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Planetary Explosion Mechanisms

from Meta Research Bulletin vol. 11#3:33-38 (2002)

Tom Van Flandern / Meta Research / <>


Abstract. Three mechanisms have been proposed as possible causes of planetary explosions – phase changes, natural fission reactors, and gravitational heat energy. We examine each theory and find that the first two mechanisms are candidates for exploding Earth-sized planets and Moon-sized bodies, but probably cannot produce enough energy to explode larger planets. However, the latest models for the origin and nature of gravity indicate that gravitational fields must be continually regenerated, not just static. The classical objection to such models is that large masses would vaporize and explode from gravitational heat energy in a fraction of a second. So the principal model presented here is not so much an explanation of how planets can explode as about how they can remain stable for so long without exploding. The mechanisms discussed here are capable of providing enough energy in a short-enough time to explode even supernovas, and may also help explain pre-supernova stellar collapses, the stellar thermonuclear ignition trigger, and even an alternative source for the microwave background radiation.




            Considerable evidence exists that planets explode [[1], [2], [3] and references therein]. This idea first arose two centuries ago with the discovery of the main asteroid belt, and has received new impetus with the discovery of another asteroid belt beyond Neptune. The cited references present the basic observational evidence for planetary explosion events, and promise a later theoretical paper on the explosion mechanism. This is the promised theoretical paper, and is therefore a supplement to the earlier evidence papers, which we will not review here.


            For our solar system, perhaps half of a possible twelve original planets may have exploded, leaving six original planets and three escaped moons (Mercury, Mars, and Pluto) [[4]]. Classical and dwarf novas are well known to be explosions of invisible companions of a visible star, and are therefore good candidates to be planetary explosions also [[5]].


The most frequently asked question about the exploded planet hypothesis (EPH) is “What would cause a planet to explode?” Thanks to recent research, we now have three models of this phenomenon. Indeed, planetary explosions are perhaps now better understood than stellar explosions, where it is still considered a mystery how the entire star can collapse so quickly (in less than a millisecond for a supernova explosion) when the various parts of the star are more than a light-millisecond apart and therefore out of communication with one another. If novas and supernovas did not occur before the watchful eyes of astronomers, explosions of such large-mass bodies would almost certainly be declared theoretically impossible, which represents the opinion often expressed currently about planet explosions.


Phase changes


            The earliest and simplest theoretical mechanism for planetary explosions is that proposed by Ramsey [[6]], who provides the mathematical details of this model. Ramsey noted that planets must evolve through a wide range of pressures and temperatures. This is true whether they are born cold and heat up under gravitational accretion, or born hot (e.g. by fission from the Sun) and cool down by radiation of heat into space. Even today, the planets and their large moons are apparently not in thermal equilibrium because five of them have been detected emitting more heat into space than they take in from the Sun. Jupiter emits more than double the heat it takes in. For the Earth and its Moon, this is usually attributed to radioactive decay deep inside the body, especially in its core [[7]].


During the course of this evolution, temperatures and pressures in the cores of massive bodies must occasionally reach a critical point at which a phase change (like water changing to ice or steam) occurs for some particular element. Generally, the element stores heat for some small range of environmental change, retaining its form while doing so. Then when this small range is exceeded, the stored heat at this critical temperature/pressure combination rapidly induces the element to change its state (among superconducting, solid, liquid, gaseous, and plasma states). A change of state normally requires a volume change also because the molecules of the element are reorganized.


Of course, a rapid volume change in the core of a planet caused by a phase change of any major core element will greatly destabilize the planet internally, and may cause the planet to either explode (for increased volume) or implode (for decreased volume). The energy generated by this process can be enough to overcome the gravitational binding energy of major moons and planets up to roughly the size of Venus or Earth. But it is not very effective for larger masses because they have too much self-gravitation and require too much energy to explode through chemical processes.


Natural fission reactors


The second possible planetary explosion mechanism, natural fission reactors, is a process currently generating some excitement in the field of geology [[8]]. The first example found was a uranium mine at Oklo in the Republic of Gabon, Africa in 1972. It is deficient in U-235 and is accompanied by fission-produced isotopes of Nd and Sm, apparently caused by self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions estimated to have occurred about 1.8 billion years ago. Later, other natural fission chain reactors were discovered in the same region. Today, uranium ore does not have this capability because the proportion of U-235 in natural uranium is too low. But 1.8 Gyr ago, the proportion was more than four times greater, allowing the self-sustaining neutron chain reactions. Additionally, these areas in southwest Africa also functioned as fast neutron breeder reactors, producing additional fissile material in the form of plutonium and other trans-uranic elements. Breeding fissile material results in possible reactor operation continuing long after the U-235 proportion in natural uranium would have become too low to sustain neutron chain reactions. Finding such reactors in nature proves the existence of an energy source able to produce more than an order of magnitude more energy than radioactive decay alone.


Gravitational contraction was originally thought to power the Sun, but calculations indicated that could last only a few million years. So thermonuclear fusion reactions are assumed to power stars. But this requires an ignition temperature of about one million degrees Kelvin. Gravity was at first assumed to provide that ignition temperature. But again, numerical models showed that collapse alone couldn't produce such temperatures because re-radiation of energy from the surface (which is proportional to T4, where T = surface temperature) is faster than infalling material can increase temperature. So an additional shock-wave-induced flare-up was assumed as an ad hoc theory. However, we now know that nuclear fission chain reactions may provide the ignition temperature to set off thermonuclear reactions in stars (analogous to ignition of thermonuclear bombs). If so, then dark stars of all masses might exist for which no ignition occurred. But the key point is that natural fission reactors may play an essential role in getting stars started.


For planets, the situation is analogous. For Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, the excess heat emission mentioned earlier is comparable to or greater than the total solar heat absorbed and reemitted by the planet [4]. But all the usual energy sources (e.g., radioactivity, accretion, or thermonuclear fusion) fall short of producing enough heat by at least two orders of magnitude. So gravitational contraction is usually assumed to cause the excess heat from the gas giant planets. However, natural fission reactors may also be able to supply the needed energy for planets. Although these chain reactions involve gradual fission rather than explosions, planets could presumably accumulate a critical mass of a radioactive element and set off an uncontrolled chain reaction that could explode the planet [[9]]. But this mechanism too has its limits because, for giant planets, the gravitational binding energy is greater than even thermonuclear explosions can overcome [[10]].


Gravitational heat energy


            The third planetary explosion mechanism involves an unexplored potential source of energy. Its main strength is that it provides an indefinitely large reservoir of energy, quite sufficient for exploding giant planets and even stars. Its main weakness is its break with conventional thinking, which should not at all be equated with implausibility. In fact, the energy source itself is just our familiar old friend, gravity.


The theory of general relativity (GR) has one mathematical form but two different physical interpretations – the field and the geometric. Unfortunately for both physics students trying to learn the theory and for the progress of science, only the geometric or “curved space-time” interpretation of GR is still taught in most schools and textbooks. In the geometric interpretation, gravity is not a conventional physical force at all, but is merely a consequence of the curvature of “space-time”. Bodies follow the nearest equivalent of a straight line available to them through this space-time conception. (Note that “space-time” is quite different from space plus time separately. For example, time must be factored by the unit for imaginary numbers i, and the path of a body through space is quite different from a straight line through space.) Because of the passive nature of motion changes in this conception (i.e., no force acts), gravity adds no internal energy to the bodies it acts upon. However, this geometric interpretation has the disadvantage that it violates two principles of physics – causality and momentum conservation [[11]]. In brief, a body at rest lacks a cause to commence motion; and changes in the momentum of any target of gravity must be created ex nihilo rather than by assimilating momentum from a source mass via some propagating momentum carrier.


            However, GR has an alternative “force” interpretation, the view preferred by Einstein, Dirac, and Feynman, among many other physicists of their times. In this view, gravity is an ordinary physical force. It differs from Newtonian gravitational force only by the addition of a few small effects such as the bending of light rays passing a source mass. These small effects may be thought of as either due to a curvature of space (although a taut rope is unaffected) or alternately as a refraction effect in an optical medium – the light-carrying medium (LCM). We will hereafter refer to this medium as “elysium”, an appropriate concept from Greek mythology that is phonetically similar to “LCM”. This “refraction in an optical medium” way of interpreting GR effects was apparently first mentioned in print by Eddington in 1920 [[12]], but has been discussed more extensively by later authors [[13] (and references therein), [14]]. Its importance here is that it allows GR to be consistent with models of gravitation that invoke momentum-carrying entities propagating between source masses and target bodies. Such models provide a proximate cause for gravitational acceleration and convey momentum from the source mass to the target body, eliminating the two major objections to the geometric interpretation. But such propagating carrier entities also deposit energy, usually in the form of heat, in the target bodies that absorb them.


The model of gravity we will adopt here is of the Le Sage type, wherein the universe is filled with a flux of tiny, fast particles called “gravitons” (not to be confused with the spin-2 “gravitons” of quantum physics) that interact weakly with matter. In this conception, the apple falls from the tree because more of this flux strikes the apple every second from above than from below because the Earth blocks many gravitons trying to strike the apple from below. Likewise, any two bodies in space shadow one another from some graviton impacts, and hence feel a net push toward one another. In this model, the force of gravity exists because real gravitons are missing from the flux emerging from the Earth, which therefore fail to push on the apple from below enough to balance the net push it receives from above. For convenience, however, it is easier to think of the missing gravitons as if they were real gravitons with negative mass emerging from the Earth and pulling on the apple.


It has been demonstrated that Le Sage-type models give all the properties of Newtonian gravity [e.g., [15]]. A modern variant on the model, in which space is filled with elysium that is in turn made denser near any mass by gravitons, also reproduces the exact first-order predictions of GR through the mechanism of refraction [4]. But this model also predicts several new properties of gravity. Of importance here is the consequence that gravitational fields in this conception are dynamic and continually regenerated, as opposed to static with no moving parts as in the geometric interpretation of GR. As such, these gravitons deposit their momentum as energy in the masses that continually absorb them from the universal flux.


The energy deposited is in fact so much that, when Maxwell and Kelvin debated the merits of a Le Sage model in the late 19th century, the primary argument against the model was that it would vaporize masses in a very short time by excessive heating. Slabinski has now found an elegant solution to this problem [[16]]. In essence, he showed that if all gravitons are scattered, no net force results. If all gravitons are absorbed, the heat excess is enormous and the body vaporizes. But with a mixture of absorption and scattering, the parameters for the mass, speed, and flux density for gravitons have a solution that allows the force generated to be proportional to Newton’s universal gravitational constant, yet the heat deposits in masses to remain consistent with the excess heat flows from planets actually seen in observations.


In other words, hypothetical graviton properties exist that allow the model to match observations, yet provide no contradiction with other data or experiments. Therefore, gravitons provide an elegant and intuitive explanation for all known properties of gravity and in addition a potential source of vast amounts of energy. The problem to be solved became one of how to keep large masses from exploding during most of their lifetimes, rather than how to explode them. To fill out the picture, a bit of ordinary matter small and compact enough to absorb all gravitons that hit it (called a “matter ingredient”, or MI for short) is surrounded by elysium that gets denser near matter very much as a planetary atmosphere would. Both the MI and its surrounding elysium are immersed in a continual flux of gravitons. Most gravitons pass through the denser, nearby elysium, and are scattered by that process. Any asymmetry in the directionality of the graviton flux will produce a contribution to the acceleration of the MI. But only the relatively infrequent direct collisions of gravitons with the MI add heat to it. Over time, this heat builds up, and is eventually expelled by spontaneous emission of a photon or by radioactive decay. The totality of this heat from all MIs in a body is radiated back into space and observed as the excess heat flow of that body. [*]


Of course, graviton impacts within the elysium add heat to this medium as well. However, elysium is composed of entities (called “elysons”) small enough that they easily flow through masses. Even the elysium “atmospheres” of MIs are continually exchanged by this flow with fresh elysium. So the bulk of the heat generated by gravitons near MIs is carried away by the elysium (undetectably, because we cannot yet observe elysium). This medium is itself in thermal equilibrium with the graviton flux. Indeed, all bodies would normally reach a thermodynamic equilibrium with the graviton flux, whereat they radiate just as much heat away as they continually absorb.


But imagine what would happen if matter became dense enough to interfere with the free flow of elysium. In that case, heat would be accumulated from all graviton impacts, including those “scattered” by the elysium. And that heat could not freely flow away. Potentially, 30 orders of magnitude (the ratio of scattered to absorbed gravitons) more heat could accumulate than happens normally – perhaps 1050 ergs/s in the case of the Earth. A typical nova is said to release about 1042 ergs in total. The excess energy needed to cause a nova might be accumulated from the graviton flux in as little as 10-8 seconds (10 ns) if the process operated with 100% efficiency.


            So we have enough energy to explode even the largest of planets, and probably stars of any size too. But what could trigger such an event? We already have part of the answer in the first explosion mechanism above, phase changes. But now, we are more interested in the possibility of implosions than explosions. An imploding planet might create a state of ultra-high density in the core capable of impeding the free flow of elysium and normal penetration by gravitons. And it could create that condition rapidly because the gravitons have speeds far higher than lightspeed, so all parts of the planet ready for a phase change are capable of communicating and coordinating that change almost instantly. As soon as flowing elysium becomes trapped in a super-dense core, the heat deposits from the graviton flux quickly exceed the energy needed for a nova explosion, and the planet explodes – in less than a millisecond!


            One obvious objection to this model is that, under normal circumstances where elysium is free to flow, it will still take many seconds, perhaps even minutes, to travel completely through a planet at astrophysical speeds. So why doesn’t it accumulate enough heat from gravitons during that time to explode the planet? The answer is that free elysium, whether traveling through a planet or traveling through isolated, otherwise empty space, is always being bombarded with gravitons and accumulating heat. In effect, elysium must be a “boiling” medium. But as we remarked above, it is in equilibrium with the graviton medium, emitting as much energy back to the gravitons as it absorbs from them. This energy is temporarily stored as a high vibrational motion of individual elysons – vibrations comparably fast to graviton speeds. Elysium inside a planet is only mildly denser that elysium in free space. (E.g., at the surface of the Sun, the difference is only about a part in ten thousand.) So as long as the elysium does not get trapped, it can easily carry away the excess heat. But the denser it is, the hotter it will make the nearby matter.


The equilibrium with gravitons is maintained for all elysium in open space. But where elysium or matter gets denser, absorption of gravitons increases. Where elysium is trapped by ultra-high matter density, graviton absorption is correspondingly high and the heat builds up because the elysium is not free to flow. For example, light on a sunny day can pass through a windshield, be absorbed within a car, be re-emitted at a longer wavelength, and then be unable to pass freely back out through the windshield because of the wavelength change, trapping heat in the car. An ultra-high-density matter layer may act in the manner of a windshield to trap elysium and heat deposits. When that happens, the body quickly builds up heat energy until it explodes.


            Applications of this model to astrophysics are numerous, including solving the puzzle of coordinated collapse of supernova interiors (because gravitons travel much faster than light), and providing a means of turning on thermonuclear reactions in all stars without need of a specific trigger mechanism. In general, we note that, the larger the mass, the more heat that mass is likely to contain. As stars accrete and their cores get gradually denser, the mildly impeded elysium flow would build up core heat until the million-degree trigger temperature was reached. The resulting thermonuclear processes themselves radiate away so much heat that they could prevent further core-density increases, stabilizing the star. Indeed, the continual low-level disturbance of elysium by gravitons throughout open space would seem likely to produce the continual emission of low-energy “light”-waves to maintain thermodynamic equilibrium. To observers, this would look like a low-level radiation from otherwise empty space. Because the elysium must extend beyond the limits of the visible universe, it would effectively be optically thick, giving the radiation a blackbody character. So this might be the origin of the 3°K microwave radiation.



            Although phase changes and natural fission reactors can cause bodies of modest mass to explode or implode under certain conditions, these may be more plausibly viewed as trigger mechanisms than as likely causes of planetary explosions in themselves. If gravitation is a continually regenerating process (as the causality and momentum conservation principles would seem to dictate) rather than a static one, it is a potential source of vast energy. In debates about Le Sage-type continual-regeneration models of gravitation over the past two centuries, the chief objection that has emerged is that the available energy is so high that it could make all bodies explode almost instantly. So the problem changes to how to preserve bodies from exploding rather than how to make them explode. Slabinski’s derivation shows that an observationally acceptable ratio of scattering to absorption for gravitons can keep the excess heat in planet-sized bodies small while still providing the full force of gravitation. The scattered-graviton component then flows away undetectably in the elysium (light-carrying medium) unless something, such as a core collapse during a change of state, creates a state of matter so dense that free elysium flow is blocked. In the event of such a blockage, a planet’s destruction follows within a small fraction of a second.



            The author thanks the Meta Research Board and members for financial support, with a special thanks to Tim Seward.



[*] For those interested in this detail, Slabinski showed that the scattering coefficient for gravitons must exceed the absorption coefficient by roughly 30 orders of magnitude to give the full force of gravity while keeping the heat down to manageable levels. At first, that large difference might seem amazing. But on reflection, it is about what we would get if space were filled with comets that occasionally bombarded ultra-dense “stars”, provided these “stars” have a density comparable to that of matter able to absorb gravitons with 100% efficiency. Most of the acceleration of an ultra-dense “star” resulting from any asymmetry in the comet flux would be due to the gravitational pull of innumerable comets passing by on hyperbolic orbits (the “scattered” component), with comparatively little contributed by direct collisions (the “absorbed” component). However, only direct collisions contribute to adding heat to the “star”. Of course, “scattered” gravitons passing matter ingredients do not affect the MI by gravity, which is the way passing comets affect a star, because the gravitons are gravity. However, if scale is infinitely divisible, as seems required by the considerations in chapters 1-2 of [2], then the gravitons and MIs will interact due to forces created by even smaller, faster entities, and so on ad infinitum.


[[1]] T. Van Flandern (2002), “The exploded planet hypothesis – 2000”, to be published in conference proceedings edited by E. Spedicato. also

[[2]] T. Van Flandern (1999), Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2nd ed., chapters 7-11.

[[3]] T. Van Flandern (1995), “A revision of the exploded planet hypothesis”, chapter 23 of [2]; also MetaRes.Bull. 4, 33-42; also

[[4]] T. Van Flandern (1998), “A revision of the original solar system”, chapter 25 of [2]; also MetaRes.Bull. 6, 17-29 (1997); also

[[5]] T.E. Harrison & R.D. Gehrz (1994), “IRAS observations of novae. IV. Modeling source confusion”, AJ 108, 1899-1905.

[[6]] W.H. Ramsey (1950), “On the instability of small planetary cores (I)”, Mon.Not.Roy.Astr.Soc. 110, 325-338.

[[7]] T. Van Flandern (2002), “Gravity”, in Pushing Gravity: New Perspectives on Le Sage’s Theory of Gravitation, Apeiron Press, Montreal, 93-122. See Table on p. 113.

[[8]] (1998), EOS 79 (9/22), 451 & 456. See also

[[9]] B. Lemley (2002), “Nuclear planet”, Discover Aug., 37-42.

[[10]] W.M. Napier and R.J. Dodd (1973), “The Missing Planet”, Nature 242, 250-251.

[[11]] T. Van Flandern and J.P. Vigier (2002), “Experimental Repeal of the Speed Limit for Gravitational, Electrodynamic, and Quantum Field Interactions”, Found.Phys. 32(#7), July (in press).

[[12]] Sir Arthur Eddington (1920), Space, Time & Gravitation, Cambridge Univ. Press (reprinted 1987), 109.

[[13]] Fernando de Felice (1971), “On the gravitational field acting as an optical medium”, Gen.Rel.&Grav. 2#4, 347-357.

[[14]] T. Van Flandern (1999), “The perihelion advance formula”. MRB 8, 10-15.

[[15]] T. Van Flandern (1996), “Possible new properties of gravity”, Astrophys.&SpaceSci. 244, 249-261.

[[16]] V. Slabinski (2002), “Force, heat and drag in a graviton model”, in Pushing Gravity: New Perspectives on Le Sage’s Theory of Gravitation, Apeiron Press, Montreal, 123-128.


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