But It’s Not Planet X


Planet 9 by Tomruen; background taken from File:ESO – Milky Way.jpg – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

This year, a pair of astronomers announced they had found evidence that another, massive planet may exist in the outer solar system. This would be a planet roughly 10 times the mass of Earth. That makes it something like Neptune in size. Big.

It orbits our Sun on a tipped, elliptical path. It never gets closer to the Sun than 30 billion kilometers. That is out there.

When I first read about it, I thought “Maybe this is Planet X.”

Back in the early 1900s, astronomer Percival Lowell starting search for a planet beyond Neptune. For years, he studied the sky from his observatory in Arizona  looking for that planet. He never found it, but his calculations helped other astronomers find Pluto in 1930.

Planet X (also known as Niribu)  is a planet that some people have believed is in our solar system, even though scientists have said it’s not. You might say that believers in Planet X are also “out there” like this new planet. Believers claimed it was not only out there, but possibly inhabited. They claim it is on a huge 3,600-year orbit.

That orbit brought it into our inner solar system enough times to deliver literally Biblical catastrophes to little Earth.

In 2003, a cult following Niribu got some attention in the media until their critical May 15, 2003 date for the appearance of Planet X passed without an appearance.

The Mayan special date of December 21, 2012 (which I covered with some unserious seriousness on this blog) also passed by quietly and Nibiru was slated to crash into Earth that day which was the winter solstice. (Though I still say that the Mayan calendar was misinterpreted and was never meant to indicate the “end of the world.”)

One of the astronomers who discovered this new planet was Mike Brown who was also one of the party-poopers who helped get Pluto demoted to less than planet status. (PlutoKiller‘s team discovered Eris, a large object roughly the same size as Pluto and that discovery eventually led to the International Astronomical Union’s demotion.

Of course, this new planet is not going to be demoted, because it is very big. It would become the new ninth planet. It is a tricky call on this one because to say the planet was “discovered” when no one has seen it (even in a big telescope) is a bit of a reach.  Like other things in science, including most things that Albert Einstein was famous for, we have some evidence that something exists or is possible, but we don’t actually have it. Think about all that searching for the Higgs boson particle which was “confirmed” in 2013.

People haven’t given up on Planet X or Niribu. There are still “predictions” of disaster connected to it. And NASA has checked in to say that although their WISE survey found thousands of new stars, but no Planet X – but maybe a “Planet 9.” (Not to be confused with the wonderfully, terrible film Plan 9 From Outer Space)


My Last Post Before It All Ends

Though I have done a number of posts about the end of the Mayan long count calendar and all the corresponding media, posts and books about “the end of the world,” I never believed 12-21-12 would be anything more than the winter solstice. Still, I like all the attention that it brought to the calendar and associated Mayan culture.

But this will be my last post on all this before the solstice.

img-maya12David Morrison (Director of SETI’s Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and NASA Senior Scientist) wrote a good “Doomsday 2012 Fact Sheet” about the scientific take on all this.

It has gone beyond the Maya “prophesy” of the end of the world (which they never really predicted) and people have written about other astronomical threats like a collision with a rogue planet.

The Mayan Calendar(s) is probably the easiest to dismiss. Their record keeping used very long cycles of day counts. But the cycles (one cycle equals 144,000 days or 394 of our years) and when one ends, another cycle begins.

But what about that mysterious planet Nibiru? This hoax about a planet named after some ancient Mesopotamian god came from some fictional books. So, there is no need to worry about something colliding with our little planet this month. We are safe from Planet X, or Nibiru, or Hercubolus, or even Comet Elenin.

There also will not be an alignment of planets this month. As Morrison says, “There is an approximate lining up of the Earth and Sun and the center of our Galaxy in late December, but this happens every year. In any case, planet alignments have no effect on the Earth.”

solar flareYou can also cross a shift of the Earth’s poles off your worry list. It is true that the magnetic polarity changes. It happens every million years or so. But not this month and it would be a process of thousands of years. If your GPS stops working, just buy a new one.

This is my last post about the 2012 Doomsday before it all ends. By “it” I mean all the hype.

As long as you don’t have a religious take on this, I feel secure that the Earth has been here for more than 4 billion years.

In a few billion years, our Sun will heat up so much that Earth will be uninhabitable.

I’ll let future bloggers worry about that one.

There will be a live broadcast on December 11th (just before you-know-what) called Why the World Will Still Be Here After December 21, 2012
(10:00 PM – 11:00 PM EST) with David Morrison, Ed Krupp and Andrew Fraknoi and they will discuss all these topics. They see this Doomsday meme as having a negative effect on the public perception of science.    Just go to https://plus.google.com/events/cvdkpj271hd9s6its3933fucoc8

More Good Stuff


Start the Mayan Countdown

December 21, 2012 is a month away, so it’s time to start the Mayan calendar countdown.

I’m sure that the Mayans would have been counting down pretty seriously to the date, although no one seems to be really sure if they were counting down to the end or the beginning. One door closes and another one opens?

Whether you have been reading about the date on this blog or elsewhere or listening to  programs online or just the occasional news segment, you must have heard some mention of the Mayan calendar’s 5000 year cycle ending on this year’s winter solstice.

Like all the earlier end of the world, disaster, rapture predictions, this one has plenty of theorists (asteroids, solar eruptions, aliens) including those by scientists and those who claim to be “Mayan experts.”

The Mayans used several mathematically complex calendars and the focus here is on one known as the Long Count Calendar. Remember, it’s a calendar. Like the calendar you have in your house, on your desk and on your computer and cell phone, it keeps track of days and it has an “end” which we have arbitrarily decided is December 31. And then? We flip over to a new one.

The Long Count Calendar is unusual to us because it records 1,872,000 days rather than our measly 365-day annual calendar. That Mayan Great Cycle’s end would probably have been a time for celebration, not fear. Remember our big Millennium countdown? Parties, celebrations, looking back, looking forward and Y2K.

There have been some theories concerning astrological happenings – which the Mayans were certainly concerned with – especially the claim that this particular winter solstice will also coincide with all of the planets in our solar system lining up with the sun. Astronomers have been pointing out for a few years that these claims are false and that it’s actually  impossible to predict accurately such a precise alignment.

­Because the Mayans were the first of the Mesoamericans to keep any sort of historical record, their concept of time is interesting to us today. Their stelae (stone monuments) have carvings about events, calendars and their astronomical knowledge. They were not the first civilization to use a calendar, but their four separate calendars for different ways of measuring is unique.

They were very interested in marking the time it takes for the sun to complete a solar year with one of their calendars, so they did have a calendar to track what we consider as a full year. That Haab calendar is similar to the Gregorian calendar that we use today with 360 days. The problem with that calendar was that 360 days didn’t have enough time for the sun to make it through a full solar cycle. The ancient Mayan astronomers wanted accuracy, but their mathematician brethren liked the simple consistency of the increments of 20 in their math system. We do the same thing with out 10 and 100 focus. Those leftover 5 days after they passed the 18 times 20 mark were the “nameless days” that they called the wayeb. So, maybe we should be celebrating the December 27-31st.

The original Tzolk’in and Haab calendars were combined to form the Calendar Round which has 18,890 unique days, a time period of around 52 years. But  Mayan historians wanted to record their history for future generations and needed a calendar that would take them through thousands of years,  and so they created the Long Count calendar.

I think I will be spending my solstice doing solstice things rather than Mayan-worrying. I will pay attention to news reports and coverage because I find it interesting as a media thing.

Solstices are one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years. And celebrations predate when humans were farming on a large-scale, so this goes beyond harvest festivals. The remains of sites such as Stonehenge in Britain and New Grange in Ireland show that the primary axes of both of these monuments are aligned to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. New Grange points to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset is aligned at Stonehenge.

We humans like to mark the passage of time. Even if it wasn’t some intelligent alien lifeform that taught us how to do it.