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No. 98: Mar-Apr 1995

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The earth has recently been swallowed by a cloud of inter-stellar gas

Using cosmic-ray data and stellar spectra gathered by seven satellites, P.C. Frisch, at the University of Chicago, has constructed a cosmic scenario that reminds us of F. Hoyle's science fiction tale, The Black Cloud. According to Frisch, until just a few thousand years ago, the solar system was cruising through interstellar space that was almost devoid of matter. Then, perhaps within historical times, 2,000-8,000 years ago, the solar system plunged into an interstellar gas cloud. This cloud is believed to be the remnant of the bubble of matter shot into space perhaps 250,000 years ago by a supernova in the Scorpius-Centaurus region.

This tenuous cloud of gas feeds matter into the solar system, some of which interacts with the solar wind and, therefore, affects the geomagnetic field, too. Climate changes may have been caused by entry into this cloud, and very likely the flux of cosmic rays impinging on the earth would have been modulated.

(Frisch, Priscella C.; "Morphology and Ionization of the Interstellar Cloud Surrounding the Solar System," Science, 265:1423, 1994. Also: Peterson, I.; "Finding a Place for the Sun in a Cloud," Science News, 146:148, 1994.)

Comment. Note that the 2,000-8,000-year span brackets many key developments in human civilization. Also, see under ARCHEOLOGY in this issue. For a potentially serious effect this cloud may have on carbon dating. Getting back to Hoyle's "black cloud," we recall that his molecular cloud was sentient and intelligent, being a form of gaseous-phase life. Did our real gas cloud, now seemingly mute, communicate with ancient humans? "Clouds of the Gods." Sounds like a good book title!

From Science Frontiers #98, MAR-APR 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987