Plasma Critters in the Atmosphere?
©1996 William Beaty
1. In 1993 at the Exhibits shop where I worked, someone was
welding a galvanized electrical box to a steel frame in an exhibit case.
This was unwise, since zinc metal evaporates at a fairly low flame
temperature, and zinc fumes are poisonous. But this is beside the point.
When the sealed electrical box was opened, it was found to contain
transparent blue-white feathery material akin to soap suds but with no
visible bubbles. Years later recognized it as a type of aerogel, a
percolation-structure of zinc nanofilaments (or perhaps ZnO dendrites.)
The welding had been done adjacent to a small hole in the steel box, and
zinc vapor apparently flowed into the hole and was deposited within the
box. I've heard that acetylene flame or burning styrene plastic can do
similar, but forming black carbon aerogel. Apparently aerogels can form
naturally from rapid vapor-concensation; it doesn't take bizarre
triple-point high pressure manipulations to create them. The resulting
zinc material was very strange: light blue, almost transparent, much
lighter than Styrofoam, and as fragile as dry soap suds.
2. In 1989 Corum and Corum managed to produce "Ball Lightning" using
carbon and a pair of large Tesla coils. They are of the opinion that the
resulting "BL" is a material made up of hot, incandescent microscopic
carbon percolation structure, i.e., carbon aerogel. See
3. Non-rare ball lightning. Approximately 3%-5% of people have
personally witnessed "BL." It's a common occurrence, although most
eyewitnesses keep quiet about it to avoid ridicule. Of the thousands of
BL reports, about half take place in clear weather with no thunderstorms
at all. If glowing spheres are coming in the window and exploring your
livingroom, we have no explanation if there was no thunderstorm involved.
Perhaps half of all Ball Lightning reports are about living organisms.
4. Organic life is based upon water-based, gel-like structures; upon
microscopic solids embedded in liquids. Life is based on gels in water,
so maybe life exists which is based on gels in air. If low mass, and not
easily disrupted like smoke clouds, then such things might take the form
5. Trevor James Constable reports the existence of "sky creatures" which
live in the atmosphere, are invisible, move under their own power, and can
be photographed with emulsion-based IR film. And there have always been
reports of glowing "will-o-the-wisp" objects which move through the air,
which depart when chased, etc.
6. Birgitt Sattler of the University of Innsbruck is part of a team which
measured 1500 bacteria per ml in water from clouds. See
New Scientist article. If bacteria exist in clouds, then bacterial
"powder" must appear downstream of evaporating clouds, and perhaps some
life forms evolved to feed off this material. Airborne bacteria breeding
in clouds can act as the bottom of a food chain.
PERHAPS ORGANIC LIFE HAS AN AEROGEL-ANALOG?
Since it's not impossible that aerogels can form naturally, atmospheric
life forms might exist which are based on aerogels and electrostatics
rather than on water-gels and ionic chemistry. The gas-based analog to
ionic chemistry in solutions is plasma chemistry. Since unlike water, air
is an insulator and can support long-range electric fields, an
aerogel/plasma life form might propel itself by manipulating internal ion
density and therefore e-fields.
Vertical motion would be easy to accomplish, since the atmosphere has a
natural vertical e-field which would apply up/down forces to a negatively
or positively charged aerogel object. By spewing positive ions, a
negatively-charged organism would rise as the ionized air fell. (It turns
out that baby spiders use just this tactic to travel large distances,
extending negative-charged web
segments which give electrostatic lift while "ballooning.")
The existence of aerogel/plasma organisms, if their internal chemistry
involves any visible-wavelengths fluoresence, would explain some reports
of distant moving lights at night, encounters with "will-o-the-wisps,"
the apparently-bioluminescent patterns in the air over the Indian ocean,
and reports of
ball lightning when thunderstorms are lacking. Does gas-phase chemistry
emit fluorescent lines, particularly NIR lines? A camera with
line-filters for known gas-phase reactions might see all sorts of glowing
creatures. But if no fluorescence, an aerogel creature would
be even more invisible than an underwater ice-cube, and might only be
when it causes slight optical distortion of background objects. If their
density was low enough, small aerogel fragments might be present in
quantity in the atmosphere without being noticed, since they would have
about the same index of refraction as air. If they were composed of
approximately the same material as natural aerosols, chemical analysis of
the air would miss them.
high-speed sky creatures?
SUGGESTED HOBBYIST EXPERIMENTS (as yet untried)
If the sky really is full of transparent invisible 'stuff,' there's a good
chance that conventional science has entirely missed this fact. On the
other hand, once you suspect it exists, it should be possible to detect it
with hobbyist equipment.
ELECTROMETER ARRAY: build a long linear array of electrostatic voltmeters
many tens of feet in length and mount it outdoors perpendicular to the
usual wind direction. Record the outputs with a data logger. If small,
electrically-charged objects should pass by over some of the
electrometers, the location and possibly the size and height of the
objects will be revealed in the recorded data. Even electrically-neutral
objects might be detected if they distort the natural sky-voltage. Choose
the location of the array judiciously, since these life forms might avoid
cities and cities downwind plumes, might avoid (or be attracted to) bodies
of water, power lines, the turbulence of highways and their downwind
CO2 and pollution plumes etc.
IR SKY SURVEY: Set up IR cameras to watch for moving organisms.
Inexpensive CCD video cameras and slow-frame security VCRs would make this
fairly easy to accomplish. Deep-IR CCD thermal cams might turn up more
interesting results, but at greater expense. [I've since purchased one of
these, but not tried using it for sky survey.] If paired with the
Electrometer Array, an IR camera could be triggered only when an e-field
anomaly was detected.
ATMOSPHERIC SCHLIEREN PHOTOGRAPHY: If a large telescope
mirror,spotlight mirror, or fresnel lens is available, an outdoor
Schlerien setup could be used to capture shadowgrams of possible aerogel
objects. (It could also be done using reflectortape panel and a video camera)
A spread-out laser or other powerful pointsource is directed at the mirror
from many feet distance, and a lens is used to spread the source beam to
cover the entire mirror. A knife-edge is placed at the focused image of
the laser and adjusted to partially block the light. A few inches behind
the knife edge, a lens-less CCD camera is placed. Any distortion in the
air between the laser and the mirror will be projected as shadows upon the
CCD camera (dip your hand in alcohol and hold it in the beam, and the
camera should see your hand-shadow surrounded by rising vapors.) Even an
object which is 99% invisible will show up clearly. View the camera
output, turn the contrast knob way up, and watch for moving structures.
[June 2015 Alternative: a very large version using a line-source
illuminator, thin cylinder lenses or bent mirror-strips, optical slit,
linear CCD, etc., could be set up perpendicular to the wind, and record a
fairly vast area of ground-level atmosphere in Schelerien mode, while
letting the wind "scan the volume" and produce 2D raster images of any
invisible structures transported through the optical plane.]
CRITTER NET: if aerogel organisms exist, then there should be an
entire ecology of sky-creatures up there ranging from bacteria-analogs to
higher forms. We might be looking right at them yet not seeing them.
Perhaps these organisms or their detrius can be collected
with a filter? If a large cone-shaped net of fine plastic mesh (bug
screening from a tent?) is erected and allowed to filter material from the
breeze, will a quantity of "invisible" aerogel matter be captured? Mount
such a net on a balloon and go fishing in the clouds. Or perhaps a large
metal object can be charged to a few tens of KV and attract aerogel matter
to its surface from the air. How does one see an invisible aerogel? Use
it to deflect a laser? Let it make holes in a cloud of smoke?
Schlieren photography setup? View it with IR
DEAD AEROGEL CREATURES ON THE GROUND: Aerogel is wettable, and sucks up
like a sponge. Critters would require a membrane and
humidistat/homeostasis to avoid being quickly weighted down with liquid
water. On the other hand, this might produce a common event: a dead
"critter" on the ground, if not destroyed by actual
raindrops, would no longer maintain internal dry conditions and instead
accumulate fog or even morning condensation, and turn
into something resembling frog-egg jelly, but without the eggs. In other
words, the aerogel quickly turns to normal gel if left outdoors.
Mysterious jellys with no obvious origin. Upon evaporation the material
would seemingly vanish, just like hagfish mucus or syrupy agar-gel does
when dried. The
solid matter is so little when compared to the liquid, that the remaining
dry traces may not even be visible by eye.
CARBON AEROGEL: try generating carbon aerogels in air or in an inert
atmosphere. Cutting torches and electric arcs should both be tried. In
my original observation, aerogel was formed when superheated metal vapor
traveled through an orifice and encountered a cold metal plate. The zinc
aerogel was the equivalent of soot, but it was deposited so quickly that
it did not have time to compact into a bulk white crust, and instead
gel structure. Non-oxygen environment is probably required; buckyballs
and nanotubes turn to CO2 in normal air. If successful, try passing
electric arcs and capacitor discharges through these aerogels. Ball
lightning may be the result.