite directions to each other.

Image Copyright:

Plasma Basics

Before we move any further it is important to understand some basic aspects of plasma.  Plasma is defined as an ionised state of matter.  Plasma can operate in 3 distinct modes.  Dark mode – here the plasma has a very low current density (low electric field) and are not excited.  It is not visible or is hard to see depending on what elements it consists of.  An example of this is our own Ionosphere.  We cannot see it but radio waves are bounced off it.  The second mode is called glow mode.  Here the plasma becomes excited and starts to glow.  Current density increases as the electric field drops.  Examples of this include neon signs and the Sun’s corona.  The final mode is called arc mode.  Here the current density continues to increase as the electric field drops.  The temperature of the plasma increases and arc discharge takes place.  This can either be arc lightning or as an arc flame (fire like).


Image Copyright: The Thunderbolts Project



As the magnetic field around the Birkeland current increases, it squeezes the Birkeland current closer together increasing the current density.  The plasma will go from dark mode into glow mode and as the current density continues to rise a z-pinch occurs.  This is where the current density increases enough to cause the plasma to go into arc mode.  From the outside, the filament looks like it has been pinched in the middle.  These z-pinches are so energetic that it is speculated that they can actually cause fusion to occur.

Evidence of Birkeland currents in space

So other than our own Aurora what evidence is there of these Birkeland currents?  There are many structures which may have been created through a z-pinch effect on a Birkeland current.  Remember in previous articles we have already seen that there are vast filaments of plasma connecting our universe like a giant web.  So let’s examine some potential candidates:

The Ant Nebula:

Credit: NASA

A clear filament structure with a centre pinch point.  The outer sections of the nebula are dark (plasma in dark mode), and the current density increases we can see filaments which are switching to the glow mode.  At the centre where the pinch is most intense the plasma has switched into arc mode.  Conventional astrophysics tells us this was created by a binary star ejecting material over time.  We already know NASA is warming to the idea of a plasma/electrically driven creation of star versus a gravity model.


Credit: ESA/NASA

Another very striking image which shows the plasma again in the dark, glow and arc mode, with a very defined pinch point in the centre.  It is also very clear that there a sheaths to the plasma, exactly what we would expect if it was a Birkland current.

Herbig-Haro Objects

Here we see a large plasma filament, a clear candidate for a Birkland current, undergoing pinching.  What is most interesting about these images is the periodicity in the pinching.  Are these possible stars forming on a chain?

The Milky Way

Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Our Milky Way galaxy is very quiet when compared to other active galaxies.  Scientists recently discovered that this may not have always been the case.  Fermi labs, in 2010, discovered what they term as ‘ghostly gamma-ray bubbles’ extending out from the centre of the galaxy, perpendicularly for some 27,000 light years.  Is this actually the remains of a z-pinch which formed out galaxy?  In fact, there is evidence to suggest the stars within galaxies may orbit in alternate rings in opposite directions and can use the sheath structure of Birkeland currents to explain how planets may form at specific locations in one of these z-pinches?  I want to explore these ideas and the evidence for them in future articles.  For now, I hope you have enjoyed this brief look into the backbone of the Electric Universe.  Follow the evidence, be brave, be curious, the truth is waiting for us. Until next time…

Further Reading

Birkeland Currents: A Force-Free Field-Aligned Model

Ghostly Gamma-ray Beams Blast from Milky Way’s Center