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Open letter to science editors
Moderator: In introduction, I just should say that Victor is the author of
two extremely intriguing books. The first is The Cosmic Serpent which was
published in 1982, and the second is The Cosmic Winter, published in 1990 in
collaboration with astronomer Bill Napier. And I think that today Victor is
going to present a talk illustrated by slides which will continue along the
lines that he developed in The Cosmic Winter, which is a book that I urge
all of you to read if you can. Victor Clube.
What I propose to do this morning is kind of take advantage of the few
I talked about last night, and go on from there. But there was a slight
hitch with the overlay, which got chopped in half, and I thought as a result
of some of the comments that were made I would kick off with a few slides,
straight away this morning to, perhaps, just give you a little more of a
for the things that I'm talking about.
I actually take a little time to gravitate in the community that I'm not
familiar with, and I do realize that the need to talk of catastrophism in
terms of planets kind of takes you away from the starting point which I
perceive to be more important; namely, the smaller bodies, the meteors, the
meteoroids, which I talk about. And I thought, perhaps, therefore, a few
illustrations might just put you in a slightly better frame of mind for
receiving what I'm talking about. So if I may have the slides, please.
Indeed, I can't really claim much for any of these pictures, but this is an
illustration of the zodiacal cloud.
This is the disk of dust in the inner solar system which, if you're in a
observing site you may be fortunate enough to see. I come from England. We
never see it, so it's rather a dramatic thing to show a picture where you
actually can see this cloud projecting away from the Sun, below the horizon,
into the plane of the ecliptic.
That dust is cometary and partially asteroidal material. It is a decay
product built up by comets over longish periods of time in the inner solar
system. Next slide please.
This is familiar to you all. This is just a meteor shower. The objects
producing these meteors are typically a gram or so, maybe a tenth of a gram,
maybe ten grams. These are breaking up, or burning up, at high altitude in
the atmosphere 100 kilometers, and they are not dangerous.
That picture I showed you a bit of yesterday, and this is really just the
painting illustrating that some people, in the past at least, perceived
something looking like meteors as being capable of causing damage; ndeed
sufficient damage to be described as "the end of the world." And to some
extent part of our problem in modern science is whether we should believe
this kind of version of history.
We do know that large meteoroids, ones as large as ten to eleven, ten to the
twelve grams, or lage-that's the mass of the Tsunguska object, so anything
which I would call Tsunguska or super Tsunguska is capable of producing this
kind of damage. It's usually things that explode above the level of the
ground, maybe five or six kilometers in the air. They are smaller than
comets. And on the whole, we can't see any of them. They're out there.
There are telescopes now detecting such sized objects, but really it's not
active, ongoing business.
Much of my talk is actually about meteoroids between Tsunguskas and meteors.
And they're objects with masses of the order 106, 108, 1010 grams. These
are the objects which produce what I call fireballs in the atmosphere, and I
showed you that the Chinese were recording these large meteoroids,
down the centuries, and it was they that dramatically changed in numbers as
the years went by. You must not get the impression that we in Europe were
unaware of fireballs.
The fact is, we just didn't have an organized observatory, anywhere, doing
job, so we weren't really quite as an advanced civilization as the Chinese.
Nevertheless, people in the seventeenth/sixteenth century were trying to
to terms with the phenomenon they obviously observed. And this is merely a
theoretical picture, if you like, illustrating what a fireball was.
Here are the frightened folks down below. There are the fireballs coming
down. And there is the source- some kind of clash in the sky; slightly more
modern than gods fighting each other, armies shooting each other and the
fireballs a stray shot, if you like. Well, some theory, but at least
is clearly thinking about it.
This is back to front, but it doesn't matter, it'll serve. This is actually
satellite. I forget its name (Geos II, or something like that), which was
measuring dust particles out of the atmosphere above the Earth, well into
space, and some twenty/thirty years ago. And it was one of the experiments
that began to give us a little more insight into what was around out there.
None of this we could see.
This satellite was fitted with dust fences and it went up to check if the
zodiacal cloud was there, as we saw it. And the interesting thing was that
the prediction, from what we observed, roughly turned out to be right. And
it's that heap of particles of a certain size, up to about a hundred
We're looking at the larger particles on the right. And that sort of normal
shape and histogram is, in fact, the expected zodiacal cloud particles which
this satellite was meant to measure.
The surprise in the experiment was that there were a lot more dust
of smaller size, in fact occurring with time intervals between them which
were very small. And the number of dust particles which you see there is
actually comparable in size to the number in the zodiacal cloud. These dust
particles could only be understood as being the fragmentation products of
larger objects, the debris of which the satellite was passing through.
What we discovered, in fact, from this experiment was that meteoroids, the
objects that produce fireballs, were also breaking up at a very high level
above the Earth. And there were objects of masses like 102 through to a
million grams. They would, if they could hold together, produce fireballs at
a low level.
But, because they are so weakly constituted they break up at very high level
and produce, really, micron/submicron dust that then floats down through the
atmosphere, undetected. So the message I want to give you is that it's not
all zodiacal dust that's making up the material that arrives in the
atmosphere. It's actually breaking up from meteoroids.
Much of my talk this morning will relate to what I mentioned yesterday-a
called the Taurid meteor stream, and, again, I want you to know that the
Taurid meteoroid stream is not something that we, as it were, learned about
fifty or sixty years ago from meteors and we've simply been checking that
result ever since.
The remarkable thing about the space age is that it has actually revealed
and more things in the Taurid meteor stream which is actually built up from
interpretations of all these modern observations that were simply not
available at the time, for example, when Velikovsky was writing Worlds in
So, essentially, what I'm describing to you is a scientific story based upon
the very latest evidence from space. And this is merely illustrating one
example of the kind of surprises that came our way.
The Apollo astronauts planted seismometers on the Moon, primarily to measure
Moonquakes. But they got diverted from their business by the discovery that
objects, which they didn't expect at least, were hitting the Moon. These
seismometers regularly recorded large bodies hitting the Moon like the
meteoroids which I've just been describing. And this diagram is an
illustration of the record of the incidence of these meteoroids, integrated
over a period of about seven years until NASA switched the machine off- in
exasperation, apparently, because they didn't think it was telling us
anything very interesting.
Nevertheless, for seven or eight years they accumulated this data, and what
you see here is the integral result of the observations, per day, through
years, throughout the whole of this seven or eight year period. And, of
course, it looks a little like the skyline of Oxford, where I come from, but
never mind, the prominent thing is that you see one remarkable peak in the
middle which is, in fact, centered on about the 30th June. And all that
peak, in fact, coincides with the products of one year's observing. So in
that one year, 1975, in fact, we had a flood of objects hitting the Moon,
which actually were also hitting the Earth, and they all were present,
apparently, in the same stream, as was responsible for the Tsunguska object
1908 which, as you recall, also arrived the end of June. In fact, this end
of June is an interesting time. It's the time when we pass through the
Taurid stream, going in one direction. And the other direction is, in fact,
the beginning of November, and you can see some signs of that in this same
This observation was a unique observation of a great swarm of fireballs, or
meteoroids, that nobody had ever observed before and has never observed,
properly, since. And yet it's there. And interestingly enough, though I
just said we've never seen it, there are signs of it in the meteor
observations if you start scouring through them, and with care. We know that
there is a huge swarm of this material in the Taurid stream, which is moving
around in what is called the "mean motion resonance." That is, Jupiter
strongly influences it's orbit, and there is every reason to believe that
because all this material is in this huge resonance, there is some huge
source that has been feeding these meteoroids into it, down through the
That you could not have known before 1975. But, in fact, the results have
gradually become clearer and clearer to us in the last twenty years. This is
just to remind you of a picture you have seen already, I'm sure, of the
Tsunguska event, the sort of thing it does. It is a dramatic type of
explosion. It doesn't extinguish dinosaurs because it's localized. But it's
easy enough to picture an object which is, let's say, two or three hundred
meters in size rather than the fifty to one hundred meters which we believe
the Tsunguska was, and recognize that it will obliterate a very, very broad
area indeed. In fact, its' effects would be quite dramatic and certainly
might wipe out a small nation, and seriously perturb a civilization.
What you're looking at here is an illustration of the orbit of the Earth
around the Sun, but I'm superimposing on it some orbits of some objects in
the Taurid meteor stream, just to give you a feel for what's going on. There
is the stream. It's an elliptical stream. The period is typically about
three and one third years. It includes the well-known comet, comet Encke.
And Jupiter, which doesn't appear on the diagram is just off.
The orbit, if you like, embraces the picture. The Taurid stream then reaches
out to almost as far as Jupiter. And so we have a bulk of material
circulating in this very, very broad stream. It takes a couple of months, at
both intersections with the Earth's orbit, for us to cross. And there it is
at the top at the beginning of November, and coming away from the sun at the
bottom at the end of June.
If I might just put the picture of the fireballs back on which you were
looking at yesterday, we'll try and get it all onto the screen, and I'm
to leave it up because I want it to get embedded into your gray cells as one
of the more revealing diagrams, as to what is going on in the inner solar
system. All you really ought to look at is the top right hand diagram. The
bottom right hand one is just an improvement of it. It shows the sudden
surges in the fireball flux, which lasts for something like fifty years,
I was describing to you yesterday. Now these surges have correlated with
them an increase in the flux of Tsunguska sized objects. So where the normal
flux of Tsunguskas, which is related to the background or subordinate level
that plot, is something like one every century or so, the rate goes up to
like one a year or so for these periods of time. And there's nothing wrong
with the sense that the world is in some kind of danger, under those
circumstances, in order to over-exaggerate it because any one country, no
doubt, would escape. In fact, many countries would escape.
The danger, nevertheless, is unpredictable and given the fact that we now
in a global village there's no question we would all be aware of this kind
of event in our locality, as people indeed were in the past, and they feared
The interesting thing is to look at the left hand diagram, which is a plot
the same fireballs, per month, per century. And the important point to note
is that it's not uniform across the board. When you get the peaks you see it
concentrating in mid summer and early November. The actual peaks are related
to enhancements of the hub (SP?) of the meteoroids in the stream that I've
been talking about, the Taurid stream.
And the broad picture is that in spite of your preconceptions in this
there are Shoemaker-Levy type events occurring which influence, or affect,
the Earth. And the debris, instead of all piling into the planet in one go,
in this instance, runs around the orbit for several circulations-maybe a
or so-and the planet is at risk, as it were, again, and again, and again.
And with that kind of situation you do get conscious of your environment and
some of the possible dangers that it might carry.
I'm gong to follow my script a little at this point, if you don't mind, and
because I tend to meander when I talk and I want to try and fit as much as I
possibly can into the available time.
I want to summarize the meaning of this diagram, which I'm going to ask you
gaze at, endlessly. Chinese fireball observations indicate that there is a
great swathe of disintegrating dark debris circulating in the inner solar
system, occasionally producing Tsunguska and super-Tsunguska bombardments.
This is a picture that is unlike the one that you believe you know has been
going on for the last two millennia, which are within recorded historical
time rather than, let's say, mythological and protohistorical time. It's
meant to be the bit of history we understand.
This swathe cuts across the Earth's orbit around mid-summer and Halloween,
a huge elliptical torus, reaching out short of Jupiter, as I have described.
And its further disintegration is responsible for the system we know of as
sporadic meteors, which all lie close to the ecliptic and the zodiacal dust,
as I've described.
It is hardly possible to understand all this material steadily
into dust except in terms of a once very massive comet at the heart of the
Taurid electrical torus, with an orbital period of about three and a third
years. Indeed, if this torus were now visible you would see it like a huge
additional Milky Way in the sky, slightly inclined to the ecliptic and for
all the world in a configuration like one that was described in Plato's
Timaeus , in his account of God's construction of heaven and Earth. I don't
know how many of you recall or are familiar with this, but what he does
describe is Earth and heaven being made in the form of a circular belt which
is cut into two strips, and God then places one strip in slight inclination
the other. And the theorists then get in a bit of a 'tizz trying to explain
this as an earlier account of the ecliptic and the equator.
In fact, the account makes it very clear that we're talking about material
things in both cases, and in fact is more plausibly-much more plausibly-
related to the Taurid stream in a more visible state, as it would have been
two or three thousand, and more, years ago. Heaven would be the home of the
gods-being the Taurid torus-while Earth would be the home of the planets,
being the plane of the ecliptic.
People in the past, of course, have suspected these slight shifts of name
the ecliptic and an individual planet. In fact, we can see some reason
behind other descriptions that are on offer to us, where we have some part
the cosmos described as a glowing cavern carved out of the cosmos.
Early pictures seem to describe heaven in this way and it may well, again,
that they were describing early sightings, if you like, of this Taurid
stream. I do want to get the message to you that in spite of your being
unfamiliar with it, and in spite of it being so difficult to see, it is a
massive system. It does correspond to the material of a comet, a hundred
kilometers or more in size-far, far larger than anything that we are
familiar with but, of course, we do see these things further out in the
This kind of picture, my colleague, Bill Napier, and I, were describing in
book that Irving kindly mentioned, The Cosmic Serpent, twelve years or so
and that was a time when we were actually predicting that this stream would
have asteroids in it. Of course, that was not known at that time; they had
not been observed. But we now live in a time when many asteroids have now
been discovered in the stream. So the kind of logic that led to this picture
has really been firmed up considerably by the fact that we now see the very
things that we thought must be there.
So, it is now the home of about a hundred Earth-crossing asteroids, not all
which, of course, we have yet seen, and these are just part of the dark but
disintegrating debris. It's not too much to suppose these were all once
dying cometary gods. Within the stream is one known comet-comet Encke, which
I've mentioned, and this is getting steadily fainter. And if you wanted to
transfer this two or three thousand years ago, you might like to think of
this as a dying cometary god.
I'd like to remind you now that one of these peaks that you are looking at
here-the 1601 occurs round about 1640 through 1680, and it coincides with
end of the Thirty Years War in Europe, and the Civil War in England. I
mentioned this briefly last night. Cromwell, and others of that time-I only
name him because, of course, he's a familiar name to you, but there are many
others-described all the upheaval of the time, in millennarian terms, as due
to "God's revolution" only a century after Copernicus' De Revolutionius
My point here is that the word "revolution" is popularly used nowadays in a
social sense. It didn't have that at the time Copernicus was writing; it
acquired it. It acquired it at the time of the English Civil War. And it was
because of the perception that things in the sky were driving things,
things, that were happening on the ground. Only three hundred and fifty
years ago, then, mankind was still in the era of an invisible sky god from a
once visible heaven associated with angels, fallen angels, and dangerous
demons hurling thunderbolts.
We have to get rid of the idea that our ancestors thought that space was
empty. They didn't have [the] specialized astrophysical knowledge that has
allowed me to build the Taurid stream for you; they just knew it was there.
That's really rather a remarkable thing. We've had to unlearn that knowledge
in the last three hundred and fifty years in order to put ourselves in the
state of rediscovering it.
So, what was The Enlightenment only forty years after Cromwell? It was the
pragmatic English decision to get rid of all the angels and demons,
sky gods, and a once visible heaven. It was the decision to stop worrying
about the evidence of fireballs and the supposed behavior of comets. It was
decision to reconstruct the cosmos without heaven in the solar system and
it in the ether or outside the cosmos altogether of infinity al la Bruno. It
was the decision to create a purified, less frightening cosmos in much the
same way as Aristotle did after Plato. On both occasions we shifted from
astrology to physics, and from a sky of foreboding to a sky of inspiration,
from prison and terror to freedom and hope.
Indeed, the cry of the revolutionary periods of 1640 to 1680 and 1760 to
1800, the time of the American War of Independence, was the cry of freedom
from heavenly oppression, demons, and fireballs.
For the last two hundred years of Enlightenment we have been rewriting
so that the cry of freedom is from earthly oppressors. No wonder the world
has gone wrong and the astrophysicists today cannot come to terms with the
Taurid torus. I'm really trying to say that this is just not an
discovery that we are talking about. Everything has got to, sort of, turn
around in order to come to terms with what is being said. And this, in a
way, is rather like what Irving was describing beforehand. There is a
paradigm shift involved in recognizing that it's not just ancient history we
have got wrong-it's all history.
So, what is my point? My point is that you do not have to dabble first in
mythology and prehistory and geology, as Velikovsky did, in order to
understand the sky. You first take the modern sky accessible to science,
especially during the Space Age, and you look at its' darker debris with a
view to relating its behavior to the more accessible human history which we
can, in principle, really understand. And by this approach you discover from
the dynamics of the material in space which I'm talking about that a huge
comet must have settled in a Taurid orbit some 20,000 years ago, whose dense
meteor stream for 10,000 years almost certainly produced the last Ice Age.
(Missing Text due to change of tape)
The chance of a collision with Kronos, as with any other comet was, in fact,
remote. And mankind settled into a Golden Age. But some time at perihelion,
around 3,000 B.C., it is likely that Kronos ran very close to Venus and
split, like Shoemaker-Levy. And a trail of new, dazzling comets circulated
around the Taurid stream-evidently, for centuries. Somewhere in this array
still was the Kronos remnant; less bright, perhaps. And a new leader, Zeus
or Marduk, perhaps, much brighter, together with a new serpentine Milky Way,
the home of chaos.
By 2,000 B.C., due to an orbital precession, things got worse, for the trail
was now crossing the Earth's orbit and mayhem ensued. The Sumerian
civilization came to an end under a barrage of Tsunguskas, thunderbolts, all
over a period of a couple of centuries and we were now in a sky of
Then passed another 2,500 years with Zeus in decline and Kronos already
barely visible, while the latter's orbit precessed until we come to the next
intersection with the Earth's orbit around 500 A.D. when mayhem again
This time the Roman civilization collapsed and the dark age was in place.
And it was Plato and the Christians, of course, with their knowledge
from the Magi who had predicted this "end of the world."
In the medieval society which then emerged, it was natural that they should
first invoke the world of demons and foreboding. But eventually it seemed
that the danger was passed, and by the twelfth century the Europeans were
changing back to the Aristotelian picture of inspiration and supposed
enlightenment. The Taurid and probably the Kronos remnant, are still there,
And the next crossing of the Earth's orbit will be around 3,000 A.D. There's
no guarantee of avoiding additional bombardments before then, and, of
there may be another Jesus Christ.
I'm going to come to an end and possibly leave no time for questions, I'm
afraid. But I am told that I'm going to be up here again.
What, then, should Velikovskian's make of all these additions to our cosmic
environment? Well, my first point, I think, is that we do not need to move
the planets around to get catastrophes. Super Tsunguskas will do it all.
Point two-everything we say makes no challenge to conventional physics, or
astrophysics, for that matter.
And point three-everything we say, as Velikovsky would have wished, does
a challenge to conventional history.
The new picture is one of punctuated peace. It is the picture, I would
suggest, enunciated by both Spengler and Toynbee (not the world's most
favorite historians nowadays), one in which new cultures emerged from chaos,
with a shout, to become civilizations which then stagnate or decline,
Only with a fresh cosmic crisis do they climb to new heights or collapse
altogether, providing us with a new paradigm shift.
The picture I am describing is, again, rather like the one that Irving Wolfe
was describing previously. I would like to follow Irving Wolfe here, and
suggest that we are, indeed, approaching the position now when we can
reconstruct catastrophic history and demonstrate it as evidence for the
controlling influence of one giant comet over the last 20,000 years of
There is nothing very arbitrary about introducing giant comets to do all
The fact is, that we see them around. The idea that giant comets dominate
evolution is very much in keeping now with the discovery, further out in the
solar system, of objects like Chiron which are known to come into the inner
solar system. The dynamics do it. They are bound, some of them, to settle
in the way this other object that I have been talking about, has been.
These objects are also found among the long period comets from the Oort
and astronomers are perfectly capable of constructing perfectly respectable
physical pictures of how these giant comets are transferred from the remote
Oort Cloud down into the central solar system, almost as a matter of
regularity. Thus, we argue that the perturbation of the Oort Cloud
determined the long-term arrival rate of giant comets attacking the Earth.
If so, due to the Sun's motion up and down in the galactic plane, we can
predict the periodicity in terrestrial evolution.
This periodicity is certainly now observed and correlates exceedingly well
with the Sun's present position in the galactic plane, and with its motion
and down in the galactic disk. All of these things are kind of rather well
known and understood by astrophysicists. The period also fits the dark
which we now believe to be in the galactic plane and which we infer from
other kinds of observations altogether.
In fact, too much is now hanging together in this wide range of information
that I am giving you, to really doubt that it's got the bare bones
essentially there. And we may now be in a very interesting position of being
able to say something about the dark matter itself. It could, indeed, be
cometary material of some kind, and it could be the very material that makes
the stars that we see being made in the spiral arms in the galactic plane.
What I'm trying to say is that through grasping at some of these
associated with our history-and we have learned more about comets than we
would otherwise have done from pure physics alone, carried out, if you like,
in its very pure laboratory. The historical findings, I would maintain, and
I'm sure Velikovsky would argue in a very similar way from his picture (not
perfectly correct as it was) ...
The historical findings, in other words, are highly relevant to
They're a sort of way of integrating all this knowledge. It has a
completeness which a former picture did not have.
(Question and answer period follows)
Questioner 1: Victor, I see some irony in the statement that we don't have
move around the ... I don't know, maybe we don't have to, but I just want to
remind you that you have ... of course.
But two issues of Scientific American ago, mainstream astrophysicists ...
idea that the Moon was created out of a clash of the Earth and Mars, so we
have here, somehow, intriguingly, a movement out of mainstream ... scholars
to planets being moved around, and even clashed, to create the Moon. And
we have more or less a near-catastrophist approach which is rather not
cautious to make ... it's just a statement, not a question.
Clube: Right. No comment then.
Moderator: That's the Oxford debating experience!
Questioner 2: (question not asked from microphone) ... kind of an
intellectual construct in bringing echo(sp)-physical evidence that a field
cometary material was ... out beyond our solar system, as the source of
Clube: Well, I know the comet. I don't really believe it at all. We do see
the Oort Cloud. What we observe are the comets from the Oort Cloud. And
it's understanding how these comets could come to us to be seen that leads
to build sensible models of the Oort Cloud. OK, it's a construct.
But then, perhaps, so too, is a hydrogen atom. It's one of the more
constructs of astrophysics, if I could put it that way. It is much more
solid than many of the things we heard criticized a little while ago in the
cosmos at large. It's a fact!
Van Flandern: On that part not all astronomers agree that the Oort Cloud is
plausible construct. But my question for you is- you argued that at the end
of 500 AD there probably was some involvement with the Taurid stream and the
decline of the Roman Empire. Now, inside recorded history we have details of
how the Empire came to an end, but I don't recall any details ... that
Clube: That is correct and it's certainly worthy of a lecture in its own
right. I have written a little on this, and I think the thing that one has
to address is that it is well known that this was a period, first of all,
people thought the end of the world was coming. OK? And I pointed, already,
to you the evidence that there were fireball flux, which is free for
interpretation and would guide you to this view.
Now, one of the problems with the management of the Roman Empire was the
of what is called "deserted lands." Great tracts of land were apparently
deserted and people were on the move. It was a period of migrations, as you
know. And it was the management of this that was, clearly, a severe problem-
increasingly a severe problem for the Roman Empire from round about 200 AD
And one can formulate, I would submit, an interpretation of all that was
on in terms of this problem getting more and more acute until you come to
time of the initial Dark Age in Britain, by which time chaos was almost
intervening. We have very good records, in Britain, at least, of survival
really going back to subsistence level for two generations. And some very
interesting evidence from famous author Gildas, who described the fire of
righteous vengeance which came down and caused a great catastrophe in
in 441 AD.
Now, what I'm really getting at here is that everybody knows about this
catastrophe. There are endless attempts to explain it. None of them are
normally in terms of the obvious-the one that described the astronomical
What I am trying to say is that there is evidence for Tsunguska events
throughout that period. It's simply put aside as not relevant because the
historians are guided by astronomers who would never think of such a thing.