Where is Planet X? Where is Nemesis?

Artists impression of the hypothetical star, Nemesis (Anynobody on Wikipedia)

Before Pluto was discovered, the world’s astronomers were captivated by the possibility of finding another massive planet beyond the orbit of Neptune. In 1930, Pluto was discovered lurking in what was considered to be the edge of the Solar System. However, it quickly became apparent that Pluto was tiny; it wasn’t the Planet X we were looking for. For the last 80 years, astronomers have been looking for a large planet that might go to some way of explaining interplanetary features such as the “Kuiper Cliff”, but Planet X has not been found. Unfortunately, the word “Planet X” has now become synonymous with conspiracy theories and doomsday, almost as notorious as the word “Nemesis”.

Nemesis is another unanswered question hanging over Solar System evolution: does the Sun have a binary twin? Is there a second, dim, hidden “sun” stalking it’s brighter counterpart from over a light year away? Some scientists have come forward to suggest that the existence of a hypothetical second sun — embodied as a brown dwarf or red dwarf — could explain some cyclical effects here on Earth (i.e. mass extinctions occurring with a strange regularity). Naturally, the discussion about Nemesis (like the discussion about the possibility of a massive Planet X) is purely academic, and only based on indirect observations and anecdotal evidence. Just because they might exist, doesn’t mean they do.

In a publication recently published to the arXiv database, one Italian researcher has dusted off this topic and asked a very basic question: Can we constrain the possible locations of Nemesis and/or Planet X if they did exist? His results are fascinating…
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The Striking Similarity Between Ghostbusters and 2012

It’s funny, because it’s true

world-of-psychic

It’s been one of those days, where I had a list of things to do and I didn’t tick off one item. That’s not to say I haven’t done anything. I wrote an article about the cosmos throwing a Molotov cocktail at us, wrote another article about something a lot more scary (creationism) and then watched some TV at lunch. To my delight, a childhood classic was on daytime TV while I was nursing a headache: Ghostbusters II, from 1989. Oh yes! I love this “work from home” thing.

Anyhow, I had all but forgotten about the film, so there were a lot of surprises and a lot of laughs. They sure made good comedies in the late 80′s (at a time when I was of single-digit age). As I’m sure you remember, we pick up five years after the Ghostbusters crossed-the-streams in the first film (back in the “old days” of 1984), destroying the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in a fireball of gloopy sugary joy, ridding New York of the Sumerian God: Gozer the Gozerian. Now, reality has set in and all the Ghostbuster crew have settled into regular jobs. However, I cracked up when watching Pete Venkman (played by the excellent Bill Murray) present his not-so-prime-time “World of the Psychic” TV show.

This served as a reminder that although we are facing the mother of all doomsday pseudo-science/profit-making/nonsensical prophecies (this time in the guise of the year 2012), we’ve heard it all before. And Ghostbusters 2 had this wonderful sketch I had to share…
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Same Message, Different Doomsday Vehicle

Warning: The following article contains criticism of a religious figure. Actually, it’s not really criticism, more pointing fun at a guy who should know better. If you feel the need to get angry in the comment boxes, feel free, but please use your CAPS LOCK sparingly, keep the language reasonable, cite any reference material and above all else, don’t blame the ancient Mayans for anything, they’ve been through enough.

Recognise it yet? Isaac's apartment floor painting depicting the destruction of New York in the TV show Heroes

Isaac's apartment floor painting depicting the destruction of New York in the TV show Heroes (source)

As a rule, I wanted to keep Astroengine.com away from religious debate, but once I became embroiled in the 2012 doomsday hysteria, religious views were bound to creep in. After all, 2012 is the latest date prophesied for Armageddon, End Times and Judgement Day, I was bound to start receiving emails and comments with a toasty religious flavour. That’s fine, everyone should have an opinion. Just because I don’t believe the year 2012 will bring anything of special religious/spiritual significance, that’s my view. I’m not religious and I’m not a religious specialist, it’s not my thing.

However, science is “my thing” so when I see authors banging on about the existence of Planet X, killer solar flares, geomagnetic shift and all the other wild and inventive ways the Universe won’t destroy the Earth, I do have a strong opinion. Now that “No Doomsday in 2012” has had over 1,000,000 hits (that’s a 1 with six zeros after it. I’m now in megahits), it would appear that 2012 is a doomsday theory that might not go away (place your bets on how many millions of hits that article will rack up in the next 3 years!).

However, having written about the key attributes of doomsday theories as presented by authors who use lies to sell a book or drive search engine traffic to their site (fear is a potent moneymaker after all), I know bullshit when I smell it. However, this time the doomsday prophecy doesn’t come from the misinterpretation of a Mesoamerican calendar, it comes from a popular American Christian evangelist. I have to say, I am impressed.

So, using my fool-proof “cheat sheet” on how to spot a doomsday fake, it wasn’t hard to cut through David Wilkerson’s dogma, revealing his “prophecy” for what it really is: rubbish.
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How Do You Spot Science Abuse in the Social Media Soup?

Heads should be held in shame...

Heads should be held in shame...

You know the drill, we’ve all been there.

There you are, minding your own business, participating in the Web 2.0 phenomenon, scanning through the webpages on one of the countless social media sites. And then you see them, like coffee stains on your white upholstery, pages that seem a little out of place. One entry tells you that the world is coming to an end. Another tells you that the Illuminati have built a base on Pluto (with the obligatory IT’S A PLANET!!! comment underneath). Oh, and there’s another, claiming that a comet, twice the size of Jupiter is actually Planet X… and it’s coming right for us!

Of course, our common-sense neurons usually kick in, telling us that the author of the article is either a) nuts, b) an idiot, c) flying at half-mast or d) a troll. In which case, we are able to flex our social media muscles by burying, down-thumbing, down-arrowing, reporting or ignoring the offender.

There we go, social media in practice. One BIG victory for online democracy!

However, sometimes it’s not that simple. What if the author seems to be bona fide? What if the author is a so called “expert”? Say if the article uses some real science to explain their hopelessly flawed theory?

I may have been trawling around the dregs of the doomsday theory ilk for the past year, but the following list applies to pretty much any daft conspiracy theory or outrageous science claim, intended to misinform, scare or cause an online headache as you voyage through the increasingly accessible social media…
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2012 Fear = Money: Sony Pictures Cashes In

ihc

Another day, another inbox with three emails asking me about what this 2012 “thing” is all about.

Another two from concerned (but now relieved) readers and one (from late last night) calling me a fudging idiot (edit the italicized word). I had no idea that my 2012 articles on the Universe Today (and the growing number on Astroengine) would evoke such a spirited and sustained barrage of hate/love/relief mail. I’m a scientist, first and foremost, I’m not used to this kind of attention.

Seriously though, this 2012 insanity needs to calm down. Admittedly, telling “believers” there is nothing to fear about the Mayan calendar coming to the end (or the hopelessly flawed Bible Code is nonsense) is a bit like waving a red cloth in front of a pissed off bull, and any hope that we wont be barraged by doomsday hysteria in 2012 is a lost cause (in my opinion). But mainstream media really needs to lay off the scaremongering tactics.

I can deal with the crackpots, greedy authors, pseudo-science liars, misinformed and weak-minded “YouTube Scientists” spreading prophecies of doomsday, linking ancient prophecy (that has a non-existent prediction:proof ratio by the way) with modern science. But when Sony Pictures jump on the 2012 juggernaut, I think we can forget about having any sanity in the run-up to December 21st 2012.

Enter the Institute for Human Continuity, a Sony Pictures viral campaign…
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“Zapowiedzi Końca Świata na rok 2012 to kompletne bzdury!”

No Doomsday in 2012 Article Now Available in Polish!

No Doomsday in 2012

No Doomsday in 2012

Great news. My original “No Doomsday in 2012” article is available not only in Spanish and Portuguese, it’s now available in Polish!

A huge thank you goes to Dr Piotr Dybczyński from Astronomical Observatory of Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań (Poland), for taking on this huge task.

I am still completely overwhelmed by how popular my writing about the 2012 hysteria has become, and it is quickly becoming clear that word is being spread throughout the non-English speaking world as well.

Check out Piotr Dybczyński’s website. He’s working his way through each of the six (so far) English versions so they can be accessed in Polish too.

No Doomsday in 2012 in Polish:

As the translations are coming in thick and fast, I have decided to build a sidebar widget for a mini-directory of all my “No Doomsday” articles so they can be quickly accessed and brought together. I’ll let you know once this is up and running on Astroengine. I also plan to add links to the translations on the original articles on the Universe Today.

Thanks also to Manuel Herman who has painstakingly kept up with my Universe Today 2012 articles (and others!), translating each into Spanish on his space news website Ciencia Kanija. Also, thank you to Roca at Eternos Aprendizes for translating my recent “2012: No Comet” article into Portuguese! More to come soon

Doomsday in 2012: Science-Lite

Doomsday = Fear = Money

Doomsday = Fear = Money

Something pretty cool has just happened over at that “2012 Comet” doomsday site (I won’t link to it, I can’t stomach sending any traffic to it, but here’s my Universe Today article about the subject).

I’ve had equal measures of praise and criticism for my most recent “No Doomsday in 2012″ article. Most of the praise came in the form of: “I’m really glad you addressed the 2012 comet scenario, those ads were p***ing me off!“. However, it did get criticised for chasing after a “small website” with “very little written on it” which “obviously confuses” what a comet is and what Planet X is.

However, this “small website” (which actually receives an awful lot more traffic than Astroengine.com), has decided to comment on my views on the subject. And you know what? I think it has enhanced their content ten-fold.

Here’s my reply
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Sorry, 2012 Just Got Quieter: No Comet Impact

Comets are out there, but there's nothing scheduled for 2012...

Comets are out there, but there's nothing scheduled for 2012...

It’s been a nagging frustration ever since I started writing about the 2012 doomsday scenarios seven months ago. Every time I posted articles with the keywords “2012″, “doomsday”, “comet” or “asteroid”, ads would appear across my website linking to 2012 doomsday sites. Simply writing about these misguided theories had attracted ads for the very sites I was criticising!

At first I blocked them, but then I became pretty relaxed about it. Why not allow these ads to appear? I get ad revenue, they lose ad revenue, seems somehow justified doesn’t it? Well, not really. If I let these individuals advertise on my site with impunity, I’d be little better than them… I’d be cashing in (albeit in a small way) on their popularity. So I’ve kept the worst of them blocked (although you will still see some 2012 ads, they shouldn’t be the ones I’m critical of in my writing, and they shouldn’t be promoting the end of the world).

Today I decided to make a stand against these 2012 comet theories and write an article. It’s been a long time coming. In fact, it was one of those articles that have been hanging over my head for months, an uncomfortable thorn in my side. The comet impact theory has been around for decades, there’s nothing new with the thought that we might be scrubbed out of existence by a comet or asteroid, but the whole 2012 worry has dusted off some old fears…
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I Stand Corrected…

Forget Planet X, a rogue comet, geomagnetic reversal and killer solar flares… this could be what the Mayans were talking about:

Oh no... (PunditKitchen.com)

Oh no... (PunditKitchen.com)

OK, I’ll stop with the humour now. Time to get on with some serious science stuff…

Update: Isn’t that a bit disrespectful of Palin to be signing her name against McCain’s head? Lol.

I really am getting back to the science now…

Source: Bad Astronomy