Space has always held a sort of fascination for us. Ever since before we even knew anything about it we have been looking up into that star-speckled sky trying to explain it and comprehend it all, our minds reaching out across that vast expanse long before any ship of ours did. Among all of our efforts to poke and prod along the edges of what we do not understand there have been some pretty wild ideas and speculations on what the planets and moons mean, and some of those are far more bizarre than others. Here we will look at a selection of some of the more otherworldly and indeed absurd ideas that have been put forward on the nature of our solar system, and indeed the cosmos itself.
In 1894, Austrian engineer and inventor Hanns Hörbiger claimed to have had a vision on the nature of universe within a vivid dream. He would claim that in this dream he had toured the solar system and learned many great truths about the nature of the cosmos from some outside power, granting him an illuminated view of it all. Chief amongst these was the bold assertion that the moon, as well as the planets and indeed the stars in the sky were just big chunks of ice floating through space. According to his theory, there had once been a massive super star millions of times the size of our sun that had been shattered to send fragments out into the cosmos, which then turned into a series of blocks of ice that made up the planets and moons, the whole of it pervaded by a “global ether,” also made of ice. Indeed, he claimed that our solar system was being orbited by a vast ring of planet-sized ice-blocks that refracted light from a handful of stars and gave us the illusion of billions of stars, making the Milky Way nothing more than an optical illusion caused by this wall of space going icebergs. In fact, according to him ice was the basic material of all of the cosmos and its processes, and it was ice that had enabled the creation of the universe as we know it.
Hörbiger also claimed that the moon we have now was in fact not the first satellite to orbit our world, and that a succession of ice planets had once orbited us only to be pulled in by the earth, where they disintegrated and their debris became part of Earth's structure. Indeed, he theorized that the more ice planets a world swallowed in this fashion, the bigger the planet would become, essentially getting fat off of devouring its smaller brethren. This process was apparently usually very destructive to life on the surface. According to him, our current moon was the sixth since Earth began, and that such an apocalyptic event would inevitably happen again. He also said that sunspots were caused by these chunks of ice evaporating as they hit the sun, and dismissed Isaac Newton’s science, saying “I knew that Newton had been wrong and that the sun's gravitational pull ceases to exist at three times the distance of Neptune.”
Hörbiger’s theory was termed the Welteislehre, the “World Ice Theory" or "World Ice Doctrine,” and although this was based off of a dream and had no basis in real math, actual astronomy, or any real research at all for that matter, really, it managed to attract a fair few followers. Hans Robert Scultetus, head of the Meteorology Section of the SS-Ahnenerbe, believed that Welteislehre could be used to provide long-range weather forecasts, the amateur astronomer and schoolteacher Philipp Fauth helped him write a book on the theory in 1912, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the leading theorist behind the early development of the National Socialist Party in Germany in 1923, was an adherent, Adolph Hitler would later believe it, and the English professor Hans Schindler Bellamy was also a huge fan. Bellamy would even claim that this theory had much support in the mythologies of people around the world, and that some of the accounts of catastrophes of the past, such as Noah’s flood from the Bible and the destruction of the lost continent of Atlantis, had been caused by the process of earth being hit with these blocks of ice. The theory became very popular after World War I, with Hörbiger promoting it at every chance he could and holding elaborate seminars and lectures. As the movement grew, they published countless posters, pamphlets, books, and even a newspaper, pulling in more of the gullible to join their ranks.
What makes it all even more bizarre was the indignation and downright audacity Hörbiger had in the face of the immediate criticism he invariably received from actual real astronomers and scientists. When faced with the fact that none of it mathematically made sense, he would say things like “Calculation can only lead you astray,” or “Mathematics is nothing but lies.” When shown the photographic evidence that there were in fact many millions of stars in the Milky Way, he dismissed it all as fakery perpetrated by “reactionary astronomers,” and he was similarly dismissive of evidence that the moon was in fact not made of ice. When rocket expert Willy Ley completely broke apart the whole theory and showed all of the holes in it, Hörbiger simply told him “Either you believe in me and learn, or you will be treated as the enemy.” To him it was all a fundamental cosmic truth, and be damned what anyone had to say about it, and he went on thinking these very wrong ideas right into the grave.
Just as strange as Hörbiger’s idea was a theory concocted by the French philosopher François Marie Charles Fourier (1772- 1837). Known mostly as an early socialist thinker and his role as one of the founders of utopian socialism, Fourier was no astronomer, but he certainly had some ideas on the matter and they mostly had to do with sex. Fourier was known for his elaborate views on the role that he believed passion and sexual desire played in human society. He believed in the power of the transformation of labor into pleasure, the harmony that derives from the release of libidinal forces, the idea that one’s integration in society could be kept in balance by their passion, and he thought that the perfect utopian society is “a continual orgy of intense feeling, intellection, and activity, a society of lovers and wild enthusiasts.” In his view, all creative activity began with what he called “liberated passion,” and In this sense, sex and passion were crucial pillars for society. Herbert Marcouse would write of Fourier’s thoughts on the matter in his book 1955 book Eros and Civilization:
Fourier insists that this transformation requires a complete change in the social institutions: distribution of the social product according to need, assignment of functions according to individual faculties and inclinations, constant mutation of functions, short work periods, and so on. But the possibility of "attractive labor" (travail attrayant) derives above all from the release of libidinal forces. Fourier assumes the existence of an attraction industrielle which makes for pleasurable co-operation. It is based on the attraction passionnée in the nature of man, which persists despite the opposition of reason, duty, prejudice. This attraction passionnée tends toward three principal objectives: the creation of "luxury, or the pleasure of the five senses"; the formation of libidinal groups (of friendship and love); and the establishment of a harmonious order, organizing these groups for work in accordance with the development of the individual "passions" (internal and external "play" of faculties).
His views on this carried over into his theory on the nature of the cosmos. Whereas the prevailing view of astronomers at the time was that planets were kept in orbit through the power of gravity as laid out by Isaac Newton, Fourier disagreed. For him it was all about sex and passion. Basically, he postulated that the planets, moons, and even the stars were similar to living creatures, in that they had a full contingent of senses such as sight, touch and taste, and they also that they had sexual desire for each other. It was this power that he deduced attracted these celestial bodies to each other, and that all planets secreted an ethereal substance he called “aromas,” sort of like planetary pheromones, and the “aroma fields” left in their wake caused other heavenly bodies to follow them around like a love sick horny teenager. He would explain, “A planet is a being which has two souls and two sexes, and which procreates like animal or vegetable beings by the meeting of the two generative substances.” Although it all seems pretty absurd, Fourier actually sincerely believed this and wrote extensively about it. He is now considered a very important sociologist of history and a pioneer of woman’s rights as well, but less so for his astronomical work.
Moving along into more recent years, we come to the British-born American historian, science writer, public lecturer, educator, and philosopher Henry FitzGerald Heard. Besides serving as a science and current-affairs commentator for the BBC from 1930 to 1934, he was a council member of the Society for Psychical Research, a popular lecturer at various prestigious universities and organizations, and he was a guide and mentor to a long list of famous figures of his era. He was also a prolific, award-winning author, writing on a wide and varying range of subjects, ranging from human cognitive development, to politics, mediation, yoga, psychedelics, and paranormal phenomena, as well as numerous novels. One of these books was his 1950 title The Riddle of the Flying Saucers: Is Another World Watching?, in which he gave some of his bizarre thoughts on UFOs and their occupants.
Heard asserted that UFOs did indeed exist, and that they were from another planet, which wasn’t all that groundbreaking, but his ideas get real weird real fast. He believed that most extra-terrestrials, if not all of them, were from Mars, and that they were not humanoids, but rather a kind of technologically advanced super-bees. These bees he surmised had managed to survive the inhospitable desert conditions on their planet by utilizing a type of artificial chlorophyll that could emulate the natural chemical processes of plants to create an endless supply of a type of sugar akin to honey that they subsisted on. These space bees were said to be highly intelligent and space faring, taking an intense interest in our planet and its mindboggling array of vegetation, something they lacked. He believed that they were worried about out development of nuclear weapons and that they may even have been planning to start an invasion to save us from ourselves. It sounds like complete science fiction, but this was not one of his fiction books, he seems to have honestly believed it, and he even proposed a plan for sending Earth bees to Mars in order to facilitate relationships.
Also from the 1950s is the strange tale of John Bradbury, a chiropodist from Ashton-under-Lyne, UK, who was also not an astronomer but nevertheless invented a fancy new type of telescope that used a whopping 15 lenses. According to Bradbury, the more lenses the better, and he had claimed to have gotten such good resolution on his device that he had seen the very edge of the universe itself, which in case your wondering is rectangular, made of metal, and magnetic. This telescope had also allowed him to somehow figure out that the earth was in fact not round, but rather more like a sphere cut in half, with a flat top where we live, and a rounded bottom. According to him, the North Pole was located in the center of our planet, so no matter what direction one went, they were always headed south.
Bradbury also claimed that he had been able to ascertain that the moon was composed of a thin crust of carbon only one or two inches thick, and that it slowly accrued a sheen of phosphorescent clay-like material, like plasticine, as it travelled through space. This gave the moon its shine, and when it was completely covered in this substance, it would appear as a full moon. The weight of all of this luminescent material would they get so heavy that it would fall off, the moon would be dark again, and the cycle would begin anew. In 1953, he even claimed that he had seen a mysterious giant finger made of this material emerge from the moon. When in 1969 we landed on the moon, Bradbury disputed it, because according to his observations, the shell would be too thin to stand on, meaning that the astronauts would have fallen through to be ejected from the other side. He instead reasoned that the Apollo 11 had in fact been pulled off course by the magnetic edge of the universe and been deposited on a remote, rocky area of the Himalayan mountains at night, which they had mistaken for the moon. Makes perfect sense. Looking at these theories now, we can laugh and call them ridiculous, but they just go to show how eager we are to come to an understanding of our universe, and that we can stumble along the way.