HANNES TAGER: History of the Electric Comet Theory | Thunderbolts Podcast


Welcome to the Thunderbolts.info
podcast for December, 19th 2016! Over the last two years or so in the
Thunderbolts Project’s Youtube channel the question of the origins
and the nature of comets has been front and center
in our video productions. In 2014 the European Space
Agency successfully landed its Rosetta probe on the
nucleus of Comet 67/P and this was an opportunity to test the
predictions of the standard theory of comets, which for more than half a century has described
comets as so-called “dirty snowballs”. As you know if you followed
our Space News coverage, the comet did not ever cooperate
with the investigators expectations. Well, believe it or not even though the
vast majority of the general public still is not familiar with
the Electric Universe, the electrical theory of
comets is not entirely new. In fact it didn’t even
originate in the 20th century. Today we’re going to be talking
with a guest who has done some remarkable historical research
into the origins and the evolution of the electrical concepts of comets
actually going back hundreds of years. Our guest is Hannes Täger and his
investigation has not only revealed remarkable facts on the origins
of the electric comet theory but may offer some real insight into
the history and the culture of science and the question of why certain scientific
theories gain official acceptance over time, while others do not. Hannes, welcome to the program! [Hannes] Hello Michael! [Michael] Now I actually learned about your
research from our friend Eugene Bagashov, who recommended you
to me as a guest and I believe that Eugene met you at the
most recent Thunderbolts conference EU2016, so why don’t you tell us a little
bit about your experience at EU2016 and what it was that first led you to take
an interest in the Electric Universe? [Hannes] Oh, I had a great
experience with the EU2016. I met, indeed, I met
Juri or Eugene Bagashov and I had the first time the opportunity
to meet all the other translators and proponents of the
Electric Universe theory. In fact I’m an economist but I was always interested in aviation
and space flight since my childhood. In 2012 I found a German website with
great information about plasma cosmology. This website is called “Plasmauniversum”
[abbr. “PlasmaVersum”] and is maintained by Raphael Haumann
and this sparked my interest. I searched for more information
and discovered the website of the Thunderbolts Project and
the Electric Universe theory. I was so fascinated by the
opportunity to contribute something to this revolutionary project that I
joined as a volunteer and translator and in June of 2016 I had
the great opportunity, in the outbreak room of the
conference I gave a little talk called the “Introduction to the
History of Electric Comet Theories” and later I was encouraged
by Eugene Bagashov to provide this material
to the Thunderbolts and so I started to create a PDF book about
the history of electric comet theories and I’m just trying to
give some information about my findings and
this interview with you. [Michael] Very good. Now, one of the reasons I was interested
to hear about your research is because I think it’s helpful to
understand the historic evolution of competing scientific
theories over time and I think it’s telling that
even hundreds of years ago the electrical
properties of comets seemed apparent to a number
of different investigators. So why don’t you begin by
telling us about your findings and the first question
I’d like to ask is: did you encounter any
surprises in your research? [Hannes] Oh, I did – in fact –
experience a lot of surprises. I was completely surprised when I
realized the sheer number of researchers with ideas or theories
of electric comets. I discovered 50, 60, 70
proponents of the electric comet and I think there could
exist some more. Furthermore I was surprised about the
open-mindedness and brilliance of all these people. Not everybody was a
physicist or astronomer, many had a great number and
diversity of jobs and interests and some migrated and continued
their work in other countries. I found Scots and Irishmen, Englishmen and
Canadians, Australians and U.S. Americans, Germans, Austrians,
Italians and Frenchmen, Norwegians and Swedish and even
scientists from the Suiss, but also from Russia
and Tajikistan. So you can see it was not only a limited
idea to some advanced countries. However another effect was
the biggest surprise to me. I had expected that scientists could come
up early with the idea of electricity if they observed heads
and tails of the comets but then I noticed there were
two groups of scientists. One group explained only certain features
of comets with the help of electricity but a second group of researchers
wrote about an electric sun, electric planetary system and even
about an electric cosmos or universe. And this was really surprising. [Michael] Well, so
that kind of discovery certainly is broadening your investigation
and making it even more significant. So, what would you say was the
oldest, the earliest example you could find of someone proposing
an electric comet theory? [Hannes] Yes, it is about 250 years,
I repeat, it is about 250 years old [Wow!] according to our current
state of knowledge and it seems the development
of electric comet theories had a first early peak in
the late 18th century. Then, in the late 19th century, the
electric comet theories gained ground, they made it into the
books and lexicons and some experiments were thought to
prove the electric nature of comets. [Michael] O.K. So, why were investigators
as early as the 18th century already starting to take an interest in
the electrical properties of comets? [Hannes] There was a general
excitement about the fascinating but also frightening power of the
electricity among scientists and laymen. Electrical experiments for example by
Gray with his so-called “Flying Boy”, by Franklin with his flying
kite and by Lichtenberg with his discharge patterns
amazed and perplexed people. The death of the experimenter professor
Richmann in St. Petersburg in 1753, caused by a lightning strike, was
glorified by his peers and colleagues. Now many researchers tried to
explain all unresolved issues with the help of electric
currents and discharges. Everything was electric. [Michael] Hhm. [Hannes] At the same time the
observation instruments of astronomers were improved year by year. Some astrophysicists speculated
that auroras and zodiacal light could be electric in nature. So, the next step was the comparison of
both phenomena with the tails of comets. Hence the light of
comets and comets tails were assumed to be electric
phenomena as well. One popular book claimed there
are two types of comet theories, electric theories and others. And remember, we are still
in the 18th century! [Michael] Well, could you
give some specific names of the earliest pioneers of
the electric comet theory? [Hannes] Early pioneers
of electric comet ideas were Hugh Hamilton, Andrew Oliver jr.
and the French comte de Lacépède. In 1767 Hamilton
published his work “Observations and Conjectures on the Nature of
the Aurora borealis and the tails of Comets.” Afore mentioned
Andrew Oliver jr. became famous for his groundbreaking
work “Essay on Comets” in 1772 and comte de Lacépède,
with a long French name, I hope I get it right, Bernard Germain
Etienne de Laville-sur-Illon, wrote some papers about
electricity in the 1770’s and published a book about the
theory of comets in 1784. We should also mention the
German physicist Ernst Chladni. He did not research comets but
after a discussion with a famous, with his famous mentor Georg
Christoph Lichtenberg, he was inspired to create
a theory of meteorites. Electricity played a key role in this
description of the light of meteorites and the theory from 1794 became
accepted after many years of discussion and was probably helpful for the work
of proponents of electric comets. Finally it’s exciting to read that a
German doctor, Carl Gottlob Kuehn, discussed the following
phenomena as completely or at least partially
caused by electricity: thunder, lightning, thunderclouds, St.
Elmo’s fire, summer lightning, the atmosphere, fireballs, aurora
borealis, comet’s tails, waterspouts, hurricanes or tempests, rain, fog, hail,
earthquakes (caused by subsurface lightning), volcanic eruptions (caused
by electric sparks) and even connections
between two volcanoes. Also the influence of electricity on
vegetation and animals was discussed, but the most attention was focused
on the treatment of humans with electricity in this time. [Michael] Wow! It’s, it’s amazing
hearing about this research that’s over 200 years old and it sounds like
a person who would be right at home with the Thunderbolts Project and a lot of the
concepts that we are talking about today. So, why don’t we discuss now how electric
comet theory continued to evolve, moving on into the 19th century? [Hannes] Today the official history-writing
is often mentioning the names and merites of famous astronomers
like Johann Hieronymus Schroeter, Wilhelm Olbers, Wilhelm
Bessel and Sir John Herschel. They continued the development
of theories of comets and electrical explanations,
especially for the comets tails and the Russian Fjodor Bredikhin
put all in a mathematical model. However, there are other,
forgotten scientists, who deserve our full attention, for
example Haberle and Gruithuisen. Both Germans underlined
the great role of the electrochemistry in
the years 1810 and 1811. In Haberle’s opinion God had created the
millions of cosmical balls in the ether with the help of electrochemistry
and Franz von Paula Gruithuisen assumed the most diverse chemical and
dynamical processes in the comet’s tail. He underlined the importance of
electromagnetic variations and effects and the electrochemistry
of comets. And we have Thomas Mackintosh, a
radical socialist and inventor. He published “The Electrical Theory
of the Universe” in 1835 and 1836. In this work Mackintosh also described
cometary bodies and assumed that the Sun and comets are both highly
charged with positive electricity. And already in 1832 the
philosopher von Eschenmayer came very close to the plasma double layer,
when he claimed, that a layer exists that is separating regions of positive
and negative charges on comets. Some decades later John Allan Broun was the
first, who applied the experimental results of the behavior of ionized gases in
discharge tubes to Space Physics and this opened another gateway
for electric comet theories. [Michael] Wow, and I’m curious hearing
about all of this innovative research and the kind of hypotheses
that are being proposed, what were the competing
theories at the time and how did the proponents of those other
theories react to the electric comet theories? [Hannes] Yes, it was
a real challenge! At first let me make some remarks
about existing theories. There were many. In 1828 a prize-winning essay on comets in
England discussed different comet theories. There were many different
theories for the nucleus, the envelopes, the tails and
the light of the comets. There are too many
to name them all but let us take a look on the
theories about the tail. One scientist thought the rays
of light streaming from the Sun are able to force the envelope of the
comet into the shape of the tail. Another theory assumed the tails are
formed by the Sun’s attraction alone. A third party claimed an unknown
force of repulsion to be acting and others assumed the existence of
a dense atmosphere about the Sun in which the rarer medium of
the comet strives to rise up like smoke in the
Earth’s atmosphere. Later in the 1870’s another publication
quoted – beside Newton’s old theory – modern conventional theories by
Lehmann, Tyndall and Zenker. Lehmann tried to explain the
shape of the comet’s tail with the different
strengths of gravitation and believed in a low tide and a
high tide of the comets atmosphere. John Tyndall explained
the tail of comets as a result of chemical effects
of sun rays on a static ether and Wilhelm Zenker stated comets would be
snowballs, ice balls or showers of ice. As we know this idea was
recycled 78 years later with the famous “dirty
snowball” model. Let us use an example from 1871. The German physicist Friedrich Zöllner
had just published a challenging book “About the Nature of Comets” and he
thought the Sun was a huge cathode and the vapors developed from the comets,
which consist of very small particles, yield to the action of the
free electricity of the Sun. And the two German
scientific main magazines or journals in the field of astronomy did
not react to this book for several years. No review was written
in this period. However, his peers and
colleagues reacted immediately and an intense scientific
discussion started. In 1872 the well-known professor
Budde published a complete book with critical remarks about
Zöllner’s cosmological ideas. He called the new theory
“simple and elegant” but added that the current form of the
theory would still include many problems. Also aforementioned
professor Zenker discussed Zöllner’s work in
his own book about comets. However, Zenker underlined the
snowy or icy condition of comets. It is noteworthy that both opponents, who
refused the electric comet model by Zöllner, considered frictional electricity
on the Sun as an opportunity. And Zenker’s major
argument against Zöllner was the belief in the electrical
balance of all celestial bodies, suns, planets and comets alike. A permanent exchange of electric
charges should keep them neutral. [Michael] So moving
forward in time now. Do you have any thoughts as to why the
popularity of electric comet theories appeared to reach its peak
sometime in the late 19th century? [Hannes] This time was a time of
extremely fast technological, technical, experimental
and theoretical progress. Astrophysics and astronomy got
access to bigger telescopes and devices for photography,
photometry and spectral analyzis. Furthermore, experiments
in discharge tubes allowed to enter completely
new ways of research. And many results of the
use of the new equipment indicated and supported electrical
explanations of comet features. The new tools were used by scientists
like Reynolds, Proctor, Zöllner, Thollon, Berthelot, Jamin, Ennis, Wiedemann, Hasselberg,
Foerster, Goldstein and many others and all the mentioned researchers
promoted the electric comet idea. [Michael] Very good. So, as we move into the 20th
century and we’re looking at how the scientific investigations
into comets evolved, what are your thoughts as to why
the electric comet hypotheses eventually fell out of favor
among mainstream scientists? [Hannes] I think the decline of the influence of
electric comet theories had a number of reasons. So, the success of Arrhenius’ theory
of the ray pressure of the Sun seemed to explain some of
the comet tail’s phenomena and reduced the general
interest in other explanations. That is strange because Arrhenius
himself advocated the electric comet. Also in science fashions
and trends are existing and without the opportunity to check the
electrical features of the comets on the spot, electrical explanations
lost its trendy character and scientists turned their
attention to other solutions. And, there was not enough
knowledge about plasma. Even the term plasma was not
coined before the year 1928. Later plasma physics existed and worked
always in the shadow of atomic physics and finally World War I
and its ramifications and a growing narrow-mindedness
of scientific institutions and scientists could be responsible
for this development as well. [Michael] Right. Well, here at the Thunderbolts Project we are
representing the idea of electric comets once again in the 21st century and our
chief science adviser, Wal Thornhill, kind of took up the mantle and he first wrote
about electric comets in the early 1970’s but I’m wondering how ultimately the
idea of electric comets was reborn and who do you think perhaps most
contributed to this rebirth? [Hannes] I think the idea of
electric comets was never dead but it was in a kind of sleep
or stasis over decades. Also Immanuel Velikovsky’s highly interesting
exchange of letters with Einstein with the discussion
of electromagnetism, including also the electric phenomena of
comets, did not change the situation. Especially the later condemnation
Velikovsky’s as a pseudo-scientist hampered new reflections about
the electrical nature of comets. However, I think Velikovsky’s
effort was not wasted. Ralph Juergens and Earl Milton
discussed the idea of an electric sun, that implied electrically
discharging comets, in the 1970’s. In the early 1980’s James
McCanney published a plasma discharge comet model with
the assumption of growing comets. Wal Thornhill, however, continued
Juergens’ and Milton’s path with a dissolving comet
because of plasma discharges and more recent developments include
for example Subhon Ibadov’s discussion of possible mechanisms
of cometary outbursts and contributions about the electrochemistry
of comets by Franklin Anariba, and I think the number of researchers
who deal with electrical ideas will rapidly grow
in the next years.

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