NASA’s Final 2012 Doomsday Debunking Video (We Hope)


Despite countless articles published over the course of several years to the contrary, despite videos and interviews with some of the world’s most prominent and well-respected astronomers, despite new archaeological discoveries and well-established knowledge, despite the laws of physics, for crying out loud (and, curiously enough, even despite the fact that parts of the world are, at the time of this writing, already well within the supposed “doomsday” with nary a Nibiru in sight) many people are still wondering what will happen on the much-touted December 21, 2012, aka “doomsday” per the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Maya calendar (or something like that.) After all, if it’s trending on Twitter it must be important, right?

Well, yes and no. No because there’s not a shred of truth to the whole thing (except for the fact that there were Maya and they had a calendar) but yes because many people are actually very concerned about… well, I guess about the safety of the world. (Don’t believe me? Read this.) Which is in itself reasonable, I suppose. So in the nature of public outreach and the attempt to spread real information to combat the other kind, NASA’s has released yet one more video interview with astrophysicist David Morrison, director of the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute. I don’t know if David could tell you how to replace a broken head gasket or perform an appendectomy, but when it comes to space he knows his stuff. So check out the video, be not alarmed, and pass it on to anyone you know who might still be feeling the b’ak’tun blues.

See you on the 22nd! (Still skeptical? Check out some other videos and links below.)

Read more: How Have the 2012 Doomsday Myths Become Part of Our Accepted Lexicon?

And here’s a “reality check” from JPL’s Don Yeomans, an expert on near-Earth objects and asteroids:

Read more: No Doom in 2012: Stop the Insanity!

So rest assured, the only astronomical event expected for the 21st is the winter solstice (summer in the south), which happens every year on every planet with an axial tilt with no ill effects (besides perhaps a sudden sinking realization that you’re nowhere near done with your holiday shopping.) Happy solstice!

How Have the 2012 Doomsday Myths Become Part of our Accepted Lexicon?

The whole “December 21st, 2012 Doomsday” hype had pretty much fallen off my radar. I hadn’t received an email from a concerned or fearful person for months and no one had alerted me to any new breathlessly hyped end-of-the-word videos for quite some time. Optimistically, I began to think that the Mayan-Prophecy-Pole-Shift-Nibiru (et. al) nonsense was just a passing fad.

But, somehow it seems, doomsday hype has made it into the public’s psyche. I recently saw a local newscast that mentioned the world would be ending soon, albeit jokingly, and sometimes even well-meaning publications give the Mayan prophesies undue credence with unfortunate headlines. But a couple of recent polls say that 10-12% of people have doubts they will survive past Dec. 21st of this year. And a few conversations I’ve had with those who have been on the front lines of debunking the 2012 doomsday predictions reveal that an upcoming “end of the world” is somehow very real for a measurable segment of the population.

How has something that is steeped in nonsense with no scientific accuracy whatsoever managed to capture such attention?

Dr. David Morrison has been answering the public’s questions on the 2012 predictions for over five years on NASA’s “Ask and Astrobiologist” page on the Astrobiology website. Even after all the information Morrison and other NASA scientists have made available debunking the doomsday myths and providing real scientific reasoning, Morrison said he still steadily receives 5-6 emails every day from people asking if the world will end in December.

“These are for the most part from people who fundamentally distrust science and the government,” Morrison said in an interview for a podcast for the NASA Lunar Science Institute and 365 Days of Astronomy. “It is very hard to get through to them. These are people who… get their information from the internet,” (and You Tube videos and History Channel documentaries, Morrison later added.) “And among the kids, the information just passes from person to person. I’d like to think that the things I’ve posted and the videos I’ve made help, but a lot of people just don’t get it.”

And some people don’t want to get it.

“They are so invested this,” Morrison said, “with their books and websites and videos,” and when Dec. 22 rolls around, they may not want to admit they’ve either been part of the hoax or taken in by a hoax. They may end up changing the goalposts by saying they were off by a couple of months or years, like many of the failed end-of-the-word predictions have done.

Bill Hudson, who helps maintain the 2012Hoax website – a site that offers scientific information of why the world won’t end and a forum for people to express their concerns – says he has seen a steady uptick in traffic to the website in recent months and he anticipates there will be a surge ahead of December 21st.

“Most of the astronomical claims are easily dismissed, but a lot of our visitors have apparent anxiety issues, and the 2012 rumors set those off,” Hudson said. “So they realize intellectually that it is bunk, but emotionally they struggle to get past it.”

For example one woman has written in for the past few years in a constant up and down cycle of first feeling fears for herself and her child, then feeling calm when reading information on the 2012Hoax site, but then falling back into fear if she watches a new You Tube video hyping doomsday, or if she sees a big star in the sky she thinks she hasn’t seen before (it usually end up being Venus.)

Unfortunately, Hudson said, there are more people like this, who just can’t get past their fears.

Ian O’Neill producer of Discovery Space News and former Universe Today writer who authored a series of articles for UT debunking the 2012 doomsday myths says that he’s also witnessed how the “Mayan doomsday” has worked itself into society’s lexicon.

As an example, O’Neill shared via email a story of a person next to him at the gym watching TV reports of the recent swarm of earthquakes south of LA:

“The guy watching the TV next to me asked what was going on — I said that it was a USGS press conference to discuss the mini quakes. He responded with “Yeah, it’s not long until the world ends, we’re bound to be seeing more of this kind of thing.” A little taken aback, I questioned him on it (thinking he was joking) and he was positive that the world was really going to end and that he’d seen “videos on YouTube” about it. No matter what I said to him, his view was that he’d rather be safe than sorry — he’d stocked up on fuel and water.”

O’Neill said he’s found that among the public, stories of doomsday are generally accepted. “Some people know that it’s all crap, but others are totally convinced that it’s real,” he said. “It’s really sad that, after I’ve written countless articles on the topic and appeared on several news shows and documentaries communicating the real science, people are still out there needlessly worried, happy to believe a badly edited YouTube video over science and reason.”

The real unfortunate effect here is that children are being caught up by these doomsday predictions, whether by adults in their lives who are buying into the hype or by having access to websites and videos that purport to have the “real” truth and answers.

Hudson says the 2012Hoax site has been receiving a constant stream of questions from children who are fearful, and Morrison said many of the emails he gets are from children. There are at least two documented cases of young people committing suicide from their fears of the world ending, and Morrison shared a story from a teacher he knows where parents of two children in her class have come to her saying the families plans to commit suicide so they don’t suffer in the end times coming up.

This is almost more than anyone involved in debunking these doomsday myths can bear. Morrison called the people propagating the doomsday myths “evil.”

“These are evil people, whether consciously or unconsciously whose main effect is to frighten children,” he said. “I think it is a terrible thing.”

Morrison, Hudson and O’Neill said they all hope Dec. 21 can come and go without anyone else taking drastic actions that are completely unnecessary.

Asked what he will be doing on Dec. 22, Morrison said all he really hopes is that this whole subject will be dropped, never to be heard from again.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like this before and I hope I never have to deal with it again,” he said.

Still Concerned About 2012?

Don’t be.

Don Yeomans, senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, was kind enough to address some common questions regarding 2012, such as the much-misunderstood Mayan “long-count” calendar, Nibiru, pole-reversal and other such purported “doomsday” devices. Check it out.

Still set on the world ending come Dec. 21?

Back off, man. Don’s a scientist.

Comet Elenin Disintegrated?

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Comet Elenin, the supposed “doomsday comet” that has inspired so much confusion and controversy since its discovery in December 2010,  may have broken apart completely during its recent pass around the Sun.

Discoverer Leonid Elenin posted the image above earlier today on his website, SpaceObs.org. Taken with the International Scientific Optical Network’s 18″ telescope in New Mexico (ISON-NM), it shows what may be the remnants of Elenin, a faint cloud barely visible after its exit from behind the Sun.

“On the left you can see possible position of this ‘cloud’,” Leonid writes. “Brightness of this object does not exceed 18m, which means what now, magnitude of the comet is lower then predicted on 12m. Hopefully in the near future debris of the comet will be observed on a large telescopes, and perhaps we’ll see some details of this ‘cloud’.”

Ground-based viewing of Elenin’s remains may be hampered over the next few days by the full Moon, he adds.

Although many rumors have been spread about the catastrophic danger Elenin poses to humans, in reality the comet was never a threat. Not expected to come any closer than 22 million miles (35 million km) to Earth, it’s been previously speculated that Elenin would most likely disintegrate during its current orbit.

“I don’t know why fearmongers [chose] my comet,” Leonid Elenin told Universe Today. “I received many letters from scared people. But if they believe in conspiracy theories I can’t help them.”

Hopefully this helps put some of the doomsday nonsense to rest!

See Leonid’s latest post on his site here.

Image: ISON-NM Observatory

Comet Elenin: Just Passing By

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It starts out innocently enough: a small speck against a field of background stars, barely noticeable in the image data. But… it’s a speck that wasn’t there before. Subsequent images confirm its existence – there’s something out there. Something bright, something large, and it’s moving through our solar system very quickly. The faint blur indicates that it’s a comet, an icy visitor from the outermost reaches of the solar system. And it’s headed straight toward Earth.

Exhaustive calculations are run and re-run. Computer simulations are executed. All possibilities are taken into consideration, and yet there’s no alternative to be found; our world will face a close encounter with a comet in mere months’ time. Phone calls are made, a flurry of electronic messages fly between computer terminals across the world, consultations are held with top experts in the field. We are unprepared… what can we do? What does this mean for civilization as we know it? What will this speeding icy bullet from outer space do to our planet?

The answer? Nothing.

Nothing at all. In fact, it probably won’t even be very interesting to look at – if you can even find it when it passes by.

(Sorry for the let-down.)

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past several months regarding Comet Elenin, a.k.a. C/2010 X1,  which was discovered by Russian astronomer Leonid Elenin on December 10, 2010. Elenin spotted the comet using a telescope in New Mexico remotely from his location in Lyubertsy, Russia. At that time it was about 647 million kilometers (401 million miles) from Earth… in the time since it has closed the distance considerably, and is now around 270 million km away. Elenin is a long-period comet, which means it has a rather large orbit around the Sun… it comes in from a vast distance, swings around the Sun and heads back out to the depths of the solar system – a round trip lasting over 10,000 years. During its current trip it will pass by Earth on October 16, coming as close as 35 million km (22 million miles).

Elenin's orbit via the JPL Small-Body Database Browser

Yes, 22 million miles.

That’s pretty far.

Way too far for us to be affected by anything a comet has to offer. Especially a not-particularly-large comet like Elenin.

Some of the doomy-gloomy internet sites have been mentioning the size of Elenin as being 80,000 km across. This is a scary, exaggerated number that may be referring to the size of Elenin’s coma – a hazy cloud of icy particles that surrounds a much, much smaller nucleus. The coma can be extensive but is insubstantial; it’s akin to icy cigarette smoke. Less than that, in fact… a comet’s coma and tail are even more of a vacuum than can be reproduced in a lab on Earth! In reality most comets have a nucleus smaller than 10km…that’s less than a billionth the mass of Earth (and a far cry from 80,000 km.) We have no reason to think that Elenin is any larger than this – it’s most likely smaller.

Ok, but how about the gravitational and/or magnetic effect of a comet passing by Earth? That’s surely got to do something, right? To Earth’s crust, or the tides? For the answer to that, I will refer to Don Yeomans, a researcher at NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL:

“Comet Elenin will not only be far away, it is also on the small side for comets. And comets are not the most densely-packed objects out there. They usually have the density of something akin to loosely packed icy dirt,” said Yeomans. “So you’ve got a modest-sized icy dirtball that is getting no closer than 35 million kilometers. 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.”

“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.”

– Don Yeomans, NASA / JPL

And as far as the effect from Elenin’s magnetic field goes… well, there is no effect. Elenin, like all comets, doesn’t have a magnetic field. Not much else to say there.

But the claims surrounding Elenin have gone much further toward the absurd. That it’s going to encounter another object and change course to one that will cause it to impact Earth, or that it’s not a comet at all but actually a planet – Nibiru, perhaps? – and is on a collision course with our own. Or (and I particularly like this one) that alien spaceships are trailing Elenin in such a way as to remain undetected until it’s too late and then they’ll take over Earth, stealing our water and natural resources and turning us all into slaves and/or space munchies… or however the stories go. (Of course the government and NASA and Al Gore and Al Gore’s hamster are all in cahoots and are withholding this information from the rest of us. That’s a given.) These stories are all just that – stories – and have not a shred of science to them, other than a heaping dose of science fiction.

“We live in nervous times, and conspiracy theories and predictions of disaster are more popular than ever. I like to use the word cosmophobia for this growing fear of astronomical objects and phenomena, which periodically runs amuck on the Internet. Ironically, in pre-scientific times, comets were often thought to be harbingers of disaster, mostly because they seemed to arrive unpredictably – unlike the movements of the planets and stars, which could be tracked on a daily and yearly basis.”

– David Morrison, planetary astronomer and senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center

The bottom line is this: Comet C/2010 X1 Elenin is coming, and it will pass by Earth at an extremely safe distance – 100 times the distance from Earth to the Moon. It will not be changing direction between now and then, it will not exert any gravitational effect on Earth, its magnetic field is nonexistent and there are no Star Destroyers cruising in its wake. The biggest effect it will have on Earth is what we are able to learn about it as it passes – after all, it is a visitor from the far reaches of our solar system and we won’t be seeing it again for a very, very long time.

I’m sure we’ll have found something else to be worried about long before then.

“This intrepid little traveler will offer astronomers a chance to study a relatively young comet that came here from well beyond our solar system’s planetary region. After a short while, it will be headed back out again, and we will not see or hear from Elenin for thousands of years. That’s pretty cool.”

– Don Yeomans

For more information about Elenin, check out this JPL news release featuring Don Yeomans, and there’s a special public issue of Astronomy Beat, a newsletter from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, that features David Morrison of NASA’s Ames Research Center discussing many of the misconceptions about Elenin.

An updated chart of Elenin’s orbit and statistics can be viewed here.

Top image © Jason Major