by Alexander KUKUSHKIN, Cand. Sc. (Phys. & Math.); and Valentin RANTSEV- KARTINOV, Cand. Sc. (Phys. & Math.); senior researchers, Russian Research Center "Kurchatov Institute"
Various natural phenomena share certain common, universal characteristics-the fact that makes scientists stop and ponder. Perhaps this puzzle may be solved somehow with the help of laws and regularities discovered quite recently and applying in a very wide spatial range, from molecules to galaxies.
Working on experimental data and theoretical approaches in the field of filaments (filamentary structures) formed in plasma, we studied an extensive data array accumulated in the Russian Research Center "Kurchatov Institute" for several types of high-current discharges (i.e. having high strength-of-current values). Delving into the database of experiments that one of the authors of the present article carried out back in the 1980s at the Z-pinch * setup (E-2), we discovered rectilinear filaments whose motion could be tracked from different positions almost all the way through the discharge. Here's what amazed us: unlike the regular filaments in current, these cut across the plasma column and stuck out like so many spokes. And their length-a few centimeters-was comparable to the width of the plasma's hot region, and much above it when plasma
* A setup for initiating a discharge in which a plasma column connects electrodes straight (along the Z axis) and is compressed by the magnetic field of a current flowing in it (this phenomenon is called the pinch-effect). - Ed .
Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author. - Ed.
pinching (compression) was at a maximum.
One important factor making it possible to detect an amazing phenomenon like that is a method which we have developed of late and which we have called a multilevel dynamic contrasting of images. This technique is based on a computer's ability to distinguish subtle details both on ordinary and on digital photos in zones of blackening (given, of course, high-resolution detectors). Their relief is "sounded" sequentially in modes of different sensitivity to sites of surface roughness. Our method excludes a possibility of virtual images (artifacts). In fact, we can often see structures of interest to us even after a very simple contrasting by diminishing or enhancing the general background of blackening.
Next, we postulated the presence of skeleton within these rather odd filaments in the form of a condensed matter * capable of building a solid structure. Such kind of structures, we thought, should appear earlier than hot plasma from the material available in the discharge chamber (electrodes, films formed on their surface, and so on). Composed of many atoms, separate blocks of this material do not evaporate and are drawn into the motion while still persisting in their condensed state.
What is the material-making up the structures of interest to us - like? The best-studied candidate to this role are carbon nanotubes measuring from one to tens of nanometers in diameter. Sometimes they arise through the "folding" of graphene - the thinnest and hardest sheet which, like parquet, is composed of flat hexagons in whose apices sit carbon atoms (in fact, ordinary graphite is but a stack of graphenes). Quite often carbon nanotubes are in the shape of a "seamless" tube of graphenes cohering into a mono- or multilayer concentric tube. Should the graphene happen to have a certain number of penta- and heptagons, its "folding" gives rise to rather strong curvilinear tubular structures.
Large molecules like that are also formed in a low-temperature gaseous discharge; they are endowed with many unique physicochemical characteristics-for one (which is of special interest to us), they have an anomalously high ability to release electrons in an external (applied) electric field, something that much facilitates an electrical break- down in the presence of nanotubes. Also, these molecules are characterized by great stiffness (rigidity) and rupture strength. And the latest evidence: the magnetic flux captured by nanotubes may cause them (molecules) to mate by mutual attraction so as to brace into a rigid or semirigid structure. A mobile "skeleton" is formed during its "growth". A longitudinal magnetic field within tubular units in this skeleton can act as "nanobraces", so to speak.
We tried to explain the longevity of the condensed matter within hot plasma-even at temperatures above a million degrees centigrade-in this
* In a condensed matter (solid body in particular) an individual atom, unlike that in gas or in plasma, has another one close by linked to it by bonds of quantum nature. - Ed.
way. Filaments-especially those aligned across the discharge current-work as wild cables holding in the skeleton; the plasma around them is a cable braiding of sorts, while the vacuum channel formed thereby serves as dielectric. Part of the electromagnetic energy "pumped" into the discharge chamber from the external electric circuit propagates along the skeleton in high-frequency waves to keep the plasma off (this periodic force is like a tidal wave driving flotsam and jetsam ashore).
That's how we developed our hypothesis on the phenomenon called by us skeletal structures and identified by the presence of certain common characteristics. This is above all their regular geometry-though nontrivial, they are easily recognized by configuration. Their basic block (unit) is in the shape of a rectilinear tubular formation, while their edges often resemble circumferences with radial bonds- the "cartwheels" (these may act as independent elements or, occasionally, as a "wheel on an axle"). The life of these structures concurs with the time of a discharge, or is much longer (sometimes, by several orders!) than conceptualized in theory.
Yet another characteristic feature of skeletal structures is in their tendency to self- similarity, that is, they build a larger element from an identical smaller, or even much smaller, one. Should one and the same structure recur consecutively at different scales, this universal structure is called a fractal. Imagine a tubular structure similar to the Eiffel Tower of Paris (not a conical one, though, but shaped like a hollow cylinder). Each beam of this structure (not all-metal, sure!) is a smaller copy of the entire structure. This "relationship" between the whole structure and its component parts persists no matter how small the scale might be, down to nanometer - size tubular units.
Skeletal structures are found to be masked by a foreign substance around them; in discharges this is a magnetized plasma possessing a liquid's characteristics; in dust deposits formed in the same discharges, this is an amorphous medium composed of discharge by-products like hydrocarbons.
We checked up on our hypothesis along several lines. First, we turned to the results of studies carried out by other experimenters in the field of electric-discharge plasma; and we discovered skeletal structures in its
images as obtained by different scientists at five setups of our Kurchatov Institute and its branch (today, the Troitsk-based Institute of Innovative and Thermonuclear Research).
Thereupon we studied dust deposits in high-current discharges. The adequate database, unique even by world standards, was collected at our research center within the framework of research into the safety of the international tokamak reactor ITER * (including its erosion resistance). This database contains a wealth of material on electronic transmission and scanning microscopy of different types of dust deposits (particles and films, made up of carbon for the most part) taken from the chamber of the tokamak T-10.
The database analysis that we carried out together with the creators of this database, Boris Kolbasov and Pyotr Romanov (both holding a Cand. Sc. degree in technology), confirmed the capability of nan-otubular structures to build different skeletons: tubular forms (diameter, ~30 nm to 5 m m), "cartwheels" (~70 nm to 5 m m) at the ends or else on an axis of their own (incidentally, microdust formations of this type were discovered for the first time); and dendritic skeleton, not above 1 um in size. Such structures show a marked tendency to self-similarity; furthermore, they were found to be identical in laboratory discharges in a 100 um to 10 cm range. Thus we could build a "bridge" between, on one hand, nanometer and micrometer structures (which are definitively a condensed matter observable by electron microscopy only under "quiet" conditions), and macroobjects, on the other, observed by means of different diagnostic techniques in a real, very "unquiet" plasma.
The presence of skeletal structures was likewise proved by plasma images obtained at the tokamak T-6 and the LV-2 setup of the plasma focus ** type in the earliest, "dark" stage of a discharge-between the moment as voltage is applied (by pushing the button) and the appearance of a signal in the device registering the strength of current (for T-6 this "lag" is equal to hundreds of microseconds, and for LV-2-a hundred nanoseconds). The snapshots of plasma made at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute at a setup of the vacuum spark *** type at a later (but still "dark") stage of the discharge (as the current is 20 percent below the maximum and, with the plasma glow being too weak, laser-pulse illumination becomes necessary)-these images showed clearly: a 3 mm anode "bristles" with tubes measuring fractions of millimeter in diameter.
And last, our "wild cables" model made it possible to compute the dimensions of hypothetical vacuum channels around the straight blocks of a skeleton as well the characteristics of high-frequency waves in the vacuum channels by using the parameters of these waves (measured both whhin the plasma column and
* See: L. Golubchikov, "Tokamak-International Challenge", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2004. -Ed.
** Plasma focus-a noncylindrical Z-pinch in which energy is concentrated in a small section of a plasma column, or the focus. - Ed.
*** Vacuum spark-a setup for electric discharge generation in vacuum between the pointed anode and the flat cathode. - Ed.
near it) at the tokamak T-10 and the Z-pinch setup E-2. The values obtained by us agreed with the data on the visible dimensions of the straight blocks in skeletal structures. Meanwhile we went ahead with the work of verifying our hypothesis. The natural way was to move on towards larger spatial dimensions. As a result, the "cartwheel" structures came to be found in phenomena of rather frequent occurrence, both in laboratory-initiated discharges (characterized by a rather high density of energy) and in large pieces of ice in hail (hailstones several centimeters in diameter) as well in tornado fragments (hundreds of meters large), in solar coronal mass ejection (~5 ? 10" cm), in the remnants from a supernova explosion (forty light years, i.e. ~4 ? 10 19 cm). The largest object in this gallery was a thrilling "hit" from the Internet-namely, a snapshot of a giant galaxy made by the American-European Hubble Space Telescope (which has been in orbit since 1990); astronomers dubbed it a "Cartwheel Galaxy". This galaxy has a diameter of about 150 thousand light years, or 1.4 ? 10 23 cm, and is 500 million light years away from the earth in the Sculptor group of galaxies.
It became possible to make out the fine structure of filaments and their nets in outer space thanks to major improvements in the quality of the images of astronomical objects and the greater number of such images. Quite often, the skeletal structures are clearly distinct, so that the images do not need any extra treatment. That is why we do believe in the existence of the phenomenon as such (even though it is still being disputed for a sum total of laboratory data). We owe a "gift" like this to the Internet that enables access to images obtained by the largest research stations in circumterrestrial orbit, above all by the Hubble Space Telescope and the US Chandra X-ray Observatory (in orbit since 1999). Of much help to us was also the Euro- American Solar and Heliospheric Observatory SOHO (in orbit since 1995). In our studies of atmospheric phenomena we are much indebted to materials on the Internet sites of the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Australian Severe Weather Service.
Surprisingly, the space "cartwheels" happen to be of the same structure as hailstones, down to minute detail. In this case too, the selfsame tendency to self-similarity is at work: some of the radial "spokes" of a big "wheel" end in a tubular structure with another "wheel", smaller in size, at its end.
Yet another argument in favor of our hypothesis. The images of celestial objects show-besides the clearly visible skeletal structures identified by a vast number of bright spots-the fine structure of luminosity around what looks like solitary spots. Here we come to deal with the end of a "truncated" straight filament which also belongs in some skeletal network, as visualized on high-quality
images. This construction resembles an electric torch, which means a skeleton can also be a carrier of electromagnetic signals.
And here we are not so many removes from space electric circuits postulated by the father of magnetic hydrodynamics Hannes Alfven, a Swedish physicist and astrophysicist, Foreign Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Nobel Prize, 1970), and his school. True, we suggest more complex, skeletal filaments instead of those made up of plasma only. These may have local destructions (sparkings, fractures, etc.) and open ends (especially, if the circuit is dendritic) capable of becoming a source of the circuit's self-illumination. We discovered an effect like this within a source of luminosity in a 10~ 2 cm to 10 22 cm range. Its lower boundary corresponds to what we call hot spots in high-current pulsed discharges generated in laboratory conditions, and its upper boundary extends to galaxies, which are either the end of a much darker filament or else the result of its fracture (that might be related to a new phenomenon described by astronomers as colliding galaxies).
The filaments of skeletal structures are often darker than their background. Small wonder: if the radiant plasma "jacket" observed in filaments under laboratory conditions is not as bright or absent altogether, the optical characteristics of the skeleton begin to show up, judging by the signs of skeletal structuring that we discovered in nanomaterials of anomalous blackness (in carbon black * above all) which are very effective in converting radiation in the optical range to much softer one invisible to the naked eye. Given a definite density of nets, the dark filament may come to be opaque. For instance, on galactic and smaller scales we can discern dark opaque objects having "electric torches" within, and standing out against glowing bodies. This argues for the presence of skeletal structures in the dark objects.
The scope of the regularity that we had "in hand"-and that applies to a very broad range of phenomena-prods us toward its further extrapolation to supergalactic scales. Here we have got no intelligible "shots" of objects due to the considerable contraction in the mean density of hot radiating matter with an increase in the spatial scope of observations. And yet it is possible to "reconstruct" the probable hidden ties among galaxies by consolidating individual dots and a subsequent smoothing of images. Treating in this wise the so-called redshift **maps showing a three- dimensional distribution of galaxies in space (first of all, we mean the results of the latest major project, the Anglo-Australian code-named 2dFGRS), we can make out skeletal structures of different diameter (10 24 - 10 26 cm) and inclinations relative to the observer (arcs, circles, straight filaments and even fragments of tubes and "cartwheels"). All these structures are often visible in a rather thin layer of space. The reliability of such images, however, is much lower than in real ones; still, the above results rather argue for universality of the skeleton phenomenon.
Thus we can take a new vision of certain problems in astrophysics and cosmology. For instance, the hypothetical hardness of skeletons (visible and dark alike), which is absent in conventional models allowing for gravitational interactions only, may explain the unexpected quickness of relative movements in clusters of galaxies and the quickness of the revolution of their periphery (such quicknesses are unexpected for the observable brightness of objects). So, we may question the idea of some "dark matter", or "hidden mass", implicated only in gravitational interactions, not in the emission and absorption of light. The dynamics of visible objects may also be influenced-apart from the stiffness of skeletons-by the very mass of dark filaments, small as it is; should these happen to be opaque, other masses behind them may likewise be involved.
Should we move even further and apply the phenomenon of universal skeletal structures to cosmological scales, we shall come to the idea of a skeleton for all of the universe-the skeleton that is made up not of "dark matter", which is not captured in laboratory as yet, but of baryonic (ordinary) matter. Although this hypothesis is yet at the incipient stage, attsmpts to make it consistent with the main factors of cosmology established through observation prompt intriguing conclusions. Say, within the cosmological scale a skeleton has a very small luminescent part, and it is very cold by and large, its temperature is the same as that of cosmic microwave background radiation, or under 3 K. That is why the skeleton is dark and escapes observation with the naked eye.
Coming back to our "sinful" Mother Earth, let us add: trying to explain the nature of an odd phenomenon like that, we should also move in the opposite direction and extend somehow the above regularities into the atom and down the scale. Is not the phenomenon of universal, fractal-related skeletons an "electrodynamically palpable" consequence of processes, both known and unknown, taking place on smaller scales than in processes implicated in the formation of condensed matter? It would be in place to put this question after all.
* Carbon black - a soot with preassigned properties, which is used as reinforcing filler and pigment in the production of rubber, plastics and other materials. - Ed .
** Redshift - a shift of the spectral lines of radiation from heavenly objects moving away in outer space; it enables calculations of their distance. - Ed.
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