On August 21, 2017 people in USA will be able to enjoy a spectacular total solar eclipse. During this amazing and much anticipated event that has been nicknamed the Great American Eclipse, the Moon’s shadow will race across the continental United States from Oregon to South Carolina.
What many do not know is that scientists will observe something entirely different that has the potential to re-write the laws of physics – namely the Foucault Pendulum anomaly.
The Foucault Pendulum is a device that you can see hanging in many science museums, universities and planetariums today. The United Nations headquarters in New York City has one, while the largest Foucault pendulum in the world, Principia, is housed at the Oregon Convention Center.
It was invented by French physicist Léon Foucault in 1851 to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. Of course, the concept that the Earth revolves was nothing new or radical, but the pendulum was the first simple proof of the rotation.
In 1954, Nobel laureate Maurice Allais who had an interest in physics, particularly some alternative approaches to gravity and electromagnetism, was studying the Foucault pendulum. He wanted to see he could find ways to change the steady course of the pendulum by making the weight out of different materials (glass, iron) or changing the temperature or air pressure.
He measured the rate at which a Foucault pendulum shifted over time. According to known physics, there shouldn’t be any effect at all, but Allais observed that during the June 30, 1954, and October 2, 1959, total eclipses of the Sun something interesting happened. He detected “anomalies in the movement of the pendulum” during the time when the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun were aligned.
It came to be known as the Allais effect, or Allais anomaly.
Maurice Allais emphasized the “dynamic character” of the observed effects: “The observed effects are only seen when the pendulum is moving. They are not connected with the intensity of weight (gravimetry), but with the variation of weight (or of inertia) in the space swept by the pendulum. Actually, while the movement of the plane of oscillation of the pendulum is inexplicable by the theory of gravitation, the deviations from the vertical are explained perfectly by that theory. The deviations from the vertical […] correspond to a static phenomenon, while my experiments correspond to a dynamic phenomenon.”
The reason behind the Foucault pendulum anomaly is unknown. Scientific explanations include the presence of dark matter or even gravitational anomalies. Many orthodox scientists have dismissed have dismissed the Allais effect as likely being due to poor experimental set-up.
Some argue that it isn’t a real effect, some argue that it’s a real effect, but is due to external factors such atmospheric changes of temperature, pressure and humidity which can occur during a total eclipse. Others argue that it’s a real effect, and is due to “new physics.”
This latter view has become popular among supporters of alternative gravity models. Allais himself claimed that the effect was the result of new physics, though never proposed a clear mechanism. As a result, the experiment has become “tainted” by fringe science to the point that mainstream scientists don’t really do the experiment any more.
Some more modern experiments have been conducted by astronomers and physicists, but the results have been inconclusive so far.
During the annular solar eclipse of September 22, 2006, a Romanian science team noticed odd behavior of the paraconical pendulum.
During the solar eclipse of August 1, 2008, a Ukrainian team and two Romanian teams worked together hundreds of kilometers apart with different apparatuses. All three teams detected unexplained and mutually correlated disturbances.
Same teams repeated a dual experiment during the annular solar eclipse of January 26, 2009, this time outside of the shadow zone, with the same significant correlation between the behavior of light torsion balances and a Foucault pendulum. They also registered similar anomalies using a Foucault pendulum and a very light torsion balance, both located underground in a disused salt mine with minimal interference, during the partial solar eclipse of June 1, 2011.
These are very interesting scientific results that speak in favor of Allais’ discovery, but more evidence is needed before scientists accept Maurice Allais statement that the eclipse effect is related to a gravitational anomaly.
During the upcoming eclipse, scientists will have an excellent opportunity to find out whether the Foucault pendulum anomaly really can re-write the laws of physics or if the observation made by Allais was simply an error.