What is the Planetary Theory about? Why all the Fuss?

Posted: March 31, 2014 by tallbloke in Astrophysics, Celestial Mechanics, climate, cosmic rays, Cycles, Electro-magnetism, Natural Variation, paleo, solar system dynamics

wpid-PRP-Censured.jpgOver the last five years there’s been a revival of an old hypothesis which suggests that the motion of the planets around the Sun modulates its output, and that variation in the Sun’s output affects the Earth’s weather and in the longer term, shifts in regional and global climate. This revival has been most visible here in the blogosphere, where ideas can be kicked around with less professional reputational risk, and a faster exchange and development of concepts and narratives can take place. There has also been a steady trickle of papers published in the scientific literature relevant to the theory, and these have been championed and denigrated by bloggers on both sides of the issue.

Naturally, in the overheated atmosphere of the climate debate, the second part of the idea is especially controversial, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change telling us that human emitted ‘greenhouse gases’ are the primary driver of global warming since the middle of the last century. They also say the Sun’s variation has very little effect on climate change. An IPCC author recently took exception to our special edition on the theory and got the journal we published it in axed. The first part of the idea is controversial too, as the received wisdom from most mainstream solar physicists is that the planets are too small and too far from the Sun for their motion to affect it. They are sure that the Sun runs an internal ‘dynamo’ (Babcock & Leighton) and ‘chronometer’ (Dicke) which accounts for the observations of its cyclic variations that have been made over the centuries.

It’s best to break it down and separate these two issues, so we can look at the merits of the individual parts of the theory and discuss them. In this post I’ll just deal with the first part of the theory, so it doesn’t get too long. Even this first part is a big subject so I’ll briefly gloss it in this post, with links to previous posts and other material embedded for those who find the subject interesting to refer to.

In a nutshell, it is the hypothesis that the solar system is a system in the fullest sense of the word. That is: As well as the sun having a big effect on the planets (warming them with its radiation, keeping them in their orbits with its gravity, warding off a lot of the galactic cosmic rays from entering with its solar wind etc), the planets also have an effect on each other, and on the sun, causing its complicated motion around the centre of mass of the solar system, modulating solar magnetic activity and the production of sunspots.

Issac Newton in his famous book ‘Principia Mathematica’ described the motion of the sun around the centre of mass, but held the opinion that ‘the sun feels no forces’ because according to his theory of Gravitation, the sun would be ‘in free-fall’.

So why do proponents of the planetary theory think the planets can affect the sun?

Firstly, Newton, although he quantified the gravitational force, didn’t try to explain what gravity was, or how it has its effect on matter. “I frame no hypotheses” he famously said. He lived in an age when ‘Natural Philosophy’ was trying to escape ideas which involved ‘action at a distance’. But gravity seemed to be an ‘action at a distance’ force par exellence.

Secondly, Newtons laws of motion deal with idealized objects which are homogenous, rigid, point-like  and free of frictional and other forces. We don’t know much about the interior of the sun, but we do know its surface layers are much less dense than its deeper layers, and that the density gradient from surface to core may not be linear. We also know the surface layers are highly mobile and fluid, and are highly magnetized and that vast amounts of energy are pouring through them from the interior and out into interplanetary space. It is surrounded by the heliomagnetic field it generates, and this has magnetic fields ‘frozen in’ to the plasma it ejects into space. This means the sun might get jiggled around internally as it moves in its complicated dance around the solar system barycenter.

Thirdly, there appear to be correlations between changes in solar activity (particularly sunspot number) and the inter-related motions of the planets over the course of time. Paul D. Jose in his 1965 paper showed a coincidence between the changes in the sun’s angular momentum as it jiggled around the solar sytem’s center of mass, and the number of sunspots appearing on its surface. This correlation has recently been investigated by the world’s foremost experts on using proxy records of radio-nucleides such as the Carbon 14 and Beryllium 10 isotopes. They have found that the Fourier analysis of the time series they have produced shows periodicities which match periods occurring in the interactions of the planets as they revolve about the Sun. My co-blogger Tim Channon has created a model of these periods which generates a curve which matches the data quite well, considering the difficulties and uncertainties involved in the analysis of core samples used in building the isotope time series. Here’s a plot covering 9000 years of solar activity variation as reconstructed from the Beryllium 10 and Carbon 14 proxies.


Steinhilber, Beer and Frohlich 2009 10Be data vs model generated from planetary periods.

Steinhilber, Beer and Frohlich 2009 10Be proxy reconstruction of solar activity vs model generated from planetary periods.

Another contributor at this website, R.J Salvador, has built a model using planetary periods which replicates the Sun’s output over the period of the sunspot record from 1749 which achieves a correlation of over 90%

R.J Salvador's sloar-planetary model (white line) vs sunspot number

R.J Salvador’s solar-planetary model (white line) vs sunspot number

In my own research, I found that when the speed of the solar wind is taken into account, and the alignment of the planets is considered along the lines of energy emitted from the Sun called the Parker Spiral, the simple planetary alignment index created by NASA scientist Ching Cheh Hung can emulate not only the timings of the solar cycles well, but their shape too in some cases.

Plot generated using a modified version of Roy Martin’s tidal model

This should be enough to whet the appetite of those who haven’t seen this stuff before, and are interested to find out more. In the next post on the Planetary Theory, I’ll go into some more detail on the various mechanisms which have been proposed to explain the correlations which clearly exist. That’ll also give me the opportunity to introduce some of the other researchers involved in developing the Planetary Theory.

  1. ishtarsgate says:

    Brilliant piece, Rog. Do you mind if I reblog it on The Therapy Book?

  2. tallbloke says:

    Thanks Ishtar, you’re more than welcome to repost it. We want to get the word out far and wide.

  3. […] Many thanks to Rog Tallbloke for giving us permission to re-blog this article from his excellent Tallbloke’s Talkshop. […]

  4. I have not looked into this theory at all, nor do I feel any need to do so right now, considering what is already being done (as my concerns involve needed correction to ALL of the earth and life sciences, in the face of my greater discovery, of a deliberate design imposed upon the world, which disproves the fundamental assumptions behind them all). I feel I should point out to you, though, that according to my Venus/Earth atmospheric temperatures comparison, the atmosphere is fundamentally warmed, to the stable Standard Atmosphere temperatures, by direct absorption of incident solar radiation, so only the local level of solar intensity affects the temperature at any given pressure in the troposphere. The point is, it is not the total solar intensity responsible, and not changes in that total solar which are responsible for changes in the temperature; it is just that portion of the incident solar which is directly absorbed in the troposphere that counts. Now that portion is in the infrared (IR). Some consideration has been given by others in the past to changes just in the UV portion of the incident solar (which can be many times as large, fractionally, as changes in the total solar), but to my knowledge no one has yet grasped that, in the context of the tropospheric temperature profile, identification of the precise IR portion responsible for tropospheric warming, and especially the relative changes in that warming portion (which may also be many times the relative change in total solar) is necessary to explain changes in the global mean surface temperature. Whether or not changes in planetary configurations substantially affect that portion (or may even be the primary cause of the changes in that portion), which I also doubt (but do not have the evidence to dismiss out of hand), is a secondary consideration, in my opinion. Science must first identify that direct warming portion, so that variations in that portion can be investigated, and compared with global temperature changes on Earth.

  5. […] and these have been championed and denigrated by bloggers on both sides of the issue. – Click here to read the full article […]

  6. pochas says:

    “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.” – Charles Barkley

    Instead of ‘settled science,’ some rascals like to contemplate ideas that may be wrong.

  7. tallbloke says:

    Pochas: In science, I sometimes think that judging ideas to be right or wrong is less useful than judging them to be useful or useless. At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be any other hypothesis which offers as much explanatory power for the variations of 10be, 14C, sunspot numbers or planetary orbital and axial rotation rates. Nor one able to make predictions of solar activity levels beyond a decade.

    Have a look at the plots and predictions R.J. Salvador has just put up on the McCracken thread:

  8. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Rog;Good start.
    I think you have a typo: R.J Salvador’s sloar-planetary model. sloar?
    carry on 😉 pg

  9. tallbloke says:

    Thanks PG: Fixed.

  10. ren says:

    The influence of the sun on climate is clearly visible in our time. Sufficed a weaker cycle in the 70 -‘s and the temperature dropped, like it is now. This is particularly evident in the graph of cosmic radiation. Important is the length of the period of low activity.

  11. gallopingcamel says:

    Harry Dale Huffman says that you can explain planetary surface temperatures without considering the radiative properties of trace gases such as CO2.

    Clearly he is right on the science. However, when he says there is no Greenhouse Effect it is not science but semantics.

    I think of the Greenhouse Effect as the difference between the temperature of a planet with an atmosphere compared to the same planet without an atmosphere.

    Applying this concept to Earth it is my opinion that without an atmosphere the average temperature would be ~200 K in contrast with the average 288 K we now enjoy. Thus I would claim that the “Greenhouse Effect” is 88 K.

    Can anyone explain 88 K in terms of the CO2 or even water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere? I won’t be holding my breath waiting for a response.

  12. ren says:

    The greenhouse effect is a grace for life. If it were not temperature differences would be enormous. Even between day and night.

  13. ren says:

    The role of the atmosphere as our protection is huge. For example, ozone captures not only UV but also deadly cosmic rays and the Earth reaches only secondary radiation.

  14. p.g.sharrow says:

    A greenhouse prevents convection and circulation to contain heat inside. The earths’ atmosphere retains energy by its’ mass and insulation value. “Greenhouse effect” is great linguistic prose but has nothing to do with the science of retention of heat at the earths surface. pg

  15. ren says:

    Tallbloke, as I wrote to Russian winter is back, and the Dakotas takes a snowstorm.

  16. oldbrew says:

    People who confuse ‘effects’ with ’causes’ have their logic upside down, leading to many of the wild claims of current climate science.

  17. Chaeremon says:

    @team tallbloke, I stumbled over this statement of researchers “Oscillations are an obligatory artifact that one always gets when many points interact.”

    Will keep an eye on the kind of premises and proof which makes the statement work, FWIW.

  18. oldbrew says:

    And then there’s cyclostratigraphy.

    ‘Cyclostratigraphy is the study of astronomically forced climate cycles within sedimentary successions. Astronomical cycles are variations of the Earth’s orbit around the sun due to the gravitational interaction with other masses within the solar system. Due to this cyclicity solar irradiation differs through time on different hemispheres and seasonality is affected. These insolation variations have influence on earth’s climate and so on the deposition of sedimentary rocks.’


    Photo caption:
    ‘The nature of sediments can vary in a cyclic fashion, and these cycles can be displayed in the sedimentary record – here visible in the colouration and resistance of strata.’

    Cyclic deposits

    More here, plus a link to this science paper:
    ‘Cyclostratigraphy and the astronomical time scale’


  19. Truthseeker says:

    I think that Harry Huffman’s main point (and GallopingCamel’s as well if I understand it correctly) is that the composition of the atmosphere has no impact on the ambient temperature of that planetary atmosphere. Having an atmosphere makes a difference. What the atmosphere is made up of does not. That is the important point. Clouds are important because they are clouds, not because they are made up of water vapour or methane.