Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guest Post: NEITH CONTEMPT by Martin S. Kottmeyer - Vallee's Zombie Moon of Venus?

This has begun to draw attention, and scrutiny, toward the book, and much of what is turning up is not pretty. Blogger Jason Colavito has written some extended critiques showing carelessness and errors in that book.

"(Vallee and Aubeck) launched an IndieGoGo campaign looking for $42,000 to publish 500 copies of a revised deluxe edition of Wonders in the Sky (2009), their demonstrably false and generally quite unreliable anthology of badly translated and frequently fictitious documents recording premodern UFO sightings....[Vallee] wasn’t able to sell more than 150 of the 500 future copies of Wonders in the Sky he put up for sale late last year." [Since that was written, Vallee and Aubeck have sold two more; there are now only 348 copies remaining for subscription.]

Colavito asks rhetorically: "Mr. Vallée, why did you repeat the same faulty translations, fabrications, and errors from Passport to Magonia in 1969 to Wonders in the Sky in 2009 until I finally caught you, all while holding yourself out as a scrupulous and rigorous investigator?

Kottmeyer remarks, "Did anybody not think it a bad omen to put on the cover an illustration of ufos seen during Alexander the Great's battles that reappears on p. 380 with a discussion showing the tale it tells to be a modern fraud?" 

And if "Neith," the "unidentified planetoid" allegedly orbiting Venus, is such a nothing-burger, why does it appear in the book nine separate times, like a Zombie rising from the dead?

Vallee said at the UFO Congress that this revised, deluxe book would be something he could present "to science" to show them that the study of UFOs must be taken seriously. How he could present it "to science" if only 500 copies will ever exist, all of them in private hands, he did not explain. So I doubt very much that the purpose of this "collector's limited edition," with its "facsimile commemorative coin" and "artistic beauty and scientific merit," is to widely disseminate information. In fact, in light of the recent near-avalanche of revelations of errors and bad scholarship contained within, if the book were presented "to science," it is likely that serious scholarship would laugh it away. Perhaps before long the book will be irreverently known as

 Blunders in the Sky.


NEITH CONTEMPT by Martin S. Kottmeyer

January 4, 1768, Copenhagen, Denmark
Unidentified planetoid orbiting Venus

Chris Aubeck and Jacques Vallee write, “Astronomer Christian Horrebow reported an observation of “a small light, that was not a star” which appeared to be in orbit around Venus. The object, named Neith by M. Hozeau (see final note) of Brussels Observatory, was never identified with certainty and was certainly not a natural satellite.”

Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times and their Impact on Human Culture, History, and Beliefs, Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2010, p. 267; entry #355.
Kottmeyer's image of Venus at the time Horrebow was observing it

COMMENT: The above image was generated using Redshift 5 Planetarium software. It was set for Copenhagen, Denmark and January 4, 1768. I have magnified the image of Venus (magnitude – 4.35 at the time) and its vicinity to 1000 power magnification. I let the time function run and stopped at the closest approach of the star Theta Librae. That happens around 5:06 Universal Time. It is a star that shines at magnitude +4.13. On most evenings it is visible with the naked eye. Using a measuring tool that was part of the program, I determined the separation came within a mere 1 minute of arc that evening I trust it can appreciated in this image that Theta Librae looks quite like a moon should look, roughly how a moon of Jupiter or Saturn looks through a telescope. I trust that Horrebow was probably not using this amount of magnification, but any astronomy buff should be able to work out that Theta Librae would have been visible at any magnification simply because it is visible to the naked eye even with no telescope at all. On this particular evening, though, you might have needed a telescope to separate the two – a minute of separation is impressively close.

Aubeck & Vallee’s book includes 9 entries about Neith. The name was evidently taken from a goddess in Egyptian mythology. She was reportedly a fierce huntress and warrior, not too surprising given she was branded the “cow of heaven’. I will assert that using planetarium software I could generate plausible solutions for all the observations of the mystery satellite of Venus involving stars that pass rather close to Venus in those 9 entries. This would be re-inventing the wheel. Neith had been debunked in Nature magazine back in 1887. The Nature author looked into 33 observations / claims that Venus had a satellite. All but one had a good solution along the lines of either the positions of known stars or suspicions of optical ghosts and artifacts of the telescope lenses in use. The final one was guessed to be a minor asteroid passing near Earth. The Nature author did give precisely the solution I have presented here for Horrebow’s observation except he didn’t have planetarium software that could precisely generate this particular image. I personally don’t consider this information obscure. I first read of this solution in William Corliss’s Strange Universe series of books where he re-printed several articles about Neith he gathered in his trawling of scientific literature for anomalies. His books were quite well known among the Forteans when they came out and are still highly recommended. I had heard of it in other books by astronomers over the years as well.
Kottmeyer's second image showing Venus with respect to the horizon, at the time "Neith" was spotted.

Among astronomers Neith had become a non-issue by the end of the 19th century. The sole reason 20th century nonspecialist readers ever became with this zombie moon was because Charles Fort gave a brief account of it his Book of the Damned. In a section of chapter 14 titled “Visitors to Venus,” Fort noted that Houzeau had collected 7 observations of large bodies seen near Venus and talked of them in a place called Science Gossip, plenty damning right there all should admit. Fort wrote Houzeau “accepted these observations and named the—world, planet, super-construction—"Neith." His views are mentioned "in passing, but without endorsement elsewhere. He remarks, “Houzeau or someone writing for the magazine-section of a Sunday newspaper—outer darkness for both alike. A new satellite in this solar system might be a little disturbing—though the formulas of Laplace, which were considered final in his day, have survived the admittance of five or six hundred bodies not included in those formulas—a satellite to Venus might be a little disturbing, but would be explained—but a large body approaching a planet—staying awhile—going away—coming back some other time—anchoring, as it were.”

Now a ufo buff must inevitably ask, what is Neith doing in an ufo book bearing a subtitle “Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times.” How is a zombie moon around Venus categorized as an aerial object? It is a particularly ditzy move to include such astronomical material if you are going to start comparing the ancient material to modern ufo experiences. Do any modern ufos periodically anchor near Venus? There is obviously a category error here and including 9 such irrelevant claims is not merely weird, but could be viewed as potentially mucking up any statistical comparisons they make towards the end of the book. Bad as that is, Neith is not the only ‘super-construction’ improperly used in Aubeck & Vallee’s ancient ufo database. We’ll talk about that in a separate post.


Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times and their Impact on Human Culture, History, and Beliefs. Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2010, p. 267 The Venus mystery satellite claims appear in entries #244, #300, #342, #344, #345, #350, #351, #355 (Christian Harrebow), #404

William Corliss, Strange Universe series, section AOV-013 gives the best discussion

See also Joseph Ashbrook, “An alleged satellite of Venus” The Astronomical Scrapbook: Skywatchers, Pioneers, and Seekers in Astronomy 1984 and Sheehan's Planets and Perception 1988.

Mr. X’s annotated Book of the Damned gives all the following references as Fort’s sources of what he knew about Neith: Martha Evans Martin. The Ways of the Planets. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912, 140. The last report was made in 1791 by Montaigne, (not 1767). The other reports of this satellite were: in 1672 and 1686, by Cassini; in 1740, by Short, using two telescopes; in 1759, by Mayer; in 1761, during the transit of Venus, by Scheuten; in 1764, by Rödkier, Horrebow, and three others, at Copenhagen, and by Montbarron, at Auxerre. T.W. Webb. Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes. 4th ed. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1881, 61-2. A similar sighting, (possibly on May 22, 1823), was explained as being a star near Venus by a youthful Webb. T.W. Webb. "The satellite of Venus." Nature, 14 (June 29, 1876): 193-5, at 195.  
[I knew Mr. X, he used to attend Fortean conferences in the 1970s and 80s. He was a true Fortean nerd. - RS]

"The planet Neith." Hardwicke's Science Gossip, 22 (1886): 178.

C.A. Young. "The year's progress in astronomy." Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, 5 (May 17, 1886): 234-63, at 249. For more details of Houzeau's claims: "The problematical satellite of Venus.", Observatory, 7 (1884): 222-6.

A discussion about Neith on the web also giving mundane explanations:

A second Redshift image gives the positions of Venus and the constellation Libra relative to the horizon and the Sun below it at 5:06 Universal Time.

As a final note, Aubeck & Vallee spell Houzeau without the first ‘u.’ Fort spells it with a ‘u.’ This notice in The Observatory agrees with Fort.


  1. Good Work!

    >> Vallee said at the UFO Congress that this revised, deluxe book would be something he could present "to science" to show them that the study of UFOs must be taken seriously.<<

    Oh, that is a hoot!

    While he, Vallee, fifty years after Frank Edwards, is still misrepresenting Ezekiel's vision of his god at the center of a multicyclic Babylonian cosmology as a literal "flying saucer," even an "abduction" experience!

    That's some kind of "science." Not the "New Kind," but the same old pseudoscience we've been hearing for decades. Give it up already, Jacques! We know it's all about the money and nothing else. Don't insult us by pretending otherwise.

    1. I would suspect that the promotion of this 'deluxe collectors edition' is more of an ego-trip for Vallee, than a serious attempt to earn cash. Even if 500 copies are subscribed at $220 each, that is still only $110,000 - small change for a Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist.

  2. Does this brand of "skepticism" really serve any useful purpose? Vallée can't sell his shoddily written, vastly overpriced book even by standing in front of a large crowd of the very people you'd think would be his ideal target demographic and practically begging them to buy it! Who, exactly, needs to be solemnly told, at great length and in obsessive-compulsive technical detail, that detain very specific factoids in it might not be altogether true so maybe it's not worth buying, when almost nobody in the entire world is going to buy it anyway?

    Obviously those bitterly vindictive ultra-skeptics who give the whole movement a public image somewhere between Asperger's Syndrome and rabies love this sort of nit-picking point-scoring against tired old heretics who ceased to matter a long time ago, but seriously, why bother?

    1. My, aren't we feeling grouchy today, Count Otto?

      The main purpose is not to save hundreds of credulous fools $220 each. The purpose is to be able to show "to science," when Vallee presents his masterpiece "to science," that this ain't science.that

  3. Do I understand this right? Jaques Vallee was asking for money to cover the costs of publishing/printing a revised copy of a book he had written a few years earlier. Presumably those who contributed would then be given a free copy of the book (assuming it was published at all).

    The usual way of going about this is to publish the book first, if you can afford to, and THEN sell it to whoever wants it. Vallee seems to have done things in reverse. Ask for the money from the very people who want the book, get it printed using the donated money, then give it free to these same people, after selling whatever copies he can sell to those who have NOT donated.

    Have I got this right? A case of asking for the money up front for something the author suspects nobody really wants. Clever salesmanship?

  4. "Have I got this right? A case of asking for the money up front for something the author suspects nobody really wants. Clever salesmanship?"

    Gosh, this reminds me of Mexico City...step right up folks and buy your advance tickets to the event of the millenium - Alien's in slides!

    I think Vallee must be getting old....

  5. Hi,

    I am David Anderson. Since I couldn't find any disussions regarding the case I am interested in from your blog, I figured I may just post my question in the comment. How do you think of the 1976 Tehran UFO incident? Do you have any possibile explanations for this case? Thank you.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. There's even more damning information about Tehran 1976 than is contained in this article but it gets it essentially correct.

    3. You call the skeptoid piece 'damning information' ? Why not swampgas...

  6. I don't know how honest Vallee is, but I can say that you, while mentioning the passage in Fort, don't say that Fort has it under "visitors to Venus," and that he talks of observations of a large body approaching a planet - 'staying awhile - going away - coming back some other time - anchoring as it were'
    That the astronomer Houzeau named this Neith...


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