Science in Society Archive

New Age of Water

Rosetta for a Water Universe

Among the most significant new findings of the Rosetta space probe on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is the copious creation of water by a previously unrecognized process; water is ubiquitous and the most abundant compound in the Universe, making our Universe especially fit for life Dr Mae-Wan Ho

Rosetta cuts no ice but finds copious water production

Rosetta is a robotic space probe consisting of a comet orbiter and a lander built by the European Space Agency, which also launched it in 2004 [1, 2]. Rosetta reached the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) on August 2014 at 3.7 AU (astronomical unit, equal to 149.6 million kilometres, the mean distance from the centre of the earth to the centre of the sun), and moved from 200 km above the comet to a bound orbit of ~10 km, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet. On 12 November 2014, the lander module Philae soft-landed on the comet and managed to send some data before its solar-powered battery ran out, and it went into hibernation until its battery becomes sufficiently recharged, which hasn’t yet happened.

Rosetta’ s first results were stunning and ‘surprising’. Images of the comet nucleus (the solid body) inside the coma (the surrounding cloud of dust and gas) show two lobes joined by a ‘neck’. The surfaces are rocky and rugged, and blacker than coal. Other analyses reveal that the surface is rich in organic materials, and completely dry. Attempts to collect a sample of ‘ice’ from the surface have failed, breaking the lander’s hammer [1]. In any case, the temperature on the surface of the nucleus is only -70 °C, some 20 to 30 °C too high for the standard ice-ball theory of comets.  The mass of the comet is estimated to be 1013 kg, with a density mysteriously less than half that of water [2] (but see below for an interesting explanation). Altogether the comet looks nothing like the ‘dirty snowball’ predicted. Comets are supposed to date back 4.57 billion years to the origin of our planetary system; and according to one theory, water on Earth was delivered by snowball comets crashing onto the planet [3].

The coma of 67P appears highly variable [2], exhibiting large diurnal and possibly seasonal changes. Both atomic hydrogen and oxygen have been detected close to the nucleus, and varying with time.

Significantly, water vapour (H2O gas) is actively produced. The total H2O gas production rates varied from 1 x 1025 molecules per second in early June 2014 to 4 x 1025 molecules per second in early August 2014 (equivalent to ~0.3 kgs-1 and 1.2 kg s-1 respectively). Water production is associated with jets shooting out from the comet nucleus. How is this copious amount of water produced? According to standard theory, water is being outgassed through vents from underground stores, or sublimated from the surface by the warmth of the sun, neither of which appears likely for 67P. The most actively producing regions and jets are from the neck, the shadiest, coldest part of the comet, and tellingly, not from the most sunlit parts (see Figure 1).

Figure 1   Jets issuing from the neck of comet 67P associated with the production of water vapour

Another important piece of evidence that goes against the conventional theory is the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio of the water; D being a heavy isotope of H with double the atomic mass. The water produced by comet 67P has a D/H ratio of 5.3 x 10-4, about 3 times the value of Earth’s water [4]. In fact, the D/H ratios show “dramatic variations among solar system reservoirs of water”, raising questions over the standard model of how planetary systems evolve from a ‘protosolar nebular’ or ‘protoplanetary disc’ [5]. New research led by Isodore Cleeaves at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, find that conditions within the protoplanetary disc cannot account for the enrichment of D/H in water throughout the solar system, favouring instead interstellar ices with highly enriched D/H as the source of water in the solar system [6].

Water produced electrochemically in an Electric Universe

Within the past two decades, our picture of the Universe has changed dramatically. Increasingly high resolution images and spectroscopic information captured by space telescopes over the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum are severely challenging the conventional Big Bang theory based on gravity and Einstein’s general relativity. Among the main contenders for replacing Big Bang theory is one of continuous transformation and renewal from the electric plasma that pervades the Universe.

The Electric Universe is a dynamic constantly evolving universe interconnected by electric filamentous plasma currents aligned with magnetic fields (Birkeland currents) on all scales, from interplanetary to supergalactic, forming gigantic circuits that string together groups of distant galaxies. Interaction between the electric and magnetic force within a Birkeland current causes charged particles (matter) to aggregates at the centre of the filament, referred to as a ‘z’ pinch. If the z pinch is strong enough, it can fragment the filament into discrete spherical or toroidal electric ‘plasmoids’ (rather like a protostar or planet). In addition, Birkeland current filaments can interact with one another, creating spiral and other types of galaxies and supergalaxies (see [7] Continuous Creation from Electric Plasma versus Big Bang Universe, SiS 60, for a succinct account; and [8] for more details).

The jets on 67P are perhaps the most important clue to the actual mechanism whereby the water and a host of other organic compound are produced. The jets are electrical plasma discharges that occur as the negatively charged comet draws near to the positively charged electric plasma of the sun. In the discharge, water and other organic molecules are produced electrochemically, as pointed out by Wal Thornhill and Dave Talbot, leading proponents of the Electric Plasma Universe, who have also presented an alternative theory of comets (see [9]). Comets, asteroids and meteorites are all electrically sculpted and ejected from planets, and hence made of the same stuff, and this stuff is able to produce water electrochemically by electric plasma discharge at all times, past and present.

The process is very similar to the formation of water in rock dust exposed to solar wind, which is composed predominantly of high energy ~1 keV H+ ions (protons). A research team led by John Bradley at Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaii, at Monoa, Honolulu detected water sealed in tiny vesicles within amorphous rims of silicate mineral grains on the exterior surfaces of interplanetary dust particles that are produced by solar wind irradiation [10]. The team used a combination of high resolution transmission electron microscopy and valence electron-energy-loss spectroscopy (VEELS), which is capable of detecting water in situ at the nanoscale by plotting a spectrum of energy loss (o-50 eV) and identifying the low loss regions. They were able to reproduce the water production process in the laboratory. Their findings establish that water is a byproduct of solar wind space-weathering, which is ubiquitous throughout the solar system. The implications of the findings are far-reaching. Interplanetary dust particles continuously enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The present day flux of 30 000 to 40 000 tons/y is comparable to and possibly greater than that of centimeter to kilometer size meteorites from asteroids and comets. The flux may have been much higher on the early Earth. Thus, particles such as those studied by the team could contribute both water and organic carbon simultaneously to the surface of Earth and other terrestrial planets, thereby speeding up the evolution of life.

In fact, the auroras or Northern and Southern lights mostly likely involve electric plasma discharge as the solar wind penetrates Earth’s magnetic field around the poles to interact with Earth’s plasma or ionosphere [11]. Whether water is produced in such encounters is not known.

Another interesting hypothesis concerns the nature of mass. In the Electric Universe, mass and energy are completely interconnected (as in E = mc2); mass is proportional to electromagnetic stress [9]. Hence the low mass (low density) of 67P may simply indicate that the comet is under low electromagnetic stress, being electrically connected in an electric plasma circuit that includes the Sun.

Water is abundant in the Universe

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Universe is the ubiquity of water, which appears to be constantly produced. This is not surprisingly, as hydrogen is the most abundant element and oxygen the third after helium. H2O is practically the first and most abundant compound to form in a plasma discharge (with charged species composed mainly of protons and electrons), which can happen across interplanetary or intergalactic space. There is now evidence within the standard theory that water may have been created in great quantities in the “earliest” Universe.

Researchers at Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy detected water vapour in the quasar MG JO414+0534 at redshift 2.64 [12], which corresponds to 11.1 billion years from Earth, according to the conventional (and erroneous) theory that redshift is a measure of velocity of recession in an expanding Universe (see [13] Galaxy Making Stars at the Edge of the Universe and Other “Surprises”, SiS 60). The water emission was seen in the form of a maser, i.e., beamed radiation or jet similar to a laser but at microwave wavelengths. Water masers have already been found in a number of galaxies at closer distances.

More recently, an international team claimed the discovery of the “largest, oldest mass of water in the Universe” [14]. This cloud of water vapour (also in the form of water jets shooting out from a quasar) equivalent to 140 trillion times the water in Earth’s oceans, is more than 12 billion light years from Earth. University of Maryland astronomer Alberto Bolatto, author of a paper on the discovery said: “this discovery pushes the detection of water a billion years closer to the Big Bang than any previous find.” His coauthor Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory added: “It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest time.”

The Plasma Universe is a Water Universe

In the standard theory, water jets associated with quasars are thought to arise in the hot gas and dust closely orbiting a “supermassive black hole” at the galaxy’s core.

The alternative interpretation due to distinguished astronomer Halton Arp (1927-2013) and fully compatible with the Electric Plasma Universe, is that the high redshifts of quasars are intrinsic to the plasma constituting the quasar [15]; a high redshift being indicative of youth rather than age. In a series of scientific papers and books based on careful astronomical observations, he presented convincing evidence suggesting that high redshift quasars are ejected, often in pairs or multiplets from old (low redshift) galaxies and aligned along the minor axis of the old galaxy. As the daughter galaxies age, their masses (electromagnetic stresses) increase and their redshifts decrease, intriguingly, in quantized steps. Thus, the Arp universe is an infinite universe of transformation and renewal, not incompatible with the Steady State Universe of Fred Hoyle Geoffrey Burbidge and Jayant Narlikar. Unfortunately, Arp was ostracized by the astronomical establishment, and his interesting theory completely dismissed without scientific investigation.

Also completely ignored was the work of Hannes Alfvén (1908-1995) who won the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics for his mathematical theory of magnetohydrodynamics, which he later turned his back on as completely inadequate for describing the real Plasma Universe. Instead he stressed the importance of double layers (positive and negative charges) of plasmas in space, “a new type of celestial objects”, suggesting that x-ray and gamma ray bursts may be due to exploding double layers [16] that could be responsible for jet formation and ejection of quasars from old galaxies.  

There is a fertile plasma universe awaiting fresh investigation without the encumbrance of the moribund Big Bang theory. Let’s hope the findings of the Rosetta probe will provide the needed impetus.

The plasma universe is also a water universe, powered predominantly by water electricity (protons and electrons), not so different from life itself (see [17] Life is Water Electric, SiS 57). A water universe is especially fit for life, so life and extra-terrestrial intelligence should be abundant and everywhere in the universe.

Could it be perhaps that the entire Universe is alive, with an unimaginably vast and exquisite cosmic consciousness encompassing our own?

Article first published 04/03/15


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There are 6 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Kevin Trammel Comment left 5th March 2015 19:07:05
What a beautiful article. Life is so much vaster and more grand and majestic than most of our encumbering theories of it presently allow. Thanks for opening the lid on the box a little more!

Maewan Ho Comment left 6th March 2015 07:07:48
Hi Robert, After the plasma discharge is established there is a magnetic field associated with the electric current. This is not the same as the intrinsic magnetic field of the earth, however, which shields the earth from the solar wind. It could be that without the magnetic field, life would not have evolved on Earth.

MaeWan Ho Comment left 5th March 2015 19:07:57
Hi Todd, No the comet has no magnetic field, that is why it is not shielded from the solar wind like the earth is, except at the poles. Unfortunately, as Hannes Alfven pointed out, there is practically no plasma physics in astrophysics textbooks.

Robert M. Davidson, M.D., Ph.D. Comment left 6th March 2015 07:07:24
Hi Maewa. Wonderful article! I share Todd's speculation that a magnetic component of plasma water should exist. Do you dismiss magnetohydrodynamics as existing within the liquid-crystalline phases of our biological water, in vivo?

Todd Millions Comment left 5th March 2015 19:07:10
Moreover-it becomes even more likely that life could start elsewhere and earlier,the spores riding the plasma between the stars,frozen in old ejecta cored ice balls.More evidence for Fred Hoyle too do cartwheels over!So the magnetic component of the plasma water ejection from 67P-Does this mean there is a magnetic component generated in the two lobes?If so would it be internal or a faint tickle from solar magnetic fields?It occurs- that the grapple may have failed due to a large spark vaporizing it,as it approached the surface.A petty set back when considered with the success of the Titan probe and lander."Live Long & Prosper(sensibility)".

Todd Millions Comment left 21st June 2015 14:02:47
Since the pilaete is now known too be operational-You might want too suggest too the ESA that they may be able too provide more power via earth based lasers. It might not be a good idea,as more than a 'one day'trial-but it would be interesting.