It is very often said in popular articles about meteors, comets and asteroids that they all represent the material that is left over from the very beginning of the solar system. It is further said – often – that these bodies “accreted” from smaller material flying around in what is called the “planetary nebula.” That means that they kept gravitating toward each other until the collection of material became an asteroid or a comet.
I dispute both of these assertions by astronomers. Why? Because I think that they call up accretion as a mechanism, without ever asking what happens during accretion or if the temperatrues and pressures and impact forces available can actually do what they say accretion is or is doing. When one reads about how asteroids or planets form, the say “accretion” and then go on to what happens after accretion, without really ever having to explain it.
Why do I think any of this? Because there is insufficient gravitational force between small objects in space. There is also insufficient pressure in space to turn molecules of metals into solid chunks of metal, nor to alloy them together.
Let me start with a few definitions. I am putting them at the bottom here, so that I don’t lose the reader at this point with boring stuff.
I just looked at the list of elements and molecules present in the most studied meteorite in the world, one called the Allende meteorite. The list runs to 17 main components and 57 elements. That means over half the Periodic Table is represented in ONE meteor. That is one helluva cocktail.
The Allende meteorite is a “carbonaceous chondrite” as opposed to a mostly iron-nickel meteor. It still has plenty of iron and nickel, but not a LOT. Carbonaceous chondrites represent about 4% of all meteorites found so far. 86% of the total are stony chondrites. The Allende meteorite weighs about 2 metric tons and is also the heaviest and biggest meteorite yet found. It looks like this:
All those chondrules, plus the matrix that binds them together, contain all those compounds and elements I mentioned.
The funny thing is that some of the materials in the meteorite are garnet, peridotite, and olivine. There are more, but those are important. You see, peridotite is found where diamonds are found and are created by much the same forces – high temps and high pressures. Olivine also needs pressures around 24 gigapascals (gP), about 3.9 million pounds per square inch (psi), plus high temps, about 2,000°C (nearly 4,000°F). Garnet is a semiprecious stone that also takes a LOT of pressure and temperature to form.
To give you some idea of this, these materials are formed in the earth’s mantle, about 100 km deep. To make them on the surface we need to use equipment called multi-anvil presses. Regular presses don’t come close to the pressures needed. Here is an a multi-anvil press:
Now we all know that there is essentially a vacuum in space. And we also know how weak gravity is between two objects. Gravity is so weak that when the entire EARTH is one of the two objects being attracted to each other, the smaller one – let’s say a large rock – is attracted to the Earth the ground is strong enough to stop it. Even a piece of wood or plastic can stop pretty large rocks. And we can look at the rock sit there all day and all night, and the rock doesn’t fuse with the Earth. The force is simply too small. The rock can sit there for centuries and never fuse with the Earth. We have large buildings that have been “sitting up against the Earth” for centuries, even millennia, and they still are not fused with the Earth. So gravity is pretty much ruled out as a force to accrete and fuse the materials of Allende’s meteorite.
Oh? What if the two objects fall toward each other from along distance away, building up momentum? Well, let’s just think about Allende’s meteorite there, too. It fell from a LONG way away, going so fast that it makes bullets look slow, so fast it glowed, not unlike the meteor over Chelyabinsk last year at this time. And it hit the surface of the Earth with a bang, so hard that it broke some pieces off itself. Still, it didn’t fuse to the Earth. And since the Earth is really BIG, if we would be talking about two rocks, two meteoroids or asteroids 200 feet across, and they attracted, the force of attraction would be FAR, FAR less than Allende “falling to Earth.” Perhaps a trillion times less gravitational force.
If the two rocks started out way far away from each other, so that they could get a good running start, will that do it? Will that provide the impact force/pressure to make olivine or peroditite? No. Not even close. Don’t forget that the force diminishes by the square of the distance, so when they are far apart the gravitational force is REALLY, REALLY weak. A feather falling to Earth has more velocity – and probably more force, too.
And don’t forget that peridotite is formed 100 km UNDER the ground, where there is a massive amount of rock weighing down. We are basically talking about the depth of diamond mines and more. They are found WITH diamonds, after all, so that should help us to understand the conditions needed to make peridotite.
Well, you might ask, what about their intrinsic velocity, aren’t they going about 30 km per second? Well, yes, but what counts is not the intrinsic speed but their relative speed. Are they hitting head on? No. They are all going the same direction around the same, so the important thing is are they not going the same speed? A car going 100.000001 miles per hour bumping a car going in the same direction at 100.000002 miles per hour isn’t going to do much damage, even though both are going fast.
But let’s imagine one of the asteroids going the wrong way down the Asteroid Belt’s one-way street. It hits another asteroid at a closing speed of 60 km/sec. What happens to the asteroids? Mostly they become debris. If they hit a glancing blow or a take a direct center-to-center hit, only the vector force of the centers of gravity might fuse together, but then again maybe not. We may find meteors at the bottoms of craters, but we don’t seem to hae any reports of fused meteor materials. In craters we DO find shocked quartz and sich impact materials as nanodiamonds – but they are all DAMNED small. 99.99999% of the energy blew a big hole and blew stuff far away, perhaps for MILES or tens of miles. But with all that hyper pressure and hyper temperatures, there is an insignificant amount of fusing going on. Enough to see particles in microscopes and super microscopes, but not much else.
So where does the pressure come from for Allende’s meteorite to form all those chondrules and the matrix between them and fuse them so solidly out there in space that when it hit the ground on Earth the impact didn’t turn it to dust? That meteorite is cohered together quite well, I assure you.
So how did it form itself? What amount of forces did it see, and what provided the force? 24 gP and 2,000°C are needed, more or less. 3.9 million psi and about 3600°F. Hotter than some of the hottest kilns. And the pressure of the deep mantle.
The Oort Cloud NOT
We are told that comets form in the Oort cloud, which is 50,000 AU – 50,000 times as far from the Sun as is Earth. And unlike the other bodies revolving around the Sun, the comets in the Oort cloud aren’t in one disk, like Saturns rings. No, they are a globular shell around the Sun, just wandering around and with sufficient angular velocity so that the never fall into the Sun – unless a wandering star comes by and nudges the comet toward the Sun, to begin its long slow fall. Such a wandering star is a figment of their imagination as far as I know. They haven’t ever seen ONE object in the Oort cloud, much less a wandering star. You see, the wandering star would have to be NOT revolving around the center of the galaxy like everything else. Perhaps it is like the asteroid going the wrong way on a one-way street. But if it didn’t have sufficient velocity it would fall into the Sun itself.
The Oort cloud is an especially untenable idea in terms of accretion. Though it is populated by maybe a trillion comets now, according to theory, the radius is so far out from the Sun that the volume of space covered by those comets that hypothetically exist there means that their spacing (as they themselves say) is such that sufficient accretion could not be possible – not like in the asteroid belt, for example. It is imagined basically that the Oort cloud is like the asteroid belt, except moved a vast distance outward and then smeared up from the ecliptic to form a full sphere instead of a disk of objects. How many are there? Why exactly the number the astronomers say is needed to do the accreting they hypothesize. Except accreting doesn’t work the way they believe. When an idea has no physical evidence, its supporters can claim anything and get away with it. I say “the way they believe” because, as I’ve explained above, the forces of accretion are inadequate by many factors of ten. The gravitational forces are simply too low to provide the pressures of a multi-anvil press such as we need here on Earth, not to mention the lack of equally necessary 2000°C heat. Millions of impacts over the billions of years? All those would do is pulverize them, not accrete them.
Lagrange and Laplace
The Titius-Bode Law for the spacing of the planets says that if you were to assign the Earth’s orbit radius a value of 10, then each planet’s orbit is at a distance of 4 + n from the Sun, where n = 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48. This holds true very nicely for the planets out to Saturn – except for one thing: there is a mysterious gap between Mars and Saturn, which was obvious to everyone who learned about the Titius-Bode Law when it was proposed. This very real observational gap was not filled by scientists until the discovery of the first asteroids. Right where the gap should have been a planet. What was the also obvious next thought? That the asteroids were debris from what used to be a planet.
This is cool stuff, and it could be just a curiosity – a coincidence. But the scientists of the 1700s didn’t think so. That was when they started finding the asteroids. Some of them thought that a planet had exploded and that the asteroids were the debris from that explosion. Foremost among these was Hans Olbrs, who first wrote in 1802 to William Herschel and others proposing the idea. Among the adherents to the idea were Joseph-Louis Lagrange, who in 1814 found additional reason to consider the proposal: it seemed to explain the elongated orbits of comets.
In 2001 in Nature Derek Richardson of U of Maryland wrote:
A common misconception is that asteroids are the remains of a large planet that mysteriously exploded long ago. Today there is hardly enough material in the asteroid belt to make a small moon, let alone a planet. . .
. . . The ‘planetesimal hypothesis’ of planet formation, a modern-day version of theories proposed by Kant and Laplace in the eighteenth century, states that the planets formed when smaller bodies collided and stuck together.
The second part I have addressed above. It is up to the reader to judge whether I’ve done so effectively.
The first part of the above is neither here nor there. Without analyzing where the material of such an exploded planet would go, it is impossible to say how much would remain in the Asteroid Belt. I think it would be quite small. If material is exploded outward in a 360° by 360° pattern, very little would remain in the ecliptic (only about 1/360th), and of that much would go very quickly into the Sun or Jupiter. If 2/3 of that within 1/2° the ecliptic on either side was absorbed by the Sun or Jupiter, then we would have about only 1/1000th of the original material left to comprise the Asteroid Belt. That sounds about right to me, for some reason.
Seriously, with the Sun on one side attracting debris headed its way and with Jupiter doing the same right next door, much of the debris exploded outward along the ecliptic would relatively soon be erased from existence. In addition, we would expect the planets to have been bombarded by impacts over their entire surfaces. ALSO, if it was of short enough duration, one might even wonder if one side of moons that are tidally locked to their parents (like our Moon) to be have an increased amount of cratering on one side versus the other. And ours DOES. The far side of the Moon is more heavily cratered than the side facing Earth.
And with the Oort cloud hypothesis claiming that a trillion objects are “way out there”, any alternative hypothesis should be able to claim many or all of those same objects for its own purposes. After all, if evidence for those objects exist (which isn’t true – no evidence does exist; they are only hypothesized within the Oort cloud hypothesis), then they don’t care which hypothesis put them there to be observed.
Yet that is part of the point here. Those hypotheses which support Laplace’s “standard theory” are allowed to exist untested by observation, while alternatives are given a much higher test bar to leap over, in addition to being asked to provide evidence – and when such evidence is provided it is dismissed with a wave of the hand as being inadequate. Van Flandern had so many hoops to jump through that he wrote at least two times about the difficulty of even getting people to think about it.
And yet, back in the 1800s, when the die was cast accepting Laplace’s and Kant’s proposal, no evidence at all existed to prove their case. It was one argument versus the other. He said – She said. But Lagrange died in the middle of the arguments, and his side lost its champion, so Laplace and Kant won by default. And ever since then people have simply accepted the accretion theory – the planetary nebula theory.
The Planetary Nebula Theory
This theory is founded 100% on the idea that collisions between smaller bodies will cause them to accrete, to fuse together. But such does not ever happen with real-world tests.
Peter Schultz at Brown University has run laboratory hyper-velocity experiments to observe the formation of impact craters under different conditions. His ‘gun’ accelerates small steel balls into surfaces and with very high-speed cameras he is able to learn certain things. The balls hit with about 1/5 the velocity of meteors hitting the Earth’s surface. One result of his impacts is that the target materials are pulverized and broken up. The materials do not fuse to the steel ball.
Perhaps a steel ball is the wrong object to impact with? The Allende meteorite is very nearly 25% iron, so perhaps steel is not altogether an inappropriate material to use.
Perhaps if accelerated to 100% of the velocity of incoming meteors Schultz’s experiments the materials will accrete more completely? Perhaps. But until then his work is the best we’ve got. And it shows that impacts destroy, not build.
So, what am I concluding? Basically that the accretion theory needs to look at the mechanism of accretion in physical laboratory experiments, to see if the idea even works at all. Because if it doesn’t, then the entire planetary nebular theory goes down the tubes, not just the asteroidal accretion theory. If accretion doesn’t work for asteroids, it certainly doesn’t work for planets.
But lets give it one last chance. Let’s suppose that once two objects impact at full meteor velocity, and after that has pulverized them, there is a cloud of dust within a few millions of miles that eventually will drift back together. And if this happens enough times, the dust will build up and build up and build up. So that would agree with the nebular theory, right?
Not necessarily. There are two problems that come to mind. If they drift back down together, how fast are they going? They exited at hyper-velocity, so their trajectories upon return should also be at about the same velocity. So new ‘landings’ should be as destructive somewhat as bad as the original impact. it would take a LONG time for such impacts to occur, because the original impact would have driven them outward at a horrific velocity, meaning they would be VERY far out before they turned around and began to move toward each other again. Far out means almost certainly they would exceed the escape velocity of the other bodies going in the opposite direction. Exceeding escape velocity means that they will NOT return. We would have instead an ever expanding cloud of dust particles. No accretion would occur.
Or at least very little. Those particles driven off in nearly the same direction perhaps would attract toward each other and then form bigger objects, right? Well, yes and no. Being so small from the pulverization, the attractive force of gravity between any two dust particles would be exceedingly small. With such small force bringing them together, the force of their impact would lose its ability to fuse them together – which was impossible in the first place, so what am I talking about? No, the two would if anything come to rest lightly against each other, like the force of two pieces of sand hanging down on the ends of two strings. They would form what is called a “strengthless body” – one held together so tenuously that the slightest force would cause them to separate, perhaps in a proverbial “cloud of dust.” This term is used to describe some comets.
THAT is what I see in terms of the nebular theory – that if any bodies come together in the way they propose, then those bodies would strongly tend to be strengthless bodies. And if that is what exists, then where in the hell did solid bodies like the pre-earth-impact Allende meteorite out in space come from?
What it says to me is that their theory doesn’t work and we need to go back to the drawing board.
Do I myself have an explanation for solid bodies out in space, including alloyed iron-nickel bodies or bodies that contain olivine and peroditite and garnet? All I know is that those had to have been forged – LITERALLY!!! – under extraordinarily high pressures like exist in the Earth’s mantle, and that such pressures simply do not exist in space. Momentary events like impacts are inadequate to the job, so what else can possibly have happened?
I have enough humility to say, “I don’t know.”
One last note:
I don’t take sides in the debate, but the Electric Universe folks are ridiculed by mainstream astronomers who say that electromagnetism has zero to do with celestial mechanics.
In this planetary nebula accretion area, though, I’ve seen mention of electromagnetic attraction being called upon to provide more attractive force for accretion. This is rather hypocritical of astronomers, for them to claim the authority to pick and choose when electromagnetism is part of what is going on – and when to exclude it. Evidently they think they can turn on electromagnetism whenever they like, and turn it off again just as easily, like a car radio On-Off dial. That is rather duplicitous of them, IMHO. Evidently electromagnetism needs their permission.
Meteor: The luminous phenomenon observed when a meteoroid is heated by its entry into the earth’s atmosphere; shooting star; falling star [Webster's]
Meteorite: That part of a relatively large meteoroid that survives passage through the atmosphere and falls to the surface of a planet or moon as a mass of metal or stone
Meteoroid: Any of the many small, solid bodies traveling through outer space, which are seen as meteors when they enter the earth’s atmosphere
Asteroid: Any of the thousands of small planets ranging from 1,000 km (621 mi) to less than one km (0.62 mi) in diameter, with orbits usually between those of Mars and Jupiter; minor planet; planetoid
Comet: A celestial object that orbits the Sun along an elongated path. [Science Dictionary]
Oort Cloud: A sphere-shaped mass of more than 100 billion comets that makes up the outer edge of the solar system, surrounding the Kuiper belt and the planets. Some comets from this area are drawn into the inner solar system by passing stars and other forces and take more than 200 years to make one complete orbit of the Sun. [Science Dictionary]
Accretion: Astronomy The accumulation of additional mass in a celestial object by the drawing together of interstellar gas and surrounding objects by gravity.