William B Stoecker
The planets that never were
June 15, 2019 | 3 comments
Image Credit: NASA
There has long been a theory that at least some UFOs are craft from one or more alien planets. But which planets? Decades ago it was possible to speculate about Mars and Venus being habitable worlds, but the discoveries of the space age have shown Venus to be a hellish oven of a planet and Mars is a frozen desert with (we are told) an atmosphere that is little more than a vacuum. Aside from the fact that Mars, while certainly cold, dry, and lacking oxygen, may have a denser atmosphere than NASA claims, both these worlds may have been very different in the distant past. Indeed, even NASA believes that Mars once had surface water, including an ocean, and denser air. In a previous print magazine article I wrote about how even Venus may once have been livable until being struck by a massive asteroid. But today most speculation about space visitors focuses on other solar systems.
Despite the vast distances involved, alien civilizations might send unmanned probes perhaps possessing AI (artificial intelligence). Or actual biological entities might arrive after generations on an ark ship with artificial gravity and sunlight and a complete ecosystem aboard, including growing plants. Or there may be some loophole in the laws of physics... perhaps, as some have speculated, spacecraft could be designed that would not accelerate in our space, but could create a sort of bubble of their own space, and then propel the bubble across the light years between the stars. No one has any idea if this is possible or not, or how it might be done.
As to the existence of habitable extra-Solar planets, astronomers estimate that there are anywhere from 100 to 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone. If just one in a thousand was orbited by a planet hosting an advanced species, that would be 100 to 400 million worlds. And we are discovering that most stars do, indeed, have their own planetary systems. But are these habitable?
Most people are not aware that the overwhelming majority of our galaxy's stars are near the center or in the densely packed globular star clusters. And these are mostly very old stars with low "metallicity," meaning that they are almost entirely composed of hydrogen, with practically none of the carbon and oxygen needed for life, or the silicon and iron and other elements needed to have solid planets. And where stars are densely packed, any planets would likely suffer relatively frequently from the disastrous effects of nearby supernovae. In fact, with so many nearby stars, many such planets would also suffer from dangerous thermal buildup.
Of the remaining stars out in the more habitable galactic arms, the majority are small red dwarf stars, which remain on the main sequence for a very long time, and which do usually have planets. The problem is that the "Goldilocks zone" for such stars, the region where it is not going to be too hot or too cold, is small and close to the stars. Planets in this zone would be tidally stressed and heated internally, adding to the internal heat produced by the planet itself, causing massive volcanism. Such worlds would be dangerous and unstable and might not even have solid crusts. Eventually the planets would become tide-locked to their stars, with one side baking in the red sunlight and the other enduring a bitterly cold and unending night. Some astronomers have suggested that strong winds would even out the temperatures somewhat, but such winds would themselves make it difficult to establish a civilization. And there would be nothing to prevent all the atmospheric moisture from evaporating from the hot side and falling as snow on the cold side, to remain there permanently. And many of the rocky, solid worlds similar to our home are "super-Earths," whether orbiting red dwarfs or larger and hotter stars. Everywhere we look, large objects generate proportionately more heat than smaller objects... stars are hotter than planets; massive Jupiter is hotter inside than less massive Earth; and Earth's core is hotter than our Moon's. Super Earths would likely be so active volcanically that life could scarcely survive there, let alone civilizations.
Our own solar system, although it may have been very unstable in its early history, with planets like Jupiter drifting closer to the Sun and then further away, seems stable today and designed for life. The big gas giant planets like Jupiter are far from the Sun, unlikely to destabilize our own world's orbit with their massive gravity. And, nearer the Sun, we have the solid, rocky worlds like Earth, which sits in the middle of the "Goldilocks zone" where a world can have temperatures conducive to life. Earth even has a Moon massive enough to stabilize our axial tilt to some degree. But most other solar systems discovered to date are nothing like our own, with "hot Jupiters," gas planets close to their parent stars. Either they formed near their stars before the stars began generating massive amounts of energy or they migrated in.
We are assured by astrophysicists that in perhaps five billion years our Sun will leave the "main sequence" of stellar evolution, and, running low on hydrogen fuel, will expand into a red giant star and destroy the Earth. What most people don't know is that our Sun (according to these same astrophysicists) has been slowly getting hotter since it was formed perhaps 4.6 billion years ago. In as little as half a billion more years it will probably make our world uninhabitable. This means that a civilized species has but a comparatively short window in time to develop spaceflight and, if need be, migrate to safety.
All these factors make advanced civilizations likely to be very rare. This does not mean that we cannot have been visited by people from across the galaxy, but it makes it seem less likely, and casts doubt on the idea of galactic federations organizing dozens of intelligent species. But some people have not given up on the idea that the UFOs come from somewhere in our own Solar System. In my previous article I pointed out that our Earth is roughly in the middle of the Goldilocks zone, but Venus and Mars are still within it, although at its margins. Venus could have been a very different world and may have been destroyed by a massive asteroid impact. But others have speculated that there may be a "counter Earth," or that once a planet orbited where now there are only asteroids, or even that there is a world called "Nibiru" with a very unstable orbit.
The hypothetical counter Earth would be orbiting at the same distance from our Sun as Earth does, but would be opposite us in its orbit, always concealed by the Sun. Of course, our unmanned spacecraft would have detected it, so the idea is no longer tenable. But then, it never was. First, notice that there is no counter Jupiter, for example, or counter Mars. Why would Earth be the only planet in the Solar System with such a counter world? It appears that each of our planets has pretty much cleared out the potential planet-forming material in each orbit. However, to be fair, I must point out that each planet has five stable planet-Sun Lagrange points, small regions that can collect asteroids, dust, and the like. Earth's L1 point is a little closer to the Sun than we are, and it keeps pace with us as we orbit the Sun. The L2 is further from the Sun than Earth. The L3 is opposite the Sun at the same distance, and this could theoretically hold a planet. The L4 is in our orbit a little ahead of us, and the L5 is behind us. However, a counter Earth's gravity would perturb the orbits of the other planets, especially Venus, so we would have known about it long before the space age began. And Venus' gravity would also perturb the orbit of the counter Earth, bringing it periodically into view, and the same holds true for the elliptical nature of our own orbit. This didn't prevent author John Norman from writing 32 science fiction novels about this imaginary world, but scarcely anyone takes the idea seriously today.
Then there is the hypothetical fifth planet that might have existed between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Today there is no planet there, just a belt of asteroids and dwarf planets; the largest is Ceres, with a 950 kilometer diameter. Their estimated total mass is only four percent of the mass of our Moon, not enough to have constituted a real planet, but some astronomers believe that, had a full-sized planet once existed there, much of its mass may have fallen into the Sun, or into Jupiter, or escaped to orbits outside the present asteroid belt. And there are other, smaller collections of asteroids and comets, like the Kuiper Belt of asteroids, comets, and planetesimals beyond the orbit of Neptune, which includes such dwarf planets as Pluto and Sedna, and then the vast Oort Cloud of comets, extending perhaps two light years and perhaps overlapping with a similar cloud around the "nearby" star, Proxima Centauri. Understand that there is no sharp and agreed on size where an asteroid can be called a planetesimal, nor is there a sharp line between the chemical composition of asteroids and comets. Comets, presumably formed out in the colder parts of our Solar System, have a large proportion of "ices," volatiles including water ice, which vaporize when a comet approaches the Sun, forming a vast coma around the comet, and a tail. After many sunward passes these ices evaporate, leaving silicates and other solids, and the comet is now an asteroid. And asteroids themselves vary in composition, with carbonaceous chondrites containing some ices (they may have provided most of Earth's water when our planet first formed) and organic compounds, and stony asteroids being composed mainly of silicates, and nickel-iron asteroids proving that they are, indeed, remnants of a planet with a stony crust and nickel-iron core... or, alternatively, they are the shattered remnants of planetesimals which, long ago, melted internally (perhaps partly due to energetic collisions with one another), allowing gravitational separation by density. The presence of diamonds in some meteorites might indicate that they formed in a massive enough planet to have the strong internal pressures needed for their formation... or, again, collisions might have supplied the pressure. Many astronomers believe that the asteroids are too different chemically from one another, especially with regard to isotope ratios, to have been part of one planet, indicating that they were prevented... presumably by Jupiter's perturbing gravity... from ever forming a single world.
But even if there was once a planet there, it would have been outside the Goldilocks zone. Mars is cold, but the fifth planet would have been even colder. It is unlikely to have produced an intelligent surface dwelling species and an advanced civilization.
As an aside, author and researcher Michael Bara has suggested that Mars may have begun as a moon of planet five. He points to two 180 degree opposite bulges in the Martian crust, the Tharsis and Arabia bulges, as evidence that Mars was tide locked as it orbited a larger world. Maybe so... and the bulges require an explanation and should not simply be ignored... but the Titus-Bode Law (or, rather, pattern) seems to indicate that separate planets should have formed where Mars and the asteroids now orbit.
And all of this brings us to Zecharia Sitchin and his planet Nibiru. Sitchin had degrees in economics and journalism, but claimed to be a self-taught expert on ancient Mesopotamian languages, which, he insisted, told of a planet called "Nibiru" with a very eccentric 3,600 year orbit, inhabited by a space-faring culture he called the "Annunaki," which he sometimes confused with the Biblical story of the Nephilim. But "Nephilim" simply means "giants," and the Annunaki were Sumerian gods or demigods. Sitchin's detractors, including many archaeologist and people whose knowledge of Mesopotamian languages is recognized by major universities, disagree strongly with all his interpretations. They say no Mesopotamian language mentions any planet "Nibiru," or associates the Annunaki with a planet. Sitchin claims that when Nibiru makes one of its relatively brief sunward forays (the planet spends most of its time beyond the orbit of Pluto) its inhabitants use rockets to visit Earth, rockets which require lengthy runways. Long ago, he says, they interbred with apes on Earth to create the human species to mine gold for them... to somehow repair their atmosphere.
All of this makes so little sense that I scarcely know where to begin. First of all, there may well be one or more large planets beyond Pluto, but one with such an eccentric orbit would have disturbed the orbits of the known planets, leaving evidence of its passage... evidence which does not exist. And perhaps Sitchin is unaware that the Sun is what keeps us warm, and that it is cold beyond the orbit of Pluto, cold as in only a few degrees above absolute zero, cold that can freeze atmospheric gases solid. No surface dwelling intelligent species could develop on such a world, let alone build a civilization. And how could gold "repair" an atmosphere? It is a heavy, dense metal that cannot even be suspended well in a gaseous atmosphere, and it certainly does not produce heat that might thaw the frozen world. And why mine gold on Earth, when it would be easily found in nickel-iron asteroids? And we have rockets landing vertically... why do the Annunaki require long runways for theirs? And how did they land on Earth the first time, before building runways? And why breed a slave race? Why not use machines?
Since the "skeptics" movement is dominated by people defending the political, economic, and scientific "consensus" favored by our elites, since they are professional debunkers rather than true skeptics, shouldn't we alternative researchers and thinkers be the true skeptics? Should we not be open-minded but skeptical of status quo beliefs and alternative ideas alike, subjecting all to a careful, rational examination? And some ideas will not survive such an examination... of the three worlds discussed above, only planet five may possibly have existed, and it is unlikely to be the origin of UFOs. To solve that mystery, we will have to keep looking... and questioning.
William B Stoecker