Exploring abrupt climate change induced by comets and asteroids during human history

Cosmic Tusk Interview: Dr. Bill Napier


The Paper

The Tusk has been interested for some time in conducting an occasional interview with players in fields related to cosmic catastrophes in human times. So much of the coverage of our subject is “drive-by” journalism, with uninformed reporters on deadline asking shallow, often misinformed, questions of key scientists and then writing a story which barely informs. The subject deserves something at least a little better. So, in a modest effort to add more depth to the popular record than is commonly provided, I nominated our blog to try out a few interviews.

It was an easy call whom to approach first, Bill Napier. He is a digital acquaintance of mine, a cool guy and a wiseman. Astronomer, best-selling popular novelist, frequent contributor to a 40 year canon of astronomical justification for end times in the peopled past — Bill Napier is simply a Tusk-kind-of-guy.

Napier and his collaborators in the old country are even credited with their own handle, “British Neo-Catastrophists.” Post-Newton and Whiston, Post-Velikovsky, concurrent with Alvarez but Pre-Firestone — shunned by NASA and employed by the Queen — they are contributors to a cogent set of astronomical facts termed “Coherent Catastrophism,” a body of evidence indicating that quite horrible cosmic encounters have occurred in the human past.

Here goes: 

dr. william bill napier

Astronomer and author Bill Napier

CT: Dr. Napier, thanks for joining the Cosmic Tusk for our inaugural interview! How’s the weather over there on the Emerald Isle?

A. Sunny at the moment, but I’m not too far from the Atlantic and I can see clouds coming our way. It’ll be wet and windy by the evening. Good whisky weather.

CT: My kind of island, Bill. As many Tusk readers are aware, you and your many collaborators, particularly Victor Clube, are known for maintaining in publications since the 1970’s that a large comet entered our solar system ~20,000 years in the past, began to progressively disintegrate, and left behind increasingly diffuse streams of cometary material which periodically wreaked havoc on our ancient ancestors. What first got you and Clube interested in the disintegrating giant comet theory?

BN: My own interest in impacts as having a catastrophic potential for life goes back to about 1970, almost back to my student days. Victor Clube joined the Royal Observatory at Edinburgh, where I worked, in the early 70s. He was interested in the possibility that violent Galactic events might from time to time have terrestrial consequences. It was very natural that we should put our heads together on these topics, and we did so from the mid-70s onwards. We soon realised that the Oort cloud is liable to disruption during the Sun’s orbit around the Galaxy, flooding the planetary system with comets, and that there are some really big ones out there. We had a primitive but working theory of catastrophism by the late 70s (e.g. Napier & Clube, Nature 282, 455, 1979 and more, wherein we remarked that “historical records are a potential source of data for testing our hypothesis.”). It was actually Fred Whipple at Harvard University who first took the view that Comet Encke was the remnant of a much larger body, and we picked up that idea and ran with it. The big puzzle for us was why the Comet Encke progenitor went unrecorded in the historical record. Even at a diameter of 20 km it would have been almost as bright as the full moon.

CT: Interesting you say you were puzzled that a giant comet went unrecorded, Bill. You must have later come to believe that these events were indeed “recorded,” but in religious traditions and mythology, as you maintain in your books Cosmic Winter and Cosmic Serpent. Was that realization subsequent to your astronomical conclusions? Tell us how myth began to play a role in your studies.

BN: No question, the astronomy came first. There were two components to this. The likely impact rate of Tunguskas and super-Tunguskas made us wonder where these things were in the historical record, and of course the disintegration products, plainly visible in the sky, of a large progenitor comet provided another where-is-it-in-the-record paradox. Victor had some ancient book by Bellamy who had some strange ideas about disintegrating moons recorded in ancient tales; all I could find in our local library was a book by Fontenrose on Delphic myth. We started from there. It wasn’t long before we learned that astronomical motifs of a catastrophist nature are to be found scattered throughout ancient tales. And of course others had been there before us throughout the centuries, all the way back to the classical authors.

CT: Fontenrose and Bellamy? That’s obscure stuff the Tusk will have to follow up on! I noticed that you provided Chapter 11 in respected science author Nick Bostrom’s book, Global Catastrophic Risks, and referred to evidence from myth as obviously “qualitative,” and that “one man’s unifying hypothesis is another’s Velikovskian fantasy.” Great quote. So let’s turn to the quantitative evidence of a recent catastrophe. Outside the work of the YDB team, where do think “traditional” evidence for determining the frequency of impacts has gone wrong? Where do you find quantitative evidence for more frequent impacts that NASA, for instance, does not?

BN: The “traditional” route was set in the 1970s and later, when it was generally assumed that Earth crossers were perturbed out of the main asteroid belt. There was little inkling of the big populations on the fringes of the planetary system, feeding into unstable orbits between the giant planets. Impact hazard assessments based on this model may still be fine for short timescales. Imagine, however, taking a snapshot of a railway station. Depending on the time and date, you might see a handful of cleaning staff, a rush hour crowd, or holiday time congestion. If you use this single snapshot to predict tomorrow’s throughput, you could get it spectacularly wrong. To get a reliable assessment you need to look at the bigger picture, and the trouble with current impact estimates is that they don’t. They assume statistical completeness, i.e. that the current situation is typical. Chapman and Morrison, for example, estimate the probability of a globally destructive impact over the next 10,000 years to be about 1%. I have no idea what the real figure is, but I do know that on a timescale 30,000 or so years, there’s an expectation that a comet with at least 100 times the mass of the entire near-Earth asteroid system will enter a short-period orbit and disintegrate in our neighbourhood. Comets break up by a variety of routes, hierarchic fragmentation being a major one. Brief, strong surges of impact are then a distinct possibility, rendering the Chapman/Morrison/Harris model more or less irrelevant when it comes to assessing the hazard to civilisation. Whereas this traditional route will tell us to expect a few hundred megaton impact, yielding regional damage, the real encounter mechanics may be quite different and may have global consequences. The good news is that we would probably get plenty of warning. Dark comets emerging from the Halley system are a different matter, but that hazard is unquantified.

As to when this might have happened in the past, it’s long been known that the zodiacal cloud is substantially overmassive in relation to the available supply of dust, with David Hughes for example concluding that `at some time in the last 1000 to 100,000 years, the cloud has benefited from a large and unusual mass enhancement’. A massive radar survey of meteors undertaken by Peter Brown’s Canadian group in recent years, coupled with their dynamical modelling, has strengthened the result that much of the zodiacal cloud came from the progenitor of Encke’s comet and that it was an unusually large object. The destruction time of the zodiacal cloud is something between 10,000 and 20,000 years, straddling the Younger Dryas boundary.

Another way. Consider the impact cratering record as recorded in the Earth Impact Database. The impact record is dominated by episodes of multiple bombardment. I’ve labelled these in the diagram, which plots only the best dated craters. We’ve demonstrated in the refereed literature that (a) fragments from main belt asteroid collisions fail by an order of magnitude to reproduce these episodes; (b) comet showers from Oort cloud disturbances likewise; and (c) the known population, size distribution and orbital flow of centaurs can account for the record. (Most of the episodes coincide in time with major extinction events, and the asterisks mark a couple of singlets that also coincide with big extinctions. These impacts are generally too small individually to have caused the mass extinctions and can only be proxies for some other astronomical process, such as stratospheric dusting.) Considering all 184 impact structures in the database, it turns out there is only one in the range 5–35 million years (the Ries crater 24 km across). Using the traditional estimates, we expect something like 17 land impacts to have made craters >20 km across over this interval. Most of these should have been discovered, this being a relatively recent era. It’s hardly credible that we have missed 16 out of 17 of them; the dearth is real. Conversely, there seems to have been a surge of impact cratering in the recent past relative to the long-term average. All this makes sense if the prime impactors are derived from the breakup of large comets, since their mass distribution is top-heavy and their input is erratic and episodic. I think the Galactic environment also plays a role through disturbing the Oort comet cloud, for example when we pass through spiral arms.


The statistics don’t reveal any significant difference between the temporal behaviour of large and small craters in this respect. The asteroid belt may well be okay as a supplier of small impactors, incoming comets for larger ones, but it’s not clear to me where the breakeven point lies. All three major 20th-century impacts (Tunguska, British Guyana, Curuca River and here) coincided with our passage through major meteor streams, and the odds of this are about 1000 to one against. Peter Brown and colleagues, in a letter to Nature published last year, suggest that the number of impactors up to Tunguska-sized is up to ten times higher than previous estimates based on long-term lunar counts. Again, we’re looking at a flickering system.

CT: Bill, you labeled the current understanding the “Chapman/Harris/Morrison” model, referring respectively of course to Clark Chapman, Alan Harris, and David Morrison. These elderly gentlemen are US scientists and well known to the Tusk as catastrophe deniers. You addressed some of Morrison’s objections to your understanding of the situation a few years back, comments which can be found here in the Tusk for those interested. What fascinates me is how these three have built careers (See also: Plait, Phil and Boslough, Mark) based on conflicting public contentions. To wit: The cosmic threat is dangerous enough for them to write books and give speeches about, but not so dangerous the public should be genuinely concerned. And it’s awkward companion message: The impact threat is so well constrained there is no room for scholarly disagreement, yet their field desperately needs further funding because…there is still “so much we don’t know!” Are these guys scientists — or intellectual contortionists?

BN: My guess would be that they want to steer a course between alarmism and complacency (the giggle factor), and that different aspects of the celestial hazard issue are emphasised depending on the audience and the context. However, more to the point, their model fails to predict the YDB phenomena. If the YDB teams are right, the CMH model is up against a real problem. It also fails to account for (and the protagonists continue to ignore):

1) Not just the whole array of YDB evidence, but also that of Marie Agnes Courty, indicating that major cosmic disturbances of some sort took place 12,800 BP and 2350 BC, the latter collapsing the earliest civilisations.

2) The evidence, decades-old now and not even controversial amongst the comet community, that an exceptionally large, low-inclination, short-period comet has been orbiting in our neighbourhood for about 20,000 years. The massive Canadian meteor survey of Peter Brown and colleagues, for example, confirming this, has been simply ignored by the CMH group. And yet in such a disintegrating environment there is a reasonable probability of a catastrophic encounter with debris in the comet trail. In this connection my colleagues have further material upcoming.

3) The finding that large bodies leak inwards from beyond the edge of the planetary system, entering unstable orbits which yield large Earth-crossing comets at a calculable rate, and that the inner interplanetary environment is thus subject to substantial mass enhancements (factor of 100 or more) at intervals comparable with the timescale of civilisation to date.

4) Impact cratering statistics, using the best extant data, demonstrating the existence of bombardment episodes throughout geological history, most easily explained as giant comet breakup and specifically not explicable by asteroid breakup or Oort cloud disturbance. For example the 24 km Boltysh crater in the Ukraine crater in the Ukraine was formed within 2000-3000 years of the Chicxulub impact crater; the odds of this synchronicity being down to chance are 2500 to one against for this pair alone, 1000 to one against for the Popigai/Chesapeake pair and so on.

If the silence on these points is like something out of Kafka, such counter-arguments as we have heard are like something out of Mickey Mouse [emphasis CT]. The “it’s impossible” argument continues to be presented years after its deficiencies have been pointed out and a working model described in the peer-reviewed literature; one protagonist’s answer to a journalist’s question about the evidence for bombardment episodes (a Bayesian analysis which survived tough refereeing) was that he could draw dinosaurs in the sky by joining up stars; and another’s objection to our long-running Taurid complex studies was that “colleagues who do dynamics” find them unreasonable. Anonymous colleagues giving unspecified reasons: maybe more Kafka than Mouse.

CT: Outside astronomical evidence what do you personally find most convincing of catastrophe in human times, given the array of evidence you have reviewed over the decades?

BN: It’s always hard to evaluate evidence in fields outside one’s own, but to me the continuing accumulation of impact proxies by independent groups – melt glass, nanodiamonds, Greenland platinum spike and so on – provides compelling evidence that a cosmic input of some sort occurred at the onset of the YD cooling. And the finding by the Belmont group of a second nanodiamond peak a few thousand years in the past is exciting: it strengthens Marie Agnes Courty’s long-running contention that of a more recent event at 2350 BC, again coincident with a widespread cooling, and drought, sufficient to bring about the collapse of the earliest civilisations.

CT: I understand you have several writing projects underway. What can we expect to see from you in the future?

BN: A review article Centaurs as a hazard to civilisation by a bunch of us is due for publication in the December 2015 issue of Astronomy & Geophysics, an in-house journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. We have things to say, inter alia, about the Chapman/Harris/Morrison model. Once published, I anticipate it will become widely available.

I have a popular science manuscript, provisionally entitled Cosmic Roulette, which covers the issue of humanity’s vulnerability in the cosmic environment. Tusk-like material is, of course, a conspicuous feature of the book. I still have a chapter or so to finish off.

I’ve also resumed my fiction writing after a long layoff due to research commitments, and have completed two thriller manuscripts. The Younger Dryas boundary issue plays an important part in The Doomsday Vault (the fictional scientists therein have no connection to any real ones!), and Meltdown is partially set in the Syrian desert.

All three manuscripts have now gone to an agency, and I’m awaiting their response.

CT: Bill, thank you so very much. I am a horrible novel reader but certainly will be reading The Doomsday Vault. And pimping it here on the Tusk!

BN: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have my say.

49 Responses

  1. Nice,
    Thank you George,

    Its good to see the that person who put the astronomy into perspective, get some face time. Its hard to argue with the veracity of his work.

  2. George –

    Interviews is a fantastic idea. Brilliant!

    Mention of The Cosmic Winter and The Cosmic Serpent makes me want to ask:

    Bill, please tell us that these will be re-printed so that those of us who don’t own a Fort Knox can buy one. AND ON KINDLE, TOO!

  3. Among the many great bits of inside information that is hard for us to glean, Bill’s points about the sporadic nature of the known history being like a train station and its traffic flow is a good analogy.

    Bill: “Again, we’re looking at a flickering system.” That kind of sums it up.

    It’s like troubleshooting what is called “an intermittent problem” – a repairman/mechanic can look lots of times and not happen to look when the problem exists. Those are the toughest problems to fix.

    Along that vein, I am a person who thinks that “myths” and ancient accounts in many cases are one and the same. But I think that such pointers for us in this “middle of the night at the train station” period the myths and ancient accounts don’t carry any weight.

    When you think about it, we can’t exactly blame the other side – and that it is Bill and Viktor and the other neo-catastrophists (whose side I am on) are making the extraordinary claims, and are the ones who are required to put forth the extraordinary evidence. I know Bill has long since understood this. And myths and ancient accounts genuinely ARE weak evidence – even while they are terrific pointers. In a court of law eyewitnesses for something that happened days or weeks or months ago are considered the weakest evidence, when pitted against trained observers, video, forensics, documents, etc. When the hypothesized events happened millennia ago and are written in languages unspoken today (making translations iffy and vague), how are reductionists in the jury going to rationalize accepting those eyewitness accounts, filtered through modern translators?

    Trust me, I totally read catastrophes into the myths myself. I look at the few translations I’ve seen and wonder, “Well a synonym for the word/term the translator used is ‘____’, and if THAT is placed in there instead, the entire meaning of the passage changes to something quite catastrophic. IOW, the translators are bound by uniformitarianism to phrase the passages within a gradualist framework; why would they NOT? But then THAT is where the fable-like quality of the “myths” arises – in the translations. But is the fable-like quality really even IN the originals as fable-like? Or is the mind-set of arkies injecting that fable-like quality into the translations to feed the belief that those people are all a bunch of gullibles?

    And sometimes the passages are very straightforward, like in “The Book of Enoch”, in which Enoch is taken to the “utter north” and shown an arrangement-of-stones device built upon the landscape and describes it quite matter-of-factly. And how are such passages read? As fable-like myths.

    Maybe the real situation is that all fables are myths, but not all myths are necessarily fables.

  4. Great stuff, George. The more the better.

    I’ve been casually trying to figure out the idiomatic meaning of Kafka and Mickey Mouse since last night and was just thinking this morning how difficult it was to figure out things back before the internet and then ten minutes later Google is being problematic. Many times it is hard to interpret figures of speech from across the pond. Kafka wrote about many things, but I think the meaning is about long drawn out complicated conflict, sort of like ‘an act of congress’. Reminds me of when I worked for a bureaucracy and a gathering of administrators were discussing my security clearance while I was installing devices at the work stations that I wasn’t allowed to disclose its full capabilities, after awhile they called me over to confront me and I gave them a clear nonsense line and they where completely satisfied thinking to themselves that that doesn’t add up, thus he must be one of us. The Mickey Mouse part is more difficult, it could be cheap or not up to standards or maybe silly, but if I recall correctly he was a level headed problem solver just trying to have fun.

    Steve, you right about intermittent trouble shooting problems, I call it ghosting or Ben (The 1972 rat horror flick.) cause mice chewing on wires can cause that phenomena. If it doesn’t malfunction right in front of you it is extremely difficult to imagine what the problem could be. I’m not following you on the Gradualism corruption of myths, most of them are violent with cause and effect. In the case of Cuneiform and Hieroglyphs they have been studied by linguistic experts which many knew a dozen languages and even blind tests and they all say basically the same thing. I even went as far as reading up to ten different interpretations of some myths to find out how much they deviated. When Ishtar asks her dad the Sky God to send the raging Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh she is warned that it will cause seven years of drought, in actuality the drought probably lasted much longer, but they wanted to use the number seven and the Bull of Heaven to show they are taking about the Taurus Constellation, the nuances change a bit, but the key elements change very little. The church rushed to infiltrate the pool of translators of the Cuneiform text and still were unable to sway the results much. A lot of myths were recorded by priests, for example St. Patrick saying he drove the snakes out of Ireland and converted the people to Christianity. The Druids were known as snake worshipers cause they had legends of flying snakes or Comets and Bolides. St. Patrick didn’t change it to snails, turtles, or ants, but later on it probably evolved into the lemmings or rats and children of the Pied Piper. In China they had flying Dragons chasing pearls, in Egypt and the Yucatan they had flying feathered serpents, collectively they are saying the same thing. Thor throws an Iron hammer, I’ve swung more than my share of hammers and only threw one once. Plus there are plenty of flying thunder axes, flying bright spinning circular weapons, and flying Tridents. The floods also are large and dramatic not stories of multiple moderate floods over the generations. And the ice shows up in summer and lasts for years. It is like aircraft, there is nothing gradual about them except maybe fuel consumption or building them. Death is for the most part very sudden with war and violence with the only gradual thing being starvation.

  5. Bard,
    Last night I ran across this translation of an early Akkadian tablet.

    “The Overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah
    By Rev. A. H. SAYCE, M.A.”

    1 An overthrow ‘ from the midst of the deep
    2 there came.
    2 The fated punishment3 from the midst of heaven
    3 A storm like a plummet the earth (overwhelmed).
    4 To the four winds the destroying flood like fire did burn.
    5 The inhabitants of the citie(s) it had caused to be
    tormented ; their bodies it consumed.
    6 In city and country it spread death, and the flames as
    they rose 4 overthrew.
    7 Freeman and slave were equal, and the high places it
    8 In heaven and earth like a thunder-storm it had rained ;
    a prey it made.
    9 A place of refuge the gods 5 hastened to, and in a throng
    10 Its mighty (onset) they fled from, and like a garment it
    concealed (mankind).
    1 1 They (feared), and death (overtook them).
    1 2 (Their) feet and hands (it embraced).
    1 3 … ‘
    14 Their body it consumed.
    ‘ the city, its foundations it denied.
    1 6 ‘ in breath, his mouth he filled.
    1 7 As for this man, a loud voice a was raised ; the mighty
    lightning flash descended.
    1 8 During the day it flashed; grievously (it fell).”

    These texts were originally translated and published in the late 19th century.
    It has a decidedly biblical spin to this translation as it was done by a theologian.
    It would hesitate to say it was Sodom and Gamorah described in the story, since its Akkadian and predates even the earliest patriarchs of the judeo/Christian tradition by several hundred years.
    But since that was the only reference the researchers had then that is what they went with.
    It is more likely that this story is about the events around Tell Leilan, in northern Syria, that MA Courty has worked with for the last couple of decades.
    And since the the Akkadians were a west semtic people, could it be that it is the template for the S&G stories, that was retold, by the hebrews during a later bombardment period.
    It just might have been the climatic disruption caused by the early bronze age impact events, which seem to have been far more numerous than even proponents have believed, sent people on the move to they could make a living.
    The recent genetic studies showing a very large migration of west Eurasians into Africa, and population minimums for nearly all population groups of Europe ,levant and med basins, around the 4.2 kilo year event add depth to this argument.

    A link to the whole book,https://www.dropbox.com/s/1kpd0hi5bfk4gim/akkadian%20city%20destruction.txt?dl=0
    haven’t read the whole thing yet, but it looks good.

  6. CevinQ – Thanks, haven’t read that one before and was unaware of that site. I bought a whole bunch of those books and read them all cover to cover, many are 800 pages long and sentences that are half a page. One has to really search to find them, I got some that are like brand new for $10, some showing their age for $20. About half of them can be found on the internet, but I have a really hard time reading on a monitor. I read two or three books that way and thought I was gonna die, at least I didn’t have to pay $200 for a copy. Like the Pyramid Texts I read online and took notes on the computer, the only time that I did, and then the hard drive took a dump. Some of those stories from way way back when were really good and much more detailed than Bible stories. I have a list if anyone is interested. May take a day or so to condense to fit on here. Or one can contact me via email.

  7. Bard –

    I can’t give you a full response right now, but one thing jumped out at me…

    You: “When Ishtar asks her dad the Sky God to send the raging Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh she is warned that it will cause seven years of drought, in actuality the drought probably lasted much longer, but they wanted to use the number seven and the Bull of Heaven to show they are taking about the Taurus Constellation, the nuances change a bit, but the key elements change very little.”

    Hmm, when I hear seven and talking about the heavens, my mind goes to the Pleiades. And then when it talks about the Bull of Heaven and you bring in the Taurus Constellation, I can only think about the Taurids. And THEN I recalled – and checked it out – that the Taurids’ radiant point is often IN THE PLEIADES, the SEVEN weeping sisters. So, seven (Pleiades) + bull of heaven (Taurus) = Taurids to me.

    And it is right that we should discuss that just now, because the Taruids are begun again. See http://earthsky.org/space/south-taurid-meteors-to-peak-on-october-10

    Funny how that came at this time of year.

    But also, it to me tells me that the “myth” being told is of exactly this time of year. And that – because the translators may or may not know anything about meteor showers, they missed the connection that I see.

    And THAT is more or less my point about translators – oh, yeah, they know X number of languages, but do they know ANYTHING ELSE? Engineering? Architecture? Astronomy? Agriculture?

    Especially in terms of Bill Napier and his Encke progenitor and the big increase in comet fragments flying around in that time period – if it is real (and we neo-catastrophists SHOULD at least consider WHAT IF it is real) – then it needs to be looked into whether it applies or not.

    And in this case, it does seem to apply – and it went right over the translators’ heads.

    That doesn’t make it true – but it makes it something certainly to consider.

    And when you get enough of those, it makes a more coherent WHOLE to the stories than the disjointed fable-like tales that are labeled myths. As I used to say about things that “held water” pretty well – they are internally consistent. Neo-catstrophism is not worth anything if it isn’t internally consistent. And tht means that the supporting references – like these “myths” – should also be internally consistent.

    And I see this “myth” as being internally consistent with Bill’s grand scenario. If it is telling tales about the Taurids and its many fragments endangeriong the Earth, then it should have the Pleiades radiant (as it should), and the Bull of Heaven (as it should).

  8. Oh, and it is “The Sky God” who does the doing in “attacking” Gilgamesh. It doesn’t matter who does the asking – Ishtar or whoever. It is the doer – and that is The Sky God – meaning that whatever they are talking about it IS IN THE SKY. And given this meme – Bill’s version of neo-catastrophism with many meteors hitting the Earth FROM the Pleiades radiant slash Taurid meteor shower – all of it fits.

    Who is to say that the seven years of drought aren’t due to an impact and its impact winter?

    Ala guess who?

    Bad weather/climate effects (possibly extended) are one of the effects that is commonly brought up, in terms of the YD impact. Not with other impacts? If these things are important enough to tell for centuries, one would think the effects WOULD be great.

  9. Steve – Here is some extracts that I’ve been getting ready for the Halloween fanatics.

    In European Calendars, the last day of October, and the first and second days of November, are designated as the festival of ‘All Halloween’, ‘All Saints’, and ‘All Souls’. Though they have hitherto never attracted any special attention, and have not been supposed to have been connected with each other, they originally constituted but one commemoration of three days’ duration, Known Among Almost All Nations as ‘The Festival of the Dead’, or the ‘Feast of Ancestors’. It is now, or was formerly, observed at or near the beginning of November by the Peruvians, the Hindoos, the Pacific Islanders, the people of the Tonga Islands, The Australians, the ancient Persians, the ancient Egyptians, and the Northern nations of Europe, and continued for three days among the Japanese, the Hindoos, the Australians, the ancient Romans, and the ancient Egyptians.

    In the ancient calendar in India, the year commenced in the month of November, which bears the name ‘Cartiguey’, i.e., the ‘Pleiades’. In the ancient Egyptian Calendar the same resemblance can be traced between the name of the Pleiades, which among the Hebrews and Chaldeans is ‘Athor-aye’, with that of the Egyptian month of November, which is ‘Athor’, meaning ‘The Night’. The Arab name for the ‘Pleiades’, ‘Atauria’, also suggests a resemblance. In November, took place the Primeval Festival of the Dead, clad in a veil of Egyptian Mythology. The Isia, the solemn mourning for the God Osiris, ‘the Lord of Tombs’, lasted for three days, and began at Sunset, like the ‘Lemuria’ of the Romans, and the Festival of the Dead among the Persians and other nations. The singular custom of counting the day from the Sunset of the preceding day, or the Nocturnal System, was so universal, that many consider it proof of the unity of origin of our race. The Bible tells us “the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1 : 5). The Babylonians also started their days at Sunset. But the first day of our Festival of the Dead, is a still stronger illustration, as it is called Halloweve.

    The Indigenous Australians also consecrate Three Days to the Memory of the Dead, as a Vernal New Year’s Celebration, regulated by the time-honoured Pleiades at the end of October, in which they paint a white stripe over their arms, legs, and ribs, they appear, as they dance by the Fires at night, like so many Skeletons Rejoicing.

    In Mexico, we find that ‘The Great Festival’ of the Mexican cycle was held on the 17th of November, and was regulated by the Pleiades. It began at Sunset ; and at Midnight as that Constellation approached the Zenith, a human victim was offered up to Avert the Dread Calamity which they believed impended over the human race. They had a Tradition that at the time the World had been previously Destroyed ; and they dreaded lest a similar Catastrophe would, at the end of a cycle, Annihilate the human race.

    In our calendar November 1st is still marked All Saints’ Day, and in the pre-Reformation calendars the last day of October was marked All Hallow Eve, and the 2nd of November All Souls’, clearly marking a Three-Days’ Festival of the Dead, commencing in the evening and regulated by the Pleiades. Hence also the Hallowe’en torches of the Irish, the Bonfires of the Scotch, the coel-coeth Fires of the Welsh, and the tindle Fire of Cornwall, all lighted in Hallowe’en. To this day, in France, the people repair to the cemeteries and lunch at the graves of their ancestors.

    I recently updated my site with a drawing of Gobekli Tepe and it clearly shows the SAME thing. I’m not kidding you I did A LOT of research and the book just goes on and on and on about it, it is packed full of content. Now I see it everywhere, the Statue of Liberty was designed from an ancient symbol and do you want to guess how many spikes are on HER diadem? SEVEN

    You seem to like the courtroom analogy and I just happen to know that environment, if you have the experts with their PhD’s telling the jury all the scientific data and then you put almost every culture of Man on the stand and they all tell the same story and all point to Electra (the defendant) and say she’s the one who killed all those people, wrecked the environment, and killed all those large animals, with her attorneys with only flimsy statistics, we ate them all, and a combination of beavers, wind, bubbles, and fish fins the jury is gonna convict HER!

    I can tell you, you would love this book if you could find someone to fly it down to you, I have one on that journey at the moment and it’s going twice as far south as you are. Your obviously very smart cause this is the second time that you have figured out things beyond what information I have given you.

    Ala guess who? Lost me

  10. Steve,

    there is one trap that a lot of us fall into (myself included), when we consider the radiant point of the Taurids. The radiant point is currently in Taurus, near the Pleiades, with the winter Taurids occurring in late October and early November. However, precession of the equinoxes as well as precession of the actual meteor stream (totalling around 22 days per millennium), means that the date of the meteor shower is not constant, nor is its radiant point. Thus the date of the shower would occur earlier in the year the further back in time one goes, and the constellation that the radiant appears in will also change. Duncan Steel explains this on page 159 of “Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets”.

  11. I wouldn’t call it a trap, Jonny, you have seen the diagram of the Spring Equinox with the slippage of the seasons elucidated? I don’t recall reading anything about the changes in the season, I had to figure that out by myself. I might read that book even though it’s 20 years old and basically free plus shipping just to hear about it from any source. The guy sure has an impressive career. The reviews are all over the place, what is your opinion of the book? The ancient people had a sidereal calendar and the year was 360 days long (Probably the reason for the Sexagesimal system along with geometry and time.) with five unlucky days, which was about the Deluge in my opinion, to make up the difference. I suppose the priests/sages instituted a leap day if they even had another seasonal calendar.

    The mainstream consciences of Mankind progressing into a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t set well with me, I think they were forced into pooling their resources and storing food as a community to survive. The impact killed off a lot of animals and the reduced Sunlight put Man in the position of pure survival mode thus the legend of Eden of before and smashing roots, Soma, Mandrakes, and tree sap came into play.

    I find it quite remarkable that the Bon Festival is held around mid August which is when the 2300 BC event would have taken place and was possibly when their sages lost the sidereal meaning and set the date to a seasonal aspect. Another possible leap would be May Day which would be the time when the sky cleared after the April impact time. Like I’ve said before there is more work to be done and we possibly may never know for sure, that is a long time for the Human mind to comprehend especially when we are so use to a calendar that excludes the sidereal origin.

    Collectively, Mankind has a short memory (Except for the medium of mythology.) for instance I use to live here back in the early ’70’s and when I would jet set in and out twice a year I thought it ironic how Green Bay got its name because the bay from above was a nasty brown and the stench from industry was unmistakable even in buildings. Today one can see people fishing from boats in the Fox River, where I once thought nothing could possibly be alive. In Mesopotamia siderealism reigned, maybe November was summer time… I’m sure that could be debated by the translators of Cuneiform Texts, but they believe it was desert and the weather patterns were the same and Gilgamesh was a real person, when within the texts they talk about monkeys, large forests, and verdure, plus it is close to the Equator which complicates things a bit. I’m always open to suggestions, I just find it hard to believe that they would displace the Taurid Stream cause of destruction to only a specific season of the year, it would have to evolve slowly and unnoticeable to the common people.

    More and more I’m starting to understand the conundrum this paradigm is up against with the multidisciplinary sciences. It is as if the picture puzzle was shattered and an Archeologist picks up one piece, a Mathematician another, the Astronomer, the Linguist, the Geologist, ect. And then on top of that you have the rivalries, the trade secrets, the fear of being ostracized from your profession, egos, the religious orthodox position, the resistance to change, myth being viewed as complete fantasy and a lie, etc. Once it finally becomes mainstream people are going to look back and wonder why it took THIRTEEN THOUSAND years for Mankind to finally to figure out something so important.

  12. Jonny –

    You said, “Thus the date of the shower would occur earlier in the year the further back in time one goes, and the constellation that the radiant appears in will also change.”

    Are you SURE the constellation would change? Precession only affects the orientation of the equinoxes and pole, not where Earth is in its orbit. I am not even so sure the time of year would change, either, now that I think about it. The heliocentricity should not change, regardless of what the precessional orientation is.

    I think that regardless of where the Earth is in its orbit, the radiant and constellation would remain the same. It won’t be the same (artificially designated) month – AGREED – but the position to the stars – why would that change?

    I am pretty certain I am wrong on this, but I have to ask where is my mistake?

    Now, it might be the case that the Taurids’ orbit drifts around the solar system. I don’t know about that, one way or the other.

  13. This is somewhat related —

    Mystery of Kazakhstan’s giant patterns: Space images reveal ‘remarkable’ 8,000 year old structures including a cross and swastika

    o The patterns are large works of art made by etching shapes into the Earth or arranging objects like stones
    o The geoglyphs range in size from 300 to 1300ft (90 to 400 metres), but who built them and why is a mystery
    o They were seen on Google Earth by Kostanay University in Kazakhstan and Vilnius University in Lithuania
    o Scientists believe the strange structures may have been used to perform ancient rituals or to track the sun

    By Ellie Zolfagharifard For Dailymail.com
    Published: 13:40 EST, 30 October 2015 | Updated: 14:14 EST, 30 October 2015


  14. Steve

    The constellation that houses the radiant woukd change because the orbit if the meteor stream precession also. The 22 days per millennium fir the Taurid stream is made up of the 14 days per millennium due to esrthd precession of the equinoxes and 8 days from the precession of the Taurid streams orbit. The precession of the meteor steam would move the nodes of the stream and this the constellation of the radiant. This is how I understand it anyway.

    But the point is not to take my word for it, but rather astronomer and “neo-catastrophist” Duncan Steel, who states in the above reference that the date and radiant of the meteor stream would not be the same as today as one looks back in the past.

  15. I found it and read it twice and don’t understand what he is getting at. If you sign into Amazon and punch in “opposition” in the “search this book” it will show page 159. He jumps around quite fast from the Gregorian leap year to precession then the Taurid stream precession then Leonids precession without much explanation. He also tosses in the preturbations of the streams which really confuses the subject. Personally I can’t image how the orbit would change much and if it did how that could be measured enough to show that it has its own precession and not different preturbations. From what I’ve seen of the radar mapping the Taurid complex it looks like a hurried multiple series of elliptical hand drawn orbits. The ancients said it came out of the Pleiades and it still does.

  16. Bard

    Under the consensus theory explaining the precession effect, the dates of the meteor showers change slowly over time, as Jonny points out.

    Under an alternative theory that the precession effect is due to the whole solar system co-orbiting with a yet-to-be-located dark object such a distant large planet sized body, the dates of the meteor showers would not change.

    If in fact the fall festivals are connected to the meteor showers, it would be evidence for the alternative theory explaining the precession observables. However, under either theory, the radiant point will change over the centuries.

  17. David – Yes, I’m aware of the timing change to the Tropical Year as shown in the diagram at https://sites.google.com/site/fromthedeepoceanabove/ , but Jonny is saying that Duncan Steel is implying that the radiant for the Taurids has its own “precession” and thus moves on its own rate which I’m trying to understand. As to Precession, which took me some time to fully comprehend, the Earth’s axis rotates once around the Sun every 25,772 years, so if one mentally took snap shots every Spring Equinox the background Stars would retrograde 1/72 of a degree per year so all it is doing is changing the time of the Equinox and not the whole Solar System rotating. I am uncertain how you have come to the conclusion that either way or one cause, the radiant changes.

    Here is the Quote pointed out from Duncan Steel:

    “The purpose of this discussion is not solely to enlighten you as to why A.D. 2000 will be a leap year, but mainly to point out that there is a difference of 0.014173 days per annum between the sidereal year (according to the stars) and the tropical year (according to the seasons). Thus there is a slippage between them of close to 14 days per millennium, this being termed the precession of the equinoxes. This would mean that, all other things being equal (which they are not, as we’ll see), a meteor shower occurring on a specific date in late 20th century will occur a week later in the (tropical) year in the late 25th century.
    The thing that is not equal, as mentioned in the last paragraph, is that apart from the date of a meteor shower being shifted by the precession of the equinoxes, precession of the meteor stream orbit caused by planetary perturbations will also alter the date on which a shower occurs. For example, the Taurid stream precesses at a rate of 6 to 8 days per millennium, depending critically on the semi-major axis and eccentricity of the particular orbits under consideration. By chance, the rate of precession of the Leonid stream is virtually identical to the precession of the equinoxes, both being 14 days per millennium, meaning that a 1,000 years ago the Leonid meteor storms would be expected to have been occurring near-October rather than mid-November, and this is borne out by historical records. Note that the precession of the streams means that the shower radiants would be in different constellations from those occupied currently.
    What does all of this mean for the Taurids? When I applied the appropriate precession rates to the daytime showers, I found that back in 3,000 B.C. They would have peaked in early March, 110 days earlier than they do today; that is, 22 days earlier per millennium. Clearly, this could have nothing to do with the main axis of Stonehenge, because the daytime showers would be active near the Spring Equinox when the Sun rises due east rather than in the northeast. But what about the nighttime showers? Although these are currently active from mid-September through early December, the Southern Taurids peak around November 3, the weaker Northern Taurids about 10 days later. These are soft peaks, however: The low inclination of the stream leads to shower activity being sustained for many weeks. Around 5,000 years ago, one would expect the Southern Taurids (as observed now) to peak 110 days earlier, in mid-July, but with the activity starting around mid-summer. If one used instead the best-available determination of the orbit of the Northern Taurids (the other nighttime shower), one derives a date of peak activity in the last week of June. Thus it is entirely feasible that the core was intersecting the Earth 5,000 years ago near midsummer, producing spectacular nighttime meteor storms with accompanying conflagrations and calamities.
    We have seen previously that the daytime showers have radiants very close to the Sun. It is simple to see that for the nighttime showers the radiants are in precisely the opposite direction to those of the daytime: close to the antipodal point of the Sun (the point that astronomers call opposition), but an hour or so to the west of it.”

    I haven’t had time to really think it over I’ve been awake since 3am from the cat playing floor hockey with small objects. One thing I’m having trouble with is his usage of days. Another one, off hand, is that “the day time showers are opposite”… they should be off to the Constellation of Capricorn not back to Taurus. He seems to be saying that the progenitor of Encke has/had a constant perturbation that shifts it around the back drop of the Stars to create a elliptical flower shape like something one would generate with a Spirograph thus changing its radiant. I’m no astrophysicist, but that doesn’t sound possible. Please inform me.

  18. Bard

    My comment that the showers would necessarily have fixed dates under the second theory is not correct, since the orbits of the particles in the shower can be modified by the planets, as Steel discusses.

    The radiant depends on the motion of the earth and the motion of the meteor stream. The meteors enter the atmosphere largely along parallel lines, and those lines have a “vanishing point”, the radiant.

    If the solar system rotates slowly (second theory), or if the Earth reaches the stream at a different point in its orbit (first theory), or if the meteor stream orbit precesses, it will modify the direction of those parallel lines in relation to the galaxy and thus the radiant.

  19. Happy Ancient Sidereal New Year ! If you all didn’t know this is the REAL new year’s eve. Wherein everyone is suppose to be deathly afraid that we will be hit again tonight and after the sacrifice all the fires should be extinguished to recreate the atmospheric loading and IF the Sun rises the next day and we are all still alive it is a Happy New Year…

    Bel’s Flaming Sword of the Cherub, Kireb or Bull, according to the language of the Cuneiform Inscriptions, originally referred to the Pleiades in Taurus, whence Fire was supposed first to have Descended Upon Earth. According to Phoenician Tradition the Seven sons of Zeus-Chronos and of Rhea were connected with the Pleiades, the Constellation inhabited, according to old Babylonian and Hebrew Tradition, by the God Sibut-Sebaot. Pherecydes says Zeus-Chronos, the Creator of Fire, was Throned in the Pleiades where Fire Originated. Matarisvan, the messenger of Indras, was sent from the Matarii or Pleiades to the Earth, and Agni, whose secret name was Matarisvan, brought the Fire to Earth. The Pleid Alcyone and her husband perished by Water (Deluge), they were turned into halcyons (Kingfisher).

    In the Talmud we find a curious Legend associating the Pleiades with an All-Destroying Flood, expressed as follows: “When the Holy One, blessed be he, wished to bring the Deluge upon the World, he took two Stars out of the Pleiades and thus let the Deluge loose, and when he wished to arrest it, he took two stars out of Arcturus and stopped it.”

    We are told by Hyginus, a contemporary of Ovid, that on the Fall of Troy (which happens, according to Virgil, at every renovation of the Earth and Skies) “Electra, one of the Pleiades, quitted the company of her six sisters, and passed along the Heavens toward the Arctic Pole, where she remained visible in tears and with Disheveled Hair, to which the name Comet is applied.” Chambers thinks this means that “a Comet” proceeded from Taurus towards the North Pole.

  20. This may be of some interest to the Cosmic Tusk crowd —

    The Chilling Regularity of Mass Extinctions

    Scientists say new evidence supports a 26-million-year cycle linking comet showers and global die-offs.

    Adrienne LaFrance
    Nov 3, 2015


    “Now, a pair of researchers have new evidence to support a link between cyclical comet showers and mass extinctions, including the one that they believe wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Michael Rampino, a geologist at New York University, and Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, traced 260 million years of mass extinctions and found a familiar pattern: Every 26 million years, there were huge impacts and major die-offs. Their work was accepted by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in September.”

  21. Bard,

    it is indeed possible, and indeed it would be more strange if the nodes did not change over time, implying that the orbit of Comet Encke is constant. If you check out Figure 9 of Clube and Napier’s “Cosmic Winter”, you will find the calculation of the position of Encke’s ascending and descending nodes over the past ten thousand years. But crucially, we need to remember the key distinction in that Encke may not be – and to many of us here it is not – the primary source of the Taurid meteors, but rather a part of the Taurid complex. So while it contributes to the complex, it is not its ultimate source.

    The upshot of this is that the radiant does indeed change in time and in space. If the old myths are true regarding the Pleiades, then it may not necessarily mean that it is the Taurids. Because the nodes of comets and/or their meteor streams, can be shifted into and out of Earth’s orbital path over time, then it may be that that past events associated with the Pleiades were not due to the Taurid complex. They could have been due to a comet, or its debris, that is either no longer in existence, or now intersects the ecliptic plane at a different point along Earths orbital path, or outside/inside the Earth’s orbit.

  22. Jonny – Thanks, but I read that book thru an inter-library loan. I could have missed this ‘precession’ (must be a better word cause that to me confuses the motion with the Precession of the Equinox.), I always thought they were talking about the grouping of denser fragments mainly. I’m not convinced yet and have a paper that has been pointed out to read. My vision of the Taurid Complex is as shown on yesterdays and today’s http://spaceweather.com/ with the yellow orbits, according to what you pointed out if it ‘precessed’ around the ecliptic at 22 days per millennium then those yellow lines would encompass the whole of the ecliptic. There is no ‘Look Inside’ option for that book on Amazon and it’s $75! I see Cosmic Serpent has come down to $45. They really should send the text to Lightning Source and republish those, maybe stuck is some old contract. Well, I’m screwed, the cat finally hid in the other room and ate the fish, while I was dicking around with comet stuff and forgot to search for the cat right away like I was told, blast. I wouldn’t have written a book if the Pleiades wasn’t so ubiquitous in the stories and some other profound things. I don’t understand this force that would consistently move the orbit over, something about 7:2 ratio with Jupiter, I just haven’t had time, but I’ll get to the bottom of it someday. I still don’t see any diagram (maybe this Fig. 9) that shows the stream spread all around the ecliptic. I can understand how Jupiter can make it complex, but not move it over like the hands on a clock. Never heard of any orbit that works that way. I’m not being stubborn, the stories say otherwise and I just don’t believe orbiting objects change that way.

    Nobody liked that well written article at Ancient Origins? I only read half of it and got misdirected.

  23. Bard,

    there are many different kinds of precession other than the precession of the equinoxes. For example there are precession of apsides and of perihelion. The force that causes precession is the total gravitational perturbation of the planets. For example here is an article that talks about how the Earth’s orbit precesses around the sun https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apsidal_precession.

    When it comes to orbital dynamics, I would go with what Clube, Napier, Asher and Steel say, since they are professional astronomers and work in the field of meteor showers. As I did mention before though, just because the current Taurids may not have had a radiant in Taurus several millennia ago does not mean that any other meteor stream did not have a radiant there in the past. Such a stream may not even be active today.

    Figure 9 of Cosmic Winter is reproduced here http://journalofcosmology.com/images/CometEnckeOrbit.jpg.

  24. Jonny –

    I know that the aphelion and perihelion can change over time for any object. Since each fragment of the Taurids operates on its own, relative to the Sun (and the major planets), and since the Taurids are spread out along the orbit, my spatial sense insists that over time the fragments would begin to have aphelions all over the 360° of the orbital plane. If true, that says that the Taurids would be spread out all around, given enough time. If Encke’s orbit takes 3.3 years, it seems that all the Taurids would be also 3.3 years, or darned close to it. With that frequent of an encounter with the Sun – and Jupiter out there messing with it every few orbits – it seems to me that if a stream has a 3.3 year orbit it wouldn’t take long (in astro time) for them to take on all sorts of aphelions. That they aren’t DOING that – YET – would argue that they have not been out there very long at all.

    I’d also argue that the odds of some other meteor stream taking on a radiant coming from the Pleiades would be a bit too coincidental. I do note also that this year’s Taurid radiant isn’t really AT the Pleiades is offset from the Pleiades somewhat. Thus, in whatever millennia the ancient accounts were in (I can think of several possibilities), the Taurid radiant may have moved, but not so moved much, and that seems quite reasonable.

  25. Tom – yeah, I read that one, he didn’t mention that the shock wave earthquake showed up first and liquefied the land with high water tables like the guy from NY or NJ beat me to, the water table hadn’t occurred to me though.

    Jonny – That link is FORBIDDEN, LOL. Could you maybe take a screen shot and stick it in Paint and email it to me?

  26. Steve,

    I can only go by what the astronomers state, since I do not fully understand the orbital mechanics myself. I cant imagine why Steel would say that the radiant would change with time if it didnt actually do so.

  27. Thanks Jonny, but I can’t make heads or tails out of that diagram.

    It seems like people are yanking my chain… This precession that is being discussed is the precession (like a parade) of the resonant swarms WITHIN the Taurid Stream and when they cross the Earth’s orbit. As stated in An Extraterrestrial Influence During the Current Glacial-interglacial Asher & Clube 1993 : ” The libration period and precession rate will be expected to drift over timescales of several kyr owing to the effect of the Earth and Venus in pertubing the orbit to libration of different amplitude.” “In this work we are interested in the long-term (timescales of millennia) precession of angular elements, since the argument of perihelion w determines when the Earth’s orbit is intersected (see e.g. Steel et al. 1991), with consquent terrestial interatcion with meteorids, and in the shorter-term (timescales of centuries) behaviour of particles that librate in a resonance.”

    Here http://www.imo.net/calendar/2012 about 40% down is Southern Taurids, where it shows the Northern Taurids with the Pleiades right in the middle, if this stream were to ‘precess’ it would continue on into other constellations, but it doesn’t. They are talking within the complex as I contend as the yellow orbits in space weather above. They maybe jumbled up, but they are all together and are not orbiting in asymptote / hyperbolic precession around the ecliptic. If anyone can find out otherwise let me know and I’ll dig deeper.

    BTW, I found something interesting at :


    If you look at Encke’s orbit it doesn’t intersect at the descending node and only the ascending node… It must have been perturbed radically from the Taurid Stream, possibly when it almost hit us 13K yrs. ago and just the trailing debris in the tail struck . Also in the above paper they mentioned that the two could be distinct from each other… Oh, and something unseen probably lurks within the stream.

  28. Improv has always been a problem. Something is not right, rife with errors from top to bottom, leading to suspicion of motive. If the authorities knew about the problems and chose not to prevent them, then clearly something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The Natural History of the Earth – Debating long-term change in the geosphere and biosphere by Richard John Huggett : “One school, named coherent catastrophism by its creators (Steel 1991, 1995; Steel et al. 1994), contends that large comets disintegrate to produce clusters of fragments, ranging in size from microns, meters, tens and hundreds of meters, to kilometers. Such clusters will form a train of debris with a characteristic orbit. If the node of the orbit (the point at which it crosses the ecliptic) is near 1 AU, and if the cluster passes its node when Earth is near, then it repeatedly crosses the Earth’s orbit. The outcome is cluster-object impacts at certain times of the year, every few years, depending on the relationship between the Earth’s and the cluster’s orbital periods. However, an impact occurs only when PRECESSION has brought the node to 1 AU, so only on time-scales of every few thousand years. One cluster – the Taurid complex – is presently active, and has been for the last 20,000 years. It has produced episodes of atmospheric detonation, which the proponents of coherent catastrophic believe that these may have had material consequences for the biosphere and for civilization.”

    Again, the word PRECESSION is used to describe where the cluster is within the stream, not mentioning anything about how the orbiting stream moves across the back drop of the constellations. Furthermore, if the stream did move in that fashion would all the particles of all sizes be cohesive to one-another or be left to there own trajectories and thus be spread out from this radiant movement?

    I can’t seem to find this Steel et al. 1991. BTW, don’t they make Geek Dictionaries? Like Geological Geek Dictionary and Astronomy Geek Dictionary, sure would help, I’ve looked before in every dictionary I own and online and still couldn’t find a certain word. They should have mandatory Latin classes in public school. Oh, also that book quoted maybe a good one to read. I’ve been searching more and more for something good to read this winter. That or write another book, not sure yet if I have enough content, it’s hard to tell from ideas rattling around and won’t be able to tell until I write them down.

  29. Bard,

    I think you are confusing the word PROCESSION which can be used to describe a group or parade, with the word PRECESSION which is a word used in physics with a precise meaning, that being the change of orientation of the axis of rotation, which can be applied to the rotation of a solid object, such as the earth, or the plane of an orbit.

    So when we say that precession effects the nodes of an orbit (that is the point where the orbit of a particular body or sets of bodies crosses the plane of the ecliptic), we are talking about how the change of the orientation of the axis around which meteoroids orbit changes the nodal points of their orbit (where those meteoroids cross the ecliptic) and hence where in Earth’s orbit our planet intercepts them (if at all). Thus the nodal points of meteor streams can be shifted in solar longitude, as well as being shifted inside and outside of the earths orbit, over considerable lengths of time. Where in the Earth’s orbit about the sun that our planet intercepts them will then determine which constellation the radiant appears.

    So the word precession is not used to describe where a cluster is within the stream, but how the orientation of the whole stream changes over time, and when and where (and if) the Earth encounters the stream on its orbit.

    Regarding Steel et al 1991. The reference is probably “The structure and evolution of the Taurid complex” MONTHLY NOTICES OF THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY 251, 632-648 (1991). You can read it here http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1991MNRAS.251..632S&defaultprint=YES&filetype=.pdf

  30. Jonny –

    You use what the astronomers tell you? Darn! I was hoping it was something you could educate me on.

    Actually, maybe you did, in your comment to Bard, about the precession and nodes.

    Any object or group of objects that orbits both outside and inside the Earth’s orbit has to cross Earth’s orbit at 2 points, the nodes – one as the object(s) are going sun-ward and one while they are going outbound. If precession of its/their occurs, and it does, then those nodes must change along with the solar longitude of the perihelion and aphelion. Thus, since the only place the Earth can experience the stream is at the orbital nodes of the stream, the Earth’s tilt dictates the season and the Earth day(s) of intercept.

    It seems I was understanding you to be tying it with the Earth’s precession of the equinoxes, which has only to do with the Earth’s tilt. But now I see that you must have been talking about the precession of the stream’s orbit.

    Would that be correct?

  31. Steve,

    That would indeed be correct. The precession of the equinoxes would only shift the date of the meteor shower (at a rate of 14 days per millennium), but the precession of the meteor stream’s orbit would result in shifting the nodes, which has the effect of further shifting the date of the shower (by a further 8 days per millennium), as well as shifting the radiant (by roughly 8 degrees per millennium parallel to the ecliptic).

  32. The movement of meteor shower radiants over aeons

    Various email messages have alerted me to some discussion of the Taurid meteor showers here, and of references to what I wrote in my book Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets (Wiley, NYC, 1995). I have no desire to enter into a protracted debate on this – indeed, there is little to debate about – and so here I will just summarize a few pertinent points, whilst trying not to be impertinent and upset people. The reality of the universe, however, is that things are as they are, and not as anyone might wish or imagine.

    What I wrote in that book is broadly correct. I used the word “broadly” there not to suggest that anything is wrong, as such, but rather to indicate that readers should recognise that in a popular-level book it is necessary for an author to simplify things somewhat, whereas in a refereed research paper the author(s) must be rigorous in giving the necessary detail. What I am trying to advise here is that if one wants to understand what is going on, a popular-level book is only a starting point: one must go back to the primary literature, and one must have the capability to understand it.

    The core subject at hand here is the precessional movement of the Taurid meteoroid stream and therefore the shifts over centuries and millennia of the associated meteor shower radiants, and times of occurrence within a year. There are two types of precession involved: apsidal precession, and nodal precession. In order to explain what is going on, let me start with the Earth (although that involves a third type of precession: the precession of the equinoxes).

    The precession of the equinoxes describes the shifting of the vernal equinox, and is due to the torque imposed on our non-spherical planet by the Moon, and the Sun, although there are minor contributions from other planets. This torque causes the spin axis of the Earth to swivel around, or precess. This has the effect of moving the positions of the equinoxes ‘backwards’ along the ecliptic (i.e. opposite in direction to Earth’s orbital path). From antiquity astronomers have termed the direction of the vernal equinox “the first point of Aries”, although that direction is now in Pisces, and in a few centuries’ time it will have shifted into Aquarius. A full rotation of the equinox locations around the ecliptic takes about 26,000 years.

    A quite different type of precession is apsidal precession. The line of apsides is the straight line connecting the perihelion and aphelion points of any heliocentric orbit. Gravitational tugs by the planets, in particular Jupiter, cause Earth’s line of apsides to swivel around, completing a circuit of the ecliptic in the ‘forward’ (prograde) sense in about 110,000 years. This is a long interval (i.e. this precession is slow) because Earth’s orbit is low-eccentricity (e = 0.0167 currently), and far from Jupiter.

    The above two precessional changes of the Earth are simply described here:

    Note that these two precessional effects combined produce a climatic cycle of duration t (the period of rotation of perihelion as referenced against the equinoxes) given by their harmonic sum: (1/t) = (1/26,000) + (1/110,000) results in t = 21,000 years, this cycle being evidenced in the geological record.
    Let us return now to the Taurid meteoroid stream. Its orbit is: (a) larger than Earth’s orbit; (b) of fairly high eccentricity; and (c) of low inclination. A consequence of these considerations is that the apsidal precession rate of that stream, dominated by Jupiter’s influence, is much faster than that of the Earth. Table AI in Asher and Clube (1993) – available for free download here: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1993QJRAS..34..481A – indicates a rotation interval for the line of apsides of about 7,000 years for orbital elements similar to Comet 2P/Encke (a=2.2 AU, e=0.85) and less still for orbits with larger aphelion distances (taking them nearer to Jupiter). See also Appendix B and Figure A2 in Asher and Clube (1993), in which numerical integrations of characteristic orbits are compared with the results from secular perturbation theory.

    I hasten to add that this fundamental understanding is by no means new, and in the case of the Taurids was investigated by Fred Whipple over 75 years ago (see: F.L.Whipple, Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc., 83, 711, 1940). Whipple established that the Taurid stream had to be at least 12,000 years old on the basis of its dynamics. Later researchers including myself have pushed out the necessary timespan to above 18,000 years (e.g. see various papers by Poulat Babadzhanov and colleagues, such as this: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1990AVest..24…18B ), and likely 20,000–30,000 years.

    The simple reason for this derived timescale is that, during each rotation of the line of apsides, the stream orbit intersects the ecliptic at Earth’s heliocentric distance (near 1 AU) four times: in the pre- and post-perihelion legs of the orbit, at both the ascending and the descending node. As a result, four annual meteor showers may be detected: an optically- and radar-detected pair of showers on the nightside of the Earth (at one time of year), only radar being feasible for the dayside pair (at a different time of year). Let me term this set of four showers a ‘quadruplet’.

    One thing that often confuses people is the fact that the orbital inclination of 2P/Encke (almost 12 degrees) is substantially higher than the inclinations of Taurid meteoroids (only a few degrees). This is because, in the phases when Taurid meteoroids have orbital parameters resulting in them crossing the ecliptic near 1 AU (i.e. when collisions with the Earth and therefore observation as meteors are possible), their inclinations are small, whereas currently 2P/Encke is in a high-inclination phase of its evolution. These consistent inclination oscillations over millennia are shown in Figure A2 of Asher and Clube (1993).

    An important thing to note is this. During the (say) 7,000 years it takes for a complete revolution of the line of apsides, the stream’s orbital plane also precesses, under gravitational perturbations again dominated by Jupiter. This is called ‘nodal precession’. (One can get some idea about this by looking here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nodal_precession – although the examples given there are focussed on the nodal precession of satellites in geocentric orbit, the main cause in that case being Earth’s non-spherical gravitational field.)

    The time for a complete rotation of the nodes around the ecliptic for an orbit like 2P/Encke may be obtained again from Table AI in Asher and Clube (1993), the answer being about 55,000 years. That is, in angular terms the nodal precession rate is about eight times slower than the apsidal precession rate (for that particular orbit).

    The end result is that each time a rotation of the line of apsides occurs a new quadruplet of showers is formed, but these are separated from the previous quadruplet by about six or seven weeks (one-eighth of a year). Because we identify at least three sets of quadruplets (i.e. twelve distinct showers) we know that the Taurid complex has been developing for at least three times 7,000 years. Tentative identifications of other showers mean that likely the timescale is somewhat over 20,000 years. On these dynamical grounds and other lines of evidence my personal standpoint – always subject to revision in line with newer and better evidence – is that the Taurid Complex has formed in the inner solar system over about the past 30,000 years.

    Comet 2P/Encke (around 5 km in size) is often considered the parent of the Taurids, but its present mass is only a tiny fraction (well below 1 per cent) of the overall mass of the complex, to which extent my opinion is that 2P/Encke is simply the largest lump remaining from an original comet 50–100 km in size that has undergone an episodic hierarchical disintegration, spawning a vast complex of material which we are yet to comprehend fully. This is the core subject of a forthcoming review by Napier, Asher, Bailey and Steel (Astronomy & Geophysics, 2015 December).

    The next point to which I turn attention is the nature of the Taurid meteor showers’ radiants. Most strong meteor showers have single, compact radiants, and the showers last only a day or so, perhaps a week at most. This is not the case with the Taurids, which have long been recognised to have prolonged activity stretching (for the present nighttime showers) at least from mid-October through to the end of November. In fact, one can make a case for a resumption thereafter into January or February, and also an earlier start.

    In essence the Taurids have radiants that are a few degrees north and south of the ecliptic (in fact, arranged close to symmetrically about the orbital plane of Jupiter: remember that it is Jupiter that dominates their orbital evolution) but have a finite spread in ecliptic longitude on any particular night; and the mean radiant shifts along in ecliptic longitude by about a degree from night to night, as is to be expected (because the Earth moves by about a degree each day). Although there are many examples showing this in various papers published over the years, I will refer readers to an older summary, published in 1952: see Figure 1 in this report: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1952HelOB..41….3W .

    In view of this is would be a mistake to think of the Taurids having a discrete radiant. In any year for any night (or day, for the post-perihelion/daytime showers) one can determine a mean radiant, but that mean radiant moves from night to night, reflecting intersections with Earth by meteoroids which have followed slightly different orbital evolution paths by dint of their specific orbital parameters (again: see Table AI of Asher and Clube, 1993). Distinct initial orbits of the meteoroids result from such considerations as: (i) when they were released from the parent body/bodies; (ii) their velocities relative to the parent; (iii) the peculiarities of their particular evolution (e.g. close approaches to the terrestrial planets); (iv) various other physical effects such as the Poynting-Robertson pseudo-force; and so on.

    What this means is that different quadruplets can have overlapping activity, in terms of the times of year in which meteors from different parts of the convoluted stream may be detected. For example, if we keep an assumed eccentricity e=0.85 but increase the semi-major axis to a=2.4 AU, it would take only about 4,000 years for a complete rotation of the line of apsides, so that in terms of precession this slightly-larger orbit would ‘overtake’ that with a=2.2 AU.
    Apart from such considerations, the mean radiants for the showers in historical times will have been quite different from what is observed now. As explained above, secular perturbations (dominated by Jupiter) cause steady nodal precession such that in antiquity the showers will have occurred earlier in the year, and accordingly the shower radiants will have been in different locations.

    Which locations? The answer is somewhat easy to state. In radar surveys of meteor radiants (and orbits) there are only a few dominant radiant regions recognised, the most prominent being termed the ‘helion’ and ‘anti-helion’ sources; for a recent example, see this paper: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2009Icar..201..295W .
    These regions get their names because they are close to the directions of the Sun (on the dayside) and the opposite celestial location to the Sun (on the nightside), due the effect of compounding the Earth’s orbital velocity vector with the velocity vectors of the incoming meteoroids. Therefore, at any time in antiquity the nighttime showers we now associate with the Taurid Complex will have appeared to have been emanating from the direction opposite to the Sun, at whichever time of year they were occurring.

    In fact it appears that at least 50 per cent (and perhaps 80 per cent) of the influx of small bodies to the Earth on an annual basis is derived from these helion and anti-helion sources, most of the mass being held in small meteoroids 1 mm and smaller in size.

    We have various reasons, though, to think that the distribution of matter in the Taurid streams is by no means uniform and random. This would imply that in various epochs the conditions are achieved whereby meteor storms occur, for relatively brief periods (hours), and continuing for some centuries, but not occurring every year. Such storms may well contain larger objects, of the Tunguska/Chelyabinsk class. The celestial mechanics involved here is rather more complicated than what I have described above in qualitative terms, and so I must leave any explanation aside and merely encourage readers to see the various research papers published over the years by those working in this specific area, starting with Whipple.

    An implication of this is that at various times in antiquity there must have been metaphorical fireworks in the sky, and I am confident that such events had a significant effect upon the civilisations existing in such eras. Understanding what they might have experienced, and how they might have interpreted it, is a worthy pursuit. Gaining such an understanding, however, would necessitate first developing a good knowledge of what we already know about the evolution of meteoroid streams and the celestial mechanics involved.

    I hope that the above will prove useful to those interested in this area of study. Unfortunately I am pre-occupied with other matters (such as making a living) and so I am unable to provide any further answers to queries. I urge readers not to accept blindly what I have written above, but rather to dig out the vast literature available on this subject written by many excellent researchers over the past several decades: check what I have written, and verify it in primary sources (i.e. refereed research papers).

    Duncan Steel
    Nelson, New Zealand

  33. I posted this at Mr. Steel’s blog,

    Cevin Q

    2015/11/11 at 04:46

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Mr. Steel,
    Thank your for you input in in the discussion at George’s CT.
    This post is very informative and I, personally, have learned a great deal from it.
    I’m sure I can speak for the rest of the people that follow the site, any input and insights would be greatly appreciated.

    That is a fabulously informative post, and it re-enforces a couple of notions I’ve have had, namely that Enke is just a remnant crumb of the parent, and that the evolution of the stream goes into the very remote past.

  34. Duncan Steele writes in his linked comment:

    “What I am trying to advise here is that if one wants to understand what is going on, a popular-level book is only a starting point: one must go back to the primary literature, and one must have the capability to understand it.”

    Oh, I couldn’t agree more. I could not have said it better myself. I HAVE said it before, but not so well.

    Duncan, I do hope you don’t mind if I quote you on that simple (and so very true) statement?

    I deal with people in this area and one or two others, in which they’ve gotten all their information from popular articles – and who think that what they’d read there by or about ONE person is the final word on something that is still being debated heartily in the science literature.

    Perhaps now, with your kind permission, I might just quote you to them and be done with it.

    And it often is the case that your last phrase doesn’t even apply to their level of knowledge – that they don’t “haave the capability to understand it”. On the occasion when I am myself the one who doesn’t have such capacity, I welcome someone pointing out my need to learn more, to increase my capability to understand it.

    CosmicTusk itself is a forum in which to do just that – learn more – and sometimes that learning is from someone who really knows some things. This interview with Bill Napier is just such an opportunity. And now we have Duncan Steele taking part, too – and teaching us, too.


    It is the apsidal precession that I was trying to talk about, but not knowing it had a name.

  35. Steve @ November 6, 2015 at 5:00 pm wrote:

    “I’d also argue that the odds of some other meteor stream taking on a radiant coming from the Pleiades would be a bit too coincidental.”

    The IAU meteor stream guys claim that there are some 112 established metoer showers with 577 on their working list of meteor showers. That number may be as high as 713. Appears there are sufficient meteor streams being discovered / measured / worked for one to wander into the Pleiades on a not irregular basis. Cheers –

  36. Duncan Steele – May I ask for some clarifications?

    You had this:
    The simple reason for this derived timescale is that, during each rotation of the line of apsides, the stream orbit intersects the ecliptic at Earth’s heliocentric distance (near 1 AU) four times: in the pre- and post-perihelion legs of the orbit, at both the ascending and the descending node. As a result, four annual meteor showers may be detected: an optically- and radar-detected pair of showers on the nightside of the Earth (at one time of year), only radar being feasible for the dayside pair (at a different time of year). Let me term this set of four showers a ‘quadruplet’.

    1.) I guess first of all the term “each rotation of the line of apsides” means the 7,000 year apsidal precession, yes?

    You say the stream intersects the ECLIPTIC four times. This is not the same as intersecting Earth’s orbit. The ascending node and descending nodes AE where their orbit crosses the ecliptic.

    2.) How can it cross the ecliptic two more times? It is not clear from your description, and I honsetly don’t see how two more times can occur – unless you are talking of Northern Taurids and Southern Taurids.

    3.) Since the Sun is at one focus of their elliptical orbit, and the Sun being IN the Ecliptic itself, how can the stream intersect the Earth’s orbit (essentially in the Ecliptic) – AT 1.0 AU – unless it’s orbital WIDTH at 1.00 AU is exactly equal to 1.00 AU? (…allowing for the curvature of the orbit…)

    While I am at it, if 7,000 years is the apsidal precession, then TWO of them are ~14,000 years. I’d be interested:

    4.) How precise is that 7,000 year precession value? If closer to 6,400 years, perhaps we coincidentally now happen to be semi-close to being re-aligned to SOME POINT IN Taurus and/or the Pleiades.

    Whenever those accounts were, they talked definitely of Taurus and meteors coming from there. Taurus happens to be where OUR radiant for the Taurids is. Are we to blow this off? Or can we use it to date possible times for their observations?

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