Ever since humans were first able to look up at the twinkling lights sprinkled across the dark tapestry of the night sky, they have speculated about the nature of the cosmos. Ancient mythology sought to explain the mysterious workings of the wider universe, often by personifying celestial objects as gods and goddesses.
As technology improved, the concept of the universe began to be based more upon data and experiment than mythology and superstition. However, the march of progress hardly proceeded along a straight line, and there were odd detours on the long road to the technology we enjoy today.
One such detour occurred early in the 20th century, a time of great scientific innovation. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was redefining how people viewed the universe, laying the foundation for great discoveries to follow. Not everyone much liked Einstein’s work, however. Some groups found it…inconvenient, to say the least. The Nazis in particular disliked relativity, seeing it as “Jewish science.” They needed an alternative cosmology that was ideologically sound, which basically meant that it wasn’t discovered by a Jewish person.
Never ones to pass up a wacky idea, the Nazis found their cosmology in Welteislehre, the Cosmic Ice Theory.
In the beginning, there was ice…
Cosmic Ice Theory is the idea that our solar system originated from the collision of a dead, water-logged star with our sun. The resulting explosion shot water out in all directions. This water froze into blocks, which became the cosmic entities we can see today — the Moon, the planets, the stars, and particularly the Milky Way.
The theory goes on to explain how the solar system evolved after this ice-splosion, Basically, more debris got tossed further out, and these were swallowed up by the outer planets, thus accounting for their great size. Earth and the inner planets got thinner pickings, so they weren’t as large.
In addition, the Earth had several small moons, which over time fell into the planet and deposited layers of ice that became the geological strata. Cosmic Ice Theorists claim that such a process occurred five times before, and our current moon will eventually spiral in and crash into our planet. The last time this happened, so the story goes, the Great Flood occurred.
Less than scientific origins
The foundations of Cosmic Ice Theory were laid by Hanns Horbiger, an Austrian engineer and inventor. He was staring at the Moon one night when the idea occurred to him that its surface appeared so bright because it was composed of ice. This thought led to a dream where he floated in space, watching a giant pendulum swinging back and forth. It grew longer and longer as it swung, until it finally broke.
Somehow, this led him to conclude that Newton was wrong. The Sun’s gravitational pull only extended to three times the distance of Neptune. He elaborated on the idea with Phillip Fauth, an amateur astronomer, and the two published the completed theory in 1912, in a book called Glazial-Kosmogonie. No one paid much attention to the book initially. Naturally, astronomers thought the kooky theory was nothing but so much bunk.
So, after World War I, Horbiger switched strategies. He decided that Cosmic Ice Theory was not for the academics, but for the masses. He reasoned that once the theory gained a great deal of popular support. the scientific community could not help but accept the ‘truth’. Horbiger and his followers used every means available to them to spread Cosmic Ice Theory, including books, newspapers, pamphlets, and books. ‘Cosmotechnical’ societies sprang up, holding talks that attracted thousands.
It seemed that Cosmic Ice Theory was well on its way to general acceptance, despite the fact that there was no real scientific evidence to support it.
…and then there were Nazis
When Horbiger died in 1931, his followers found themselves at a crossroads. They decided that aligning themselves with the growing Nazi power would rush mainstream acceptance of their theory. Hitler and his Nazi compatriots were ripe for the picking. They needed their own cosmology to counter the emerging acceptance of relativity in the scientific community. As mentioned earlier, relativity was considered “Jewish science” due to the fact it was discovered by Einstein, a Jew.
The Nazi preoccupation with race also played into the Ice Theorist’s hands in another way. The Nazis believed themselves the descendents of the Aryan master race, Nordic peoples from the cold lands of the north. In their deluded minds, they came from the lands of ice and snow, so it only seemed appropriate that the world itself formed from ice.
Cosmic Ice Theory melts
Once the Third Reich went up on flames, Cosmic Ice Theory mostly faded from the cultural lime light. It turns out that hitching your wagon to one of the most reviled men in history makes for bad publicity. That, and the growing understanding of how the universe functioned made the Cosmic Ice Theory seem more and more ludicrous. Some few adherents still exist, just like there is still a community committed to the idea of a Flat Earth. When a fringe group believes it is the keeper of special knowledge, it will cling to that knowledge in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The identity as a group (or the identity of individuals in said group) depends on it. Which does a good deal to explain how such a bizarre idea got any traction, doesn’t it?
Wessely, Christina. “Cosmic Ice Theory — science, fiction, and the public. 1894-1945.” mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de. 2011. Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Accessed on: January 28, 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/en/research/projects/DeptIII-ChristinaWessely-Welteislehre/index_html
“Welteishre.” Wikipedia.org. Novermber 26, 2013. Wikipedia. Accessed on: January 28, 2014. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welteislehre