The planet Vulcan
W hat is the closest planet to the Sun? If you said Mercury, then you’d be correct. However, if you had said Vulcan in the 19th century then you’d still be correct. Sort of. Though the name may conjure images from Star Trek, in actuality the mathematician Urban Jean Joseph Le Verrier posited that certain quirks in Mercury’s rotation could only be explained by the gravitational pull of another planet. He even claimed to have witnessed its transit, and support ricocheted around the globe. When Le Verrier died in 1877, many still regarded him as the discoverer of Vulcan. Unfortunately, the search was nullified in 1915 by Einstein’s discovery of General Relativity, which helped to explain Mercury’s orbit. It later transpired that Vulcan was actually in the star system of 40 Eridani A.
Although it is regarded by most nowadays as sheer pseudoscience, phrenology used to be one of the most heavily-studied branches of neuroscience. Phrenology was defined by its
proponents’ belief that individual character traits, such as aggression or intelligence, were localised in specific parts of the brain. The larger each of these parts were, the more likely one was to behave in a certain way, so if you had a massive empathy component, which dwarfed the intelligence component, you’d be Hodor. Via this theory, phrenologists would study the size and shape of the subjects’ head in order to determine one’s personality. Detailed maps were produced of the 27 theoretical areas of the brain and people were mapped accordingly. Unfortunately, it was then proven to be complete rot by actual scientists.
The mystical aether, or ether, was a hypothesised substance that was long believed to be the means by which light traveled across the cosmos. From the heyday of Ancient Greece, right up until the
19th century, it was assumed that light required a delivery system: a van for the photon loaves. If it did exist, then it would have revolutionised physics, due to the fact that it could be measured and quantified, and thus studied in detail. Even though most experiments contradicted the existence of the substance, faith in it was so great that most people abandoned empiricism in favour of proclaiming its existence sans data. Thankfully, we have Einstein to once again thank for saving us from insanity, with the 20th century reconfiguration of physics finally putting the last nails in the aether’s coffin.
What if the universe was neither expanding, nor contracting? What if it was an unchanging constant – something which always was and shall be? The idea stated that the total volume of the universe was fixed, and that we lived inside a closed system.
Indeed, Einstein believed wholeheartedly in this theorem. He even attempted to use relativity to promote such a hypothesis. Unfortunately, a finite universe would eventually become so dense that it would collapse into a black hole, whilst it would also make the red shift impossible. The red shift is the way the colour of cosmological bodies change as they move away from us – and distance showed us that they were indeed expanding. Red shift is taken by almost every scientist as fact, and with the big bang now the most accepted theory, the very notion seems ludicrous.
The flat earth
This theory dates as far back as early Egyptian and Mesopotamian times when humans theorised that the world was a flat disk floating in an ocean. Whilst NASA has plenty of photographs of a round Earth, even the ancient Greeks, pioneered by the
philosopher Aristotle, began to believe the Earth was spherical given we can see the moon is spherical and ships disappear hull first over the horizon and the fact that those who went off to sea did not fall off the edge of the planet. Despite this, the Flat Earth Society based in the United States of America keep the debate thriving to this day, meaning we all can watch esteemed rapper B.o.B argue with Neil de Grasse Tyson about whether the round Earth is a conspiracy after all, but let’s be honest it is a fact we all can see and experience. The Earth is round. Fact.