Chapter 15.  Dinosaurs, Comets and Earthquakes

There is no well-defined line which divides the orthodox from the unorthodox. Rather do respectability and heresy blend into each other like the opposite ends of the spectrum.

In the middle of that spectrum is the grey area in which multitudes of theories jostle to explain the same set of facts. The more divergent the theories, the brighter the intellectual fireworks, and the more one gets the distinct impression that, orthodox or not, one is watching a sort of academic caucus race.

Take the controversy that surrounds the extinction of the dinosaurs.

It is fairly well known that about 70 million years ago, at the end of what geologists call the Cretaceous Era, the dinosaurs unaccountably died out. Attempts to explain why they did so have led to a fine example of a learned caucus race.

The most basic theory puts down the extinction to climatic changes. At the end of the Cretaceous, there is good evidence that the world’s climates began to get decidedly colder. Many theorists agree that this affected both the dinosaurs themselves and the vegetation on which they fed. However, within this vague agreement lie a wide variety of disagreements.

One theory assumes that the dinosaurs were cold-blooded reptiles. They needed to absorb heat from their environment, and when temperatures began to fall, they could no longer do this properly, and they died out rapidly. But then the problem with that theory has always been that not all the dinosaurs died out. Some of the smaller ones – by that we mean about large turkey size – survived, and they oughtn’t to have done so on the reptile theory.

An alternative theory denies that the dinosaurs were cold-blooded, and says that they did have some measure of internally generated body heat. When temperatures began to fall, some form of winter hibernation became necessary. The smaller dinosaurs survived because they could find places to hibernate, but the larger dinosaurs died out because they were just too big to find such places. We have to admit that the image of a brontosaurus trying to bury itself in the garden for the winter is a deliciously absurd one.

Yet another theory accepts warm-bloodedness, but claims the extinction was a result of area-to-volume ratios rather than hibernation problems. In short, larger dinosaurs were more naked than smaller ones, and so suffered more from heat loss in the increasingly cold winters of the late Cretaceous. Their primitive body heating mechanisms just couldn’t cope, and they died out.

Other theories concentrate not so much on the dinosaurs themselves, as on the vegetation on which they fed.

Far and away our favourite theory is the one that blames dinosaur extinction on chronic constipation! By the end of the Cretaceous, the argument goes, the oily laxative conifers on which the dinosaurs fed had given way to more modern flowering plants. The enforced change of diet resulted in the chronic constipation which eventually killed off the dinosaurs.

Other explanations concentrate on the atmospheric rather than the dietary consequences of plant evolution.

According to one of these, rapid plant evolution virtually flooded the atmosphere with oxygen, and this had the effect of over-energising the lumbering dinosaurs to the extent that they almost literally burnt themselves out. Another theory, however, says that it wasn’t so much the oxygen added to the atmosphere that caused the trouble, as the carbon dioxide taken from it. Removal of large amounts of carbon dioxide would allow the Earth’s heat to escape more easily into space, thus explaining the sharp drops in Earth temperatures at the time. (Other theorists claim that the climate changed because of continental break-up, but that is by the way.) As we’ve already seen, once you’ve explained the falling temperatures, there is no shortage of explanations for its dire consequences on the dinosaurs, large or small, hot-blooded or cold.

However, just as we were getting used to the theories of falling temperatures and depleted carbon dioxide, up popped another theory of rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide. The argument goes that at the end of the Cretaceous, there was a fall in sea level and a reduction in the numbers of marine algae as a result of it. Marine algae consume atmospheric carbon dioxide, so a reduction in their numbers would result in an accumulation of carbon dioxide, a subsequent “greenhouse effect”, and a rise in global temperatures. According to this theory, the rise was slight, but critical. It didn’t kill off the dinosaurs themselves, but it did upset the delicate balance of their sperm production. In other words, the rise in temperatures resulted in what can best be described as the climatic castration of the dinosaurs.

Now it is claimed that two things support this theory: Large numbers of unhatched fossilized eggs, suggesting that something went wrong with the fertilisation process; and the thinness of their shells, suggesting environmental stress. The same thinning, we are assured, is observed today in birds under various types of stress conditions.

But then just as we were getting used to thinner dinosaur shells, up popped yet another theory based on thicker shells. A pathological thickening of dinosaur egg shells would not only have adverse effects on the mother (e.g. decalcification of bones and teeth), but worse, it would mean that the baby dinosaurs couldn’t even break out of their shells – an obvious evolutionary stumbling block to any species, large or small!

But then what caused the egg-shell thickening? Genetic degeneration is one explanation, and, wait for it, environmental stress is another. We are assured that thickening is observed today in birds under various types of stress conditions.…

At this stage the caucus race is really gathering momentum. We have hot-blooded and cold-blooded dinosaurs dying out because of falling temperatures at the same time as their sperm production is being affected by rising temperatures. Their eggs are getting thicker as well as thinner. On one theory they are burning themselves out in an oxygen-rich atmosphere; and on another they are virtually choking through lack of oxygen. Plants are lowering carbon dioxide levels at the same time as marine algae are effectively raising them. And in the meantime, the dinosaurs are constipated.…

But that is only the half of it. There is another theory that newly-evolved mammals either outwitted the dinosaurs in the competition for food, or else ate so many of the dinosaurs’ eggs that extinction became inevitable. There is also yet another theory that the dinosaurs were more or less pre-programmed automata that fell out of step with the changing ecological conditions. Like machines badly in need of adjustment, but with no-one around to adjust them, a breakdown point was inevitable, and it just happened to come at the end of the Cretaceous.

And again, what about sea-level? Many of the dinosaurs were either aquatic or semi-aquatic (remember, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs were dinosaurs). Moreover, they were heavy – at least, most of them were; and it has been suggested that they had to live in regions where they could, so to speak, buoy themselves up by keeping in marshy or swampy ground. When the climate changed, the swamps receded; the dinosaurs were left high and dry, with disastrous results. Their legs just couldn’t take the strain.

Next, what about destruction from outer space? We come at once to the idea of a supernova, which is a tremendous outburst resulting in the destruction of a star. When a massive star runs out of nuclear energy, things become out of control; the star collapses, blowing most of its material away into space, so that all that is left is an expanding gas-cloud plus a tiny, incredibly massive body made up of neutrons (that is to say, particles with no electrical charge). A neutron star may be only a few miles across, with a density about 100 million million times that of water. Quite a number are known by now, though only two have been identified optically; one in the famous Crab Nebula, known to be the remnant of a supernova observed by the Chinese and Japanese in the year 1054, and the other in the southern constellation of Vela. The rest betray themselves by their rapidly-varying radio emissions.

At its peak activity, a supernova may radiate as fiercely as over 15,000,000 Suns put together, and such an event close to us would have distinctly unpleasant results. Luckily, they are not common. Only four have been seen in our Galaxy in the last thousand years (those of 1006, 1054, 1572 and 1604), and all have been distant – the Crab, for example, is 6000 light-years away, so that the outburst actually happened 6000 years before the Chinese and Japanese saw it. Astronomers would very much like to study a galactic supernova with telescopic equipment, but so far they have had to be content with observing supernovae in outer galaxies, millions of light-years away.

Coming back to the dinosaurs, it has been proposed that a comparatively local supernova flared up, soaked the Earth’s atmosphere with deadly radiation, and caused a fall in temperature. But in this case it looks as though extinction would have been fairly universal, and not confined to the dinosaurs. Besides, where is the supernova remnant now? There is no neutron star close to us (we would have been almost certain to find it), and the whole supernova theory seems to be, at best, highly speculative.

Yet another theory involves a temperature drop in terms of a geomagnetic reversal. According to this theory, the Earth’s magnetic field normally acts as a shield against lethal radiations coming from beyond. However, it is widely thought that the Earth periodically reverses the polarity of its field, so that if you wait long enough your compass needle will point south instead of north. But during the process of changing polarity, there is a period when the magnetic field is virtually absent. The radiations come through – and if this happened at the end of the Cretaceous, it would have done the dinosaurs no good at all, though again there is the difficulty that the damage to life on Earth would not have been selective.

Finally, there is the theory that the extinction was brought about by the Earth’s collision with an asteroid. This theory, proposed by Dr L.W. Alvarez and his colleagues at the University of California, was put before the American Association for the Advancement of Science towards the end of 1979. Shades of Velikovsky, here, and we’ll return to that controversial point a little later.

Collision with an asteroid of about 10 km diameter would be roughly equivalent to a hundred-million-megaton explosion – a big enough bang to hurl clouds of pulverised rock and dust high into the atmosphere, where much of it would stay for as long as 5 years. The shock of the explosion would itself wipe out huge numbers of animals, of course, but worse in the long term would be the reduction in sunlight caused by the dust in the atmosphere, and its effects on the plant life. Plants need sunlight, and animals need plants, so that the food chains of large numbers of animal species would be seriously disrupted.

Such a catastrophic theory is not favoured by other theorists. They argue that the dinosaurs didn’t die out quite as suddenly as such a theory would require. The extinction of the dinosaurs was ‘sudden’ only in geological terms – it might actually have taken something like 100,000 years – and the effects of an asteroid collision would not be nearly so far-reaching.

But Dr Alvarez is not the only contender in the catastrophic extinction stakes. In the journal Nature for 29th November 1979, Dr W.M. Napier and Dr S.V.M. Clube, of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, proposed a catastrophic theory of a rather different kind.

Clube and Napier still postulate a collision, not with an asteroid from within the solar system, but with a large meteorite or planetesimal from outside it. This may not look like much of a difference in theoretical approach, but in fact it has rather far reaching implications insofar as it seeks to explain several other things of a curious nature, besides dinosaur extinction. And it all depends on where that planetesimal originates.

Clube and Napier argue that the Sun, on its journey round the galaxy, periodically passes through zones of space debris or planetesimals. Most of these planetesimals are very small, though a few of them can attain sizes roughly equal to that of our Moon. On each passage through such a zone, an assortment of planetesimals get pulled into the solar system by gravity.

According to Clube and Napier, most of this space debris escapes from the solar system again within a few million years – a short time in astronomical terms. Since the last passage through such a zone was a mere 10 million years ago, they claim that some of the last lot of picked-up debris may still be with us in the form of comets or meteorites. The heavy cratering on the Moon and inner planets may well be explained in terms of such debris, for example. Also, they claim that their theory could explain why the outer satellites of Jupiter orbit in the opposite direction to the rest, and why some asteroids have orbits which are steeply inclined to the plane of the rest of the solar system. Such anomalies, they say, are not the permanent fixtures of the solar system that some astronomers claim, but are in fact temporarily captured chunks of space debris awaiting their escape.

The extinction of the dinosaurs (not to mention the induction of Ice Ages) is also explicable in terms of the Earth’s collision with passing planetesimals. At this point, Clube and Napier’s theory is very similar to that of Dr Alvarez, the mechanisms involved being roughly summarised as follows:

  1. Blast waves set up by the impact would flatten forests and preferentially kill larger land animals such as dinosaurs.
  2. Gases generated in the heat of impact would be injected into the atmosphere. Their effect would be to destroy the ozone layer and to admit a flood of harmful ultraviolet radiation.
  3. Large quantities of dust would be flung high into the atmosphere, thus blocking out sunlight and disrupting the food chains of many forms of life.

Few of our readers will fail to notice that Clube and Napier’s planetesimal collision, and likewise Dr Alvarez’s asteroid, bear an outward resemblance to Velikovsky’s catastrophism; and in his book Earth in Upheaval, published in 1955, Velikovsky proposed that the extinction of the dinosaurs was the direct result of a cometary collision in prehistoric times. Clube and Napier are well aware of certain similarities, and in their later book The Cosmic Serpent even go on to propose that cometary impacts may have had dramatic effects on the course of human history in historical times. Striking as the similarities are, however, their brand of cometary catastrophe is very different from Velikovsky’s theory that Venus used to be a comet, and that the planets were responsible for wreaking havoc on the Earth in the first and second millennia BC! Clube and Napier are eminent astronomers who firmly reject as “impossible” Velikovsky’s proposed rearrangements of the solar system.

Clube and Napier also believe that a planetesimal impact may well explain the Tunguska explosion of 30th June 1908, when a blazing fireball plunged into the tundra of Central Siberia, devastating 1200 square miles of peat bog and pine forest, and setting up earthquake-like tremors which were felt over five hundred miles away. Explanations of this event range from the Earth’s collision with a mini black hole to the crash-landing of an out-of-control UFO, though let it be stressed that Clube and Napier would be the last to suggest anything so unlikely as a crippled alien space-ship!

There is not the slightest doubt that something cataclysmic happened in the Tunguska area at 7.17 local time on 30th June 1908. The object – whatever it was – was seen falling, and was brighter than the Sun. When it struck, it caused tremors and blast effects which were felt by people many miles away, and pine-trees were blown flat like matchsticks. Unfortunately, no expeditions reached the site for many years, because the situation in Russia was so unstable. The first man to mount a successful expedition was Leonid Kulik, in 1927. By then, of course, erosion had taken its toll, though there was still plenty of evidence of devastation.

What Kulik did not find was a large crater. Meteoritic falls can produce craters; go to Arizona, and you will find Meteor Crater, almost a mile wide, which was certainly produced by an impact around 22,000 years ago. Other meteorite craters are known. In the case of Tunguska, the nature of the ground would probably have resulted in the filling-in of a crater fairly quickly, but not within twenty years or so; and, significantly, no meteoritic fragments were found either. If not a meteorite, then what was it?

The obvious answer is that it was the nucleus of a small comet. Comets are flimsy things, made up largely of ices. If such a body plunged through the Earth’s atmosphere, and hit the ground, it would evaporate. Presumably the comet was small, and could well have escaped detection (many faint comets do, even today, when the sky patrolling is much more thorough than it was in 1908). This is the view of most Russian scientists, such as K. Florensky.

But inevitably, the “fringe” writers joined in, led by one Alexander Kazantsev, a science fiction writer of considerable repute. Could the explosion have been atomic?

Nobody suggests that, in this case, the bomb was of Earth origin. Nuclear weapons are a product of our modern enlightened civilisation, not of the early part of the twentieth century. If atomic, then, the missile must have been extra-terrestrial – and we are back with flying saucers. The favourite idea was that of a crash-landing, so that the luckless astronauts were blasted out of existence together with their space-craft. Stories of enhanced radiation in the area were circulated, and were not easy to dismiss out of hand simply because so few people have been to the site (Tunguska is not exactly a tourist centre). But the evidence has never been forthcoming; and though books on the subject continue to come out – The Tungus Event, by Rupert Furneaux (1977) and The Fire Came By, by John Baxter and Thomas Atkins (1976) are typical – the comet theory is by far the most likely.

It is just as well that the missile hit an uninhabited area. Had it landed on a city, the death-toll would have been colossal. The only comparable fall of recent times occurred on 12th February 1947, again in Siberia, and again in an uninhabited region (Sikhote-Alin). This is more accessible than Tunguska, and there is absolutely no doubt that it was due to a meteorite which broke up during the final stages of its descent, because over a hundred small craters were produced.

As for the black hole theory – well, there were suggestions that the mini black hole went straight through the Earth and came out on the far side, but attempts to discover any records of a comparable disturbance in the sea antipodal to Tunguska proved to be abortive.

Much the oddest theory was that the 1908 event was a signal. In 1883 Krakatoa, in the East Indies, blew up with a shattering explosion. It was suggested that this was seen by the denizens of some far-off world, who thought that we were trying to attract their attention – and replied in a manner which, quite innocently, proved to be rather too effective! We seem here to be drifting steadily toward the realm of Professor Quatermass.

Continuing our theme of the continuity between orthodox and unorthodox, we come to the eminently respectable but nevertheless controversial book Lifecloud (1978) by Sir Fred Hoyle and Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe.

The usual view of the origin of life postulates a beginning here on Earth approximately four billion years ago. The first and most primitive organisms, the orthodox theory goes on to say, had their origin in a sort of primeval chemical soup activated by solar radiation and perhaps electrical discharge.

Not so, claim Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. The basic chemicals of life originate in supernovae explosions, and are flung out to permeate interstellar space in the form of lifeclouds: that is, clouds of gas and dust which are composed of the basic chemical building blocks of life. The first and most primitive forms of terrestrial life, they say, did not originate here on Earth, but out in space, in the chemical broth of a lifecloud. Thereafter they were literally dumped on the Earth in cometary collisions, where, since conditions were favourable, they began to evolve into more complex life forms. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe write:

The best explanation therefore of the known facts relating to the origin of life on the earth is that in the early days soft landings of comets brought about the spreading of water and other volatiles over the earth’s surface. Then about four billion years ago life also arrived from a life-bearing comet. By that time conditions on the earth had become sufficiently similar to those on the cometary home for life to be able to persist here. The long evolution of life on the earth had begun.

On the subject of organisms surviving and developing in the heads of comets, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe write:

Primitive life forms may even have evolved extraterrestrially on comets. Heat released at some depth below the surface of a comet could have melted a fraction of the underlying ice, the heat being released by chemical reactions between the organic molecules. Moreover, once some ice was melted, there would have been further heat-releasing chemical reactions between the organic molecules and liquid water. Such a situation, adequately insulated against heat loss by overlying surface layers, could well have provided the most favourable conditions for the emergence of life – the best locations of all for a primeval soup.

The same theme of life-bearing comets occurs a little further along the orthodox–unorthodox spectrum where Velikovsky, in Worlds in Collision, describes how the comet Venus brought plagues of vermin to the Earth:

The question arises here whether or not the comet Venus infested the earth with vermin which it may have carried in its trailing atmosphere in the form of larvae together with stones and gases. It is significant that all around the world peoples have associated the planet Venus with flies.

Joseph F. Goodavage, a follower of Velikovsky’s, whose book on the comet Kohoutek we mentioned in Chapter 10, follows the same theme in his book Storm on the Sun (1979). After assuring us that the Sun is a binary star whose other half is dark or invisible, but shortly before he speculates on the possibility that the Sun is under the control of aliens, the unstinting Mr Goodavage hails Hoyle and Wickramasinghe as confirmation of the traditional view that comets and plagues are intimately connected. Did not the outbreak of the plague in 1665 occur immediately after the Earth had passed through the tail of a giant comet?

But the most striking orthodox–unorthodox parallel of all is that between Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, and Velikovsky’s predecessor William Comyns Beaumont. Under the pen-name “Appian Way” Beaumont wrote a book called The Riddle of the Earth (1925) in which he wrote:

To the womb of Mother Earth it may truly be said do we owe the organic existence in the first place of all forms of independent organisms, when that womb has been fructified by contact with the heavenly fires. Yet, if this be indeed the case, it may truly be said that every plant, insect, fish, reptile, crustacean, bird, beast and man has been transferred from, or is the evolution of, a similar entity from other worlds, evolved as the result of meteor impact and shaped in accordance with the chemical and gaseous formulae of which the living unit in varying circumstances and ages is the product.

Again Hoyle and Wickramasinghe claim that the Earth’s volatiles (including the atmosphere and oceans) were brought to Earth by comets, and Beaumont claimed much the same thing (see below).

Of course, scientists will point out that virtually the whole of Beaumont’s book, which we’ll look at in a moment, is nonsense, and that he was right about volatiles and life-bearing comets for completely the wrong reasons. But wrong reasons or not, we find it rather remarkable that he was ‘right’ about any of it at all. After all, it is rather like guessing Rumplestiltskin’s name correctly, and without any cheating! Of course, the parallels might arise because Hoyle, Wickramasinghe and Beaumont all took their cue from the same earlier speculations on the subject (for example Arrhenius’s ideas on spores of life in space) – but then where did those earlier speculations come from, granted that they came from an era without either spectroscopy or radio astronomy? Whichever way you look at it, someone somewhere had a remarkable hunch about what was going on. But then again, there remains the possibility that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe are up the same gum tree today that Beaumont was up back in 1925!

Subsequently Hoyle and Wickramasinghe published other books, such as Diseases from Space, in which they elaborate their theories. Arrhenius, in his panspermia theory, maintained that life was brought to Earth via a meteorite; Hoyle and Wickramasinghe prefer a comet. They go so far as to suggest that the water in our oceans is also of cometary origin, and they believe that even today comets can inject viruses into our atmosphere, causing epidemics such as influenza. They have carried out careful analyses, largely by checking on illnesses suffered by schoolchildren in Cardiff, and believe that diseases are not contagious in the way usually believed; comets are the main villains. If so, then the old idea of comets as bringers of ill-fortune is not so far-fetched after all.

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe paid particular attention to Halley’s Comet, which is the only bright comet to return regularly; it paid us its last visit in 1986, and will be back once more in 2061. And certainly they scored a major point when the Giotto space-probe passed through Halley’s Comet, in March 1986, and sent back our first direct information about the nucleus. Most if not all authorities had assumed that the nucleus would be bright and icy. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe maintained that it would be dark; and they were right – Halley’s heart was as black as coal-dust. But then there was no outbreak of influenza or anything equally unpleasant following the passing of the comet, or at least none that made the news!

Before we take a closer look at Beaumont’s book The Riddle of the Earth, we need to listen to the orthodox view of the causes of earthquakes and volcanoes.

The crust or outer layer of the Earth varies in thickness between 10 and 30 miles. Beneath it lies a semi-plastic layer of denser rock known as the mantle. The mantle is not uniform but consists of a series of concentric shells of rock. It is about 1800 miles thick, and beneath it lies the Earth’s core, once thought to be molten liquid, but now believed to be a solid under immense pressures and high temperatures.

In general, the Earth’s crust is composed of two layers, the upper one called sial and the lower, denser one, called sima. In places, though, the surface sial layer is non-existent and the sima shows through. This happens, for example, on the floor of some parts of the Pacific Ocean.

Now, though sima might look to you and me like solid rock, it is in fact a super-viscous liquid rather like glass. Consequently the continents (sial) can be thought of as immense rafts floating on a bedrock sea (sima), and, like anything else afloat, they move. This is what is meant by the term “continental drift”. The movement is very sluggish, to be sure, but the immense masses involved mean that, sluggish or not, titanic forces are required. These forces are responsible for the folding of mountains, and it is the slipping and scraping of one continental raft against another that gives rise to what we know as earthquake disturbance.

Actually not all earthquakes arise from the sudden release of pent-up friction between rafts. Some seem to arise from little-understood ‘explosions’ in the mantle, thought to be associated with changes in crystalline structure. Be that as it may, most earthquakes originate either in the upper 12 miles of the crust, or in the mantle directly beneath the crust.

Next, volcanoes. The rock of the mantle below the Earth’s crust is at a high temperature but also at a very high pressure. This combination of pressure with temperature keeps the rock in a more or less solid state, but if and when the pressure is relieved locally, the rock may become fluid and rise through any line of weakness to the surface. Here it emerges in the form of lava.

Not surprisingly, such lines of weakness are associated with areas of instability in the crust, and such areas tend to be those in which earthquakes also occur. Thus it comes about that earthquakes and volcanoes are related phenomena.

The Riddle of the Earth is a remarkable book that seeks to take this relationship much further at the same time as merrily throwing overboard any remotely orthodox ideas on the subject.

On Beaumont’s theory, not only are earthquakes and volcanoes related to each other, but both are further related to atmospheric phenomena (for example hurricanes), meteorites and comets.

Firstly, according to Beaumont, meteorites and comets are magnetic bodies which are attracted to the Earth along what he calls isodynamic lines of longitude. Thus, he tells us, meteorites approach the Earth always from a northerly direction. (This is Beaumont’s Law: some meteorites are obviously ignorant of it!)

If a meteorite (or comet) actually hits the Earth, it forms a volcano, the lava coming not from inside the Earth, but from the meteorite itself. A volcano, Beaumont says, is “the residue of another world, the deposit of a meteor”, and its lava neither more nor less than “meteoric incandescence”.

Sometimes, though, the meteorite doesn’t actually hit the Earth, but skims close over its surface before hurtling out into space again. In that case, as it passes overhead, its magnetic forces tug at the Earth beneath it, and cause the upheaval we call an earthquake.

Insofar as both have a common meteoric or cometary origin, differing only in degree, as it were, Beaumont’s theory does explain why earthquakes and volcanoes are observed to be associated phenomena. Needless to say, though, his version of the proceedings is totally at odds with orthodox geology.

Now, Beaumont continues, once a volcano has been formed by meteoric impact, it becomes a sort of magnetic centre of attraction, and pulls towards it other passing meteorites to “refuel” itself. In fact Beaumont claims that successive eruptions of the same volcano mark the arrival of new meteoric refuelling from outer space. Further, the secondary or parasitic cones of a volcano mark the points where refuelling meteorites have been attracted towards the primary cone but have either fallen just short of it or else have slightly overshot it.

Beaumont denies the now orthodox theory that mountains are folded by the titanic forces generated by shifting continental masses. He claims instead that they are built out of accumulated meteoric debris that for one reason or another never quite made volcanic status. The entire Pennine Range, for example, is meteoric in origin, its north–south direction following the north–south direction of meteoric approach.

Before any of our readers objects that some mountain ranges run east–west rather than north–south, well, we had best explain that such mountain ranges, when formed, did indeed point north–south. However, large meteoric impacts have a nasty habit of shifting the Earth’s axis, so that what was once north–south could quite easily point east–west today.

Again, if meteorites are constantly being drawn into the Earth from the north, we would expect more of them to fall in the northern hemisphere than the southern. This is why, Beaumont claims, there are more earthquakes and volcanoes in the northern hemisphere, and also why there is more land surface north of the equator than south of it. It all fits beautifully – at least to Beaumont.

As to weather phenomena, well, it stands to reason that if meteorites are all the time whizzing through our atmosphere along magnetic lines of force, then they are bound to stir up trouble, and Beaumont claims that hurricanes and gales are direct consequences of the turbulence induced by meteoric passage through the atmosphere. Waterspouts and tidal waves are likewise caused by meteorites plunging into the sea. And the heavy rains associated with volcanic eruptions are composed of water formed from the explosive mixtures of meteoric gases.

Indeed, Beaumont claims that our atmosphere would long ago have dissipated itself out into space were it not for its constant replenishment by meteoric gases. (If the atmosphere weren’t constantly being renewed, he argues, we’d all still be breathing the same air as Julius Caesar, and that would be absurd!)

Likewise, the oceans would long ago have evaporated away into space were they not replenished by the water created whenever a meteorite or comet strikes the Earth and forms a volcano.

Thus Beaumont writes:

Without volcanoes the earth would become an utter waste, with no life, no atmosphere, no waters or oceans. Such has become the fate of the moon, a planet consisting of enormous extinct volcanoes, but without atmosphere or oceans.

As we pointed out earlier, Beaumont’s idea that the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are constantly fed by comets parallels Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s theory that the Earth’s volatiles were brought here by comets. Of course, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe do not share Beaumont’s enthusiasm for volcanoes, but that is another matter.

On matters geological, too, Beaumont has well-defined, if unorthodox views.

For example, he believes that geologists have failed dismally in their collective attempts to explain the formation of coal. According to orthodox ways of thinking, a coalfield is a sort of fossilised peat bog. Beaumont rejects this idea and claims that coalfields are the remains of forests that were literally carbonised in the conflagration of some prehistoric cometary collision. This idea was later to turn up in Velikovsky’s book Earth in Upheaval.

Again, Beaumont believes that geologists have got it all wrong when it comes to explaining erratics. These are boulders, frequently weighing many tons, which are geologically “out of place”. That is, they are composed of entirely different minerals to the rocks of the landscape surrounding them. Geologists explain this by saying that they were actually picked up elsewhere and transported to their present positions by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. Beaumont, however, has different ideas. For a start, the Ice Ages are no more than an absurd geological fantasy. Nothing of the kind ever actually happened, he assures us. The erratics are out of place simply because they are of meteoric origin.

Nor is it just the geologists who must stand corrected in the light of Beaumont’s revelations. The astronomers, too, are all of a muddle, being, as they are, blissfully unaware of the fact that a sunspot is a solar volcano – a point where a comet has fallen into the sun’s surface. By their reckoning sunspots are centres of intense localised magnetic fields which affect the heat flow at the Sun’s surface. They are ‘dark’ in comparison with the surrounding surface of the Sun simply because they have a lower temperature.

Again, orthodox astronomers persist in believing that if the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, nothing at all happens except, perhaps, to the minds of the timid and gullible. Beaumont, however, has other ideas, some of which later resurface in Velikovsky’s books. Beaumont raises the old issue of the links between plagues and comets, only this time, earthquakes and volcanoes enter the picture as well:

Daniel [he means Noah] Webster, the lexicographist, considered that influenza was caused by the gases of a comet projected into our atmosphere. The Black Death of 1333, which depopulated enormous areas in Europe, and was thought to have begun in Italy, was accompanied by an earthquake and volcanic eruption and a peculiar haze in the atmosphere. The Plague of London in 1665 was simultaneous with a great comet and a haze mentioned by Defoe, and even recently the sleeping sickness which reached the proportions of an epidemic in Japan coincided with the earthquake of September, 1923. The belief of the ancients that a comet brought pestilence and death was universal, as may be seen in the account of King David’s terror at the vision of the Angel of the Lord, with a bent arm holding a sword, witnessed by him at the threshing-floor of Ornan. As a result of this comet, a pestilence broke out, and thousands died.

Finally, Beaumont claims that because of cometary impacts in prehistoric times, “certain species were totally exterminated either by being rained on, or by shock, or by exhaustion of air.” The expression “rained on”, of course, refers to molten meteoric debris rather than volcanic cloudbursts!

Which brings us back, full circle, to the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the curious parallels between Beaumont and Velikovsky’s ideas, and those of the orthodox catastrophists like Alvarez or Clube and Napier.