Tom Van Flandern

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Thomas C Van Flandern
Photo of Thomas Van Flandern.jpeg
Thomas Van Flandern in 2007
Born (1940-06-26)June 26, 1940
Cleveland, Ohio
Died January 9, 2009(2009-01-09) (aged 68)
Seattle, Washington[1]
Nationality American
Alma mater Yale University, Xavier University
Scientific career
Fields Astronomy and fringe-science
Institutions U.S. Naval Observatory, Meta Research

Thomas C Van Flandern (June 26, 1940 – January 9, 2009) was an American astronomer and author specializing in celestial mechanics. Van Flandern had a career as a professional scientist, but was noted as an outspoken proponent of non-mainstream views related to astronomy, physics, and extra-terrestrial life. He also published the non-mainstream Meta Research Bulletin. He died of colon cancer in Seattle, Washington.[2]


Van Flandern mentioned in historical marker about Project Moonwatch. Placed by Cincinnati Astronomical Society and the city of Cincinnati, OH

Van Flandern graduated from Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland. While there, he helped start the Cleveland branch of Operation Moonwatch, an amateur science program initiated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to track satellites.[3][4] He also helped found a Moonwatchers team at Xavier University,[5] and this team broke a tracking record in 1961.[6][7]

Van Flandern graduated from Xavier University cum laude with a B.S. in Mathematics in 1962 and was awarded a teaching fellowship at Georgetown University.[8][9] He attended Yale University on a scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO),[citation needed] joining USNO in 1963.[10] In 1969 he received a PhD in Astronomy from Yale, with a dissertation on lunar occultations.

Van Flandern worked at the USNO until 1983,[11][12] first becoming Chief of the Research Branch[13] and later becoming Chief of the Celestial Mechanics Branch of the Nautical Almanac Office.[14][15][16] His espousal of highly non-mainstream beliefs, particularly the exploded planet hypothesis, eventually led to his separation from the USNO. He later said, "This forced me to the 'fringes,' areas of astronomy not accepted as credible by experts of the field".[17]

Following his separation from the USNO, Van Flandern started a business organizing eclipse viewing expeditions, and promoting his non-mainstream views in a newsletter and web site. Shortly after his death in 2009, the asteroid 52266 Van Flandern was named in his honor because of his prediction and analysis of lunar occultations at the U.S. Naval Observatory and publications of papers on the dynamics of binary minor planets.[18]

Mainstream scientific work[edit]

During the mid-1970s, Van Flandern believed that lunar observations gave evidence of variation in Newton's gravitational constant (G), consistent with a speculative idea that had been put forward by Paul Dirac. In 1974, his essay "A Determination of the Rate of Change of G" was awarded second place by the Gravity Research Foundation.[19][20] However, in later years, with new data available, Van Flandern himself admitted his findings were flawed, and the conclusions were contradicted by more accurate findings based on radio measurements with the Viking landers.[21][22]

Van Flandern and Henry Fliegel developed a compact algorithm to calculate a Julian date from a Gregorian date that would fit on a single IBM card. They described this in a letter to the editor of a computing magazine in 1968.[23] This was available for use in business applications.[9]

With Kenneth Pulkkinen, he published "Low precision formulae for planetary positions", in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement in 1979.[24] The paper set a record for the number of reprints requested from that journal.[9]

In 2003, developed the Van Flandern-Yang hypothesis with Xin-She Yang after observations made during the Solar eclipse of March 9, 1997.[25]

Non-mainstream science and beliefs[edit]

Van Flandern described in his book[26] how he had become increasingly dissatisfied with the mainstream view of science by the early 1980s. He wrote

Events in my life caused me to start questioning my goals and the correctness of everything I had learned. In matters of religion, medicine, biology, physics, and other fields, I came to discover that reality differed seriously from what I had been taught.

In his book, on blogs, lectures, newsletter and web site, Van Flandern focused on problems with cosmology and physics theories. He alleged that when experimental evidence is incompatible with mainstream scientific theories, that mainstream scientists refuse to acknowledge this to avoid jeopardizing their funding.[9]

Deep Reality Physics[edit]

Van Flandern espoused a set of principles for assessing ideas, and dubbed theories that he deemed compliant with these principles as "Deep Reality Physics." He claimed that mainstream scientific theories, especially the prevailing theories regarding the big bang, solar system formation, relativity, and electrodynamics, left unanswered questions and therefore did not meet his criteria and often advocated his own replacement theories. Van Flandern's seven principles were:[27]

Every effect has an antecedent, proximate cause
No time reversal
No true action at a distance
No creation ex nihilo
No demise ad nihil
The finite cannot become infinite
Tangible, material entities cannot occupy the same space at the same time

Minor-planet satellites[edit]

Following claims by David Dunham in 1978 to have detected satellites for some asteroids (notably 532 Herculina) by examining the light patterns during stellar occultations,[28] Van Flandern and others began to report similar observations.[29] His non-mainstream 1978 prediction that some asteroids have natural satellites, which was almost universally rejected, was proven correct when the Galileo spacecraft photographed Dactyl, a satellite of 243 Ida, during its flyby in 1993.[9]

Exploding Planets[edit]

In 1976, while Van Flandern was employed by the USNO, he began to promote the belief that major planets sometimes explode.[30] In his "Exploded Planet Hypothesis 2000" he lists as possible reasons for explosion either a runaway nuclear reaction in uranium in the core, a change of state as the planet cools down, creating a density phase change (like water to ice) and causing it to implode or explode, or absorption of heat from gravitons.[31][32][33] In his book Van Flandern described the negative reception of his ideas about exploding planets among mainstream scientists. Van Flandern also speculated that the origin of the human species may well have been on the planet Mars, which he believed was once a moon of a now-exploded "Planet V".

Le Sage's theory of gravitation and the speed of gravity[edit]

Van Flandern supported Le Sage's discredited[34] theory of gravitation, according to which gravity is the result of a flux of invisible "ultra-mundane corpuscles" impinging on all objects from all directions at superluminal speeds. He gave public lectures in which he claimed that these particles could be used as a limitless source of free energy, and to provide superluminal propulsion for spacecraft.[35][36] He also speculated that the ultra-mundane flux caused the explosion of a major planet once located between Mars and Jupiter.

In 1998 Van Flandern wrote a paper[37] asserting that astronomical observations imply that gravity propagates at least twenty billion times faster than light, or even infinitely fast. These claims were dismissed by mainstream physicists.[38][39]

Face on Mars[edit]

Van Flandern was a prominent advocate of the belief that certain geological features seen on Mars, especially the "face at Cydonia", are not of natural origin, but were produced by intelligent extra-terrestrial life, probably the inhabitants of a major planet once located where the asteroid belt presently exists, and which Van Flandern believed had exploded 3.2 million years ago.[40] The claimed artificiality of the "face" was also the topic of a chapter of his 1993 book.[41] He also gave lectures on the subject,[42] and at the conclusion of the lectures he described his overall conception:[citation needed]

[citation needed]

When it was first imaged, and into the 21st century, the "Face" is near universally accepted to be an optical illusion, an example of pareidolia, and theories that it was an artificial artifact were considered to be pseudo-science.[43][44] After analysis of the higher resolution Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that "a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination".[45]

Rejection of Big Bang Cosmology[edit]

Van Flandern was a vocal opponent of the Big Bang model in cosmology, and supported instead a Steady-State cosmology. He compiled a list of what he regarded as problems for the Big Bang model. It began as a list of "Top 10" problems, then expanded to the "Top 30", and ultimately by 2008 had reached the "Top 60".[46] In 2008 he was an organizer of a conference of individuals who oppose the Big Bang cosmological models.[47] Van Flandern did not reject General Relativity as some have asserted, but rather rejected its geometrical interpretation. He said: "General relativity has a geometric and a field interpretation. If angular momentum conservation is invoked in the geometric interpretation to explain experiments, the causality principle is violated. The field interpretation avoids this problem by allowing faster-than-light propagation in forward time."[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Obituary
  2. ^ "Obituary". Sequim Gazette. January 21, 2009. 
  3. ^ Cleveland Plain Dealer October 8, 1957 "Moonwatch Team Here Gets Set" page 5
  4. ^ The Pharos-Tribune and Logansport Press August 9, 1959 "Still Keeping Watch" Logansport, IN page 19
  5. ^ Xavier University News November 5, 1960 Mike Rogers "Satellite Spies Situate Tracking Station on Logan" page 1
  6. ^ Kingsport News May 17, 1961 "Reports Activity" page 10
  7. ^ The Anderson Herald May 17, 1961 "Cincy Moonwatchers Report on Satellites" page 2
  8. ^ Xavier University News May 4, 1962 "Tom Van Flandern Given Fellowship" page 9
  9. ^ a b c d e David Dunham (KinetX, Inc.); Victor Slabinski (U.S. Naval Observatory) (2011). "BAAS Obituary". 
  10. ^ T. S. Baskett (1963). "U.S. Naval Observatory Report". Astronomical Journal. 68 (9): 672, 674. Bibcode:1963AJ.....68..649M. doi:10.1086/109195. 
  11. ^ Gart Westerhout; Charles K. Roberts (1984). "U.S. Naval Observatory Report". Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. 17: 457. Bibcode:1985BAAS...17..457. 
  12. ^ ""Meta" Researcher Champions New Funding Sources for Independent Science". APS News. 5 (4). April 1996. 
  13. ^ USNO Staff Directory for Nautical Almanac Office, December 1976
  14. ^ Colin Keay (September 1993). "Another Revolution in Physics. Maybe?". Australian & New Zealand Physicist. 30 (9): 230. 
  15. ^ van Flandern T. C. (1979). "Gravitation and the expansion of the Earth". Nature. 278 (5707): 821. Bibcode:1979Natur.278..821V. doi:10.1038/278821a0. 
  16. ^ USNO Staff Directory for Nautical Almanac Office, November 1977
  17. ^ Gonzo Science, Jim Richardson, Alan Richardson, p. 62, 2004.
  18. ^ "52266 Van Flandern (1986 AD)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  19. ^ "Award winners". Gravity Research Foundation. 
  20. ^ Tom Van Flandern (1974). "A Determination of the Rate of Change of G" (PDF). 
  21. ^ Clifford Will (1993). Was Einstein Right?: putting general relativity to the test (2nd ed.). Basic Books. p. 175-. ISBN 0-465-09086-9. 
  22. ^ Dark Matter, Missing Planets, New Comets, Van Flandern 1993.
  23. ^ Fliegel, Henry; Thomas C. Van Flanderen (October 1968). "Letters to the editor: a machine algorithm for processing calendar dates". ACM. p. 657. doi:10.1145/364096.364097. Retrieved 2013-06-28. 
  24. ^ Van Flandern, T. C. & Pulkkinen, K. F. (1979). "Low-Precision Formulae for Planetary Positions". Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. 41 (3): 391–411. Bibcode:1979ApJS...41..391V. doi:10.1086/190623. 
  25. ^ T. Van Flandern and X.-S. Yang, Allais gravity and pendulum effects during solar eclipses explained, Phys. Rev. D 67 (2003) 022002
  26. ^ "Dark Matter, Missing Planets, New Comets", Van Flandern (1993)
  27. ^
  28. ^ Dunham, David W. (December 1978). "Satellite of Minor Planet 532 Herculina Discovered During Occultation". The Minor Planet Bulletin. 6: 13–14. Bibcode:1978MPBu....6...13D. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  29. ^ Van Flandern, T. C., Tedesco, E. F. & Binzel, R. P. in Asteroids (ed. Gehrels, T.) 443–465 (Univ. Ariz. Press, Tucson, 1979).
  30. ^ [1] According to Van Flandern's article on the Exploded Planet Hypothesis "The third planetary explosion mechanism relies on one other hypothesis not yet widely accepted, but holds out the potential for an indefinitely large reservoir of energy for exploding even massive planets and stars. If gravitational fields are continually regenerated, as in LeSage particle models of gravity [xvi], then all masses are continually absorbing energy from this universal flux."
  31. ^ Van Flandern, Tom. org/solar% 20system/eph/eph2000. asp "The Exploded Planet Hypothesis 2000." Meta Research, (2000).
  32. ^ Flandern, Tom Van (2007). "The challenge of the exploded planet hypothesis". International Journal of Astrobiology. 6 (03): 185. Bibcode:2007IJAsB...6..185V. ISSN 1473-5504. doi:10.1017/S1473550407003758. 
  33. ^ Van Flandern, Tom. Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets: Paradoxes Resolved, Origins Illuminated. North Atlantic Books, 1999.
  34. ^ Edwards, Matthew R. (2002). Pushing Gravity: New Perspectives on Le Sage's Theory of Gravitation (illustrated ed.). Indiana University. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-9683689-7-8. 
  35. ^ Jeffery D. Kooistra (July–August 1999). "Conference on Future Energy". Infinite Energy Magazine (26).  An editor gave a summary of Van Flandern's talk at the Infinite Energy conference and wrote "Van Flandern gave a talk entitled 'On a Complete Theory of Gravity and Free Energy'. For the free energy enthusiast, the implications of gravity being particulate and perhaps blockable are obvious. Block or deflect the c-gravitons raining down from the sky and up you go into space. Turn off the blocking shield and recover the energy you've gained, for free, as you fall back to Earth."
  36. ^ "Dr. Thomas Van Flandern – MUFON-LA (1 of 1)". youtube. 
  37. ^ Van Flandern, T (1998). "The speed of gravity ? What the experiments say". Physics Letters A. 250 (1–3): 1. Bibcode:1998PhLA..250....1V. doi:10.1016/S0375-9601(98)00650-1. 
  38. ^ Marsh, Gerald E; Nissim-Sabat, Charles (1999). "Comment on "The speed of gravity"". Physics Letters A. 262 (2–3): 257. Bibcode:1999PhLA..262..257M. doi:10.1016/S0375-9601(99)00675-1. 
  39. ^ Carlip, S (2000). "Aberration and the Speed of Gravity". Phys. Lett. A. 267 (2–3): 81–87. Bibcode:2000PhLA..267...81C. arXiv:gr-qc/9909087Freely accessible. doi:10.1016/S0375-9601(00)00101-8. 
  40. ^ "Proof that the Cydonia Face on Mars is Artificial". 
  41. ^ Tom Van Flandern (1993). Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets: Paradoxes Resolved, Origins Illuminated. chapter 24. New Evidence for Artificiality at Cydonia on Mars: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-55643-268-2. 
  42. ^ "Mysterious Mars". youtube. 
  43. ^ Britt, R.R. (March 18, 2004). "Scientist attacks alien claims on Mars". CNN. Retrieved October 12, 2007. 
  44. ^ "Astronomical Pseudo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 
  45. ^ "The Face on Mars, Viking Project". NASA website. Retrieved April 26, 2007. 
  46. ^ The Top 30 Problems With the Big Bang, Van Flandern's web article explaining his objections to big bang cosmology.
  47. ^
  48. ^

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