On a spiral arm of a galaxy called the Milky Way, nine planets move
in peaceful, clock-like procession around a yellow dwarf star called
the Sun. The planets move on highly predictable paths, and by all
appearances nothing has changed in a billion years. The inhabitants
of the third planet, the Earth, can see five of their
celestial neighbors without the aid of telescopes. Surrounded by the
background stars, these objects do little to distinguish themselves
in the night sky. And few denizens of Earth today have learned to
identify the five visible planets against the starry dome.
“It is the thunderbolt
that steers the universe!”
Heraclitus, fifth century B.C.
Earlier cultures were not so complacent about the planets. They
invoked these bodies with fear and reverence. In ancient
Mesopotamia, astronomer-priests insisted that the planets determined
the fate of the world. In their prayers to the planets they summoned
memories of heaven-shattering catastrophe. What was it about these
celestial objects that inspired this cultural anxiety? And why did
so many ancient accounts insist that the movements of the planets
once changed? That was Plato’s message more than 2300 years ago. The
Babylonian chronicler Berossus said it too: the planets now move on
different courses. But these are only two of the more familiar
voices amidst a chorus of ancient witnesses.
In archaic texts the planetary gods were a quarrelsome lot. They
were giants in the sky, wielding weapons of thunder, ﬁre, and stone.
Their wars not only disturbed the heavens but threatened to destroy
the earth. Driven by reverence and fear, ancient cultures from
Mesopotamia to China, from the Mediterranean to the
honored the planets with pomp and zeal, seeking to placate these
celestial powers through human sacrifice. The best English word for
this cultural response is obsession.
From the Sun
outward, the nine planets of our solar system are Mercury, Venus,
Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
Astronomers believe that the order of the planets has remained
unchanged over the eons. But this uniquely modern belief rests on
assumptions about gravity that predate the discovery of electricity
and the arrival of the space age.
The authors of this book
have each spent more than thirty years investigating the ancient
message, and this has led us to question a pillar of theoretical
science today—the "uneventful solar system." Following quite
different research paths, we arrived at the same conclusion: the
ancient sky was alive with activity. The evidence suggests that only
a few thousand years ago planets moved close to the earth, producing
electrical phenomena of intense beauty and terror. Ancient sky
worshippers witnessed these celestial wonders, and far-flung
cultures recorded the events in the great myths, symbols, and ritual
practices of antiquity.
A costly misunderstanding of planetary history must now be
corrected. The misunderstanding arose from fundamental errors within
the field of cosmology, the "queen" of the theoretical sciences.
Mainstream cosmologists, whether trained as physicists,
mathematicians, or astronomers, consider gravity to be the
controlling force in the heavens. From this assumption arose the
doctrine of eons-long solar system stability—the belief that under
the rule of gravity the nine planets have moved on their present
courses since the birth of the solar system. Seen from this vantage
point, the ancient fear of the planets can only appear ludicrous.
challenge this modern belief. We contend that humans once saw
planets suspended as huge spheres in the heavens. Immersed in the
charged particles of a dense plasma, celestial bodies "spoke"
electrically and plasma discharge produced heaven-spanning
formations above the terrestrial witnesses. In the imagination of
the ancient myth-makers, the planets were alive: they were the gods,
the ruling powers of the sky—awe inspiring, often capricious, and at
times wildly destructive.
Cosmic lightning evolved violently from one discharge configuration
to another, following patterns observed in high-energy plasma
experiments and only recently revealed in deep space as well. Around
the world, our ancestors remembered these discharge configurations
in apocalyptic terms. They called them the "thunderbolts of the