17 May 2011

More garbage about impending disasters

Posted by Callan Bentley

Hot on the heels of my discussion of yesterday’s “end is nigh” prophecy, here’s another one, an example that more plausibly wears the cloak of pseudoscience. A cousin sent me a link to this video via Facebook, and asked me what I thought. I sat through it (ten minutes of my life I’ll never get back), and now you can too:



If you don’t have the patience to sit through it, then I’ll sum it up for you:

  1. The comet Elenin is not a comet, but a brown dwarf star.
  2. Elenin is “Nibiru,” a hypothesized sinister celestial object.
  3. The gravitational tug caused by Elenin’s alignment with the Earth and Sun caused the Chilean, Christchurch (New Zealand), and Tohoku (Japan) earthquakes.
  4. In the fall of 2011, further alignments with the Elenin object on September 27 and November 23 will cause further earthquakes.
  5. When the Earth passes through the path of Elenin, debris left in its wake will cause catastrophic damage.
  6. At its closest approach to the Earth, the Elenin object will “grab” the planet Earth and “flip” it.
  7. You’re only just now hearing about this because it’s all a big conspiracy.
  8. You can buy silver from the video’s narrator, and your best bet is to develop a personal relationship with God.

My critique of the video will follow these same eight points:

  1. I’m not an astronomer, so I had to look up a few things, so this first section will be the most prone to error. Any astronomers who would like to step in and correct anything I say are hereby encouraged to do so. A brown dwarf is a big thing, roughly the size of the planet Jupiter, but with much more mass. Estimates of size of the Elenin object, more officially known as C/2010 X1, put its diameter at 3 or 4 kilometers. Jupiter clocks in at 69,911 km. The diameter of the Earth’s moon, for comparison, is 1,737 km. Having Elenin be massive is key to the video narrator’s pseudoscientific explanation, so therefore it is massive; It’s a simple as that. The narrator says “We’re going to call this a dwarf star because it is a dwarf star.” His reasoning is circular: “If that was a comet, do you think it would pull on our Earth hard enough to create a 7.2 earthquake?” The conclusion is part of the reasoning. No actual evidence is given that Elenin is any more massive than a typical comet.
  2. The narrator tags his video strategically by giving Elenin an alternate moniker: “Nibiru,” which is another object, though a fictional one that is part of the whole 2012 mythos. It’s also known as “Planet X,” and it’s a favorite candidate for a collision with the Earth sometime in the future. It’s also pure bunkum. Nibiru is a distraction from the main points I wish to make, but it’s doubtless provided as bait to draw in other astronomical conspiracy theorists. After all, the narrator doesn’t even mention it aloud; it’s just a tag to draw in web searches.
  3. Plate tectonics is an entirely sufficient explanation for earthquakes, including the destructive ones cited. The Chilean earthquake was caused by plate tectonics. The New Zealand earthquake was caused by plate tectonics. The Japanese earthquake earthquake was caused by plate tectonics. You do not need to invoke a comet’s gravitational tug (much less that of a fictional brown dwarf star) to explain these earthquakes, just as you do not need to invoke an invisible gremlin, sitting on the moon, and messing with the earth via a tractor beam. The convection of the Earth’s interior, driven by heat, driving the slow motion of lithospheric plates, with these plates sticking due to friction, and then pent-up stress exceeding the frictional force, releasing energy, is entirely sufficient to explain these earthquakes. Occam’s razor suggests that we do not need to go any further. Another thing to point out is that while the Christchurch earthquake was damaging, that’s not because it was enormous. It’s because it was right next to Christchurch. It pretty much scored a direct hit on an English-speaking city, which is why it figures prominently in the video narrator’s mind, not because of any superlative geophysical characteristics. Furthermore, it should go without saying that a cosmic snowball with a mass many times smaller than the moon, operating at a distance many times greater than the moon’s distance (0.2 AU from the Earth at its closest, as opposed to the moon’s ~0.002 AU: that’s a hundred times further away), will impart an unimportantly tiny gravitational force, insufficient for triggering large earthquakes. Even the SuperMoon makes more sense than that. (Narrator’s predicted response: ‘Of course, it’s not a comet! Comets are far too small to have the gravitational effect I need. Therefore, it’s a brown dwarf!’ …See Point 1.)
  4. This is baseless fear-mongering. We should always be prepared for large magnitude earthquakes in plate boundary regions, particularly atop subduction zones. There will almost certainly be some earthquakes that occur somewhere on the planet on September 27 and November 23, and it would be an unusual day indeed if it were to pass with no earthquakes. There may even be big ones; but there is no particular reason to think that any particularly large one will occur on those days.
  5. The “dirty wake” is the only part of this video presentation that made sense to me. But most of this debris will be very small (the comet’s “coma” is gas and dust: small particles indeed), and will burn up in our atmosphere with no harm to anyone. Hence, no big catastrophe; the best you can hope for is a few shooting stars.
  6. No justification is given for how Elenin will accomplish the purported “flip” or what its consequences would be. Even if the object were not a comet but in fact a brown dwarf, why would a “flip” be the response? What exactly is supposed to be getting flipped? The magnetic poles? The geographic poles? Is it a full 180° rotation, or something less symmetrical? What is the mechanism of flipping? No details or justifications are given for this empty claim.
  7. “They” (NASA?) aren’t announcing this to the public, Mr. Narrator claims, because if they did, “people would change their buying habits, drastically.” Clearly, they wouldn’t want that… but wait. What? That’s it for the conspiracy? Positively diabolical
  8. Of course. At the end of the video, it becomes clear: Really, it’s all about you buying into the narrator’s plan for you — he’s got it figured out both in terms of your religious destiny and all your silver buying needs. Only $50 for an ounce of silver? What a deal — on the market it’s trading for $34/ounce. Now that he’s enlightened you about your impending doom, what you really need is a chunk of shiny metal, and to add $16 net profit into the narrator’s pocket. Pay more for less: now that would be ‘changing your buying habits drastically.’

What a waste of everyone’s time. I am chagrined at the amount of misinformation, pseudoscience, and chicanery afoot in our world.

On the other hand, this garbage video led me to JPL’s cool interface for “small bodies” in our solar system. Go play with the Java-based interface for the orbit of C/2010 X1 (“Elenin”) for yourself. I had not seen that display before, and it’s totally cool. I’m grateful JPL makes this sort of data available — and disappointed to see it misused by the pseudonymous narrator of the pseudoscientific video above.