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What was mainstream astronomy doing when Velikovsky was writing his books?

25 October 2013

Various catastrophists, in the spirit of Velikovsky, have claimed the planets were involved in catastrophic events. This was a direct spin-off from his ideas concerning Venus and allows us to consider that the solar system was not always as thus it is right now. This includes the Saturnists at Thunderbolts web site, and the idea that Saturn was formerly a Sun of the Night and the Earth was part of a polar configuration. Variations on the planetary theme have been advanced by Ev Cochrane and Dwardu Cardona – among others. This has mainly been in the States but supporters and interested parties have always existed in the UK, including a lot of members of SIS. We also have some home grown theories that involve cycles and upheavals in which the planets affect the Earth, such as those of Peter Fairlie-Clark and Gary Gilligan. The ideas of Donald Patten and Samuel Windsor are somewhat interesting. They are in the planetary camp as their work involves Mars and projections on its former behaviour. It could perhaps apply to any cosmic body although they chose to concentate on Mars on a trajectory that threatened the Earth.

It is worth noting that planetary catastrophism is not a prerequisite of plasma science – or comets behaving in ways that don't fit the consensus view. Neither is this an attempt to undermine the work of the planetary catastrophists. In fact, the only person I can think of from the top of my head, that has gone out on a limb and criticised them in print, is one Peter James, a former editor of SIS. His article is in SIS Chronology and Catastrophism Review 2000:1, 'The Saturn Problem'. The self appointed fossilisers of the mainstream consensus, such as Bad Astronomy, are excluded from the equation as they don't like anything out of the ordinary.

Velikovsky was writing his most important works in the late 1930s and 1940s and for some reason he proposed the planet Venus was once a comet – presumably because he was persuaded by the current view of comets at that time, as little more than dirt, ice, and air bubbles (or something like that). He wanted falls of gravel and stones (some as big as pebbles) and various hydro carbons and gases, and all kinds of other stuff as described in Worlds in Collision. He therefore created a super comet – Venus. This has always intrigued some people – what made him make such a leap of imagination? What was in his head – and what could he have said instead? All this was happening during the rise of Hitler and of WWII when the world appeared to be in turmoil. Doing the same thing to the solar system might not have seemed too daring. If he had kept to the term 'comet' rather than involving a 'planet' and then so much that has been written since would never have been written. That might have taken away a lot of our enjoyment in reading the various theories that developed out of Velikovsky and it would still not have been acceptable to mainstream – which was fiercely uniformitarian and resistant to any hint of cosmic catastrophe. I see the consensus mindset of the time at fault, in much the same way that Bad Astronomy cannot get its head around the positives involved in the Electric Universe theory. Velikovsky opted for Venus because that consensus insisted comets were incapable of causing death and destruction on the surface of the Earth. They were regarded as virtually harmless – a mindset that contradicted the mythology and folklore that Velikovsky had researched.

Be that as it may it might be interesting to have a look at what some astronomers were thinking from the time of Velikovsky onwards. It is not always appreciated in Velikovskian circles that scientists were looking at objects in the sky coming close to the Earth in parallel with the huge output produced by the likes of Pensee, Kronos and Aeon (in the US) and SIS (in the UK). I'm not talking about the mainstream – those grey people, the John Major's of science, those without the audacity to challenge what their tutors taught them. We might begin with a little bit of climate science – going back into the Ice Age period. It is important to establish if catastrophes in the past may have affected the environment – and in what way. Dr Euan McKie, one of the founder members of SIS, could find no evidence of catastrophe at 1500BC, the central point of Worlds in Collision and Velikovsky's subsequent Age in Chaos series – and made the point there was evidence of catastrophe in the last few centuries of the 3rd millennium BC. This was never taken up seriously, and subsequently, McKie fell by the wayside – although he did resurface at an SIS conference in the 1990s. Everything that follows comes from a book I have been reading, on and off for a few months, by Nicholas Costa, Adam to Apophis: Asteroids, Millenarianism and Climate Change, D'Aleman Publishing (Cyprus); 2013, and solely involves chapter 7 (and nothing else). I was loosely aware of the various strands in the story but had not seen them all juxtaposed next to each other in a logical sequence of discoveries.

If catastrophism occurred in the recent past (anywhere in the Holocene, for example) we should see evidence for this in scholarly papers concerning climate change and the environment. The Bible invariably uses 'past' catastrophes to prophecy 'future' calamities. This is what Isaiah was doing. He is referring to 'past' events in order to illustrate to his audience what might happen in the 'near' future – and he is portrayed as on his 'watchtower' (looking at the heavens). Costa claims Mohammad had a similar function in society – he was 'watching' the sky for signs of Allah despatching his instruments of destruction. Some 1400 years later we have the idea coming to fruition – the End of the World (or the next chapter in a cycle of destructions), when Allah will intervene once again in human comings and goings. We have just entered this phase and at the moment the Sh'ia and the Sunni are jostling for position. In contrast, Christian mythology and the events running up the End of the World (and the Second Coming)  or the next spate of catastrophes, mainly consists of imagery in the sky such as a blood red moon and strange 'signs and wonders'. The actual cycle has been expunged and replaced by millenarianism, a propensity to become fascinated by the passing of units of a thousand years. Leading up to the year AD2000 the media made a lot of noise about the passing of that particular date – but nothing of note in the Church occurred. Instead, we had several examples of secular millenarianism, most prominently CAGW. This is still running – with our wallets as well as the hype. Why was this? Could it be as a result of science replacing religion as the font of all wisdom.

Getting back to science in the field, as opposed to computer generated predictions, in 1977 William Ruddiman wrote a report about finding sand buried on the Atlantic sea floor and this had been laid down in the Pleistocene. He concluded by saying cold ocean surface temperatures had caused icebergs broken off from the adjoining N Atlantic ice sheet, to drift further south than normal, dropping the sand on the sea floor where they had eventually melted. Nowadays, icebergs calving from the Greenland glacier migrate south in the spring where they meet the warm waters of the Guf Stream near Newfoundland, and mostly melt. Therefore, Ruddiman had discovered evidence icebergs survived for much longer and had a broader geographical range. In the 1980s Hartmut Heinrich examined sea bed cores on the European side of the N Atlantic and discovered that sediments on the sea floor, laid down by ice rafting, had been deposited uniformly but in distinct episodes. . He recognised eleven separate layers. In six of them he found rock fragments from as far away as Greenland and northern Scandinavia. He attributed them to exceptional cooling events that he said occurred at intervals of between 7000 and 10,000 years. These are now known as the Heinrich events, the last of which was the Younger Dryas event.

In 1995 Gerard Bond and R Litte, the latter was a curator at a core laboratory, decided to examine the N Atlantic sea bed sediments in greater detail. Their study demonstrated that between the longer events there was evidence of ice rafting at a greater frequency – leaving smaller traces than the big ones found by Heinrich (published in Science 167, p1005-1010)(1995). They found these lesser events occurred approximately every 1400 years. They qualify as the most dramatic node of climate change perceptible in the geological record during the human period and involved sudden drops in temperature of several degrees. The last substantial cooling event took place around 6300BC which is the switch point from the Boreal to the Atlantic climate periods (the beginning of the Mid Holocene Warm Period in American terminology) as described in former SIS member Peter Warlow's book, The Reversing Earth, and by Stephen Oppenheimer in 'Eden in the East: the Drowned continent of SE Asia' and subsequent to that date the 1400 year cycle is self evident, according to Bond, in the sediment core – and has subsequently been described as a cycle (see also Nigel Calder, The Magic Universe: a grand tour of modern science' Oxford University Press:2005. One of these Bond events has been dated at 800BC according to Costa (and Baillie has a low growth tree ring event around this time). It also marks the dividing line between the sub-Boreal and the sub-Atlantic climate systems and is therefore an important event – of which very little is known. In other words, in NW Europe it became cooler and wetter (the British Iron Age). Palaeo-ecologist Bas Van Geel of Amsterdam University found confirmation of this in Holland (Friesland) where settlements on low lying farmland were abandoned due to rising water levels. Petra Dark of Reading University did something similar on this side of the North Sea. Van Geel also said it coincided with a huge increase in the cosmic ray flux making C14, radioberyllium and other radioactive elements in the atmosphere more plentiful – which was interpreted as a symptom of weak solar activity (weakening the ability of the Earth to defend itself against cosmic rays). Van Geel blamed the cooling events on a faltering Sun, a theme that has been popular amongst some climate change sceptics – visualising the current low Sun activity as an indicator of a cooling climate in the next decade or so. Van Geel's ideas have spawned a lot of research, usually by scientists not in the CAGW clique, and lack of sun spots have become synonymous with cooling weather (without any proof of the pudding it should be noted). This has tended to distract from a catastrophist interpretation and strangely, it is the CAGW people that have been forward in suggesting atmospheric dust played a role (volcanic rather than meteoric), presumably because they wish to neutralise the variable Sun model. Van Geel noted that climate change occurred around 800 BC simultaneously with a sharp rise in C14, starting around 850 and peaking around 760 – which embraces the era of Elijah, Elisha, and Jonah (of which Costa has more to say in other chapters). The physical connection between cosmic dust accretion in the atmosphere, or debris from volcanic eruptions accumulating in the atmosphere is at present tenuous according to Costa.

Jurgen Beer, a Swiss scientist, joined Bond's team and looked at the radioberyllium peaks in Greenland ice cores. The results were published in 2001 and it is claimed that in the Holocene, during every ice rafting event, there was a parallel period of reduced solar output. Hence, we can understand why Nigel Calder, who put all of this in the 'Magic Universe', or most of it, is sceptical of global warming. As a former editor of New Scientist this is almost blasphemous, and his blog, when it is running, is more concerned with solar output. He is on record for criticising attempts by CAGW fixated climate scientists to erase the MWP and LIA and define those climate ups and downs as regional (confined to the N Atlantic where all the research took place). Bond's team were able to cite widespread changes in the Atlantic that also affected the S Atlantic and W Africa and they went on to include reductions in rainfall in E Africa and changes to the Asian monsoon system (not universally accepted as the Milankovitch model is preferred in some quarters). Calder concluded that the ice rafting story is far from over – or the 1400 year cycle.

Costa then turns to the Taurid Complex. Not all people involved in meteorite research and Near Earth Objects accept any of this, it should be noted, as displayed in some of the negative posts on Benny Peiser's CCNeT email list (now archived at the Bob Kobres web site http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/) which was a direct spin-off from the SIS conference in the 1990s on Bronze Age destructions, organised by Benny Peiser. Patrick Moore, on the other hand, was generally attracted to the idea – and those ideas began at the time Velikovsky was researching and writing his first few books. Fred Whipple published a paper in 1940 which claimed the Taurid meteor streams were directly related to Encke's comet. He said, 'the multiplicity of radiants, the uniformity of the long continuance of the Taurid stream of meteors have disguised its character as one of the more important (of the meteor streams)'. He hypothesized that in the distant past a giant comet had fragmented into a number of smaller comets of which Encke was one. He suggested the difference in the orbits of the comet and the meteors was the result of 14,000 years of perturbation by the planet Jupiter (widely thought to alter the orbits of space rocks). The spread of the Taurid streams affected not only the Earth, he said, but Mercury, Mars and Venus. This is a key point – the Taurid Complex involved the planets. This may account for some of the mythology surrounding those planets – assuming planets are actually involved in human myth in the first instance.

In 1950, ten years later, Whipple again published a paper on the Taurids, in association with S Hamid. They had discovered that the orbital phase of four meteors in the complex coincided with that of comet Encke 4700 years ago and that the orbits of three meteors coincided with one another but not with Encke, at 1500 years ago. They theorised that the Taurid stream was formed chiefly by a violent ejection of material from Encke's comet 4700 years ago but also  by another ejection 1500 years ago, from a body moving in an orbit of similar shape and longitude of perihelion but somewhat greater aphelion distance. Encke, in other words, had erupted from this unknown body at some point in the past. This was being published in scientific journals at the same time as Velikovsky's books were going on sale. Why on earth did he claim Venus was a comet when Whipple and Hamid already had one out there – and a big one.

In 1978 the astronomer L Kresak suggested Encke might have a connection with the Tunguska object of 1908. At the time this was heavily disputed – as normally the case when new ideas are forwarded. However, this idea is still in circulation. In fact, it was resurrected in a paper by Duncan Steel, David Asher and Victor Clube. In 1990 Clube, an astrophysicist, and Bill Napier, an astronomer and colleage of Asher, published The Cosmic Winter, which appears to have upset some SIS members such as Richard Atkinson. His beef was that he thought they had pinched their ideas from Velikovsky – when in fact we can now see they did not (although some similarities do suggest they may have read Worlds in Collision). Clube and Napier did an analysis of meteor showers that encounter the orbit of the Earth using computer software (pretty basic at that time). They traced their orbits way back into the past and uncovered an astounding fact – many of the meteor showers are interrelated. Not only that, they also discovered that upwards of 100 very large cosmic objects such as Encke, Rudnicki, Oljato and Hephaistos were also interrelated (and this was at a time when only a few Near Earth Objects were known about). It was one of those discoveries we may assume mainstream found unsettling. It now turns out that large numbers of the meteor showers are common to several asteroids of the Taurid Complex. These recent results confirm Clube and Napier (1984, 1986) Steel (1995) in that the Taurid Complex consists of objects of all sizes, big and small, and some of the asteroids are defunct comet nuclei. Altogether, the Taurid meteoroid stream produces more than 60 annual meteor showers, which is remarkable.

Clube and Napier also calculated the original comet was enormous and it was involved in the mass extinction event of animals that took place around 13,000 years ago. In other words they were involved in the Younger Dryas Boundary event long before it became a hot potato a few years ago. We may also note the Younger Dryas event lasted some 1300 years – very nearly that cycle of 1400 years. The Oldest Dryas event, at the end of the Ice Age, is said to have lasted almost 3000 years, a double 1400 year cycle. I have of course added a bit here and there to Costa (who doesn't mention this) but we may also note that it is recognised now that a strict 1400 year cycle is probably too restrictive and a window between 1000 and 1500 years has been seen to be more appropriate. The problem is that the odd rogue meteor will always upset the sequence – but where do you draw the line. Even an object in resonant orbit, as we have seen this year (the Chelyabinsk incident) can have lesser space rocks that are in resonant orbit with that object rather than with the Earth and therefore can enter the atmosphere – as we saw in February. In other words, catastrophes do not necessarily have to follow the 1400 year principle, or cycle. They can happen as a result of small objects being in resonance not with the Earth but with the large space rocks (former comets or otherwise) in resonant orbit with the Earth. Am I confusing you?

Even Clube and Napier were not consistent on this aspect. They recognised a window of opportunity between around 400 and 600AD, coinciding with what Steve Mitchell in various SIS articles has designated as a period with a high water table (and cool to boot) which dovetails into the 800BC event favoured by Costa (rather, in the time of Elijah to be exact), 1400 years previously. However, elsewhere Clube and Napier seem to suggest the LIA (Little Ice Age, 1600-1750AD) had a connection with the cycle, just 1000 years separating this from the 536-545 episode (seen in low growth tree rings, and taken up by Mike Baillie). If that had a connection why not the period 1300-1450AD, which was equally wet and unhealthy (with cool years). Pinning down the 1400 years to an exact time scale has not proved to be easy – and this has led to the theory losing some of its credibility (especially as climate scientists of a CAGW persuasion desired an opposite effect). The problem may revolve around how quickly Taurid streams dissipated – and how wide that dissipation dispersed the medium debris contained in the stream. Dispersal should primarily involve the smaller fragments – the big objects remain a different kettle of fish.

Clube and Napier suggested the Earth crosses the densest part of the giant comet clouds around every 2000 to 4000 years – distinct from the 1400 year theory of ice rafting. Each subsequent bombardment has had less affect than the previous one due to continued fragmentation of objects into smaller and smaller pieces. In 1984 Clube and Napier, in The Cosmic Serpent, calculated that at the period 2000-2400AD the Earth would enter another dangerous time as its orbit changed over time and brought it potentially on collision course with a stream of debris. This view appeared to have changed in their later work – possibly because they did not want to be portrayed as doomsayers (as they were primarily interested in telling a story from the past). Clube and Napier's calculations had nothing to do with Bond events – that is a more recent development. Yet, it is roughly 1400 years from 400-600AD to 2000-2400AD

In a 2008 lecture Clube claimed the progenitor comet was responsible for the Late Glacial Maximum rather than the Heinrich events that mark it coming to a close, and preceding it. This idea suggests he thought dust in the atmosphere was responsible for the coldest part of the last Ice Age – whereas dust in the atmosphere, from cosmic and terrestrial sources, may be what underlie the Heinrich and Dryas events. That would require a different mechanism for the Late Glacial Maximum. Obviously, if there had been a massive super comet interacting with the inner solar system in the Late Pleistocene and then perhaps it did impact on average temperatures and lead to a growth of the ice sheet as Clube was thinking. What is interesting in all this is that Clube and Napier did not have a fixed agenda, and were prone to switch at the drop of a hat – and possibly depending on the audience. Clube also played with the idea that around 3000BC the comet came close to Venus and its defence mechanism and fragmented once again. What made him do that?

In around 2300-2000BC the Earth encountered a series of environmental disasters which resulted in the collapse of the Early Bronze civilisations of western Asia and similar upheaval occurred in China and elsewhere. This also involved, in the aftermath, some interesting angelic visitations, such as the angel that appeared to Lot before the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah. Roughly 1400 years separate 800BC from 2200BC, shortly before the abrupt termination of Akkad (and dynasty 6). However, the most severe event occurred a hundred and fifty years prior to this – which may reflect errors in calibration of C14 methodology. However, it is interesting to note that in 3600BC (mainstream date) there was a burst in construction activity in the UK that involved cursus monuments – the meaning of which has never been established, and causewayed camps (laid out in a spiral formation of concentric rings). The problem in dating appears to involve what are called C14 plateaus – for whatever reason. The C14 plateau between 800 and roughly 400BC was responsible for the calibration curve being adopted, and still remains a problem in some instances. One suspects a particular calibration was preferred in preference to others as the adopted curve conveniently supports Egyptian dates and consensus chronology.

One of the most significant pieces of research was by Rigby et al (2004) who calculated what might have happened in the 6th century AD following Mike Baillie's hypothesis drawn from Clube and Napier. They worked out that an airburst would have caused vaporised material to eject as a plume, rising upwards and falling back on to the top of the atmosphere as small condensed particles, creating an opaque sky in the process. They demonstrated that a bolide 300m in radius (much bigger than the recent Chelyabinsk meteor, the size of a bus) could have reduced sunlight by about 4 degrees which may account for historical descriptions and sudden global cooling in AD536-45 (as proposed by Baillie from tree ring evidence). Lots of people could obviously see merit in this paper as it was splashed all over the newspapers at the time – but has largely been ignored by academics and the uniformitarian mafia.

The Taurids have remained a focus of interest in papers by Babadzhanov (2001 and 2008) Porubcan (2006) who identified some Near Earth Objects and their filaments with the Taurid Complex. Some of these filaments originated as late as 3000 years ago (the end of the Late Bronze Age). Costa also draws attention to Martin Beech et al (2004) in 'The Running of the Bulls: a review of Taurid fireball activity since 1962' in which he says the Earth at the present epoch passes through a resonance produced swarm of meteoroids at intervals corresponding to 3, 4, and 7 years, all prominent numbers in myth and religion, and at these times enhanced Taurid activity is predicted to occur. These swarm years associated with the Taurid Complex are a remnant of former events and it has been noted by others that the 'remnant meteoroid swarm' has an orbital period close to 61 years with 1954 being the last good swarm encounter – and the next expected is in 2015.

Halley's comet also plays a significant role in annual meteor showers and it is thought to be a shadow of itself, estimated to have been on the same orbit for some 16,000 years. However, when it first appeared is unknown but its magnitude is thought to be reduced in mass by as much as 80 to 90 per cent (Hughes, 1987 'The History of Halley's Comet'). Calculations of its brightness in 1058BC (by Clube and Napier) said it had 7.7 on the brightness scale – which is 15 times brighter than Venus at its brightest. Given that it was much larger in the past we should not be surprised at ancient references to a second Sun or Moon appearing in the sky, or that either of them might be associated with the Sun rising twice in one day or rising where it normally sets (all themes used by Velikovsky and others). Given that it was much larger in the past we should not be surprised at ancient references to a second Sun or Moon appearing in the sky or that either of them might be associated with the Sun rising twice in the same day or rising where it normally sets (all themes used by Velikovsky and/or others). Given all this humans in around 2000BC would have been more than a little aware of Comet Halley when it paid a visit – but this is not how ancient texts are currently being interpreted. This is due to the uniformitarian consensus – nothing happened in the past which isn't apparent in modern times. Comet Halley is associated with 30 plus meteor showers according to Napier et al (2004), the eta Aquarids and the Orionids for example. According to Japanese astronomers Mikiya Sato and Jun-ichi Watanabe the recent burst of activity by the Orionids was caused by dust ejected from Halley in 1266, 1198 and 911BC. Costa adds, that Halley was capable of causing destruction in the historical period, and using one of the dates provided by the Japanese researchers, 1198BC, he draws a parallel with Eben Shetiyah (stone from God) that fell on Earth and caused great regional devastation(Ginzburg V:15). He then refers to the Rabbinical story cited by Ginzburg in IV: page 434, in that God had ordered the angel Gabriel (Halley) to destroy the temple of Jerusalem but that the angel had delayed doing so for thirteen and a half years. If we count down thirteen from the appearance of Halley in 616 we arrive at the point the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. It is not clear how reliable the date of 616BC really is – but it supports Costa's case, and the grains in his coffee cup. If Costa is right it means that the ancients were aware of the periodicity of Halley long before it was discovered by Edmund Halley – and may go some way to support some of Steve Mitchell's work on the Roman chronology in the first few centuries AD. Interestingly, Baillie and McCafferty came to the conclusion that the Beowulf story involved a short period comet (such as Encke) and a long period comet (they thought was perhaps Halley's).

The last passage of Halley was disappointing from an astronomical point of view – somewhat of a damp squib. In 1991 two Belgian astronomers, Hainant and Smette, discovered that Halley, then 1,243 million miles away, had been in some kind of collision (or that is the way it was interpreted) and instead of a 9 mile cloud surrounding it there was now one measuring 19,000 miles and it was 300 times brighter than normal. Its next return is scheduled in 2061 – a long way in the future. Costa then brings in Isaac Newton who dated the Apocalypse at 2060, as found in his work, 'Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St John' (1733). We may note that Newton was a friend of Edmund Halley. Newton said of his prediction, 'having searched after knowledge in the prophetic scriptures I have thought myself bound to communicate it for the benefit of others' – not the sort of thing the uniformitarians like and this aspect of his work is largely ignored, so loudly you can hear a pin drop.


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