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View Full Version : b. 13 Dec 1867 Kristian Birkeland: The first space scientist



iantresman
2007-Dec-13, 11:27 AM
On this day in science history...

Kristian Birkeland (http://www.plasma-universe.com/index.php/Kristian_Birkeland) (13 Dec 1867 - 15 Jun 1917)

The Norwegian explorer and physicist has been described as "The First Space Scientist",[ref (http://www.springeronline.com/sgw/cda/frontpage/0,11855,5-10100-72-39144987-0,00.html)] and undertook pioneering work on the nature of the aurora using a terrella. He also also had astrophysical research published on cathode rays, the Zodiacal lights, comets, the Sun and sunspots, the origin of planets and their satellites, and the Earth's magnetism.

His theory that the aurora were powered by electric currents that flowed through the atmosphere was generally ignored until the navy Triad satellite discovered the existence of "field-aligned currents (http://www.plasma-universe.com/index.php/Birkeland_current)" in 1973, and they were named "Birkeland currents" in his honor.

His theory that the source of the power of the aurora was "a current of electric corpuscles from the sun"[ref (http://www.plasma-universe.com/index.php/The_Norwegian_Aurora_Polaris_Expedition_1902-1903_%28Book%29)] was also generally ignored, but evidence announced this week derived from the THEMIS satellite that "have found evidence of magnetic ropes connecting Earth's upper atmosphere directly to the sun"[ref (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/themis/auroras/northern_lights.html)] seems to uphold his theory.

An accomplished mathematician and inventor, Birkeland also gave the first general solution to Maxwell's equations, invented a process for manufacturing artificial fertilizer, and invented an electromagnetic gun that he hoped could shoot a 500kg projectile several hundred kilometers.

korjik
2007-Dec-13, 10:47 PM
Having Hannes Alfven promote your idea is hardly being ignored.

Not only that, but Birkeland currents have been known as the source for aurora for quite a while. The fact that THEMIS found some links to the solar magnetic field really has nothing to do with that.

iantresman
2007-Dec-14, 12:28 AM
Having Hannes Alfven promote your idea is hardly being ignored.
Alfvén first mentioned Birkeland's work in his 1939 article, "Theory of Magnetic Storms and of the Aurorae" in that well-known publication K. Sven. Vetenskapsakad. Handl., ser. 3, vol. 18, no. 3, p. 1. Alfvén did not become a professor until 1940, and you'll be lucky to find the article in any abstracts to this day.


Not only that, but Birkeland currents have been known as the source for aurora for quite a while. The fact that THEMIS found some links to the solar magnetic field really has nothing to do with that.
Zmuda and James Armstrong published their findings in 1973 (65 years after Birkeland puiblished his theories). They ignored Birkeland (and Alfvén), although they mentioned Cummings and Dessler, the latter having brought Birkeland to their attention in 1965. (See "Alfven's programme in solar system physics (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=199495)", Brush, S.G., IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, Dec 1992, Volume: 20, Issue: 6, On page(s): 577-589

In addition to the field-aligned currents discovered in 1973, Birkeland also predicted that the aurora obtained their power directly via electric currents from the Sun. The THEMIS report confirmed that, highlighting the magnetic signatures of those currents via "a burst of electrical current within the solar wind (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/themis/auroras/northern_lights.html)"

Jens
2007-Dec-14, 03:55 AM
The Norwegian explorer and physicist has been described as "The First Space Scientist",[ref (http://www.springeronline.com/sgw/cda/frontpage/0,11855,5-10100-72-39144987-0,00.html)] ...

Do you any idea why? I would think that distinction would go to somebody like Galileo or Copernicus or Kepler or Tycho Brahe.

iantresman
2007-Dec-14, 12:14 PM
Do you any idea why? I would think that distinction would go to somebody like Galileo or Copernicus or Kepler or Tycho Brahe.

I guess the same argument could be applied to the ancient Babylonians and their Venus tablets of Ammisaduqa. I can speculate that it was because Birkeland's level of experimentation and testing were more significant.

tusenfem
2007-Dec-14, 12:58 PM
His theory that the source of the power of the aurora was "a current of electric corpuscles from the sun"[ref (http://www.plasma-universe.com/index.php/The_Norwegian_Aurora_Polaris_Expedition_1902-1903_%28Book%29)] was also generally ignored, but evidence announced this week derived from the THEMIS satellite that "have found evidence of magnetic ropes connecting Earth's upper atmosphere directly to the sun"[ref (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/themis/auroras/northern_lights.html)] seems to uphold his theory.


Well, it has been realized for a long time already that the aurora is created by the solarwind-magnetosphere interaction. I would hardly give THEMIS the price for discovering it. These investigations, and realisations, have started with e.g. the ISEE1-2 satellites, Geotail, Cluster, .....

But, happy birthday Kristian!

tusenfem
2007-Dec-14, 01:01 PM
I guess the same argument could be applied to the ancient Babylonians and their Venus tablets of Ammisaduqa. I can speculate that it was because Birkeland's level of experimentation and testing were more significant.

In addition to that, the term space physicist is mainly used for someone dealing with magnetopsheric and space plasma physics. Therefore, he can be called the first, Galileo and Copernicus were astronomers.