Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 8, 2012

Podcast Episode 30: Was the Asteroid Belt a Planet? Part 2 (Exploding Planets!)

The follow-up to last episode, this one deals with Tom Van Flandern’s idea that Mars was a moon of an exploded planet that formed the asteroid belt 65 million years ago. So, last episode was basic science, this one gets back to some of those wacky and wonky ideas. Oh yeah … and lots of Coast to Coast clips!

I also spend around 10 minutes discussing feedback from the last episode.



  1. Stuart, you didn’t address my questions from Part 1 pertaining to mass calculations. If a planet exploded, how much would remain as identifiable debris, how much would have left the solar system, how much would have completely disintegrated, what about all the irregular satellites of Saturn?

    In an effort to rap up another episode of Stuart debunks stupid theories – your conclusions that the matter of the asteroid belt not being the remains of an exploded planet are incomplete and premature.

    Comment by Juice — April 9, 2012 @ 3:18 am | Reply

    • All of the corroborating evidence that Stuart reviewed points to no existence of any exploded planet. Essentially, you’re asking him to calculate a fictional value.

      The burden of proof is on those claiming the “exploded planet” hypothesis to demonstrate that Saturn’s smaller moons and other such debris were once part of a single body. Furthermore, the burden is on them to calculate the mass of this planet.

      Seeing how recent observational data is showing that the universe is replete with planetary systems, it seems odd that, throughout the history of astronomy, not one exploding planet has been observed. Surely such explosions would produce enough heat or light to be detected against the dark of space. Even if the odds of a planet exploding were one in a million, that would be sufficient odds for exploding planets to be regularly observed.

      Comment by 1000 Needles — April 9, 2012 @ 1:19 pm | Reply

      • Regarding your first two paragraphs: The burden of proof is on Stuart as he chose this topic to debunk the possibility of the asteroid belt being the remains of an exploded planet. And in fact in the comments section of Part I, he wrote to my above questions: “I will address this in the next episode.”

        Yet he did not address this, as promised. He did mass calculations in Part 1, yet he left out all the 38 irregular satellites of Saturn. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moons_of_Saturn

        “The remaining thirty-eight, all small except one, are irregular satellites, whose orbits are much farther from Saturn, have high inclinations, and are mixed between prograde and retrograde. These moons are probably captured minor planets, or debris from the breakup of such bodies after they were captured, creating collisional families”

        Perhaps he got tired or perhaps the truth would interfere with his premature & therefore unscientific conclusion that the asteroid belt originated from …… uh, I see, he does not know how the asteroid belt originated but he somehow knows, based on incomplete, aka erroneous mass calculations, that the asteroid belt was not at one time, a planet.

        Regarding no exploding planets have been observed to date: The ‘theory’ behind the planet in our solar sytem having blown up is related to activities of war, not a planet imploding due to natural causes, unless one includes man’s greed for power as part of nature.

        Comment by Juice — April 9, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

      • Juice/Bruce, I did address what you asked. The mass of the irregular satellites barely equals the mass of one regular one, let alone 20 Earth masses. In your comment to the last episode, you did not ask anything about fractions that would be disintegrated or left the solar system. And, dynamically, debris from an explosion would be very difficult to get into a captured orbit, even one that the irregular satellites follow.

        And you are incorrect, or you are using someone else’s ideas of exploding planets. Van Flandern had a specific reason that had nothing to do with wars. I’m guessing you’re referring to Meier’s writings on “Malona,” instead.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 9, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

  2. fwiw – wordpress is a pain in the ass with signing in & losing signins all the time

    Stuart, I don’t see where you answered but if you did, I apologize.

    My previous question was – “Stuart, in your mass/volume calculation you haven’t included Saturns adonids or irregular satellites as possible captured debris, nor have you done any work on percentages of remaining solid matter/material after explosions.”

    You wrote – “debris from an explosion would be very difficult to get into a captured orbit, even one that the irregular satellites follow” …. if that is true, how much of the debris would leave the solar system & how much would be trapped in an orbit around the sun?

    Also, what is the cause/origin of the asteroid belt if not an explosion/implosion of a planetary body or some collision between 2 or more bodies?

    Comment by Juice — April 11, 2012 @ 9:16 am | Reply

  3. Stuart,

    Regarding your reasoning – “Why It’s Not an Exploded Planet: Mass” – that the asteroid belt could not have been an exploded planet because the mass is too small:

    Click to access asteroids.pdf

    “Computer simulations suggest that the original asteroid belt may have contained mass equivalent to the Earth. Primarily because of gravitational perturbations, most of the material was ejected from the belt within about a million years of formation, leaving behind less than 0.1% of the original mass.”

    Comment by Juice — April 27, 2012 @ 2:44 am | Reply

    • Bruce, I thought that I addressed this point, but maybe I missed it. I think you have a misunderstanding of the difference between how much mass needed to be in a position of the solar nebula versus the amount of mass that can be turned into a planet. There’s also a disconnect there between your would-be planet and what’s claimed by Van Flandern.

      To put it succinctly, not all the mass in a “feeding zone” is turned into a planet, and a planet’s feeding zone does not extend throughout the entire range of the asteroid belt. Similarly, if a lot of planetesimals form throughout a region, those also will not all aggregate into a single planet, especially in a region so vast as the original asteroid belt, which may have extended between 1.5 and 5.2 A.Us. Barring gravitational influences from other things, that range is large enough to easily have produced several terrestrial-type planets that would be perfectly happy coexisting (just look at Mercury through Mars within a range of only 1.2 A.U.).

      Even given that, though, we’re still not talking about nearly enough material to form a gas giant-sized planet with a mass several 10s that of Earth, of which Mars could have been a moon.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 28, 2012 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

      • Stuart,

        I am not talking about origination of the asteroid belt, assuming it formed from the primordial solar nebula. The point being that if the asteroid belt was an exploded planet, per that link http://www.gps.caltech.edu/classes/ge133/reading/asteroids.pdf it could/would have originally contained a mass equivalent to Earth.

        Assuming the asteroid belt was an exploded planet, I don’t know the percentages of mass that would remain conglomerated as the rock material found in the asteroid belt as asteroids. Certainly a certain percentage of the mass, say water, sand, loose soil, etc., would be ejected and essentially lost forever. Do you have any idea how much mass would be retained as planetary rock bodies and how much would essentially be turned to dust & basically lost in space?

        Sorry for the 101 scientific phrasing but thus is the nature of your blog, to speak with and educate those of us not well versed in science or scientific lingo & thought, as well as those more versed in such matters..

        Comment by Juice — April 29, 2012 @ 5:02 am

      • There’s really no way to tell, as it depends fully upon how the explosion happened and the mechanics of it as it progressed. If it were an explosion like you’d see in Star Trek where everything is “vaporized,” then you wouldn’t have any large objects left. If it were like the Death Star’s aftermath, then apparently you’d get a rocky debris field. If it were like the Xindi superweapon in a Star Trek series-that-shall-not-be-named, then you would be left with very large chunks of material, though you’d still have the differentiation issue.

        Meanwhile, if it were a “very” powerful internal explosion like Van Flandern was saying, then he literally was saying that the debris would be blasted across the solar system so there’s no way you’d have a sizable asteroid belt left from an Earth-like original mass. You also would probably be hard-pressed to get any of the debris on a stable, circular orbit where the original planet was — the dynamics don’t really work out for that.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 29, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

  4. Great episode, very interesting. I’d not heard of Tom Van Flandern before, but by some strange co-incidence while hunting for pre ‘Face-on-Mars’ articles by Richard Hoagland that had appeared in Analog magazine I stumbled across an article entitled “And Then There Were Nine” by Trudy Bell in the June 1977 issue of Analog which covered an early version of the Van Flandern hypothesis.

    Two specific claims in it (And I do not believe them for a second) are, that all comets were created by the explosion and that their orbits could be calculated (By what seems like cherry-picking) to converge at 2.8 au and secondly that the lunar rilles were created by water after the Moon was blasted with polar ice from the exploded planet!

    Comment by Graham — June 9, 2012 @ 2:18 am | Reply

  5. Stuart Robbins, you say the “dynamics don’t really work out” for Tom van Flandern’s Exploded Planet Hypothesis. But elsewhere you say you’re into geology and image analysis. (I just started reading your blog, so I’m not cherry-picking, so much as I’m ignorant of everything with which you might have expertise). What is your background in celestial mechanics?

    Tom van Flandern was for many years the director of the celestial mechanics branch of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Now, I’ll admit the man had many novel ideas, some that were too far afield even for me, but the one thing I trusted him on was his interpretation of orbital data. He spent his entire life studying orbits in the solar system, and was an absolute expert in that field.

    Aside his expertise in orbital mechanics, his theory makes some logical sense, given what is seen in the solar system. Granted we do not know how a planet might explode. (There was a time not long ago, when we did not know how a star might explode…. they explode nonetheless.) Thus we also cannot characterize the explosion, nor argue one way or another what the debris field might look like, except maybe we can expect debris to have a spectrum of energies – from being instantly vaporized to (probably a minority) of relatively slowly moving larger remnants.

    But we can see this: a solar system that is full of apparent debris, behaving exactly as one would expect if that debris had one explosion as a common source. Where would this debris end up? There are three logical outcomes for debris (in addition to being vaporized): 1. ejection from the solar system 2. nearly ejected from the solar system (i.e. some debris may be falling back in for the first time even in the present era). and 3. material “captured” in the plane of the solar system, due to perturbations from the major planets.

    So the majority of material was likely vaporized, or went to 1. a minority of material ended up as 2. and is still raining back down onto the solar system from every conceivable direction, completely randomized (comets), and an even smaller minority ended up in 3. the asteroid belt. Regarding comets, and the mainstream explanation: the Oort cloud – that has always seemed more far-fetched than Tom’s exploded planet theory. Comets are to be disturbed into their sun-grazing orbits by passing stars? Come on, that’s ridiculous;-) How often do these stars come along? Why don’t we see them?

    What really conviced me about the EPH, and continues to do so, is his prediction of similarities between asteroids and comets, based on their common origin. Back in the 1980s, Tom predicted that asteroids and comets would have satellites, and he was hooted out of the room! Astronomers in unison derided this notion. How should a tiny asteroid be able to capture a moon? Impossible. Laughable. Tom provided the theoretical mechanism, and made the prediction with which to test his theory.

    And look now: nearly every asteroid observed by a probe has one or more satellites, and/or is a dual-lobed object (suggesting two similar sized objects orbiting one another then coming together). The mainstream has yet to come up with an answer to these mysterious observations. (Capture through collision is not going to work, because the energies are far too high).

    Boulders have been found on the surface of Eros, with roll marks showing that they came down softly onto the asteroid, having been satellites prior. This was a SPECIFIC prediction that Tom made, before the probe arrived at Eros – a ridiculous prediction to make from a mainstream perspective.

    Look at the results from comet 67P! a dual lobe object, looking not unlike any asteroid we’ve seen, with a hard surface (the lander bounced numerous times, contrary to expectation, of course), and – incredible – apparent differentiated geologic structure in the object! Just like you might see in a planetary sized body!

    You say you’re a geologist. Did the imagery of comet 67P not give you pause?

    The EPH also explains a lot of the odd things being found on mars – the evidence of recent flowing water, for example, which has no mainstream explanation at all. Or the fact that the crust of Mars is assymetrical: much thicker and heavily cratered on one hemisphere, and relatively thin and smooth on the opposite.

    The EPH might even explain the relative lack of cratering on Pluto, just recently noted by New Horizons. If the EPH was an inner solar system event, it would stand to reason that distant pluto would have taken less of a hit.

    THanks for your blog- I find it very interesting!

    Comment by retroformat — August 12, 2015 @ 8:18 am | Reply

  6. For anyone who may be interested, the “pushing gravity” theory, the one that explains the apparent gravitational attraction between massive bodies as a consequence of bodies “shadowing” one another from a continuous bombardment of innumerable “gravitons” (which are not the same as the hypothesized force carriers in the current theory, analogous to photons, gluons and the W and Z bosons, but more like neutrinos) was addressed by Richard Feynman in the second lecture of his 1964 Messenger Lectures series on the character of physical law. The lecture was entitled “The Relationship of Mathematics and Physics”, and the gravity question was covered starting around 6:28 of the recording in its generally-available format, and runs to about 10:48. As Feynman points out, it’s an attractive and simple theory that looks superficially promising, but it’s also incredibly easy to dismiss with only a little consideration of the consequences; you don’t need to look very deep to see fatal problems with the theory.

    Comment by Stan Rogers — May 24, 2016 @ 4:40 am | Reply

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