I did a little research on this article about John H. Nelson's
work on how the positions of planets affect magnetic storms
on Earth. It looked a little more like astrology than science,
but as it turns out, Nelson's findings gained support in both
the astronomical and meteorological fields. Naturally, the astrology
crowd claimed him as part of their goofiness, but that wasn't
Nelson's fault. He published a book in 1974 titled ,"Cosmic
Connections." Yeah, even that sound like an astrology title
- poor choice (or maybe he was trying to fool the contemporary
Pharisees in to buying his book).
The book is out of print now, and I could not find any contemporary
work that leverages Nelson's work. My guess is that due to the
relatively short time that observations were made, the sun had
not even gone through a full sunspot cycle. Each sunspot cycle,
while occurring on average even eleven years or so, can vary
widely both in intensity and duration from one period to the
next. What might have produce the claimed 85% accuracy
for that particular sunspot cycle likely never provided enough
correlation in subsequent cycles to solidify the theory.
Radio Waves, Sunspots, and Planets
New techniques aid in predicting radio weather
By Saunder Harris, W1NXL
Several mornings each week, in the center of New York's financial
district, the roof of a small structure located atop the RCA
Communications building swings open. A hovering helicopter could
then see Mr. John H. Nelson, a serious-looking man with thinning
hair, assume his place behind a six-inch refracting telescope.
Mr. Nelson, an expert in electronics and astronomy, has one
of the most specialized and unusual jobs in the world; he is
a propagation analyst.
What, exactly, does a propagation analyst do? Well, Mr. Nelson
forecasts the radio weather, or, in more scientific terms, he
predicts the magnetic condition of the ionosphere, a major factor
in the propagation of radio waves over long distances. To demonstrate
the practical value of knowing what the radio weather will be,
let's take a typical example.
. Suppose we want to send
a message from New York to London. Normally, this message would
be transmitted from the RCA station at Rocky Point, N. Y., directly
to London. But today, let's say, Mr. Nelson has predicted that
conditions will be bad over the direct New York - London route.
Propagation analyst John H. Nelson is shown
at his observatory in the heart of New York City's financial
So, after consulting one of Mr. Nelson's charts, we decide
to reroute the message over an alternate path which is free
of ionospheric disturbances. Instead of taking the direct route,
we send the message through traffic relay points at Paramaribo
on the northern coast of South America, or at Tangier in North
Africa. From these points the message is relayed to its destination
This rerouting takes advantage of normally ideal north and
south transmitting conditions. Thus, rather than being chopped
up and garbled because of unfavorable ionospheric conditions,
thanks to Mr. Nelson's advance warning, our message gets to
London clearly, accurately, and on time.
Mr. Nelson uses solar map to study sunspot
Illustrations courtesy of RCA Communications
Radio Propagation. To appreciate the importance
of knowing the condition of the ionosphere in predicting radio
weather, it is necessary to understand how a radio wave is propagated
through space and what part the ionosphere plays in this process.
The ionosphere extends from about 40 to 200 miles above the
Earth and is composed of a fantastic number of "free" electrons
which have been knocked loose from their atoms by ultraviolet
rays, cosmic rays, and solar radiation. This gigantic electron
sea floats high in our atmosphere, and, like its watery counterparts
on Earth, it has tides, storms, and currents.
If conditions within the ionosphere are right, when a radio
wave from a transmitter strikes it, the wave will be bounced
back in much the same manner that light rays are reflected by
a mirror. Thus, the radio wave can be returned to the Earth
at a considerable distance from its point of origin (see Fig.
1). Long-distance radio communication would be impossible without
this reflecting action of the ionosphere.
The next question is: how does a propagation analyst know
when the ionosphere is going to reflect the radio wave properly?
Fig. 1. Radio waves are reflected back to
Earth by the action of the ionosphere, thus making possible
long-distance radio communications.
Charting the Planets. Amazing as it may
seem, Mr. Nelson predicts the condition of the ionosphere, and
thus, the radio weather, by charting the positions of the planets.
He first began to study radio wave propagation in 1946, at which
time he was able to achieve 80% accuracy on 24-hour forecasts
by basing predictions on sunspot observation. In spite of the
apparent success of the sunspot prediction method, however,
he felt that the condition of the ionosphere was determined
not only by sunspots, but also by the relative positions of
the planets as they circle around the sun.
Later investigation proved this theory to be correct. As
a result of studying planetary positions in addition to sunspot
activity, Mr. Nelson's forecasts are now 90% accurate for 30-hour
periods. His long-range forecasts, covering periods of 36 days,
are 80% accurate.
Pluto's angular relationship with the other planets is exceptionally
significant in its effect on the radio weather, according to
Mr. Nelson. During the International Geophysical Year, which
began on July 1, 1957, and ran through December 31, 1958, there
were, six very severe magnetic storms and radio disturbances.
Analyzing his data, Mr. Nelson found that the positioning of
Pluto at a critical zero angle - three times with Venus and
once with Mercury - showed up on four of the six disturbances.
Since Pluto's mean distance from the sun is 3,671,000,000 miles,
its influence would seem to be far-reaching indeed.
Fig. 2. When Saturn, Jupiter, and the Earth
are at 90° to each other, magnetic storms appear on Earth and
radio reception is poor. Drawing at top is artist's conception
of this relationship.
Important Relationships. The results of
Mr. Nelson's plottings of the planetary positions over more
than ten years of research have brought to light six important
facts about the relationships of the planets and radio conditions
on Earth. These are the significant relationships which he uses
in making forecasts, and may be summed up as follows:
(1) Best radio reception periods occur when Saturn and Jupiter
are 120° apart .
(2) The most severe disturbances occur when Mars, Venus,
Mercury and the Earth are in critical relationship near points
of the Saturn-Jupiter configuration.
(3) When two or more planets are at right angles to each
other, or in line on the same side of the Sun, or in line with
the Sun between them, magnetic disturbances occur more frequently
on the Earth's surface. (See Fig. 2.)
(4) When the planets have moved away from their critical
relationship, there is a corresponding decline in the severity
of the magnetic weather.
(5) Three planets equally spaced at 15°, 30°,60°, or 120°
have a tendency to produce disturbed radio signals if two of
the planets are fast-moving and one is a slow-moving planet,
or if all three are fast-moving planets.
(6) Three planets equally spaced at 60° and four planets
equally spaced at 60° will disturb radio signals if at least
two or more of the planets are fast-moving. If three or more
of the planets in this arrangement are slow planets, no disturbance
Successful Predictions. Mr. Nelson does
not attempt to explain why these things happen as they do. What
he has learned from his study is that they do happen. Proof?
His predictions are successful!
In making a forecast, Mr. Nelson starts by calculating the
positions of the planets with respect to each other. When a
significant combination of angles is indicated, he then calculates
the positions to plus or minus 6 minutes of arc for each hour
of the day. It is this data which allows him to make the forecast.
The implications of John Nelson's work with the planets and
radio waves leaves one with the impression that planetary positions
might be important in other phases of our lives. Perhaps the
ancients' superstitious study of the heavens deserves reevaluation
by those of us interested in modern science.
June 1959 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Posted September 22, 2011