Ian Niall Rankin. A New Look at the Solar System. Book Guild, 2015.

As if we didn't already have enough to worry about living on Planet Earth in these troublesome times, along comes yet another publication telling us that we're all doomed. Not from a man-made cause such as a Third World War, or the cumulative effects of the climate change purportedly taking place, but from a sudden polar shift of the planet that will wipe out all of civilisation. Mankind is doing a pretty good job anyway of destroying his civilisation in many parts of the world, but when the planet 'flips on its axis' the destruction will be earth-wide and there is nothing we can do to prevent it.

The good news is that this book was originally published in 2004 under the title Doomsday Just Ahead and we're still here in 2016. The bad news is that great planetary upheavals have occurred many times, and according to the evidence presented here another one is imminent. Why the book has been re-published under a less apocalyptic title is not exactly clear. It does not appear to have been modified or supplemented by new material. A brief foreword by the author or publishers would have been helpful in this regard.

New evidence regarding the origins and formation of our solar system is coming to light constantly. With advanced scientific instrumentation available we can now study other planetary solar systems and see them at various stages of development. It so happens that at the time of writing this review in January 2016, I came across two sources of information quite independently that put a new light on the formation and structure of the solar system. A recent BBC Horizon programme, 'Secrets of the Solar System', showed clear evidence of titanic disturbances in our solar system after its initial formation, greatly changing the planets' orbits and positions. As the BBC website summarises these findings: "Far from a simple story of stable orbits, the creation story of our solar system is a tale of hellfire, chaos and planetary pinball. It's a miracle our Earth is here at all."

The Horizon documentary posited that a massive icy giant planet was ejected from the solar system by the gravitational effects of Jupiter. Now Caltech researchers in America have announced that they have found evidence of just such a planet, nicknamed Planet Nine. It has a mass 10 times that of earth and orbits the sun about 20 times further out than Neptune. That means it takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to orbit the sun. It has not yet been observed directly so now the hunt is on to find it. That task will be difficult. At such a vast distance from the sun it may even be impossible to find, giving virtually no reflected light. Its presence is indicated only by very slight gravitational perturbations between the observable planets. If those calculations give a clue as to its location, that may be confirmed by its transit temporarily blocking the light from a distant known star.

This brings us neatly to Ian Rankin's new theory presented in Part Two of this book. He is without doubt a bold and original thinker, and in some ways seems to have presciently foreseen, over 12 years ago, the kind of anomalies that are right now coming to light. In one sense he is definitely right. We used to think that the planets had formed from blobs of the primordial gas and solidifying matter cast off by our evolving parent star. This ab initio momentum of planetary bodies orbiting the sun, held in place by a balance of gravity and centrifugal force, was the orthodox explanation. It was thought that the planets had more or less stayed in the same orbits from the time of their formation. Rankin's theories challenge all of that.

However, there are at least two aspects to Rankin's general theory which will cause difficulty for most readers. He does not believe in 'Gravity' as a mutually attractive force between bodies of matter. Instead, he proposes that the attractive force is magnetism. He asserts that every body has a magnetic field of some kind. This review will not attempt to explain whether he is using the term 'magnetism' to describe the mystery of exactly what 'gravity' is. Most scientists do admit that the whole concept of how 'gravity' works is a mystery. But, using the example of comets as they orbit the sun, Rankin presents an interesting question: Why are comets approaching the sun not pulled into it by the sun's massive gravitational attraction? The conventional understanding, says Rankin, is that comets, on their approach to the sun on their eccentric orbits from the outer reaches of the solar system, have enough momentum to overcome the sun's gravitational attraction. His answer is that the solar wind and light itself have a repulsive force. He goes further to say that the solar wind and light itself are the forces which keeps the planetary bodies rotating.

The other highly controversial aspect of Rankin's 'New Theory' is that he believes our sun is orbiting around a relatively tiny black hole, which he terms the Magnetic Centre, or MC: "The sun is attracted by the MC, but is at the same time prevented from getting any closer to it by the pressure of its own solar emissions. So, although received science considers the Sun to be the centre of the solar system, it is in fact not."

The only theory that comes near it was the hypothetical Planet Vulcan proposed by the French scientist Le Verrier. in 1860 Le Verrier confidently announced the discovery of this planet orbiting very close to the sun, and named it 'Vulcan' after the Greek god of fire

I have been able to find no evidence whatever from other sources to support this theory. The only theory that comes near it was the hypothetical Planet Vulcan proposed by the French scientist Le Verrier. in 1860 Le Verrier confidently announced the discovery of this planet orbiting very close to the sun, and named it 'Vulcan' after the Greek god of fire. Le Verrier was no eccentric amateur. In 1846 he had correctly predicted the existence of the then unknown planet Neptune. He had done this by painstakingly analysing irregularities in the orbit of the planet Uranus. After presenting his findings to the French Academy, he sent the co-ordinates to Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory. On the same evening of the day they received the data, Galle and his colleague Heinrich d'Arrest found Neptune. Le Verrier's calculation was accurate to 1 degree. However, with Planet Vulcan he was mistaken. His findings were based on anomalies in Mercury's orbit. It speeds up and slows down on its eccentric orbit around the sun. It was not until 1915 that these irregularities were successfully explained, in a paper entitled 'Explanation of the Perihelion Motion of Mercury from General Relativity Theory'. The author? A certain Albert Einstein.

From all of this you would certainly deduce that Rankin is an original thinker of the first order, or a maverick eccentric. But he has a track record of success through his interesting life. Actually a Baronet and the son of a lady in waiting to the Queen Mother, he was educated at Eton and Oxford. He then launched himself into several careers, which included the design of seat belts, which were at the time not fitted as standard equipment in cars. From this he made a lot of money which financed other projects such as the design of miniature motorbikes and an employment agency in Holland. Latterly he ran an international oil company. Travelling the world in search of hydrocarbons he became fascinated by the earth's geology. This led to his interest in planetary movements and the solar system.

Although his theories presented in Part Two may be somewhat suspect and lacking corroboration, at least until now, he does have more credibility in Part One. He presents a great deal of evidence for pole shifts occurring in the Earth's past, even as recently as 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. The Sahara Desert is but one example. 4,000 years ago it was temperate savannah. Something dramatic obviously happened to our planet at about that time. Another compelling piece of evidence is the remains of hundreds of mammoths who died at that time, quick-frozen on Wrangel Island, just off the Siberian Coast: "....these animals died with summer feeding in their stomachs, but under arctic winter conditions. Summer grazing for mammoths would have been in temperate latitudes, some 2,000 miles from the equator. We believe these creatures were grazing in the southern hemisphere, when a polar-axis shift occurred: this took them through 140 degrees of latitude, via the North Pole, to the present location of Wrangel Island."

As you can guess, not everyone agrees with Rankin's interpretations of all the evidence he has amassed. The Smithsonian Magazine of May 2014 says: "Over the course of our planet's history, the (magnetic) field has flipped hundreds of times: Magnetic north has slid toward the bottom of the planet while magnetic south has traveled north. Signatures in volcanic rocks reveal that the switch last happened 780,000 years ago, when human ancestors were just learning to make fire."

Spot the difference? Excuse the pun, which is intended, but these interpretations are polar opposites, and the lay reader may be quite baffled by Rankin's theories. It's a most interesting and stimulating read. If you go for it as I did then you will inevitably wish to consult a whole range of scientific articles and authorities to verify or refute his apocalyptic message. But all of this fact-finding and theorising has made my head spin. I think I need to lie down on my axis for a while. -- Kevin Murphy

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