In April 1946, RCA Communications Inc. set up a small astronomical laboratory on the roof of its main office building in central Manhattan. John Henry Nelson, an engineer who had been with the firm for twenty-five years and was later to become its chief propagation analyst, was given a six inch refracting telescope and told to study the Sun. It had been known for twenty-five years that its behaviour could somehow affect radio communications from time to time, to the point where the company – the world’s largest shortwave radio communications organisation – would be temporarily out of business, as magnetic storms and other forms of solar interference made it impossible for their messages to get to their destinations. Company chiefs knew this happened, but they wanted to know more about how it happened – and more importantly when it would happen next. John Henry Nelson had never been a professional astronomer. Had he have been, he would have known that planets have no more than insignificant statistical influence on anything, except the brains of astrologers. The Sun is so huge and powerful that no known external force could possible affect its energy output.
Newton established that every ‘body’ in the solar system attracted every other ‘body’ according to their masses and relative distances to each other so the Sun with ninety-nine percent of all known gas in its system, clearly does most of the attracting. It is known to have a colossal gravitational field and its surface is not solid, but gaseous, which would normally make it more volatile; but to suggest that a mere planet could interfere with solar behaviour is out of the question.
John Henry Nelson was not an astrologer. He neither believed nor disbelieved in astrology for the simple reason that he had never studied it. He did not even know the symbols for the planets used by both astronomers and astrologers. He merely had a job to do and he wondered if knowledge of the planetary positions might help him to do it better. What he did next now seems so obvious that one is led to wonder why no one seemed to have thought of doing it before.
On Easter Sunday, 23 March 1940, the worst radio blackout on record had taken place, a severe magnetic storm lasting for days. Nelson collected data on this and subsequent storms, then went back to the library to consult the ‘American Ephemeris’ and ‘Nautical Almanac’; the US navy publication that lists the exact positions of the planets for every day of the year. Then he took an ordinary protractor compass, and on a sheet of plain paper he drew up a rudimentary heliocentric (Sun based) horoscope for the 1940 short-wave radio blackout, which involved nothing more than noting where each planet was at the time, in relation to the Sun. He then measured the angles between the planets. Mercury and Jupiter were lined up with the Sun right between them, in opposition as astronomers and astrologers say, meaning 180 degrees apart. Mercury was just moving into opposition to Saturn while Saturn was at right angles to Venus. There were two angles of 180 degrees and one angle of 90 degrees involved in the four day study. Moving onto later solar disturbance dates, Nelson found the same dates turning up again and again, together with zero degrees or conjunction – that is when two planets are on the same side of the Sun and in line with it and each other. It was beginning to look like more than a coincidence.
On 12 April 1951, RCA Communications Inc issued a press release announcing that evidence had been found pointing to a direct relationship between magnetic storms on Earth (i.e. bad radio conditions) and the position of the planets with respect both to each other and to the Sun. Thanks to its new system of prediction, RCA stated it was now achieving eighty-five percent accuracy in its daily forecast service. Also Nelson could tell when good days were coming as well as bad; when two or more planets were spaced 120 degrees apart, conditions were likely to be good, while angles of 0 degrees, 90 degrees or 180 degrees meant trouble. These were the maverick angles.
The sextile (60 degrees) and the trine (120 degrees) have been among the favourable angles or ‘aspects’ of astrology since time immemorial, just as the conjunction, square and opposition (0 degrees, 90 degrees and 180 degrees) have been the unfavourable ones.
No astrologer seems to know why, and before Nelson, nobody had ever produced scientifically acceptable evidence for such notions. For that matter, it had never been shown beyond any reasonable doubt that there was any connection between planetary positions and any terrestrial phenomenon. We cannot help wondering why it was left to a non-astrologer and non-professional astronomer to make this discovery.