- I have recently received a handful of uninformed responses
from people who have read my series of essays on the possible influence
of electricity in the solar system - including the electric nature of comets.
- Several have written to me claiming that I was not giving
proper credit to astrophysicist James McCanney, even asserting that McCanney
"originated" the electric comet theory. Some have further stated
that "electric universe" theorist Wallace Thornhill has "borrowed"
from McCanney's theories without acknowledging a debt to McCanney.
- Both of these assertions are false. McCanney did not
"originate" the electric comet theory, because 1) the theory
has roots in many 19th century speculations about comets; 2) the catalytic
work on the electric sun and electric comets was that of the twentieth
century pioneer Ralph Juergens, whose published papers on the subject pre-date
those of McCanney by several years; 3) Thornhill's thesis was directly
inspired by Juergens', whose work Thornhill diligently followed from the
beginning; 4) the hypothesis was favored by Thornhill, to which he has
added many nuances, and differs significantly from McCanney's; and 5) the
core of McCanney's thesis is thrown into doubt by space age discovery,
while Thornhill's is not.
- Nevertheless, McCanney must be given credit for having
explored cometary phenomena from a unique electrical vantage point and
having added to scientific discussion of the "electric comet."
- A brief historical outline of the evolution of the electric
comet theory may be helpful.
- It is clear that at least by the second half of the 19th
century, many scientists believed that comet tails were fundamentally electrical.
For example, in 1872, Scientific American (July 27th, p. 57), informed
its readers that "Professor Zollner of Leipsic" ascribes the
"self-luminosity" of comets to "electrical excitement."
According to the article, Zollner suggests that "the nuclei of comets,
as masses, are subject to gravitation, while the vapors developed from
them, which consist of very small particles, yield to the action of the
free electricity of the sun...."
- Also in the 19th century, the August 11, 1882 English
Mechanic and World of Science, pp. 516-7, wrote of cometary tails: "...There
seems to be a rapidly growing feeling amongst physicists that both the
self-light of comets and the phenomena of their tails belong to the order
of electrical phenomena."
- Similar ideas about comet's tails appear in Nature, No.
1370, Vol. 53, Jan 30, 1896, p. 306: "It has long been imagined that
the phenomenon of comet's tails are in some way due to a solar electrical
repulsion, and additional light is thrown on this subject by recent physical
- Over subsequent decades, however, science moved away
from ANY consideration of electrical phenomena in space, a turn of events
which is only now being reversed.
- A major catalyst for independent re-consideration of
electricity and magnetism in space came in 1950, with the publication of
Immanuel Velikovsky's World in Collision. The controversial theorist had
proposed an extraordinary idea. He suggested that, only a few thousand
years ago, the planet Venus appeared in the sky as a great comet. The
theory was ridiculed by the scientific mainstream, since all well-accredited
scientists "knew" that gases could not escape from a planet-sized
body to produce the kind of "cometary tail" Velikovsky had envisioned.
Velikovsky was not ignorant of the "escape velocity" cited by
physicists, but his examination of ancient records suggested to him that
our ancestors witnessed extremely intense electrical activity in the sky,
including electrical arcing between planets moving on unstable courses.
- Velikovsky said that the only way the evidence could
be reconciled with current scientific knowledge would be through consideration
of ELECTROMAGNETISM. In Worlds in Collision, he wrote: "I became skeptical
of the great theories concerning the celestial motions that were formulated
when the historical facts described here were not known to science....Fundamental
principles in celestial mechanics, including the law of gravitation, must
come into question if the sun possesses a charge sufficient to influence
the planets and their orbits, or the comets in theirs. In the Newtonian
celestial mechanics, based on the theory of gravitation, electricity and
magnetism play no role."
- In the 1960's, a Flagstaff, AZ engineer named Ralph Juergens"a
former associate editor of a McGraw-Hill technical publication"began
collaborating directly with Velikovsky, inspired by the historical evidence
for electrical events in the heavens. This evidence prompted Juergens to
begin an extended investigation of the electrical properties of celestial
bodies. He came to see the sun as the most positively charged body at the
center of an electrical system.
- In the fall of 1972, Juergens published the first in
a series of articles offering a revolutionary hypothesis on the "electric
sun." The articles appeared in Pensee magazine's series, "Immanuel
Velikovsky Reconsidered," p. 6: "The known characteristics of
the interplanetary medium suggest not only that the sun and the planets
are electrically charged, but that the sun itself is the focus of a cosmic
electric discharge - the probable source of all its radiant energy."
- While Juergens' model focused most fundamentally on the
Sun, its implications for comet theory were inescapable.
- I'll skip most of the technical details concerning the
formation of a "plasma sheath" around charged bodies in space,
but in the Juergens hypothesis, a comet spends most of its time in the
outermost regions of the solar system, where the electric field will be
most negative. The comet nucleus, Juergens said, naturally acquires the
negative charge of its environment. This leads to electrical stresses on
the comet as it falls towards the sun. Juergens writes, "A space-charge
sheath will begin to form to shield the interplanetary plasma from the
comet's alien field. As the comet races toward the sun, its sheath takes
the form of a long tail stretching away from the sun...."
- Juergens' model of the electric sun and of electrically
discharging comets was immediately taken up by Earl Milton, professor of
physics at Lethbridge University in Canada. Speaking at the annual meeting
of the Society of Interdisciplinary Studies in April 1980, Milton offered
a ringing endorsement of Juergens' hypothesis: "The cometary body
takes on the properites (author's note: electric charge) of the space in
which it has spent most of its time. On those infrequent apparitions when
it comes into the space of the inner SOLAR SYSTEM, the body of the comet
gets out of equilibrium because it now moving in an electrically different
environment than the one it is adjusted to. An electrical flow then occurs
to rectify the situation. The sheath which builds around the cometary body
glows brightly and assumes the characteristic shape of the comet's head
- Several years after Juergens' revolutionary papers on
the electric sun, James McCanney, then a lecturer in the physics and mathematics
department of Cornell University, prepared the first in a series of three
articles in Kronos magazine on "The Nature and Origin of Comets and
the Evolution of Celestial Bodies." In his own words, "This paper
was produced during the 1979-80, 1980-81 academic years." The article
is copyrighted 1981 and 1983.
- One other researcher, Australian physicist Wallace Thornhill,
has also contributed significantly to modern speculations about "electric
comets." Thornhill,s interest was provoked by the Pensee magazine
series in the early seventies, and his greatest interest was in the revolutionary
work of Ralph Juergens. This was an active interest that brought him to
America in 1974, to attend an international conference, "Velikovsky
and the Recent History of the Solar System. Ralph Juergens was a principal
- Over the following three decades, Thornhill accumulated
a massive data base on comets, and much of this independent research is
slated for publication in a series of volumes, beginning with the forthcoming
book, "Thunderbolts of the Gods, co-authored with David Talbott. (www.thunderbolts.info).
- Years after the Pensee series, James McCanney,s articles
on comets appeared in Kronos. Thornhill recognized that McCanney's hypothesis
diverged significantly from the original Juergens hypothesis, and he preferred
the Juergens model. Thus, Thornill saw the comet nucleus as a negatively
charged body moving through an electric field of the sun, and experiencing
increasing electrical stresses as it draws nearer to center of the field
(the sun). The view is stated in the monograph, "The Electric Universe,"
now being prepared for publication:
- "As a comet accelerates toward the Sun and electrons
are stripped from the comet's surface, it first develops a huge visible
glow discharge, or coma, then the discharge switches to the arc mode. This
results in a number of bright cathode 'spots' of high current density on
the surface, etching circular craters and burning the surface black, giving
the surface its extreme darkness. Each arc forms a 'cathode jet' that electrically
accelerates the excavated and vaporized material into space."
- This point is particularly worth mentioning, because
it distinguishes the Juergens-Milton-Thornhill model from that of James
McCanney. It was McCanney's hypothesis that cometary nuclei ACCRETE material,
and that this accretion process, continuing over long periods of time,
would give rise to a PLANET. In contrast to this model, Thornhill's hypothesis
predicts the progressive DEGRADATION of comet nuclei, with sharply defined
surface features from the electrical etching process. This distinction
between the two models amounts to an ACID TEST.
- In his article, "The Nature of and Origins of Comets
and the Evolution of Celestial Bodies (Part 1), Kronos, Vol. 9, No. 1,
Fall 1983, McCanney writes, "...a comet involved in the discharge
of the solar capacitor will continue to grow in size and mass...."
- "Curved tails, such as in Donati's comet, when it
neared the Sun, are a result of the matter in the Zodiacal disk falling
into the comet nucleus...."
- "This causes a buildup of material on the asteroidal
comet nucleus....Comets eventually evolve into planets...."
- More specifically, in Appendix 2, Part II, Kronos Vol.
9, No. 3, Summer 1984, McCanney offered as a DEFINITIVE TEST his prediction
that tail material "will be detected by DIRECT OBSERVATION to move
TOWARDS the comet nucleus."
- We have now visited several comets. Such movement has
not been detected, and it is quite evident that violent jets are removing
material and accelerating it into space..
- It should be obvious that no one can claim a monopoly
on the electric comet theory. But it is only appropriate that innovative
pioneers (in this case, Velikovsky and Juergens) receive due credit for
having opened the doors to revolutionary possibilities. From the beginning
Thornhill has consistently credited Velikovsky and Juergens for the direction
of his life's work. James McCanney's contributions should also be welcomed,
but any perception that he "originated" electric comet theory,
and/or that Wallace Thornhill has unfairly "borrowed" from McCanney's
work, is quite clearly erroneous.