The Crab nebula and its accompanying pulsar have long been assumed to be the result of a supernova explosion in 1054 AD. What is not often discussed in the literature, though, is an important paper by Ho Peng-Yoke (1970) that minutely examines the original Chinese and Japanese evidence for this assertion. On the basis of the actual extant historical record, their conclusion is that there must be considerable doubt whether the object of 1054 AD and the Crab nebula are connected at all.

Although the Crab nebula may in fact be a supernova remnant, the evidence indicates that most supernovae throughout the past two millennia have not been seen by Earthbound skywatchers, or at any rate have not been recorded. Supernovae are relatively rare events, occurring in our Galaxy perhaps once every 25 to 100 years (Fesen 1992). Study of ancient records from Europe, China, Japan, Korea, and Arabia indicate that there have been fewer than 10 such events witnessed over the last 2000 years, this out of a possible maximum number of 80 events. Some of these would be too far away, obscured by dust clouds in the Galaxy, to have been observed. But one example, Cassiopeia A, is only a little farther away from us than the Crab and it was not observed at all when its star exploded about 300 years ago (Mitton 1978). This is presumably because it took place in a region of our Galaxy that is heavily obscured by dust from our viewpoint. The viewing conditions today in the direction of the Crab are much better, but a thousand years ago the conditions could have been different. We must remember that every part of the Galaxy is in constant motion. And it seems odd that there are no contemporary European or Arabic observations of the 1054 AD event, whereas other supernovae were witnessed and recorded by those cultures. They accurately reported the position and other properties of another supernova which occurred in 1006 AD, only 48 years earlier, as well as many other astronomical phenomena such as Halley’s comet. After great efforts, one possible example of an Arabic observation has been found, though it is not very helpful (Brecher 1978). Further, Trimble’s careful study of the expansion of the Crab nebula showed convergence at about 1140 AD, not 1054 AD (Mitton 1978).

According to the work of Ho Peng-Yoke, the Chinese “guest star” of 1054 AD first appeared at a sky position perhaps several degrees away from the Crab nebula. The Crab is north-west of the star zeta Tau, whereas the Chinese stargazers placed the new object south-east of zeta Tau. The object was very bright and was visible for a total of 653 days, and for 23 days it was visible in daylight! However, there is nothing in the recorded observations to indicate that the object was visible initially for 23 days in daylight, i.e. what one would expect of a supernova, which reaches its maximum brightness quickly then fades. The records also seem to leave open the possibility that the object was moving, but a comet has been ruled out.

The Chinese and Japanese records that have come down to us are fragmentary, and may represent an edited version of original observations. We are not used to this today, but a thousand years ago, when very few people anywhere in the world could read and write, central authorities kept very tight control over information and utilized it to reinforce their own positions of power. The Chinese Emperors employed these official stargazers to create accurate calendars and to observe the heavens for celestial events that might reflect upon the condition of the Emperor and his government, according to their philosophy that the celestial abode echoed the condition of this world. If the news was bad, it was a problem for all concerned. And it might just be a matter of interpretation, which could change with a little editing? I am suggesting the possibility that the event of 1054 AD was far more than a supernova, in fact the approach towards perihelion of a large planetoid in a highly elliptical orbit about the Sun. And that over time most of the records of this awesome event, in cultures all over the world, were edited or destroyed for religious and political purposes. A recent study of the chemical composition of the Crab nebula concludes that it is unlikely that the supernova could have burned brightly enough for 653 days to be visible from Earth (Sollerman 2001).

Jesuit scholar Franz Kugler suggested, based on his close study of the Mesopotamian clay tablets early in the twentieth century, that the ancient cultures of the Middle East had knowledge of a large celestial body orbiting in a great elliptical path, like a comet (Kugler 1907-1924). Author Zecharia Sitchin (1976), in his interesting first book, asserts that Mesopotamian and biblical sources present strong evidence that the orbital period of this object is 3600 years.

William C. Miller found pictographs in northern Arizona that many scientists associate with the supernova of 1054 AD (Brandt 1975). The pictographs seem to indicate a large planetary body, perhaps about the size of our Moon. Two separate images show one circular object next to a crescent-shaped object. Current thinking on this suggests that the pictographs are describing conjunction of the Moon and the first appearance of the supernova on July 5, 1054 AD, which would have been visible to the native Americans from that location. The crescent represents the Moon, which did have that shape on 5 July, and the circular object the supernova. However, the circular object is about 86% of the Moon’s diameter in one pictograph, about 73% in the other. Current thinking suggests that the great size of the circle is emphasizing the great brightness of the supernova. But no supernova has ever come close to the 0.5 degree size of the full Moon. A very close and extremely bright supernova might appear about twice the size of Venus in the night sky, just a tiny fraction the size of the full Moon.

I am suggesting that the pictographs may be composite artistic representations of the complete 653 day event. The artists were showing the conditions of the first appearance of the object on 5 July, when it became visible to the naked eye (~magnitude 6), in a composite with a later period of the orbit as the object approached the Sun and passed some distance beyond the orbit of our Moon. Using the information in the pictographs literally, the apparent size of the guest star (GS) at closest approach to the Earth was about 80% the size of our Moon. If GS is about the same size as the Moon, then its apparent angular diameter would indicate that it passed about 680,000 km from the Earth. By comparison, the Moon averages about 385,000 km from the Earth. Ho Peng-Yoke suggest one interpretation of the Chinese historical record implies that the object may have had an apparent angular size comparable with that of the Moon, which is supported by the native American pictographs from half-a-world away.

As GS approached the Sun on a highly elliptical orbit, any type of ice on its surface would have begun to evaporate, increasing its brightness. The object would have become visible during daylight (~magnitude -4 or -5) as it approached the Earth, months after its first sighting in July 1054 AD. The Chinese records do say that during its 23 days of daytime visibility “its color was reddish-white, with pointed rays in all four directions”.

When GS was first sighted with the naked eye in July 1054 AD (~magnitude 6), it was probably something like 4 au from the Earth. This exact distance is difficult to calculate, as we can’t be certain of the size of the object or the extent to which its brightness was increasing.

During its departure from Earth proximity it would of course have been in a totally different region of the sky from where it was first sighted. The fragmentary Chinese records provide no real help here, merely leaving open the possibility that the object was moving.

I have run some simple computer simulations to look at this more carefully. Some of the orbital elements that I used:

Semimajor Axis: 120 au
Eccentricity: 0.9917
Inclination: 170 degrees
Longitude of Ascending Node: 50 degrees
Argument of Perihelion: 90 degrees
Perihelion Distance: 0.996 au
Orbital Period: 1314 years
Date of Perihelion: May 1, 1055 AD

Note that this is a retrograde orbit, i.e. it is moving in the opposite direction than the other planets. Using these values, GS is several degrees south-east of the star zeta Tau on 4 July 1054 AD. This is where the Chinese observations place it. As I run the simulation, GS approaches the Sun, reaches perihelion at about 1 au, and swings away to the outer solar system, to disappear again from view. Using these orbital elements, it appears in the correct position in July, approaches the Sun and disappears from view in about 653 days. When it first appears it is about 4 au from the Earth, and 653 days later it is again about 4 au away, albeit in a different part of the sky. One slight wrinkle: my simulator program only allows a maximum orbital period of about 1300 years, not 3600 years, so these elements would need to be fine-tuned. But this is nonetheless strong evidence of proof-of-principle.

An object with an orbital period of 3600 years has a semimajor axis of about 235 au. If its perihelion is, say, 1 au, then its aphelion would be about 469 au (by comparison, the aphelion of Pluto is about 49 au). If this is the case, then its current distance from the Sun is about 250 au, still moving away and due to return to the inner solar system about 4655 AD.

According to my rough calculations, it may still be barely visible to the big Keck telescope, which can reach magnitude 28. If the object can be spotted, parallax will easily give us its precise distance from the Sun and exact orbital parameters.

In order to calculate its current position, highly accurate orbital simulations would be needed taking into account gravitational perturbation by the Earth and Moon and other planets.

If we count back from 1054 AD, subtracting 3600 years each time, we get this: 2546 BC, 6146 BC, 9746 BC. This last number is very close to Plato’s date for the destruction of Atlantis. This can be deduced from his dialogue TIMAEUS, wherein he relates the speech of the Egyptian priest, in conversation with Solon, who says that the events regarding Atlantis of which he speaks occurred “nine thousand years ago”. Since Solon died circa 559 BC, this gives a calendar date of circa 9500 BC. This is about the time of the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary in the geological record. There was a mass extinction event in North and South America at just this time (Martin and Klein 1989), although there is no iridium signature in the strata (such as there is at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, indicating an asteroid at least partly responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs). This is also the time when the Natufian village sites in the Levant were abandoned, or destroyed (Olszewski 1986). All of this assumes utilizing “corrected” radiocarbon dates, i.e. 8500 BC radiocarbon date is actually about 9500 BC calendar date (Taylor 1987).

Such an object would have an unstable orbit. Planetary perturbations would change its period randomly on the order of 10% per revolution, even without a close approach. I am suggesting that the last close approach to Earth was circa 9500 BC, ending the Pleistocene and altering somewhat the surface of the world. After that event GS settled into its current orbital period of about 3600 years, when the ancient civilizations began to observe it. Its period fluctuates somewhat around this average.

This unstable object, like the long-period comets, would eventually be ejected from the solar system. Statistical studies of this process indicate that the maximum residence in the solar system would be about 6 million years (Yabushita 1979). Interestingly, the last few million years constitute a period of accelerated mountain-building movement of the Earth’s crust (Flint 1971), exactly what would be expected due to occasional close approaches of such an object.

This object cannot explain the K-T extinction 65 million years ago. Over long periods of geological time I think we are looking at multiple “catastrophic” mechanisms, including comet and asteroid bombardment. I should mention that Sitchin’s model also does not explain the K-T extinctionwhatever the object is, if it’s in a highly elliptical orbit then it is unstable.

The scenario I am suggesting would go something like this: circa 9500 BC GS made a close pass by the Earth as it approached the Sun. Gravitational effects caused high tidal waves moving at thousands of miles per hour as GS swept past the Earth, moving in the opposite direction. In addition to the ocean tide, the body tide in the solid structure of the Earth is sufficient to lift up large portions of the crust and cause major shifts along tectonic boundaries. Some portions of the ocean tide achieve escape velocity, freezing as they hit space and going into orbit around the Earth and the Sun to return later as the strange periodic “ice falls” recorded in the Fortean literature. Small living creatures trapped in these masses of ice survive in suspended animation for long periods of time, to be revived as the ice melts during reentry and appearing as the rains of frogs and fishes also seen in the Fortean literature. Recent scientific analysis on a large ice fall in Spain revealed that the fragments contained earthly substances such as chalk and salt, and were generally inexplicable (Fortean Times 2000). Usual explanations, such as cometary debris and meteorological or aircraft origins, were ruled out. Other portions of the escaping frozen mass are lost forever to the Sun, or eventually collide with other planets. Preliminary work by Brian Tonks at the University of Arizona (personal communication 1992) indicates that about 40% of the ejected material would eventually return to Earth, and another 40% would collide with Venus. Less than 5% would strike Mars and Mercury, with the rest scattered about the outer planets. Radar evidence indicates that Mercury may have a north polar water ice cap (Astronomy 1992). This is quite a surprise, because Mercury was considered too hot to hold any ice deposits. This water ice may in fact be from Earth, and sampling it could constitute one test of this hypothesis, as would tests of the possible deposits of water ice on the Moon.

The large tidal wave, which stretches from pole to pole and sweeps across the Earth in less than an hour, is the killing mechanism of the mass extinction event, leaving no iridium signature. This model is supported by the fact that the extinction event was weight-dependent, i.e. the larger species tended to die out, the smaller species tended to survive (Martin and Klein 1989). Small species tend to be burrowing creatures, and can more readily hide underground or in rock caves and cracks than larger species. Thus, they essentially had little bomb shelters in which to ride out the devastation. Large species would be out in the open and subject to the full impact of the event.

Of course, this is an idealized model. The tidal waves probably did not cover every part of the Earth, some areas may have been affected more than others depending on many factors.

The extinction event struck North and South America, but not much in Africa and Asia.

It is fair to assume that the Earth’s orbit, the length of the year and perhaps the length of the day, were changed somewhat by this event, but we have no way to determine that now. However, ingenious work studying historical eclipses has determined that the day length is growing longer by an average of 1.7 milliseconds per century in an oscillating pattern (Stephenson 1997) that cannot be explained by any known forces. This oscillating pattern may be one remnant signature of the event at the end of the Pleistocene.

Another important anomaly is the high temperature of the interior of the Earth. During the nineteenth century British scientist Lord Kelvin calculated that the Earth should have lost all of its primordial heat of formation after a maximum span of 400 million years (Thomson 1864). The Earth is supposed to be over 4 billion years old. Why is the interior of the Earth still hot?

Geologists believe that radioactive elements such as Uranium, Thorium and Potassium contribute to heating of the Earth. But it is generally accepted that these elements are concentrated only in the outer crust of the Earth (Press and Siever 1982), and do not affect deep internal heating. Measurement of the flux of alpha particles (produced by the radioactive decay of Uranium and Thorium) at the Earth’s surface should agree with estimates based on the Earth’s content of these elements and the observed heat flow, but actual measurement of the alpha particle flux is much less than what is predicted (Keken 2001). Where is the internal heat coming from? Catastrophism suggests that tidal forces in the solid structure of the Earth during close encounters are responsible for much of the continued heating of the planet. Indeed, those areas that are most geologically active, such as regions showing recent mountain-building, are precisely those areas radiating the most heat.

I’m not arguing for a “young” Earth (i.e. greater internal heat equals youth). Although there are indications in the scientific literature of some problems with radiometric dating techniques, I can accept that these techniques, used carefully, are giving us useful perspective on the great age of the world. Radiometric dating techniques should not be affected by the heat of the Earth, and thus should be independent confirmation of the Earth’s vast age.

Another significant point is that evidence is accumulating for a global culture collapse around 2300 BC. The Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Early Bronze Age civilization in Israel, Anatolia and Greece, as well as the Indus Valley civilization in India, the Hilmand civilization in Afghanistan and the Hongshan Culture in China, all fell into ruin at more or less the same time (Peiser 1997). Current studies point to radical climate change as a major factor (Dalfes 1996). Fast climate change on this scale is highly anomalous, unless viewed in the context of Catastrophism. This date falls very close to one of the proposed perihelion points for the large planetoid discussed in this report. Although I am not suggesting a close encounter, dust and debris carried in the wake of GS could have rained upon the Earth and significantly altered climate.

This preliminary report does not attempt to address all issues, but constitutes a work in progress. Further work is required, especially in precise orbital simulation modeling.


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© William Patrick Bourne
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