Debunking Comet ISON Conspiracy Theories (No, ISON is Not Nibiru)

by David Dickinson on April 29, 2013

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ISON as seen from Hubble. (credit: NASA)

ISON as recently imaged from the Hubble Space Telescope. (credit: NASA/ESA/J. & Y. Li of the Planetary Science Institute & the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Team).

Comets always seem to bring ‘em out of the wood work.

There’s a scene from the 1998 movie Deep Impact where the president, played by Morgan Freeman, reveals a terrible truth… the U.S. government has known for over a year that a doomsday comet is headed straight towards Earth, with Hollywood CGI destruction sure to follow.

While dramatic, the scenario is also extremely implausible. On any given evening, amateur astronomers are sweeping the skies using telescopes mounted in backyard observatories that are the envy of many major universities. This effort to discover comets is collaborative and worldwide. If the “Big One” were headed our way, even the likes of Morgan Freeman couldn’t keep it secret.

Trouble is, many unfounded claims are already making their way around the internet about this years’ much anticipated “Comet of the Century,” C/2012 S1 ISON.

Many of these conspiracy theories seem to be a recycling of last years’ Nibiru nonsense. The train of thought runs something like this: Does NASA know something that they’re not telling us? Why are they so interested in this comet? We’ve even had folks ask us why certain patches of Google Earth are “blacked out!”

What ARE they hiding, man?

It’s funny how pseudoscience seems to bubble to the top on YouTube, but I won’t give these conspiracy videos the exposure of the Universe Today platform. With hundreds of thousands of hits, they certainly don’t seem to need it. A simple YouTube search of “ISON” will scare up many wacky ideas about the comet.

In any event, we’ve already fielded several questions from friends and the public on the “dangers” posed by this comet, so we can only imagine that these will grow in intensity as the comet approaches the inner solar system, especially if it performs up to expectations.

What are some of the conspiracy theories out there about Comet ISON?

One currently circulating claim states that Comet ISON has “companions” that have been imaged trailing it. While comets do indeed fragment on occasion, the culprits that can be seen in the .gif animation circulating the internet are easily identified by photography experts as hot pixels in the camera.

Another even more extravagant claim is that Comet ISON will somehow appear “as bright as the Sun.” Even if Comet ISON reaches an expected magnitude equal to that of the full Moon at -13, it will do so when it is less than a degree  from the Sun. Our Sun shines at magnitude -26.74, or over 158,000 times brighter, so it would be very difficult for this comet to compete with the Sun’s brightness in the daytime!

Others seem to worry that this comet — or particles from ISON — could impact Earth. Comet ISON will be making its inner solar system passage safely 0.426 A.U., or a little over 63 million kilometers from Earth even on its closest approach on December 26th. Scientists have defined this comet’s orbit very precisely, and it won’t hit Earth. So, no Comet ISON is not Nibiru — that ‘tenth planet’ destined to destroy Earth that conspiracy lovers can’t seem to let go of.

The debris — which might create a very nice meteor shower — is made up of extremely tiny grains of dust, no more than a few microns wide. Since they will be hitting Earth’s atmosphere at speeds up to 200,000 km/hr (125,000 miles per hour), the particles will burn up.

Here’s a video NASA released about the potential meteor shower from ISON:

Other claims focus on how this comet may cause earthquakes or wreak other untold havoc on Earth. This type of comet hysteria is nothing new. Name a bright comet in history, and you can find a historical event for a convenient tie-in. When haven’t there been earthquakes, pandemics, and wars in history? Plus, according to the US Geological Survey, on any given day there will be an average of 2,750 earthquakes around the world of which 275 are large enough to be felt by humans. But only about 100 earthquakes a year are large enough to cause any damage.

And so, its too easy to tie the “causes” of earthquakes and other events to comets in the sky. Comets have been seen before and during the Norman invasion of England in 1066, an outbreak of the Black Plague in London in 1665, and much more. Gary Kronk maintains a wacky and wonderful list of historical (and sometimes comical) comet “signs and omens” on his Cometography site.

Comet Lovejoy as seen from the International Space Station.

Another brilliant sungrazer, Comet Lovejoy as seen from the International Space Station on December, 2011. (Credit: NASA).

Halley’s Comet produced one of the first great comet hypes of the 20th century with its 1910 passage. Ironically, another comet made a brilliant passage just a few months prior, which became known as the Great Comet of 1910. In fact, many viewers in the general public actually saw this comet and confused it with Halley’s! The recent discovery of cyanogen in the comet’s spectra sparked a panic in the public as hucksters made a small fortune hawking “comet pills” and gas masks to panicked buyers. Never mind that folks ingest more toxic carcinogens from their daily environment than are ever seeded by the tenuous tails of comets.

Another curious bit of hype sprung up in 2011 around Comet Elenin, which promptly broke up and dissipated without even putting on a show. And the supposed earthquakes that conspiracy theorists predicted? Well, the evidence speaks loudly: nothing happened. And the same will be true of Comet ISON. It won’t cause any earthquakes or other disasters. As Don Yeomans from NASA said about Comet Elenin, “It will have an immeasurably miniscule influence on our planet. By comparison, my subcompact automobile exerts a greater influence on the ocean’s tides than comet Elenin ever will.”

So, what’s the harm in all the comet hysteria? Well, one only has to look at the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult in 1997 to realize that it can be no laughing matter. The suicide was sparked by the idea popularized on the late night Coast to Coast with Art Bell radio show that a spacecraft had been spotted following Comet Hale-Bopp.

Dozens of comets are discovered every year. A great majority are tiny iceballs in unfavorable orbits that never rise above magnitude +10 and are thus of little interest to backyard observers. A couple of times a year, a comet might reach magnitude +6 to +10 and become a fine binocular object.

When a discovery is made — be it by amateur or professional — the first task is to gain enough observations of the object to ascertain its orbit. Once again, we see the international collaborative methods employed by modern science. Already, the cosmic cat’s out of the bag as observatories worldwide make follow up measurements. There are no secrets about Comet ISON that hundreds of astronomers could keep quiet.

You get the idea... a 1687 leaflet depicting the havoc that a comet is sure to bring. (Wikimedia Commons image in the Public Domain).

You get the idea… a 1687 leaflet depicting the havoc that a comet is sure to bring. (Wikimedia Commons image in the Public Domain).

But here are some facts about Comet C/2012 S1 ISON. It was discovered last September by Russian amateurs Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok while making observations for the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON), hence the comet’s name. At the time, it was farther than Jupiter and impossibly faint, but once ISON’s orbit was determined, astronomers realized the comet would pass only 1.1 million miles from center of the Sun (680,000 miles above its surface) on November 28, 2013.

Comet ISON belongs to a special category of comets called sungrazers. As the comet performs a hairpin turn around the Sun on that date, its ices will vaporize furiously in the intense solar heat. Assuming it defies death by evaporation, ISON is expected to become a brilliant object perhaps 10 times brighter than Venus, or maybe even brighter. But that would only occur for a brief time around at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun).

In the end, Comet ISON may put on a good show, but don’t believe the hype.

Comets are notoriously unpredictable when it comes to brightness estimations. To quote comet-hunter David Levy, “Comets are like cats… they have tails, and they do exactly what they want.” But they cannot, however, violate the laws of orbital mechanics!

The orbit and orientation of Comet ISON the day after Christmas 2013 on closest approach to the Earth. (Credit: NASA/JPL's Small-Body Database Browser).

The orbit and orientation of Comet ISON the day after Christmas 2013 on it closest approach to the Earth. (Credit: NASA/JPL’s Small-Body Database Browser).

About 

David Dickinson is an Earth science teacher, freelance science writer, retired USAF veteran & backyard astronomer. He currently writes and ponders the universe from Tampa Bay, Florida.

Olaf2 April 29, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Sorry, but anyone still believing in this 2012 nonsense needs to be locked up in a psychiatry institute.

Mike Petersen April 29, 2013 at 9:28 PM

Why apologize? Just say it!

bombuzal April 29, 2013 at 8:12 PM

Comet ISON trajectory in HD:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TULT9QUevnQ

supermagneticman April 29, 2013 at 10:37 PM

Never A Straight Answer NASA lies yet again. NASA is the all seeing eye of the illuminati in plain sight. I am one among many many individuals around the globe who has seen with my own eyes the companions following ISON and i suspect you are a shill

Lorin Ionita April 30, 2013 at 7:27 AM

Seen with your own eyes?

If you mean images, can you share the images you took?

Oat April 30, 2013 at 11:40 AM

dont hold ur breathe, they’ll be locked away a in safety deposit box at the Trollsville Bank

Lorin Ionita April 30, 2013 at 1:10 PM

It always happens this way. “I have all the answers, but you just have to believe my word, because I’m not going to give them to you”

David Dickinson April 30, 2013 at 10:31 AM

If we are indeed “shilling for Big NASA,” we’ve yet to receive our check in the mail…

Rick Holcomb April 30, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Shirly this person is joking.

Olaf2 April 30, 2013 at 6:51 PM

Did you smoke dope when you saw it?

Jody Roberts May 1, 2013 at 3:54 PM

Seeing an image with hot pixels is not seeing the thing with your own eyes. You DO understand the difference between the Internet and reality, right? To make this claim you’re gonna have to get out your damn telescope – by yourself, without help from many individuals around the globe. When it gets close enough to see well in small telescopes, come on back to us. What a nervous dude!

Another_Free_Thinker April 29, 2013 at 8:51 PM

0.426 A.U is more like 63..8 million km, not 39.6.

Is NASA planning to move the earth??? And is Universe Today in on the conspiracy?

Mike Petersen April 29, 2013 at 9:28 PM

Miles…maybe he meant to say miles.

Comet Con April 29, 2013 at 11:18 PM

It is simply my contention that ISON is also Newton’s Comet of 1680 (The Great Comet); Comet Negra of 1347 -the one which accompanied the Black Death in Europe and China; the “Fiery” comet of 1014 and 678AD; they share the same trajectory and appear 333 years apart (for the last 4 revolutions). Also Constantine’s Comet of 337AD. And possibly the Star of Bethlehem although that is off expected timeline by 20 years.

Blaidd Mathúin April 30, 2013 at 6:31 AM

And what PROOF do you have of this? If none, then I am saying the car that passed me three days ago in Texas is the exact one that passed me 19 years ago because they were both white.

Nikolay April 30, 2013 at 8:17 AM

ISON and the 1680 comet have some similarities, so it has been suggested that they come from the same parent body which broke up a few revolutions ago.

http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/comets-ml/message/19851

But that’s just speculation anyway, and even if it’s true(which i don’t think it is) then it’s just a part from the parent object and not the same comet as 1680. And quite frankly it makes little difference as long as it is spectacular like the 1680 comet :P

Rev Fr R.D. White II May 12, 2013 at 9:54 PM

I believe “they share the same trajectory and appear 333 years apart (for the last 4 revolutions)” answers your question of ‘what proof’ Comet Con had for his/her theory.
I believe it is an interesting theory, though I lack the means to investigate the matter.

Olaf2 April 30, 2013 at 6:50 PM

Proof that they have the same orbit.

Start with the orbital elements of all these comets they must be the same and not orbit in different inclinations and directions.

Esad Salkic April 30, 2013 at 6:24 AM

What ever comes out during the time of Ison Comet life it will be history, but it remains to be seen as yet.

Lorin Ionita April 30, 2013 at 7:35 AM

I think this article is useless here on UT. People who do read this site don’t believe the conspiracies. And people who strongly believe won’t be abated just because they read it here when there is so much “proof” everywhere.

Olaf2 April 30, 2013 at 6:53 PM

It is actually attracting a lot of Lunatics as you can see in the comments sections.

Andy Blyth April 30, 2013 at 1:40 PM

ison is not comming alone, what about the other objects that are following along with ison ?. and it is not the planet Nibiru !!… you scientist are so full B/S ….

Lorin Ionita April 30, 2013 at 2:23 PM

What other objects?

Please show us.

GaryNicholls April 30, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Have the stars been removed from the Hubble image? With such a long exposure the background stars should visible, maybe as streaks. Are the raw images available anywhere?

Jody Roberts May 1, 2013 at 3:46 PM

The stars haven’t been removed, they’re so dim compared to the comet they don’t show up. It’s the camera’s contrast setting. It’s how charge coupled devices (camera chips) work. This is an old issue that led to some of the moon landing conspiracy nonsense. The comet is really bright, so you have to dim the camera a little bit to keep the comet from being just a big white blob. To see the stars behind it, you would sacrifice the nice detail of the coma structure. To see the structure, you sacrifice the relatively dim stars. Anybody who’s taken pictures with a webcam in their back yard plugged into a homemade telescope (well, me, anyway) will tell you this is a technical challenge to set and lock the exposure time and contrast so you can see details of bright objects like the moon, planets, and comets.

krenshala May 3, 2013 at 10:26 PM

Anyone that has taken a picture in an room with a brightly sunlit window in frame can show the same results as the comet-star image issue. You either get a nice picture of whats outside, with nothing but black (backlit) for inside objects, or you get to see the stuff inside but the sunlight coming in through washes out most of the image (due to the longer exposure needed to see stuff inside).

Glauco Ramalho April 30, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Hey folks,

Comets are not dirty snow balls as they repeat always (see Lovejoy and it’s dive to the Sun), and this article regards to this kind of objects.

If you believe that ice can exist in this form in the outer space, that dirty snow balls can reflect color lights, emanates strong x-rays, survive to diving to the Sun, small but with tails stretching all the Solar System, and they can do all of this being black, dry and hot, so this article is for you.

If you know there is something wrong with this picture, go listen to James McCanney. He was the first scientist in the world to debunk 2012 rumors and have a very better explanation about the nature of the comets than NASA does…

Olaf2 April 30, 2013 at 6:58 PM

It is an electric universe nutter.

Maybe start here:
James McCanney’s Nonsense:
http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/mccanney/

Glauco Ramalho April 30, 2013 at 7:35 PM

I read this Phil’s site before first visiting McCanney’s site five years ago.

He made so very big mistakes debunking McCanney that my conclusion is that Phil never read one line of McCanney’s work. Neither you.

Olaf2 April 30, 2013 at 9:16 PM

McCanney promotes the Electric Universe, enough said, his science is quackery..

Glauco Ramalho April 30, 2013 at 11:15 PM

What is the problem with theories regarding the Electric Universe?

Glauco Ramalho April 30, 2013 at 7:39 PM

This is not a good place, we could talk in GLP. I know that you know this site.

Glauco Ramalho May 1, 2013 at 9:44 PM

Just to make it clear: I’m not promoting this comet. This is not Nibiru, Nibiru is much larger.

Ruslan Zavadich May 3, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Please note Vitaliy Nevskiy, one of discoverers of this comet, is from Belarus, not Russia.

fallofathousandsuns1 May 4, 2013 at 7:50 AM

I definitely don’t understand how and why people bring up impact theories, before even studying the orbital path of a comet. Comet ISON comes nowhere near Earth.

http://www.fallofathousandsuns.com/comet-ison.html

plummoderndesign May 8, 2013 at 8:29 AM

Nice try, using words such as “hysteria” and so forth, trying to make anyone who questions the comet look ridiculous. You know, perhaps if “you (NASA) would put a camera on it” we wouldn’t have to try and speculate our own conclusions.

Rev Fr R.D. White II May 12, 2013 at 9:58 PM

Thank you, Universe Today, for posting this enlightening article.
It amazes me how many of your readers feel the need to resort to insults in order to make their points.

Spike Mulligan May 13, 2013 at 2:15 AM

Hey David you ever heard of Nuremburg?

Olaf2 May 1, 2013 at 12:41 AM

Easy, 2 same charges repel each other.
The more charge you have they more repel each other making the complete EU theory rubbish and put it in the realms of flat earth theory.

Glauco Ramalho May 1, 2013 at 4:58 PM

What does that have to do??

Olaf2 May 1, 2013 at 5:30 PM

What do you mean? Charge with the same sign repels each other they don’t want to stick together making any object lose any charge fast an it becomes neutral because they eject each other beyond escape velocity. EU completely self-destructs when you start to do some simple calculations and take a third object into account. e.g what is the charge of Earth the Sun and the Moon? Yep the moon could not stay in Earth’s because it would be either repelled by the Sun or Earth orbit if EU would be true.

Glauco Ramalho May 1, 2013 at 7:45 PM

Totally wrong. Electricity in outer space is not the major force, gravity is still the predominant force there. Electricity only influences gravity or orbits in a few cases, and is not a great influence any way. EU does not goes against Newtonian.

And your thought about objects becoming neutral in outer space is correct *if* there is no continuity on charging the objects in outer space, and the Solar Wind have all the current to do that.

Olaf2 May 1, 2013 at 8:24 PM

EU claims that gravity does not exist!

Also you must calculate how many electrons/protons can stay on a surface like a comet before they repel each other to escape velocity.

There cannot be a continuing charge because again when the Sun emits one charge then that sun will become opposite charged and pull back that charge that was emitted. And if by some luck that charge happen to be emitted then the sun will repel an opposite charge since it now contains too many opposite charged that does not like to stay with each other. Solar wind is on average neutral charged.

EU is one of these theories that self-destructs itself because same charges repel each other. Only people with lack of physics understanding would promote this stupid theory.

Glauco Ramalho May 1, 2013 at 9:24 PM

Totally incorrect again. EU from James McCanney never proposed electricity in outer space being stronger than gravity, you are very disinformed or have bad intentions.

The electron/proton load does not stay into the surface of the comet, it stays around the nucleous.

Solar wind is not neutrally charged. All equipment sent to measure the Solar Wind was not designed to detect electric current in outer space. To do that you need two space crafts measuring the current between the two objects, like you would do in a battery. If you use only one pole, you will always measure it neutral because the spacecraft itself is discharging the environment around it – the Solar Capacitor, that is continuously fed by the Solar Wind.

There are nothing more self destructive than the dirty snowball comet model, with icy structures that are black, dry, hot, emits x-rays, reflects color lights, are small and survive to temperatures above 2mi C degrees like Lovejoy did and gets stronger after. Only people with lack of physics understanding would promote this stupid theory.

Olaf2 May 2, 2013 at 4:52 PM

You lack of physics is showing, that is why you believe in a BS theory.

Electric force is, for electrons, 4.17×10^42 times stronger than gravitational forces. This is 4,170 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 times stronger than gravity.
http://farside.ph.utexas.edu/teaching/em/lectures/node28.html
Your comet will eject all additional charge that it cannot gravitational bind instantly.

Moving charges in space does not move like electricity in your home. In your house only the negative charges (electron moves) the positive ions in space BOTH the electrons and protons move cancelling each others charge out.

You do not need 2 space crafts to measure current in space.Current is the number of charges (positive and negative like electrons) moved in a certain time frame. (Coulombs/ second). The number of positive and negative charges by the solar wind is equal and therefore makes the solar wind neutral.
Your coulomb force that is a magnitude 42 times stronger than gravity prevents charge separation for too long.

Glauco Ramalho May 2, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Your problem is not the misunderstanding of phisics law, is the misunderstanding of model proposals. The official model states that the Solar Wind and the space is electrically neutral, and all the equipments sent to measure the Solar Wind in outer space was designed regarding this prediction.

That’s why the measurements always returns neutral form the Solar Wind: the spacecraft is measuring it’s own discharge, which will always be neutral. Considering an environment which have electric current all around like a battery or a capacitor, you need two poles to measure this charge. If you don’t do that, the charge will not move and will not see the discharge, only the same numbers of protons and electrons.

There is nothing wrong in your explanation on the Coulomb forces avoiding charge separation *if* the Sun does not have the mechanism to do that, which is wrong. Regarding the EU from James McCanney, this model have other form of nuclear fusion that is not the model of nuclear fusion in the core of the Sun. This model predicts that the fusion occurs in the atmosphere of the Sun, and the Pich effect is the responsible to provide all the pressure that is necessary to react nuclear fusion of Hidrogen. That’s why Solar Corona is 2mi C degrees, and the Solar Surface (which should be hottest) only measures around 6mil C degrees.

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