Applying Occam’s Razor to Astronomy

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Our Earth wobbles on its’ axis. This wobble, in which the Earth’s axis traces out a cone, completes a single cycle every 26,000 years. And during this time, the positions of the stars slowly change (about 1.38 degrees every 100 years).   For people on Earth, it means that today the North Star (the star to which the Earth’s north axis points) is Polaris. Four or five thousand years ago the North Star was Thuban. In another 5,000 years it will be Alpha Cephei. Another example is that today we are in the Age of Aquarius (at least some people think so – there is some debate on whether or not we’ve actually entered it), during which time sunrise on the equinox (the day when daytime and the night are of approximately the same length) occurs in the constellation Aquarius. In approximately another 2,150 years, the equinox will occur in Capricorn.

This process, when the Earth’s wobble causes the astronomical coordinates of the stars and the constellations to slowly shift, is called the precession of the equinoxes.

 

Why does the Earth wobble? It was over 2000 years ago that the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (c. 190 – c. 120 BC) recognized and calculated the precession of the equinoxes. Later, in the third section of his 1543 treatise “De Revolutionibus,” Copernicus explained that the precession of the equinoxes was due to a wobbling spin axis, but never explained the cause. A century later Newton made the assumption that the Earth wobbled relative to the gravitational forces of local objects such as the Moon and the Sun (this is the lunisolar theory of precesion), but never checked the math to see if it was true. Others did the math and discovered that Newton’s equations didn’t match the observed precession rates, so the French mathematician and music theorist Jean le Rond d’Alembert, among others, tweaked Newton’s formula to match the observations. In fact, astrophysicists today are continually coming up with new “plugs” – the gravitational influence of other planets, a possible elliptical movement of the Earth’s soft core, etc. – in order to modify their calculations and account for discrepancies when attempting to predict the precession rate.

walter_cruttendenWhen observing so many discrepancies in the lunarsolar theory, the good scientist should go back to the original question – “Why does the Earth wobble?” – and reexamine the theory and the evidence. Do the gravitational forces of local bodies make the Earth wobble?  The answer is yes – to a certain extent.  The gravitational force of our Sun and Moon, tectonic plate motions, and atmospheric pressures, etc. all contribute to the Earth’s movement.  In a recent conversation I spoke with Walter Cruttenden about his book, Lost Star of Myth and Time, and the growing body of scientific evidence that suggests the precession of the equinoxes is not caused by local forces.

1) The precession of the equinoxes is actually speeding up. This should not occur if the Earth’s wobble was due to the gravitational forces of the Sun, the Moon, and the other planets in our solar system.

2) Two Canadian scientists – Karl-Heinz Homann and his son Uwe – have conducted studies (very math heavy) to find out whether the Earth does indeed precess relative to either Venus and the Moon (the Homanns chose to use Venus and the Moon rather than the other planets because they are the Earth’s closest celestial neighbors, and because there is an enormous amount of scientific data regarding both Venus and the Moon that is publicly available).  The conclusion of the Homann studies is that the Earth does not precess relative to either of its two neighbors.   Note: Karl-Heinz Homann has since passed away and his son has not continued his work.

3) The tropical year (the length of time between two vernal equinoxes in successive years) is 20 minutes shorter than the sidereal year (the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun once with respect to the fixed stars).  Again, this should not happen if the Earth’s wobble was entirely due to the gravitational forces of the Sun, the Moon, and other planets in our solar system.

So now what should scientists do? The Binary Research Institute – founded by Walter Cruttenden – postulates that the Earth precesses in relation to a non-local force – a star or black hole around which our own Sun is orbiting. This isn’t as strange a notion as it first sounds; NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory website states, “More than 80% of all stars are members of multiple star systems containing two or more stars.” The percentage of stars that are in a multiple star relationship may be even greater than 80% because Black Holes, Neutron Stars and many Brown Dwarfs are almost impossible to see or detect. It would be more unusual for our Sun to not be in a binary or multiple star relationship.

During the last decade, Walter Cruttenden has been one of the few voices calling for scientific discussion on whether our Sun is part of a binary system.  At first everyone laughed, but in recent years astronomer are seriously considering that possibility.  Since 2003 several small planetoids have been discovered orbiting the Sun.  Michael Brown (“the Man Who Killed Pluto”), the astrophysicist at Caltech who lead the team that discovered the planetoid named Sedna, has stated that Sedna could not exist in its current position (it has an elongated orbit that takes over 11,000 years to orbit the Sun) without the gravitational help of some unseen body.   Although Sedna has officially been classified as a scattered disc – a group of objects sent into highly elongated orbits by the gravitational influence of Neptune, this has been contested because Sedna never comes close enough to Neptune to have been scattered by it.  Many astronomers believe that Sedna must have been tugged into its eccentric orbit by a gravitational interaction with another body – possibly a binary star.

In 2012 astronomers discovered a planetoid, dubbed Biden, which has an orbit even more elongated than that of Sedna.  A group of Spanish astronomers found that not only are these planetoids (including Pluto) not quite in the same plane as the rest of our solar system (there is about a 17 degree incline), they are moving in lockstep with each other, as if the “shepherding” influence of another large orbital body was keeping them in orbital resonance.  Although the Spanish astronomers attribute this to an as yet undiscovered giant plant of pair of giant planets rather than a binary companion to our Sun, Walter Cruttenden is happy.  “It feels good that the conversation is going in the right direction among reputable astronomers.”

What does a binary star theory resolve? First and foremost, it relieves everyone of the need to find more plugs with which to tweak Newton’s formula in order to make it work. The current model to predict the Earth’s precession requires over 1,400 different dynamical inputs (aka terms).  That’s a lot of tweaks and plugs!  Walter Cruttenden told me, “Adoption of the binary model would dramatically decrease the number of terms needed to make the model work – it would be just a fraction of the terms currently used.”

This increasing complexity of the lunisolar model is one issue that many professional astronomers also recognize they need to address. At the 25th meeting of its’ General Assembly in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) came out with Resolution PO3, which states that the current lunisolar precession theory “is not consistent with dynamical theory” and encourages the development of new theories.  Note: I contacted the IAU’s Press Office in Germany and asked whether any of the organization’s members had followed up to address the issue.  The terse reply I received – in its’ entirety – was: “Thanks for your questions.  We are not interested in collaborating on your article.”  (???!)

The binary star theory also resolves the issue of why the precession of the equinoxes is speeding up – our Sun is obeying Kepler’s law of elliptical orbits.  The clip below (courtesy of the European Space Agency) illustrates how two orbiting objects increase their speed as they approach each other, and slow down as they move farther away.

What issues does a binary star theory raise? The primary one is which star would be our Sun’s companion star, and why we haven’t noticed it over the last several thousand years. The Binary Research Institute believes that the companion star is Sirius. On their math-heavy website they provide data analyses, calculations and research papers that support their position. They also point out that the 17 degree incline of the recently discovered planetoids is in line with Sirius.  If you love math, go for it – I’m staying out of that discussion.

There is also a large body of evidence that suggests that ancient peoples observed and understood the precession of the equinoxes – quite possibly to a greater degree then currently. Read my article, “The Great Year in Astronomy,” to learn about that.

So now we return to Occam’s razor. On the one hand, current lunisolar theory of precession must be continuously updated with increasingly complex mathematical plugs and fixes, fails to explain many astronomical events, and is not consistent with dynamical theory. On the other, binary star theory resolves those inconsistencies while  leaving us only to locate our Sun’s partner star. The simplest answer is clear – we should now support scientific research to find out whether it is the right one.

 

 

I am grateful to Walter Cruttenden who took time out of his busy schedule to help clarify the many questions I had about his theory.  That said, the errors in this article are mine, and mine alone.

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2 Comments

  1. The first video wouldn’t come up at all. The second had a very interesting visual but no audio.
    Good thought-provoking article.

  2. Re the video that wouldn’t come up – you might need to look at it in another browser. Neither video has audio.

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