Nikola Tesla's Cosmic Ray Theory

“More than 25 years ago I began my efforts to harness the cosmic rays and I can now state that I have succeeded in operating a motive device by means of them.”—Nikola Tesla (“Tesla’s Cosmic Motor May Transmit Power Round Earth”, Brooklyn Eagle, July 10, 1932.)

Cosmic rays are defined as highly electrified particles that originate from the sun, other stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and from other galaxies which constantly invade Earth. They became popular in 1912 when Victor Hess piloted a balloon with electroscopes to detect the presence of the electric charges in the atmosphere. Cosmic rays are still a mystery today, but it is generally not known that Nikola Tesla was actually the first to discover these mysterious radiations. 

Nikola Tesla’s cosmic ray discovery was one of his crowning achievements throughout his work in experimental science, the result of over 40 years of investigations, research, and inventions. This discovery would designate Tesla the forefront leader in developing machinery operating from  a new source of power available everywhere at any location on Earth. 

Starting in 1894, Nikola Tesla began experimenting with x-rays, and alongside Wilhelm Roentgen, was the first to produce some of the first x-ray images. In 1896, Tesla’s experiments based on these newly discovered rays confirmed that Alessandro Volta’s contact theory of electricity was correct - that an electrical current is produced when two different metals become in contact with one another. Tesla directed these rays toward many different materials, such as sodium, magnesium, lead, tin, iron, copper, silver, gold, and platinum, and found platinum to be the poorest reflector of these rays while sodium one of the best. In conducting these experiments, Tesla came to the following conclusions: 

1- Highly exhausted cathodic bulbs used in x-ray imaging emit material streams which are reflected from metallic surfaces;
2- These streams are formed of matter in some primary or elementary condition;
3- The streams are likely the same agent which is the cause of the electromotive tension between metals in close proximity;
4- Every metal or conductor is more or less a source of such streams;
5- These streams must be produced by some radiations which exist in the medium; 
6- Streams resembling the cathodic emissions must be emitted by the sun, and also by other sources of radiant energy.

He considered each of his conclusions to be incontrovertible, and with these results, Tesla would become the first scientist to successfully theorize the existence of the cosmic ray. 

Believing that there is a continuous supply of such radiations in the medium, Tesla worked tirelessly to prove his theory. Since his conclusions indicated that the streams are composed of primary particles which must come from the sun, Tesla suggested that these particles travel at very high velocities, and are broken into smaller particles by impact against other materials on earth. His analogy was that of a bullet being shot at a wall (the bullet representing the cosmic rays and the wall acting as an object on earth). When the bullet strikes the wall, it is crushed and shatters in all directions radial to where it hit the wall. According to Tesla, the energy from the flying particles can only come from that of the bullets, and the results will differ based on the density of the wall and the velocity of the bullets. 


This is an important point in Tesla’s discovery. Right around the time of these experiments (1898), radioactivity was being discovered by Marie Curie. Based on Curie’s discoveries, Tesla realized it was cosmic rays that are the cause of radioactivity on earth. Just like his analogy above states, it was not the elements on earth that are radioactive from inside as Curie hypothesized; rather, the radioactivity was due to cosmic rays coming in contact with the elements and breaking into smaller particles.

In 1899, in order to make his experiments more precise and further prove his cosmic radioactivity theory , Tesla developed a more intricate method that eliminated the limitations and incertitude of the electroscope popularly used by other scientists during this time. He used two conductors and connected them to terminals of a capacitor which had a considerable electrostatic captivity. One conductor was an insulated metal plate exposed to the sun and other radiations, and the other was a grounded capacitor (e.g. a supply of negative electricity). Essentially, the cosmic rays ionize the air, setting free many electrical charges—ions and electrons. When the cosmic rays impinge against the metal plate connected to one terminal of a capacitor - while the other terminal of the capacitor is grounded to a negatively charged earth - a current flows into the capacitor as long as the insulated body is exposed to the radiation. Therefore, an accumulation of electrical energy in the capacitor takes place. This energy can then be utilized for power purposes. He filed a patent based on these results titled, “Apparatus of the Utilization of Radiant Energy,” published in 1901. This concept is a precursor to today’s concept of solar panels, but more advanced in that it operates utilizing cosmic radiation and not just the sun’s light.


With this apparatus and associated experiments and observations, Tesla confirmed his cosmic ray theory--that sources of radiant energy (such as the sun) throw off with great velocity minute particles of matter, some even traveling faster than light. These particles are strongly electrified and are, therefore, capable of charging an electrical conductor (and may also conversely discharge an electrified conductor). In further experiments, Tesla noticed with his apparatus that the sun, in whatever position it may be in the sky, cut off the radiations from beyond and replaced them with its own. As a result of his measurements, cosmic ray velocities from the star Antares were found to travel fifty times greater than the speed of light.

Tesla would continue research in this field, but spent most of his time dedicated to his worldwide wireless system which he deemed far more important. In his later years, when the notion of the cosmic ray again started to gain popularity, he would return to provide his invaluable insight based on his extensive research and previous experiments. . For example, he would be the first to assume that the cosmic ray gives rise to a secondary radiation by impact against the cosmic dust scattered through space, originating from all directions. In 1932, Tesla would give a mathematical explanation of the intensity of cosmic rays in relation to the elevation from earth in an article titled “The External Source of Energy of the Universe, Origin and Intensity of Cosmic Rays.” The formula is below, in Tesla’s own words:
“I = (W+P) / (W+p)”

“In this expression W is the weight in kilograms of a column of lead of one square centimeter cross section and one hundred and eighty centimeters length, P the normal pressure of the atmosphere at sea level in kilograms per square centimeter, p the atmospheric pressure at the altitude under consideration and in like measure and I the intensity of the radiation in terms of that at sea level which is taken as unit. Substituting the actual values for W and P, respectively 1.9809 and 1.0133 kilograms, the formula reduces to:
I = 2.99421 / (1.9809 + p)

Obviously, at sea level p = P hence the intensity is equal to 1, this being the unit of measurement. On the other hand, at the extreme limit of the atmosphere p = 0 and the intensity I = 1.5115.

The maximum increase with height is, consequently, a little over fifty-one percent. This formula, based on my finding that the absorption is proportionate to the density of the medium whatever it be, is fairly accurate. Other investigators might find different values for W but they will undoubtedly observe the same character of dependence, namely, that the intensity increases proportionately to the height for a few kilometers and then at a gradually lessening rate.”
Based on Tesla’s extensive  research, many calculations, and several years of thorough experiments, Tesla came to the following conclusions:

1- The intensity of the cosmic rays must be greatest at the zenith of the atmosphere;
2- The intensity should increase more and more rapidly up to an elevation of approximately  20 kilometers where the conducting air stratum begins; 
3- From that point on, the intensity should decrease; first slowly and then more rapidly, to an insignificant value at an altitude of about 30 kilometers;
4- The display of high potential must occur on the free end of the terrestrial wire, that is to say, on the area furthest from the sun - the darkest side of earth. The current from this part of the planet is supplied at a pressure of about 216 billion volts and there is a difference of 2 billion volts between the illuminated and the dark side of the globe. The energy of this current is so great that it readily accounts for the aurora and other phenomena observed in the atmosphere and at the earth’s surface.

With such convincing results, Nikola Tesla was clearly one of the foremost leaders in cosmic ray discovery and theory and was, without a doubt, ahead of his time:

“The greatest mistake made is the appraisal of the energy of cosmic rays. In most cases the ionizing action is used as a criterion, which is useless, for the most powerful cosmic rays virtually do not ionize at all and leave no trace of their passage through the instrument. I have resorted to different means and methods and have found that the energy of the cosmic radiations impinging upon the earth from all sides is stupendous, such that if all of it were converted into heat the globe quickly would be melted and volatilized.

Since expressing, in 1896, my ideas on the origin and character of cosmic rays and of the cause of radioactivity, all my views have been confirmed by my own findings and those of others, while the numerous theories advanced have been proved false or inadequate. Those who are still doubting that our sun emits powerful cosmic rays evidently overlook that the solar disk, in whatever position it may be in the heavens, cuts off the radiations from beyond, replacing them by its own.

“As the radiations from the sun are only a little more intense than those coming from other directions, the lack of pronounced differentiation has deceived the observers. Regarding radio-activity, it occurs exactly as required by my theory. The radio-active emanations from the globe are secondary effects of external rays and two-fold - one part coming from the energy stored, the other from that continuously supplied.” --Nikola Tesla (“Expanding Sun Will Explode Some Day Tesla Predicts.” New York Herald Tribune, August 18, 1935.)


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