The Solar System
“It’s time for the human race to enter the solar system.” ~ American politician Dan Quayle
Our solar system got its start less than 5 billion years ago. A shock wave from a supernova explosion created a debris cloud that collapsed to form the Sun and its satellites. The cloud also cradled the birth of hundreds of thousands of other star systems. By that time, among the trillions of star systems throughout the universe, many millions had already matured to have planets teeming with life.
Until the mid-1990s, cosmologists embraced the core-accretion theory: a standard model which explained star system formation using a few basic principles of physics and chemistry. The theory accounted for every major feature of the solar system, yet it turned out to be inapt.
From the mid-1990s, exoplanets in other star systems kept being found that were inexplicable, such as gas giants the size of Jupiter in close, tight orbits around their stars. The accumulation of such discoveries trashed the core-accretion theory. Space oddities continue to be found, leaving no coherent account of how planetary systems come into being.
One feature found in many systems is planetary migration. All sorts of planets grow to full size in the middle to outer part of a solar disc before moving inwards. This can sometimes cause other planets to shift their orbits outwards. Such shenanigans occurred during the development of our solar system.
Our star system itself is coursing the cosmos at 20 kilometers per second. The solar system makes a rotation around the Milky Way galactic disk every 230 million years.
“Our solar system closely resembles other observable planetary systems within our galaxy.” ~ Dutch astronomer Martin Bizzarro
For millennia, most humans thought themselves at the center of the universe: the Earth stationary, while celestial bodies moved through the sky. Ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos first speculated that the Earth orbited the Sun.
As Christianity became the dominant European religion, church authorities estimated Earth’s age by counting the number of generations since Adam made his appearance in the biblical book of Genesis. The answer: Earth got its start between 4000–7000 bce.
Then there was the issue of Earth being the center of the universe. The Catholic Church had no doubt of it (faith and doubt being antithetical). Looking into the heavens with a more open mind led to a different conclusion.
1,800 years after Aristarchus, Copernicus developed his heliocentric system in 1513, with the Earth revolving about the Sun. Given what was not known at the time, the Copernican notion seemed ridiculous.
The size of the Earth was known. Nothing could explain the power it would take to make such a massive orb move.
Conversely, the motion of celestial bodies was easily explained. They were stirred by swirling aether, a substance not found on Earth. No less an authority than Aristotle had stated such in the 4th century bce, and Aristotle was esteemed by the Church at this time.
What Copernicus proposed had profound implications for the size of the cosmos, and even of individual stars.
Stars look to have fixed widths. Both ancient Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy and Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe had measured them with their naked eyes.
Knowing nothing about optics or the nature of light, stars under the Copernican conception would be absurdly enormous, and the girth of the universe unimaginably ample.
Early supporters of Copernicus felt compelled to invoke God in his defense.
Grant the vastness of the Universe and the sizes of the stars to be as great as you like – these will still bear no proportion to the infinite Creator. ~ German mathematician and astronomer Christoph Rothmann in the late 16th century
The day soon came when God and Copernicus were not so aligned in the sights of Catholic authorities. Italian astronomer-mathematician Galileo Galilei was convicted of being “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the Catholic Church in 1633 for buying into Copernicus’ heliocentricity, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Compared with others, he got off lightly.
The Catholic Church amassed quite a track record of solemn folly when it came to science. Into the 17th century, Christendom regarded fossils as images of God’s creation, put on Earth for man’s admiration: God the decorator; nice touch.
It was not until the 17th century that the mathematics of the planets orbiting the Sun were worked out. Isaac Newton mathematically described gravity from an everyday point of view. A couple of centuries later, Einstein suggested a radical view of gravity: as an entropic distortion rather than a fundamental force. Einstein’s gravitational theory changed astrophysics to a degree greater than Einstein himself was able to accept.
“The inner self is as distinct from the outer self as heaven is from Earth.” ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
In 1734, Swedish scientist, theologian, and Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg developed the nebular hypothesis: that the solar system formed by swirling accretions of matter; a surmise explaining star system formation which has stood as essentially correct for 3 centuries.
Swedenborg also had prescient concepts concerning the cerebral cortex, the nervous system, and the functions of the pituitary gland. Swedenborg was a century ahead of others in anticipating nerve cells.
Swedenborg regarded eating meat as “something profane.”
There are at least 3 reputable incidents of Swedenborg’s psychic power.
In 1758, the Queen of Sweden asked him to tell her something about her deceased brother. The next day he whispered in her ear a fact that turned the Queen pale. She explained that what Swedenborg had told her was something only she and her brother knew about.
In 1759, Swedenborg made an accurate prediction of fire threatening his home when he was hundreds of kilometers away at the time.
The 3rd incident was Swedenborg telling a woman who had lost an important document where it was located; information known only to someone recently deceased.
Swedenborg wrote about the relation between the finite and the infinite, and how the soul and body interconnect. Swedenborg believed that higher knowledge was received wisdom.
The self-congratulatory religious belief that humans are the most important life in the universe, ever at the center of things, is not easily forsaken. Early cosmologists convinced themselves that Earth lay near the heart of the galaxy.
The 1st map of the Milky Way, compiled by German-born English astronomer William Herschel and his sister Caroline in 1785, showed the solar system in the middle of a starry puddle. Instead, the Sun stirs 27,400 light-years from the galactic center, on a spiral arm termed the Orion–Cygnus Arm, sauntering around the Milky Way. As to our place in the cosmos, we have no idea where the center of the universe is.