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James McCanney's Nonsense

Table of Contents
Comets are not "dirty snowballs" The solar wind is electrically charged Comets don't lose mass, they gain it
Comets are huge, not dinky Miscellaneous nonsense  
Links of Interest

Miscellaneous Wrongnesses From McCanney

  1. Comets emit X-rays, indicating they are not cold

  2. Comet orbits circularize due to "tail drag"

  3. "Tail drag" changed the orbit of comet Hale-Bopp in 1996

  4. Meteorites formed under pressure

  5. The Sun's energy is not produced in its core, but on its surface.

  6. Hurricane production is tied in with the "solar capacitor".

  7. The Apollo Moon Landings were faked.

Comets emit X-rays, indicating they are not cold.

McCanney claims in that book (on page 1!) that he predicted that comets would give off X-rays, and also that the side of the comet facing the Sun would be the source of these X-rays. This has to do with his claim that comets are plasma balls, electrically coupled with the Sun. Amazingly, years later, it was found that not only do comets give off X-rays, but they comes from the sunward side! Could McCanney have been right?

Nope. Well, his prediction was correct, but for the wrong reason. For a prediction to be counted as a success, it has to be exclusive; that is, no other theory could account for it. The problem is, there are plenty of ways a comet could give off X-rays, even though it's cold. For one, comets get smacked by the high-energy particles from the Sun's solar wind. Ice, when hit like that, fluoresces; that is, gives off light. At those energies, the light given off is in the form of X-rays. So naturally, the part of the comet facing the Sun is where the X-rays come from.

McCanney is very derisive in his book about this. He says: "Let's get serious... x-rays coming from a docile little snow ball?" But think about it: when you go to the dentist, she isn't heating the X-ray machine to a million degrees to get it to give off X-rays! Those machines work by accelerating electrons to high speeds and slamming them into metals. When the electrons hit the metal, they slow down and emit X-rays in the process. So there are other processes which generate X-rays besides temperature, despite what he is saying there. Ironically, his own process is not thermal either, so why is he so derisive of cold comets giving off X-rays? Oh yeah: it's because he's wrong.

Comet tails cause drag, slowing a comet down and circularizing their orbits.

This is another key part of his theory: since planets orbit the Sun in fairly circular orbits, and comets tend to orbit in extremely elongated ellipses, there must be some method to change a comet orbit into a circle, since he says comets form planets.

To accomplish this he invents a force called "tail drag", and goes through many gyrations to demonstrate it. However, I don't need to go into any details debunking his details, because as I already showed, the tail of a comet is from stuff coming off the nucleus, not stuff coming in. Once the particle leaves the nucleus and becomes part of the tail, it cannot affect the nucleus. So there is no way his tail drag idea can work, because his other ideas about comet tails are so wrong.

Not that this has stopped him from making silly claims using this silly idea...

"Tail drag" changed the orbit of comet Hale-Bopp in 1996

Hale-Bopp was a magnificent comet that became easy to see with the unaided eye back in 1997. It was one of the most well-studied comets of all time. It underwent something a little unusual, though: its orbital shape changed! McCanney, of course, has an "explanation" of this: tail drag (explained in the section above).

From McCanney's book "Planet-X, Comets & Earth Changes", page 52:

The huge comet Hale-Bopp had its orbit reduced from 4200 years to 2650 years in one passage of the Sun. The dirty snowball "jetting concept" could not account for this amazing change in orbit.

Here, McCanney is being incredibly deceptive. The only thing he says that's correct in that statement is that Hale-Bopp's orbit did in fact change. But he is very misleading in the way he says it. First, no credible scientist claims that jets (literally, jets of matter emitted from the comet as solid ice warms up and turns to gas, acting like a little rocket) are what reduced Hale-Bopp's orbit. He might as well say the theory of genetics cannot explain the change either! They simply have nothing to do with each other. Second, it had nothing to do with its passing the Sun. In fact, the change occurred long before it was anywhere near the Sun, when it was still way out in the solar system.

What did happen is that in April 1996, the comet passed less than 72 million miles from Jupiter. That may sound like a long way, but Jupiter is a really massive planet. The long reach of mighty Jupiter's gravity is what bent Hale-Bopp's orbit, not any magical tail drag as claimed by McCanney.

image of map of Hale-Bopp and Jupiter I found this out pretty easily, by doing something most pseudoscientists never do: I asked someone. I posted the question to the Minor Planets Mailing List, which is a mailing list comprised of people who actually go out and do real astronomy (as opposed to people like McCanney, who just make stuff up about it). I received a dozen emails within minutes (!) letting me know what happened to Hale-Bopp back in 1996. I then used some software to plot where Hale-Bopp was in 1996, and the answer was pretty clear: getting so close to Jupiter bent the orbit of the comet, changing the period from more than 4000 years to less than 3000. Simple as that. McCanney is wrong again.

Meteorites formed under pressure

News flash! McCanney gets something right!

Too bad it's for the wrong reason.

On his internet broadcast on several ocassions (for example, on July 1, 2004), he has claimed that mainstream science is wrong about comets because the structure of meteorites clearly indicates they were formed under pressure. But then he says this is all according to his theories. However (hold on to your hats!) he is quite wrong, in both cases.

image of one of my meteorites Meteorites are chunks of space debris that have hit the ground. When in space they are called meteoroids, and while burning in our atmosphere they are meteors. Some are metallic, some are stony. I happen to collect meteorites; I have several metallic ones on my bookshelf (the picture shows one of my specimens, actually). Some of these metallic meteorites are quite beautiful. If you slice one and then etch it with a mild acid, a gorgeous pattern can be seen, called a Widmanstatten pattern. It's literally a crystal pattern formed by the metal as it cooled. This indicates that the metal cooled very slowly. Quick cooling obliterates the pattern.

Widmansttaten patterns in an iron meteorite A blob of molten metal a mile across would cool far too quickly to make this pattern. Scientists think that metallic meteorites are actually from the cores of large asteroids! If an asteroid gets big enough as it forms, then the metals in it fall to the center because they are heavy. The core becomes metallic. If the asteroid suffers a big collision, it can shatter. These shards can then fall to Earth, and become the metallic meteorites like the ones on my bookshelf.

So McCanney is right! But wait! Is he really?

Nope. He is trying to say that meteorites come from comets. However, the vast majority of meteorites that hit the Earth are not from comets, because comet material is too fragile; it burns up completely. Look at meteor showers; those are due to material coming from comets, and those meteors never make it all the way to the ground. The vast majority of meteorites come from asteroids, not comets.

So he's right that meteorites formed under pressure (inside the core of an asteroid), but he's completely wrong in saying this fits with his theory.

The Sun's energy is not produced in its core, but on its surface.

Here is one of those claims that when I read it, I actually said, out loud, "Huh?" This claim is so weird, so out there, that it's almost Hoaglandian in its scope.

According to the standard models of the Sun, the heat and pressure in the Sun is so great that in the core, hydrogen atoms (really just their nuclei) are smashed together. It's a complicated process, but the end result is that they fuse together, forming a helium nucleus. This is called nuclear fusion. In the process, a little bit of heat is let out. But it happens so much in the Sun's core that the total heat generated is enormous! Enough to heat the core to 15 million Celsius, and produce the vast energy of our nearest star.

But not according to McCanney. He claims in his book (in many places; page 69 as an example) that there is fusion, but it happens on the surface of the Sun. This is in part what creates his so-called "solar capacitor" (an idea I already trashed here). In fact, again on page 69, he says this is what solves the long-standing "neutrino problem". He also claims the Sun gets cooler as you go deeper, not hotter as you'd expect in the standard model.

Let's look at that neutrino problem. Basically, the equations of nuclear fusion in the Sun predict that a subatomic particle called a neutrino should be created. They are hard to detect, but when the technology finally caught up with theory, only 1/3rd the number of expected neutrinos were found. Where were the other 2/3rd of the neutrinos? Hence the problem, which for years was quite a headache for astronomers.

According to McCanney (again, page 69) the lack of neutrinos was because the fusion was happening on the Sun's surface. Since the Sun's surface isn't nearly as hot as the core, the fusion must be happening much slower than predicted (in the same way, I suppose, that one match produces less heat than three will).

But there's a problem. Well, for McCanney, at least. Recently, the neutrino problem was solved. According to theory, there are three types of neutrinos. What if we were only detecting one kind? Sure enough, once again when the technology caught up, it was determined that this is exactly what was happening! The kind of neutrino created in the solar furnace was created in numbers as predicted, but on route to the Earth changed their "flavor". Since we could only detect the one kind, we didn't see the other two kinds, and the number was only 1/3rd that of the original prediction. This problem is now solved (and I suspect it may earn someone a Nobel Prize someday too).

So McCanney is wrong yet again. And it gets worse for him, too.

image of solar oscillations Geologists study earthquakes because they can tell us about the interior of the Earth by the way the waves travel. The same is true for the Sun. A new discipline, called helioseismology, studies the effect of waves as they travel through the Sun. By doing this, solar astronomers have been able to map out the interior of the Sun in the same way that seismologists have mapped out the interior of the earth.

This technique has been very successful. So successful, in fact, that scientists have been able to map out the far side of the Sun! And when the far side rotates into view, they have been able to confirm their results, and therefore their method. In other words, this technique works. However, the technique means that the standard model of the solar interior must be correct (which in turn means the Sun does get hotter as you go deeper, not cooler as McCanney claims).

So, in fact, we understand the structure of the Sun pretty well. And, too bad for McCanney, fusion occurs in the core, not the surface. McCanney is wrong again.

Hurricane production is tied in with the "solar capacitor".

Part of McCanney's theory states that electricity flows like a circuit in the solar system. I've already shown this to be completely wrong. But on page 69 of his book, he says that the flow of electricity occurs "... in the direction from the Sun where Earth would be in the month of August, the month of maximum auroras and hurricane activity" (emphasis mine).

I am not exactly sure what he means by this, because it makes no sense. But he goes on for many pages thereafter saying that hurricane activity is tied to his theory.

The standard theory of hurricanes is that water is warmed up in the summer. It heats the air, and, coupled with the Earth's rotation, creates cyclones.

Which theory is correct? If you said McCanney's, then please read the name of my website ten times out loud.

Both theories make a prediction. McCanney's predicts hurricane activity peaks in the summer. Standard theory does too... for local summer. See where I'm going with this? McCanney would predict hurricanes peak only in August, because the force behind hurricanes is tied with the Sun, and not the seasons. That is summer, all right... in the northern hemisphere. But summer in the southern hemisphere is opposite the northern! So the prediction is clear: southern hurricanes (technically, typhoons) should peak in August, too. The standard model says they should peak is austral summer, in February or so.

plot of hurricane frequency Guess what? The peak of the number of cyclones in the southern hemisphere is in February, six months offset from the northern peak. The plot here shows just that; red is northern hurricanes, and blue southern. You can clearly see that August has a minimal number of cyclones in the south, the opposite of what McCanney's theory predicts (clicking on that image will take you to a great page about hurricanes and typhoons).

McCanney is wrong again.

Just to head him off at the pass, too, I predict he'll be saying that this year should have a larger than average number of hurricanes due to the influence of Planet X. But, the folks at NOAA have predicted the same thing based on past hurricane trends. Needless to say, they don't use Planet X in their predictive method. So his claiming this is meaningless. Since 1995, we've been in a period of above-average activity anyway.

Oh, and one more thing: he said that auroral activity peaks in August. Bzzzzzt. Actually, the most activity is in October, February, and March. Surprise! McCanney is wrong again.

The Apollo Moon landings were faked.

I had to save this one for last. I mean, c'mon! Even McCanney couldn't claim this! Wow. Simply, wow. I guess Planet X and his other theories aren't silly enough, he buys into the silliest of them all! I won't bother saying anything else here; I'll just send you to my Moon Hoax debunking page, as well as the brilliant website Clavius, and specifically the radiation page.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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