Exposing PseudoAstronomy

August 2, 2011

Planet X & 2012: The Myth of the Southern Approach


Introduction

To add yet another post to my lengthy series on the Planet X and/or 2012 phenomenon, I want to focus on one of the pervasive claims within the “Planet X is approaching but it’s a conspiracy and no one is allowed to know about it” community.

An aspect to the conspiracy theory is that Planet X is supposedly approaching from Earth’s south pole or “below the plane of the solar system.” Since “most of the telescopes” are in the northern hemisphere, no one in the northern hemisphere can see it, so astronomers aren’t really the bad guys – we’re just out of the loop, too.

The conspiracy goes on to claim there is a secret telescope that is built or is being built in Antarctica that is the only one that can see Planet X approaching. So, just some of the Privileged Few know about Planet X’s approach, they’re keeping it secret, and of course the Government is in on it.

In this post, I’m going to make short work of this claim and show why it is bunkum.

Your Horizon Line

Let’s assume that we have a fairly flat horizon. Most people probably have this if they walk outside. I don’t because I live a few miles from the Rocky Mountains. But let’s pretend that you’re walking outside now and you see a purely flat horizon. If you were to draw a line from due south to due north, that line would span 180° (half of a circle, which is 360°). That is important.

Now let’s say you are in the northern hemisphere, and your latitude happens to be 40° N. If you look straight up in the sky, astronomers would call that “latitude on the sky” (declination) 40° N. (Astronomers project Earth’s lines of latitude on the sky and we call them “declination.” Earth’s equator, 0° latitude, projected onto the sky is 0° declination.)

So if you’re looking straight up, you see declination 40° N. If you look due south on the horizon, that is going to be 1/4 of a circle, or 90° south of 40° N. Some quick math will tell you that if you project your southern horizon line onto the sky, that is 50° S. If you look due north, then we add 90° to 40°N. So 50° (we have 90-50=40° left to go) gets us to the North Celestial Pole (90° N), and then we go another 40° over the pole and we have declination 50° N on our northern horizon. This means that we can see the entire northern half of the sky from our location (from 0-90°), and we can see down to 50° S from our location.

Let’s take another position on Earth, say, the southern tip of Hawai’i, roughly 20° N. With our 180° field of view North-South, we can see down to 70° S declination and the entire northern hemisphere of the sky.

Now let’s place a telescope on the equator, 0° latitude. Your 180° field of view will show you the entire sky over the course of a few months, both north and south.

(Note: You can’t see the entire hemisphere of the sky at the same instant in time, you can only see half of it, unless you are on the north or south pole. You can see all of it over the course of a few months from your location as the sky appears to rotate above you.)

Why All the Math?

What I was trying to show you through some relatively straight-forward math and geometry is that the claim of, “Only a telescope at the south pole can see an object approaching from ‘below the plane of the solar system’” is completely wrong.

One needs only to be within a few degrees of the equator on Earth to see nearly the entire sky and any approaching object – be it from “above” or “below” the plane of the solar system.

There are professional optical telescope observatories scattered throughout the world. True, the majority are in the northern hemisphere in places such as Hawai’i (United States), Arizona (United States), or the Canary Islands (Spain). But there are also several world-class observatories in the southern hemisphere, not the least of which are the telescopes in Chile.

In fact, some telescopes were built with this in mind. The twin Gemini telescopes (appropriately named) are placed in Hawai’i and Chile for this very reason, and their site prominently states:

“The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai’i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky.”

Final Thoughts

This is not the most frequent claim made regarding the Planet X mythos that has been set up over the past few years, but it’s out there and I’ve heard it several times from different people. What the claim really boils down to is a complete lack of understanding of what you can see in the sky, coupled with conspiratorial thinking.

It’s unfortunate that this claim is out there because it is – quite frankly – silly when you really sit down to examine it. But, on the other hand, it’s easily shown to be wrong, which is always nice.

Oh, and that South Pole Telescope? It’s a radio telescope, so it wouldn’t be able to “see” Planet X approaching anyway.

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4 Comments »

  1. “It’s a radio telescope, so it wouldn’t be able to “see” Planet X approaching anyway.”

    Obviously it’s intended to listen to the Xians’ (Nibiruvians’?) radio transmissions.

    You are silly.

    Comment by David Evans — August 2, 2011 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

    • Ah yes, my bad.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 2, 2011 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

  2. There are some pretty serious telescopes in Australia easily capable of seeing anything big coming at the Earth from the south. (Example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Australian_Observatory.) There are plausible conspiracy theories and there are implausible ones: this is one of the latter.

    Great post.

    Comment by willandzarg — August 6, 2011 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

    • Definitely. For some reason I couldn’t think of a name of an Australian observatory off the top of my head, so I didn’t include it. Thanks for the reminder!

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 6, 2011 @ 3:29 pm | Reply


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