the colours of light

27 Jun 2015

I like, now and again, to have a delve around Malaga Bay, sticking a finger in to find a plum to extract. At ... which is all about the mainstream dismissal of the idea that sunlight has the ability to magnetise objects on the surface of the earth, and its remarkable resuscitation in 2011, an experiment that promises to make technology cheaper to produce and therefore more readily available to human beings. However, this is not about a revival of the people that first made the experiments - as they have been well and truly stuffed and locked away in a dark cupboard forever.

The story begins with an Italian, professor Morachini, discovering in the early 19th century that when steel was exposed to violet rays of the solar spectrum it becomes magnetic. The Scottish polymath Mary Somerville did her own experiment using a flint glass prism* and a needle - and it became magnetised. She published results in 1826 - see, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society). The story can also be seen at

It was also discovered that lodestone (or magnetite) could almost double its magnetic strength if its north pole was exposed to strong sunlight over 24 hours (and experiments were made by several other people, but not all of them were successful). After earth's magnetic field strength was measured by Gauss in 1835 and periodically since then, it has been found these measurements show a slight decay of 10 per cent over 150 years. Basalt, the iron rich volcanic rock making up the sea floor, can distort compass readings (as it contains magnetite). Icelandic sailors were aware of this at least as early as the 18th century but scientists were a bit late catching up with them. In fact, small grains of magnetite occur in almost all igneous and metamorphic rocks. Photomagnetism suggested the Earth once had an axial tilt somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees that exposed the South Pole to strong sunlight. This idea was not considered extraordinary in the early 19th century as they were aware of trees and fossil forests discovered in Arctic contexts (northern Greenland, Spitzbergen, Ellesmere Island etc) (see During the Miocene the flora of the Arctic regions was not too disimular to modern UK climate (see also

However, that all changed when Laplace, as early as 1825, claimed the axial tilt was limited to a small range of change and this was formed on mathematical approximations - the perturbation theory which Cullen describes as fudge. It has permeated mainstream ever since - excluding axial tilt as an explanation. Nowadays, for want of an adequate theory to account for temperate climate in Arctic regions in the Miocene it is suggested the period was very warm as a result of high levels of co2 in the atmosphere, an altogether weird idea as nobody is able to measure co2 levels back then (even ice cores did not exist as the poles were temperate). It is also against common sense as how could the poles have had a temperate climate when the poles are in darkness for six months of the year.

According to Cullen, Laplace effectively thwarted the association of photomagnetism with geomagnetism and the process eradicated catastrophic change to earth's axial tilt. It is of course absent from modern settled science - one of those subjects avoided, ignored, shied away from (call it what you like). In 1830 the uniformitarians went on the offensive against photomagnetism, he continues, and an explicitly anti-Mary Somerville article was published in Edinburgh - see By 1867 the scientific debate regarding climate change (in the fossil record) was (and still is) confined to the very small limits imposed on tilt by Laplace (and others) and endorsed by James Croll (etc.) After this photomagnetism was neglected as it was not consistent with the uniformitarian model of the past.

Later, Cullen says an academic monarchy currently controls mainstream science via patronage and peer review whilst the high priests of academic establishments indoctrinate and control the masses with their unenlightened settled science belief system which equates catastrophism with heresty. Strong stuff and we may note he also says Velikovsky is an example of a recent heretic, whose reputation was shredded, but in spite of that academia has had forced down its throat extinction events and punctuated equilibrium in recent decades. Hope is not lost - or not entirely. For example, in 2011 physicists at the University of Michigan, and others, rediscovered light can garner magnetic effects. This discovery will in the end dispense with expensive semi conductors - so perhaps the original experiments of Morachini and Somerville were 200 years too early.

* I've come across the use of flint in the manufacture of glass before, something that seems peculiar to the 18th and 19th centuries. Flint is made of a pure form of silica that was attractive for a while, beginning in 1662. Potash was used to create a kind of lead crystal and it produced good optical clarity.