Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 11, 2014

Podcast Episode 106: A Fission Origin for the Planets, Part 2ing

Could planets have formed
By budding off a young Sun?
Or, does that not work?

Several corrections and additions from the last episode form the lead-in to this one, going from forming the moon by budding off Earth to forming planets by budding off the Sun. The vast majority of this episode is a discussion of the material by the late Tom van Flandern, who was probably the most recent and vocal advocate of the model, excluding one with whom I was promised a debate that has not yet materialized.

This episode gets us back to the ~half-hour format, though besides the main segment, there is only some feedback and brief announcements of some upcoming interviews. More on that when they happen and are posted.

The episode was brought to you by:

  • Argument from Personal Incredulity
  • False Dichotomy
  • False Analogy
  • Cherry-Picking
  • Quote-Mining
  • Non sequitur


  1. Thanks very much for your hard work on this one, I loved it to death. There’s something else that’s always bothered me about van Flandern’s model. It’s this passage from his treatise:

    “The spin-up of the proto-Sun will make it first oblate, then prolate as it approaches an overspin state where centrifugal forces exceed gravitational forces. This shape is called a “Maclaurin spheroid.” When the star-disk boundary reaches the overspin condition, the two prolate bulges on opposite sides of the proto-Sun break away and form twin proto-planets in low orbits just above the proto-star surface in the inner disk.”


    A prolate spheroid DOESN’T HAVE BULGES AT THE EQUATOR, by definition. Am I missing something?

    Comment by Expat — April 12, 2014 @ 8:32 am | Reply

    • Glad you liked it. And no, I don’t understand why van Flandern thought that a prolate (maybe he meant oblate?) spheroid would do that, and I still don’t know why he thought it would spit out two things, as opposed to one, or three, or thirty. You would have to have some sort of mass concentration somewhere on the edge, and THAT would be what would bud off.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 12, 2014 @ 9:20 am | Reply

  2. Anyone who’s played KSP will know how much energy it takes to change the plane of an orbit “only” 5.1° – let alone the “18.4-28.6°” it actually needs to be where it is. That would be one heck of a collision, which I *suspect* would leave some non-subtle evidence besides just an orbit tilt…

    Comment by David Johnson — April 14, 2014 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

    • But see, it totally works if you wave your hands around a lot.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — April 14, 2014 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  3. You answered all my questions about this topic.

    Comment by Jennifer — June 2, 2014 @ 7:16 am | Reply

  4. sorry for this meta question, I can’t figure out another way to contact you. How do I actually listen to the podcast – I can’t find a link. Or are these too old, and off the web?

    Comment by retroformat — August 12, 2015 @ 8:35 am | Reply

  5. THanks Stuart, I have read the transcript now. Yours is a good rebuttal of TvF’s theory regarding the fission theory. Your points regarding the various non-matching inclinations of orbits and non-matching planet chemistry are quite convincing. If only Tom were still alive I’d get him to elucidate! Your position that his theory “requires” four planets to blow up is also interesting. On the one hand you are arguing from incredulity (fair enough, I find it hard to believe also), but on the other hand, TvF’s continuing to add exploded planets to the solar system (in his later years) did look an awful lot like arbitrary parameter tweaking – the very same thing for which Tom blasts cosmologists, when he argues against them vis a vis the Big Bang.
    Thanks again for your blog – yours are the most intelligent and polite refutations of theories that I’m fond of…

    Comment by retroformat — August 12, 2015 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

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