by Michael Goodspeed
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:
the theory has
roots in many 19th century speculations about comets
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
thesis was directly inspired by Juergens', whose work
Thornhill diligently followed from the beginning
was favored by Thornhill, to which he has added many
nuances, and differs significantly from McCanney's
the core of
McCanney's thesis is thrown into doubt by space age
discovery, while Thornhill's is not
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.
"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 researches."
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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 properties (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 and tail."
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
"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
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.
beginning Thornhill has consistently credited Velikovsky and
Juergens for the direction of his life's work.
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