If you've just wandered in off the street and have no idea what I'm talking about, here's the short version. Some time back, this gif and video were doing the rounds on the internet. Like a bad penny, they still keep turning up from time to time, with an astonishing capacity to go viral almost whenever they appear.
What Plait (quite correctly) describes is that the model of the Solar System this video promotes is utter nonsense. What I (also quite correctly) pointed out is that yes, the model is wrong, but the planets trace out helical paths through space even so. I even made a (much crappier) version of the gif to illustrate this. I gave the planets the correct 60 degree tilt relative to the direction of motion (which makes barely any difference at all) and put them in the correct order, just for the hell of it.
I've always maintained that it's that aspect of the video (showing our motion through space) that assures its popularity, rather than the alternative (wholly wrong) model it tried to promote. I did, of course, get extremely annoyed by the promotion of this nonsensical alternative model, but I wanted to make it absolutely clear that this helical-path business is perfectly correct.
I'm extremely pleased to tell you that I've just had a delightful conversation with DJSadhu, creator of the original video. I'll admit to a great deal of trepidation about even opening the email. After all, I wasn't particular polite in the original article, and I was fully expecting yet another angry email from a pseudoscientific nutcase. I get such things frequently enough that I strongly considered just deleting the email without even reading it.
Well, let me say this in no uncertain terms : I was wrong. Sadhu has listened to the critics and made a new video. Gone are the claims that the heliocentric model is wrong. Gone are the links to any alternative model of the Solar System created by someone who doesn't believe CFCs are the cause of the ozone hole. And gone are the links to the Fibonacci sequence as a fingerprint of God. What remains are some very nice graphics and a catchy soundtrack. The whole thing looks really well done to me.
When I watched it, I don't mind admitting that I was very pleasantly surprised indeed. I really can't find any show-stoppers with this at all. Really, if there are any inaccuracies in this one, I think this would be nit-picking.
As I pointed out in the first article, I couldn't see any hint of the Sun moving ahead of the planets, despite Phil Plait's claims (but keep reading) which would have been horrendous. Sadhu explicitly confirmed that to me :
"Again, the sun is not leading here, still not convinced it does. Although Bhat's paper put me on the "helical track", I do not take his "cone shaped model" as absolute fact... I've had of discussions with viewers, noobs, trolls, haters, lovers, and scientists, and I kind of doubt the cone shape model to put it mildly."
Seriously, what more can one ask for ? He freely admitted that his second video does show this Sun-leading model, but here he couldn't be any more clear : he's not trying to show that with this video.
Sadhu asked :
"And how come, even though the standard model is 'correct' and 'complete'... you had to come up with a completely new animation to show the old model is okay ?
Because there was no such video... and that's what I find annoying.
"Science" quickly jumps onto the "it's all wrong" bandwagon... and then you have to go and tinker to personally make the first "correct" version (oh the angle is a bit different)
The complete model should have been out there all along!!!!
Noo, let's debunk DjSadhu, and then make the correct version - for the first time !"
I can see his point. There certainly wasn't a standard-model video out there - at least, certainly not one that's anything like as pretty or as popular. It would definitely seem very unfair to debunk the person who made such a successful video demonstrating (pretty much for the first time) the motion of the Solar System through space.
My response was to explain in some long-winded detail why the the standard-model video didn't previously exist, and what it was about the original that had got some people (myself very much included) riled up. I'll try and keep things a bit briefer here.
First, why there wasn't a video already. Any object moving on a circular path that's simultaneously moving forward must trace out a helical path. This ought to be incredibly obvious, but here's a simple demonstration you can try at home, provided you have at least one functional finger.
Hold your hand out and point one finger to the left. Now move your finger in a circle, and move your hand to the left. You'll see your finger traces out a helical path. There's nothing the slightest bit mysterious or profound about it - it's simple, basic geometry. No-one ever felt the need to make a video claiming "your finger is a vortex !"... err, well, on second thought maybe they did, but I'm not into that sort of thing, thank you very much.
Next. repeat the experiment but this time move your head at the same speed as your finger. The helices disappear ! Your head is now in the same "reference frame" as your finger - that's the heliocentric model, the standard diagrams of the Solar System you're probably familiar with. The heliocentric model is neither wrong nor incomplete, it's simply a choice of reference frame. And at this point, to demonstrate the fact that we've been aware of the motion of the Solar System for some time, here's the Galaxy Song again. Yes, I used this last time... but come on, it's a very good song.
The second point - it wasn't the video that got me riled up, it was what it was promoting. My response (shortened slightly) was as follows :
- "First, you presented the idea of helical paths as though it were some revolutionary new model. You could have very easily checked with more or less any astronomer who would have told you that we already know this is the case.
- Second, I completely agree with Plait about Bhat - I think he's nuts. His document put me in mind of Moon landing conspiracy theorists and Hollow Earth believers.... Your claim was not, "hey everyone, in this reference frame we're moving on a helical path !" (which would have had people saying, "pretty neat !") but instead, "hey, this totally ludicrous model claims we're moving on a helical path, so I've overturned heliocentricism" (which has people thinking you're mad).
- Third, you seemed to be strongly implying that you didn't believe the 60 degree tilt of the ecliptic was even possible, because you thought it would mean that sometimes the planets are moving faster than the Sun. Plait's analogy of swinging a ball on a string while walking down the street is correct - this poses no problem whatsoever for classical mechanics.
- Fourth, you were claiming that in the classical model the planets should be eclipsed by the Sun once per year. This does not happen, simply because the orbits aren't all perfectly in the same plane. An alternative model is not necessary to explain this.
- Fifth, I don't think it's fair to say that discrediting the other stuff on your website was not relevant. You made quite an explicit link between the motion of the planets and DNA and other organic structures. In effect, you claimed that your alternative source model provides evidence for a pseudoscientific idea about the Fibonacci sequence. That was never going to go down well."
Sadhu's response was pretty much everything I could have hoped for. I've re-arranged his response a little, for reasons that will become apparent soon enough. It deserves to be quoted at length.
"About two years ago I heard of this "Bhat model", the cone shaped, helical solar system. It fired up my enthusiasm and I started making these videos. Frankly I was a bit pissed about the 'standard model' (as you can tell by the claims in the first video), because it just did not show properly how things work. For me personally, the difference between a stationary looking dinner plate model and this dynamic, spiralling model was huge. So I made the videos, the first one (solar system) just showed this helical model, and the second one (our galaxy) showed this cone shape and the helical pathway of the sun, and lots of other debatable details. Especially that second video was reason for most resistance and criticism from the scientific community, but it affected how both videos were regarded.
Anyway, that was how it worked back then. Now, two years later, I'm certain of one thing: the huge difference between the stationary looking dinner plate model and the helical model remains.
As long as I leave out the wacky stuff, the cone shaped stuff, leave Bhat out, do not argue about the shape of the sun's path, it could easily be accepted.
So that is kind of what I decided, I want to make this "Solar System 2.0" video, with no outrageous claims, none of the disputable stuff, just the best representation of the helical model that I can make. And make it art.
The video does not claim that the heliocentric model is 'wrong', it puts it into perspective. For most people a new one. Also, the cone shaped stuff is not in the video, not important, and should certainly not ruin the message.
I'm not after words, but after images. So I left the words out. Vortex/helix, wrong/incomplete, all those terms are vulnerable ingredients in a video, and they are not the point !
The point is how people 'see' the solar system. Although the helical paths may have been known to astronomers and astrophysicists (and part of the public), what people 'see' when they think about the solar system is in my opinion incomplete."
It would be pretty damn tough for me to disagree with any of that. In fact, let me state it more explicitly : bravo, Sadhu, I salute you.
He did, however, make two statements I dispute - one is pretty minor, the other major but not as bad as you may at first think.
The minor point : "The only bold move I made was to 'blame' the upward angle in the sun's path for the difference between 90 and 60 degrees. "
I'd say the fact that the planets don't move at 90 degrees to the direction of motion is simply chance - they could be oriented at any angle. A more interesting, related point that someone mentioned to me elsewhere is that there's no reason the plane of the ecliptic (the narrow "sheet" in which the planets orbit the Sun) should always be at the same angle relative to the direction of the Sun's motion around the center of the galaxy.
That's a little bit complicated a statement, so probably an illustration will help. Here's what you might interpret Sadhu's video as showing (he confirmed to me that this is not what he's trying to show, however) :
Here the Sun (yellow circle) and the orbits of the planets (white lines) are shown at different points in their orbit around the galaxy (obviously they're not to scale). If they orbited like this, the paths of the planets would always trace out neat helical paths.
That might not be the case though. The plane of the ecliptic could keep the same angle throughout its orbit around the Galaxy.
In this case, the neat helical paths would only result at two points in the orbit (those at the extreme left and right in the above image). The result of the time there'd still be helices, but they'd be distorted.
At the other extremes (the top and bottom in the image), the planets would trace out something more like a flat, spirograph pattern than a 3D helix :
Which is correct ? Actually, I don't know. Or even care very much - and that's where Sadhu and I have a more profound disagreement. For me, the motion of the Solar System through space is neither very interesting scientifically nor philosophically*. For Sadhu, however, things are different :
* Personally I'd rather there was more interest in my hydrogen sky video or giant nuclear spaceship or exploding galaxy renders, which were far more interesting, labour-intensive projects.
"Yes, in my personal experience the helical paths, DNA, life, Universe is all connected. Hell, I would not be surprised if one day the discovery is made that the entire Universe is conscious."
Sadhu and I are never going to agree on that. And you know what ? That's absolutely fine. I have stated several times previously that I have no problem with people holding irrational beliefs, I don't see them as inherently wrong or amoral. What Sadhu is doing here is making a very clear distinction between his unscientific opinions and objective facts. That is commendable. If more people could do this, the world would be a happier place.
I still stand by my original article. I don't think I was wrong to debunk the claims against heliocentricism at all. As I said, the problems with the original video were minor, but what it was promoting deserved to be shot down.
Sadhu is no longer using his talents to promote anything remotely unscientific. True, he does still have unscientific opinions (and a brief glance at his website shows him to be interested in things I profoundly disagree with). Some of what he says is "disputed" I would say "no, that's just wrong" - but come on, there's no point being a jerk about it. For me to fail to publically acknowledge the virtues of this video, would, I think, make me a complete arsehole.
People, this should be seen as a win-win scenario. The essence of Sadhu's original video was correct, and he's publically declaring skepticism for the second one. His new effort has none of the quackery associated with the first. To me, that seems like the best of all possible outcomes. Demonising your opponents is no way to win them over - and sometimes, it turns out they were saying something valuable all along.