A look at Nelson’s 1951 planetary theory of short-wave radio propagation

Posted: April 8, 2015 by oldbrew in Celestial Mechanics, Uncategorized

Jodrell Bank radio telescope, Cheshire (UK) [credit: Mike Peel / Wikipedia]

Jodrell Bank radio telescope, Cheshire (UK)
[credit: Mike Peel / Wikipedia]

This is a new (to us) angle on certain lines of enquiry re. planetary theory in Talkshop blog posts.

John H. Nelson’s theory of propagation: Is there anything to it? – By David Dalton, K9WQ

In March 1951, John H. Nelson, an engineer for the RCA Communications Co. in New York, published an article in RCA Review describing a theory for predicting shortwave radio propagation over the North Atlantic. Nelson developed the theory by comparing planetary positions relative to the sun with logs of propagation conditions maintained at RCA’s receiving station at Riverhead, Long Island.

The article said that certain configurations of the six inner planets correlated with degraded propagation conditions. Nelson was not dogmatic about his theory. Rather, in the article and in a follow-up article published in May 1952, he encouraged further study [see footnote]. Nelson believed that his theory was about 85 percent accurate in its predictions.

As far as I can determine from searching the Web, few or no studies have been done to test Nelson’s theory. The theory appears to have been either neglected, or discounted based on studies that I am not aware of. Don C. Maier, a retired electrical engineer who met Nelson almost 50 years ago, had a copy of Nelson’s 1951 article which was given to him by Nelson, and the article was republished, with Maier’s comments, in the March/April 2000 issue of Infinite Energy magazine. Maier also encouraged further study and recognized that Nelson’s theory might be of particular interest to hams.

The republished article in Infinite Energy was the first I had heard of Nelson, and I was intrigued by the article. Though I have no particular training in astronomy, I do have experience with computer programming and the processing of data sets. I realized that it would not be too difficult to calculate many years of planetary ephemera and run the data through a program to check for the planetary configurations that Nelson correlated with degraded propagation.

Full story: Nelson's Theory of Propagation.

From a potted biography of John H Nelson:

‘”John frequently spoke to us in NYC at the Society for the Investigation of Recurring Events. He was very straightforward and down-to-earth about his work. With his telescope in his NJ driveway, he could predict magnetic storms with greater accuracy then could the US government.

“When asked by a listener, ‘Why does this work?’, he replied, ‘I don’t know. When you go to the pearly gates, you can ask the grand high muckety-muck…..and he probably don’t know either.’

Related: Planetary position effect on short-wave signal quality

Footnote: If anyone can find any relevant ‘further study’ please send us the links.

  1. oldbrew says:

    Here’s an example of one of Nelson’s planetary alignments, dated February 23rd 1948:
    [note the caption: ‘severe signal degradation’]

    And this is how Arnholm’s solar simulator shows it:

  2. tchannon says:

    So? A reaction based on a life knowledge and interest. Perhaps recall I’ve mentioned ionospheric effects on a number of occasions.

    Translating this into tangible effects at the surface is whole different matter.

    Lets wind the clock back a long time.
    My father worked in what was usually called radio. Back before WWII the government and admiralty relied on long distance communications via radio but such people were starchy, a bit stupid and not very competent. They would go through hell trying to keep links.
    My father and colleagues set a trap and waited. As usual the link faded out but they had arranged a demonstration, communication again but at a much higher frequency, this is what starch didn’t get and couldn’t do. Things changed fast. Bit like Parsons and Turbina. Ram it in their face where awkward questions will be asked.

    A lot was learnt about diurnal and seasonal propagation, a raft of effects and published predictions.

    Bare in mind that secrecy was normal, and for WWII even more so since there were few undersea cables. Long distance radio was necessary, land, sea and air on all sides of the conflict.

    Lets start you off, MUF

    Go to the amateurs for the guff.

    And another http://www.dxmaps.com/mufmap.html

    This is a history as the writer knew it

    Something to remember very clearly is the technical limitation on high frequency electronics, what could be done was very restricting. What we take for granted today was exotic or impossible.
    Somewhere around here I have a high frequency receiver valve taken from a Luftwaffe aircraft. beautifully made, polished phenolic base (bakelite)… but compare with the scruffy looking say acorn equivalent used by the allies, has no base, just 3D and pins, goes into a ceramic insulated holder.

    There is a great deal of history to be dug out, not so easy with so many dog eat dog, name changes. Just take Cable & Wireless as an example. http://www.cwc.com/past-present/our-history.html
    And what they don’t say.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Nelson’s own conclusion:

    ‘The correlation found between signal degradations and these planetary arrangements in the past has been sufficiently consistent to indicate that under these arrangements, particularly in the case of multicycles, the planets possibly influence the sun in such a manner as to cause a change in its radiation characteristics. [bold added]

    By combining planetary indications with solar observations and a day-to-day signal analysis, a 24-hour forecasting system has been developed which averaged close to 85 per cent accuracy throughout 1950 and 1951 as reported by RCA Communications at Riverhead, Long Island, New York.’

    [from enterprisemission.com]

  4. Bob Weber says:

    Thanks Oldbrew for posting a long forgotten topic. More articles here http://www.giurfa.com/radio_astro.pdf and here http://www.w4uvh.net/dxld8081.txt (see towards the bottom of the file under the heading ‘SOLAR CYCLE AND JOVIAN INFLUENCE’.

    How far back does planetary theory go?

  5. tchannon says:

    I have a new article which expands on the matter. Might post tomorrow.

  6. oldbrew says:

    OK, I’ll be ‘off the air’ for a few days from tomorrow (Friday). Great links Bob W.

    Also from Nelson: ‘in 1948 when Jupiter and Saturn were spaced at 120 degrees, and solar activity was at a maximum, radio signals averaged of far higher quality for the year than in 1951 with Jupiter and Saturn at 180 degrees and a considerable decline in solar activity.’ [bold added]

    Interesting. The Jupiter-Saturn angle passed 60 degrees during 1997 at the start of the ‘super El Nino’.

  7. […] oldbrew on A look at Nelson’s 1951… […]