Did You Miss The End of The World Again?

Da big bada boom
A long time ago in a land far, far away I was making fun of people who were predicting the end of the world. Oh, wait, that was this week and just about a block from here. You see it becomes kind of a blur. All of the different apocalypses get confusing to me after a while. Is this the Rapture or just the Revenge of the Mayans or maybe something serious like Nibiru? Wait, did I say serious? Excuse me for a second.

Okay, I’m better now. If you’re bored and Google Nibiru you’ll end up on web sites such as the one I’m linking to which are written by complete idiots. I mean we are talking about people who shouldn’t be allowed outside without adult supervision. Seriously, just read this crap.

In 1841, John Couch Adams began investigating the by then quite large residuals in the motion of Uranus. In 1845, Urbain Le Verrier started to investigate them, too. Adams presented two different solutions to the problem, assuming that the deviations were caused by the gravitation from an unknown planet.

Sept 30, 1846 — one week after the discovery of Neptune, Le Verrier declared that there may be still another unknown planet out there. On October 10, Neptune’s large moon Triton was discovered, which yielded an easy way to accurately determine the mass of Neptune, which turned out to be 2% larger than expected from the perturbations upon Uranus.

Another attempt to find a trans-Neptunian planet was done in 1877 by David Todd. He used a “graphical method”, from the residuals of Uranus, he derived elements for a trans-Neptunian planet: mean distance 52 a.u., period 375 years, magnitude fainter than 13.

All that sounds cool until you realize that there is not one itsy bitsy piece of evidence to back up any of it. Nor will there be since – as I’ve noted – it’s all crap. Space.com set aside a page to deal with all the idiots but that’s like setting a garden hose aside to deal with the Chicago Fire.

But, as much as I like making fun of these idiots they do have effects on the real world that need to be dealt with. Life’s Little Mysteries reports on a terrifying ramification.

The waxing obsession with Nibiru, which conspiracy theorists say is a planet swinging in from the outskirts of our solar system that is going to crash into Earth and wipe out humanity in 2012 — or, in some opinions, 2011 — shows that an astonishing number of people “are watching YouTube videos and visiting slick websites with nothing in their skeptical toolkit,” in the words of David Morrison, a planetary astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center and senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Morrison estimates that there are 2 million websites discussing the impending Nibiru-Earth collision. He receives, on average, five email inquiries about Nibiru every day.

“At least a once a week I get a message from a young person ― as young as 11 ― who says they are ill and/or contemplating suicide because of the coming doomsday,” Morrison told Life’s Little Mysteries.

Great. Try explaining to an 11 year old that their parent’s a moron. That’s got to be fun.

And, by “fun,” I mean just like having your spleen ripped out with a rusty spoon.

Anyway, as you’re reading this the comet Elenin, a/k/a Nibiru for dummies, is coming to our neighborhood. Unless you have a telescope or live in a very rural area and get lucky you’re going to miss it. Mike Wall at CBS tells us all why while trying not to laugh his (posterior) off at the believers who’ve been clogging up his phone lines.

The moment long feared by conspiracy theorists is nearly upon us: The “doomsday comet” Elenin will make its closest approach to Earth Sunday (Oct. 16). Or what’s left of it will, anyway.

Comet Elenin started breaking up in August after being blasted by a huge solar storm, and a close pass by the sun on Sept. 10 apparently finished it off, astronomers say. So what will cruise within 22 million miles (35.4 million kilometers) of our planet Sunday is likely to be a stream of debris rather than a completely intact comet.

And the leftovers of Elenin won’t return for 12,000 years, astronomers say.

“Folks are having trouble finding it, so I think it’s probably dead and gone,” said astronomer Don Yeomans of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

That means it probably won’t present much of a skywatching show Sunday, scientists have said.

The doomsday comet

Elenin’s apparent demise may come as a relief to some folks, since apocalyptic rumors circulating on the Internet portrayed the comet as a major threat to Earth.

One theory claimed Elenin would set off havoc on Earth after aligning with other heavenly bodies, spurring massive earthquakes and tsunamis. Another held that Elenin was not a comet at all, but in fact a rogue planet called Nibiru that would bring about the end times on Earth. After all, the comet’s name could be taken as a spooky acronym: “Extinction-Level Event: Nibiru Is Nigh.”

Those ideas were pure nonsense, Yeomans said.

“Elenin was a second-rate, wimpy little comet that never should have been noted for anything, really,” he told SPACE.com. “It was not even a bright one.”

Elenin’s remains will not be the only objects about to make their closest pass of Earth. One day after the Elenin flyby, the small asteroid 2009 TM8 will zip close by. Like Elenin, it poses no risk of striking our home planet.

Asteroid 2009 TM8 is about 21 feet (6.4 meters) wide and the size of a schoolbus. It will come within 212,000 miles of Earth – just inside the orbit of the moon – when it zips by on Monday morning (Oct. 17).

Say goodbye to Elenin

Elenin was named after its discoverer, Russian amateur astronomer Leonid Elenin, who spotted it in December 2010. Before the icy wanderer broke up, its nucleus was likely 2 to 3 miles (3 to 5 km) in diameter, scientists say.

Elenin never posed any threat to life on Earth, Yeomans said. It was far too small to exert any appreciable influence on our planet unless it managed to hit us.

“Just driving to work every day in my subcompact car is going to have far more of a gravitational effect on Earth than this comet ever will,” Yeomans said.

Elenin’s supposed connection to earthquakes was just a correlation, and a weak one at that, he added. Relatively strong earthquakes occur every day somewhere on Earth, so it’s easy — but not statistically valid — to blame some of them on the comet’s changing position.

Yeomans views the frenzy over Elenin as a product of the Internet age, which allows loud and often uninformed voices to drown out the rather more prosaic results that scientists publish in peer-reviewed journals.

“It’s a snowball effect on the Web,” Yeomans said. “You get one or two folks who make an outrageous claim, and a bunch of others pile on. Some folks are actually making a living this way.”

Elenin’s crumbs will soon leave Earth in the rear-view mirror, speeding out on a long journey to the outer solar system. But Yeomans doesn’t think the departure will keep the conspiracy theorists down for long.

“It’s time to move on to the next armageddon,” he said.

And, HOORAY!, the next scheduled Armageddon is due in 14 months. Get your party reservations now.

These guys are the best Armageddon band on the planet, by the way.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEx13xa7CgU&w=480&h=360]

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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