Exposing PseudoAstronomy

January 31, 2012

Podcast Episode 21: The Geographic Pole Shift, Part 1


It’s February 1, or at least it is in some parts of the world, which means another episode of the podcast has been posted. I was working on writing an all-inclusive episode on geographic pole shifts and then I realized that there was no way it would all fit in an hour episode, much less a half-hour episode.

So this is Part 1. In it, I talk about what one particular person and group claims to be the mechanism for a geographic pole shift, the past evidence that it’s happened, and the current evidence that it is happening. The person in question is Brent Miller, the group is The Horizon Project. You can buy their DVD for only $24.95!! Or if you do a bit of Googling (which according to my spell-checker is actually a word), then you can find at least the audio posted online.

I’ll warn you that this is a bit Coast to Coast AM clip-heavy. So if those annoy you, well, sorry. I actually practiced some restraint and didn’t include two additional clips (as-is, there are five).

Part 2 will come for the February 8 episode and will focus instead on the alleged evidence, what the only known mechanism(s) would be for flipping or moving Earth’s geographic poles. It will also address the conspiracy ideas that we already have undergone a geographic pole shift in the last few years and that NASA has just been hiding it … somehow. You’ll have to listen to Episode 22 to get more on that.

In the mean time, enjoy Episode 21.

August 3, 2011

A Creationist Ramble About Water in Space


Introduction

Ah, back to my bread-and-butter, young-Earth creationism and the ramblings writings of Brian Thomas over at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). I actually have 4 of these posts in the queue to write about from recent stories posted there and at Creation.com, but I will try to intersperse some other stuff as a mental break for you.

This particular story, “Water Near Edge of Universe Bolsters Creation Cosmology” is really more of a rambling from our dear “science writer” over at ICR. As such, this will be a comparatively short blog entry.

The Article

Most of Mr. Thomas’ articles start with a paragraph or two of the science news that initiated his reaction, and then it goes into why an apparently literal, young-Earth interpretation of the Christian Bible is still valid. (I say “apparently literal” not to be flippant, but because there are many old-Earth creationists who also state their interpretation is literal.) This particular article, however, just goes right into it after the first sentence. The first paragraph states:

“A tremendous cloud of water vapor envelops a quasar [a giant actively feeding black hole] in distant space, according to new reports. Where did the water come from? A straightforward understanding of the biblical account of creation provides a possible answer and suggests that this may be the first of more such discoveries.”

His justification comes from Genesis 1:6, stating, “God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters” (I’m taking his word on that, I didn’t actually look it up). Of course, the logical conclusion is that the waters above the firmament means the waters around this quasar. Of course, he didn’t state this quite as succinctly as I:

“But physicist D. Russell Humphreys proposed in his landmark 1994 book Starlight and Time that waters above the firmament instead referred to a tremendously huge sphere of water, the remnants of which exist today outside all the stars in a bounded and expanded universe. … Perhaps the waters spoken of in Genesis 1:6 are these ‘waters that be above the heavens,’ presumably located “above” the stars.Is there any water near the edge of the universe that would illustrate this possibility? Actually, yes[, this quasar]. … This water was not found outside the stars, but associated with a quasar, so it is probably not direct evidence of any Psalm 148:4 “above the heavens” waters. However, it is a billion light-years farther away than the previous distance record for detected water, and less than two billion light-years from the outermost edge.”

As I stated, his is not quite as succinct as mine.

What’s Really Going on Here?

I’m not entirely sure. This is not a case of a creationist twisting the science to fit their biblical view. Rather, it almost seems the opposite – a creationist adapting the Bible to fit the new science discovery. I don’t have any problem with that.

But Wait, There’s More!

I knew it couldn’t be that good. Mr. Thomas had to end with something I was going to have issue with. In this case, it’s with something completely unrelated, the Pioneer anomaly:

“In fact, the Pioneer anomaly, an unexplained slowing of the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft on their way out of the solar system, is already well-explained by the overwhelming mass of a proposed sphere of water above the heavens.”

Except it’s not an anomaly anymore. It was figured out months ago, and paper after paper confirms the new interpretation. For quick background, the anomaly was that the twin Pioneer 10 and 11 craft, currently well outside the orbit of Pluto, are not where they should be. This was based on all measurements of effects from gravity, light pressure, heat generation, measurement errors, etc. Many people suggested various (real) scientific possibilities, such as we may not understand gravity as well as we thought (there may be extra terms that come into play at such large scales — a perfectly valid hypothesis), there may be an unknown body tugging them, etc.

The creationists, of course, put forth their own idea, with most saying that it was because the speed of light changes (this is required so as to not make a mean God that would create light in transit to us and make us pesky astronomers think that objects are billions of light-years away — an obvious problem for a 6000-year-old universe).

Except, here we have the article stating, “Pioneer Anomaly Solved By 1970s Computer Graphics Technique.” Basically, the uneven heat radiation from the craft can account for the very tiny difference in what was observed versus predicted. This is follow-up work from 2008 that almost solved it. Case pretty much closed. I’m surprised that Mr. Thomas, a science writer, didn’t know about this or choose to acknowledge it.

Edited to Add: Also, as Phil Plait (the “Bad Astronomer”) pointed out in the Comments section below, the second half of that sentence is sorely mistaken, as well. As I wrote above, the standard creationist model to explain the anomaly was a variable speed of light. It seems as though Mr. Thomas opted for a different one, the “unknown mass” I alluded to. The problem is that the mass tugging on the craft would need to be in a particular position to exert a net pull such as an unseen Kuiper Belt Object. The problem is that Mr. Thomas suggests that it’s a “sphere of water” encircling us, which would exert no net pull on the craft, thus not solving the supposed anomaly.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the third section, I really didn’t have too much of an issue with this article. It pulls in actual new science and shows how it can work fine within their belief system without denying nor modifying the science in question.

Also as I said, the creationists have put out quite a few astronomy/geophysics-related articles lately, and I’ll be posting about them hopefully shortly. And hopefully I’ll find something else short to talk about so it’s not just four articles in a row about the young-Earth creationists.

March 22, 2010

Conservapedia Calls Black Holes and Dark Matter “Liberal Pseudoscience”


Introduction

I’ve yet to really do any post that has anything to do with politics, as that’s usually not relevant to astronomy (one would hope …). Alas, I have found a case where it is: The bastion of knowledge, Conservapedia.

What’s Conservapedia?

For those few of you who may not know, Conservapedia is a reaction to what was and is perceived by some to be a “liberal bias” in the omnipresent Wikipedia. For more information on that, you can view Conservapedia’s entry on “Bias in Wikipedia”. Among issues it cites are: “Wikipedia’s article on engineering features a photo of … an offshore wind turbine, which is an inefficient liberal boondoggle and certainly not a representative example of engineering. None even exist off the shores of the United States because they are not competitive.”

That may give you an idea of what Conservapedia is about. Additionally, almost all of their “science” articles contain large amounts of space devoted to the Creationist perspective, and they recently began a project to re-write the Bible in order to remove what they see as liberal biases in it. If you really need more examples, take a look at their entries on evolution, abortion, homosexuality, and Barack Obama. I choose not to hot-link these on purpose.

“Liberal Pseudoscience”

It may not be surprising to readers of this blog, but some fundamentalist, literal-Bible believers have some issues with the conclusions of modern science. That’s not the point of this post — I’ve been told I ramble somewhat, so let’s get straight to the point: Conservapedia lists Dark Matter and Black Holes as “Liberal Pseudoscience.” For some reason, it lists these along side “Moral Relativism” and “Wormholes” in its “Liberal Pseudoscience” category under the Theory of Relativity. How Moral Relativism fits in there is beyond me … same with wormholes, for that matter.

Final Thoughts

That’s really the point of this non-rambling post – point this out, and just kinda shake my head. First, I have no idea what black holes or dark matter ever did to conservatives. Or young-Earth creationists, for that matter. The existence of black holes and dark matter are completely compatible with what creationists have come up with in their “models” of a <10,000-year-old universe, unless they're just offended by the joke that, "Black holes are where God divided by zero."

I've been considering doing a post on the evidence for dark matter, so I guess I'll ask here — is anyone interested in a post on the evidence for the existence of black holes? Let me know in the Comments.

February 16, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 2


Introduction

This is Part 2 of my two-part series on the 2012 claims of astrologer Terry Nazon, found on her website, “The Mayan Prophecy of 2012,” which I found after seeing the Coast to Coast AM late-night George Noory -hosted radio show for February 15, 2010 on their “Astrology Special.”

Part 1 of this series dealt with Ms. Nazon’s specific numbered claims on that page on her website. This second part will focus on the claims she makes throughout the paragraphical text on the page.

Note: There will be a third part to this series, but it will not be posted for a few months. I have been in contact with Johan Normark, who writes the Archaeological Haecceities blog and he has agreed to write a guest post for me about Ms. Nazon’s claims of the Mayan culture, but he will not be able to do so for a few months.

The Galactic Center — of Our Universe?

“Let me introduce you to the Galactic Center of our universe, the Milky Way 27° Sagittarius. This is where all the creative energy of universe comes from. A Massive black hole, many times larger than our own Sun.”

After reading some of what Ms. Nazon has written, and especially going into her numbered claims as I did in Part 1 of this 2-part post, I would surmise that she knows very little astronomy. I would expect she knows some very basics, like what a planet is, what the ones in the solar system are, and some basics known to laypeople. However, she apparently does not know galactic structure nor the basics of the layout o the universe, as evidenced by the above quote.

In my first part of this series on Ms. Nazon, I very quickly brushed through celestial coordinate systems. I’ll go a bit more in-depth here because this post is MUCH shorter.

If you were to project Earth’s latitude system onto the sky, you get what astronomers refer to as “declination” which is abbreviated as “DEC.” It’s that simple. The North Celestial Pole, at +90 DEC, is very close to the star Polaris and is where Earth’s rotational axis would lie if it were to go on forever. 0° DEC is the celestial equator.

Longitude is a bit trickier. While there are technically 360° in any circle, astronomers divide the sky’s longitude into what’s known as “right ascension,” where the circle is divided into 24 hours (abbreviated “RA”). The reason for this is to make estimating when an object will be visible a little easier. For example, let’s say I’m out observing and Mars is at the 13 hr RA. But, at that time, only objects at 12 hr RA are above my eastern horizon. Then I know right away that in 1 hour on the clock, Mars will rise. This is easier than taking the degree difference and then dividing by 15 to get the time.

So through this system of DEC and RA (where RA rotates with Earth’s rotation), we have a celestial coordinate system so that any astronomer could go to another and say, “I got an e-mail this morning from someone who claims they see Planet X at DEC +34° 12′ 52″, RA 11 hr 53 min 33 sec. Can you check out those coordinates to confirm?”

That is how you use the coordinate system Stating, “Milky Way 27° Sagittarius” is fairly meaningless. However, because I am familiar with to what she is referring as well as these general claims, I will decipher the statement (after first explaining why it’s meaningless). First, because she states 27°, one could assume she is referring to DEC because there is no such thing as degrees in RA. Stating that something is at DEC 27° is like stating that a ship is at 27° latitude. Okay, latitude is nice … but I’m not about to search the entire circle of the globe at that latitude for the ship.

She narrows it down by saying Sagittarius. Unfortunately for Ms. Nazon, the northern-most part of Sagittarius lies just above the -12° mark. Southern-most is just below -45°. So, let’s assume she actually means -27° instead of 27°. Because it’s Sagittarius, we are limited to RA 17h45m to 20h30m.

From the context, she’s talking about the very center of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced “A-star”), or Sag A* for short (us astronomers like abbr.). This object, which is a super-massive black hole, is located at the coordinates DEC -29° 0′ 27.9″, RA 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec. So even if we flip the sign for Ms. Nazon, she’s still 2° off, though not that big of a deal – I may be nit-picking here.

The second main reason why this claim shows Ms. Nazon knows little about structure is that our galaxy’s core has nothing to do with the universe. The universe couldn’t care less where our galaxy is nor where its core may be located. A galaxy is a grouping of stars, gas, dust, and dark matter, bound by mutual gravity. The universe is – by definition – “everything.” To claim that our galaxy’s center is the “Galactic Center of our universe” simply makes Ms. Nazon sound ignorant about the basic astronomy.

Oh, as to the creative energy flowing from the galaxy’s center … I’m going to leave that alone. It’s not worth commenting on other than to make a vague reference to Star Trek: The Animated Series.

To Infinity and Beyond!

“Now the concept of infinity and time has intrigued mathematicians, scientists, physicists and philosophers for eons. It was profound and very spiritual. On the number line with the center being zero, zero is never reached. To think that you can go infinitely in one direction and infinitely in another is not only profound but, it’s the truth. If that’s the case then, when we die or end, and when we are born and begin, is infinity. It’s a continuum of time. Since there is no end on the other side of zero… it is where everything happens, but didn’t.

“Our Galactic center at 27* Sagittarius is a black Hole…Is this where we find infinity?”

If you can understand what Ms. Nazon is saying for the first part of this, I congratulate you and I request that you explain it to me in the Comments section of this post.

As for the last sentence, as I explained above, the galactic center is at a DEC -29°, not 27°, and I think she’s mixing up her symbols with Sag A* and the little degree sign (°) on her “27.”

While you may not consider this to be an important point, it does speak to her lack of familiarity with the topic, and hence should speak to whether or not you want to pay her nearly $330 an hour for a phone consultation.

Real Particle Baths?

“During the Solstices the Galactic Center bathes us in energy. Real particle energy! Protons and Neutrons the DNA material that sustains life on Earth.”

Interesting claim. But profoundly meaningless. First, the center of our galaxy is very roughly 30,000 light-years away. That means that the fastest thing we know of – light – would take 30,000 years to get to us from there. So, perhaps Ms. Nazon is claiming that the Milky Way’s black hole is constantly spewing out material and so that 30,000 light-year distance -> time delay doesn’t matter.

Now, by definition, a black hole cannot emit particles (let’s ignore Hawking Radiation for this discussion). However, material falling into the black hole does emit radiation, and this radiation and any particles can be accelerated to speeds very close to that of light. So in that sense, Ms. Nazon is correct.

But, it’s this whole alignment with the solstices that’s meaningless. By definition, the Winter Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 18 hr, and the Summer Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 6 hr. That’s actually how the RA system is set up, to line up with the solstices and equinoxes.

Granted, 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec is not that far off from 18 hr 00 min 00.000 sec. But it’s not the same. And this is ignoring that it’s a few degrees off in DEC. So let’s say she’s right – on the Winter Solstice, this event for some reason happens because the sun is only about 14 min away from the galactic center. If that’s so, then why doesn’t this happen for the ~2-4 week period surrounding it? There are a few days around there when the sun is in closer alignment with the galactic center.

And then the same thing for the Summer Solstice, except why would this bathing event happen when the sun is in the opposite part of the sky?

And then, if you think about looking at the galaxy in a top-down way – say, a flat plate representing the galaxy and then a grain of sand representing our entire solar system – why would the orientation of that grain of sand relative to the center of the plate make any difference in the larger picture?

Final Thoughts, Part 2

This post is shorter than the first because there were much less astronomy-related specifics in it.

This post focused mainly on Ms. Nazon’s sketchy new-agey astronomy-sounding claims and why to anyone who studies astronomy they are fairly meaningless and demonstrably insignificant. If you doubt what I’ve written, I suggest you do a little independent reading on your own on astronomical coordinate systems, large-scale structure of the universe, and how an apparent alignment between two objects would have any bearing on anything. I invite you to post questions you may have in the Comments section for clarification.

And I would ask that – even if you don’t believe me completely – you consider the lack of knowledge that Ms. Nazon has demonstrated on her website before you fork over $64.00 for an “E-Reading via email,” or $74.85 for a 15-minute phone reading (or $329.95 for a 1-hour reading).

February 1, 2009

Planet X and 2012: The Pole Shift (Geographic / Spin Axis) Explained and Debunked


Introduction

Continuing my series on Planet X and 2012, one of the main claims of what will actually happen is termed a “Pole Shift.” Sounds scary, huh? The Earth’s pole(s) … shifting!?

But what does it actually mean? Well, Earth actually has two sets of North and South Poles – the geographic and the magnetic. Most of the doomsdayers that I’ve heard seem to imply that they are talking about a geographic pole shift, but some also talk about a magnetic pole shift. Since both are completely different, and since they are significant enough topics by themselves, I am doing separate posts on them. This one addresses the geographic pole, also known as the rotation axis.

There are actually a few different specific versions of this scenario that various doomsday folks have created. The one that I know the most about and will address in this post is that of Brent Miller, founding member of the “Horizon Project,” and the statements that he has made on the November 10, 2008 and January 11, 2009 episodes of the Coast-to-Coast AM radio show. I am not going to use many quotes because there is no transcript for these shows and it’s an awful lot of typing and pausing and typing and pausing for me to supply a direct quote for each claim.

All posts in this series:

Main Premises

Basic Premise of a (Geographic) Pole Shift: The basic premise that Brent Miller argues for is that Earth’s spin axis will change. At present, Earth revolves such that the north geographic and south geographic pole stay stationary with respect to the stars, always pointing at the same location in space. The rest of the planet rotates around this axis. In a “pole shift” event, the geographic location of this axis would change such that two different locations would stay fixed with respect to the stars while the rest of the planet rotates around that axis.

Milky Way’s Black Hole Creates a “Dark Rift:” I addressed this more in-depth in my post about the pseudoastronomy of galactic alignments, but in brief, Miller thinks that the Milky Way’s black hole spins out gravity waves that create a “dark rift” along the center plane of the galaxy.

Properties of the “Dark Rift:” Miller claims the main property of this is an intense gravitational force that (a) will cause Earth’s poles to shift, and (b) contains a lot of “junk” material (my words, not his) such as asteroids that could impact Earth.

Earth’s Continents Are Kept “Afloat” By Earth Spinning on Its Axis: Miller points out that because Earth spins on its axis, the equatorial diameter is 42 km greater than the polar diameter, and that this is proof that the continents are above sea level because they are “pushed out” by Earth spinning. If Earth stopped spinning or if it started to spin around a different central axis, then the continents as we know them would sink because there is no longer the centrifugal force keeping them “out.”

This Has Happened Before and there’s Proof Its Happening Now: He goes through many apparent points of evidence to show that this has happened before (around 11,000 B.C. and something like it in 705 B.C.) and shows apparent evidence that it is starting to now.

Dissecting the “Evidence”

Milky Way, Black Holes, and “Dark Rift:” This is not correct, mostly for the reasons I pointed out in this post. There is no “dark rift.” If the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole is throwing off gravitational waves, at the location we are, they will bend and flex us by less than the width of an atom.

Miller also claims that his “astrophysicists” have now verified we’re moving into the galactic plane (which we’re not) and his “quantum mechanics guys” have shown what the effects of the gravity waves would be. Because I want to really harp on this, here is the quote (from hour 4 of the Jan. 11 program at about 31 min 15 sec into the program): “Pretend the calendars never existed. Independent of the calendars, the quantum physicists have already confirmed that the center of our galaxy really is a super-massive black hole, they’ve confirmed the location of the galactic plane, uh, the astrophysicists have already mapped out the time in which we are going to be crossing the galactic plane, and they estimate it to within 2 or 3 days of [when the Mayans said it would happen] at the end of 2012.”

This really shows that the people who work with him (a) don’t know what they’re doing, (b) don’t read the scientific literature, (c) don’t contribute to the scientific literature, and (d) that he doesn’t know what someone in the fields he’s quoting should be doing. None of this has to do with quantum mechanics. Mapping out the galaxy is for astronomy. Finding “when” we’ll cross the actual galactic plane is for an astrophysicist. Finding the supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center is for astronomy. Gravity waves are for general relativity (the opposite, pretty much, of quantum mechanics). And gravitational effects are Newtonian mechanics (classical mechanics). So really, this is an example of throwing out very important-sounding terminology and having no idea of what they actually mean, besides the actual information being wrong.

In sum, this will not be, “just like going into the black hole,” as Miller claims. And, as a consequence, his “theory” has now been shown to have absolutely no physical mechanism.

Earth’s Continents Staying Afloat: It’s difficult here to not resort to ad hominem attacks because this simply has no basis in reality. Pretty much the only thing correct in this entire argument is Earth’s equatorial diameter is 42.6 km greater than its polar diameter (from NASA’s factsheets). And it is thought that this is due to Earth’s rotation, that there will be a bulge around the middle that’s the effect of billions of years of rotation.

But other than that, nothing he says about this is correct. The continents don’t “float” such that if Earth’s spin were altered or stopped they’d suddenly sink (he quotes timescales of several hours or days for an entire landmass to sink). Centrifugal force does not keep them above water. Rather, they are less dense than the rock underneath. The average density of continental crust is 2.7 g/cm3. The average density of ocean crust is 3.0 g/cm3 That’s why at zones where oceanic meets continental crust, the oceanic crust goes underneath the continental crust. In addition, the continents have a “root” that goes between 20-70 km down, making an indentation into the underlying lithosphere.

What that all boils down to is that the continents are not tenuously kept above water just because Earth rotates. Claims that they are are incorrect and have no basis in what is the accepted structure of Earth as shown through models and evidence (such as gravity mapping and mapping of the interior structure via earthquakes).

So at this point I’ve now shown that his basic mechanism for a pole shift is wrong, and that his claim of what would happen as a consequence wouldn’t actually happen. But there’s more.

Examining His Historic Evidence: There are many, many points of apparent historic evidence for this that Miller points to To try to organize them a bit, I will address them as bullet paragraphs:

  • Continental Drift – Miller claims that we’ve all been taught that continental drift (the continents moving around on the lithosphere) takes millions of years. He says this is wrong, that it happens very quickly. The evidence he points to is that the crust in the Atlantic Ocean is about the same age – has the same amount of dead animals and mud and silt – as the crust in the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, they must be about the same age, indicating that the Americas separated from Eurasia and Africa very quickly. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of plate tectonics – specifically subduction. While the Atlantic Ocean is growing and the mid-Atlantic Rift is creating new crust, the Pacific Ocean is also creating new crust, but it is sinking once it spreads to the continental plates. The image below shows this reasonably well, and it is color-coded with the age of the seafloor. The dark, solid lines indicate either spreading or subduction zones. So, even if you don’t necessarily trust these ages, you should at least start to doubt the evidence and Miller’s interpretation of the evidence (an interpretation which is not supported by the scientific community).

  • Mayan Prophecy and Legend of Atlantis – Miller claims the Mayans foresaw this event. I have already addressed that in a few posts (here and here, mainly) and so will not do so again here. But Atlantis is a new one. But it is a tired one – Atlantis was introduced by Plato in the same sense that the Empire was introduced by George Lucas in Star Wars: “A long time ago on an island far, far away.” Miller uses the argument ad populum logical fallacy to say that because everyone around the world has this legend of an advanced civilization that had flying machines that all died out, they must have existed. And his twist is that they must have died out because of the pole shift causing their own island continent to sink into the ocean because Earth’s spin no longer kept it afloat. I don’t want to get too much more into Atlantis here since it’s not the focus, and so I will refer you to this 8-minute podcast of the SGU 5×5 for more information.
  • While talking about prophecy, I should mention that he also uses Nostradomus and Casey prophecies, which I won’t address because, as with most “prophecies,” they are so non-specific that they can be retrofitted to fit any event.
  • The Mississippi River Delta – Miller claims that the age of the Mississippi River can be estimated based upon the amount of sediments in the river delta in the Gulf of Mexico. I did a cursory internet search on this and couldn’t actually find much other than various young-Earth creationism claims, so for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s correct. He claims the estimates are to around 11,000 B.C. He says that the river must have formed when the pole shift happened and it shifted the way water flows. Well, how about a different explanation: The last ice age ended 10,0000-15,000 years ago, and retreating glaciers carved out the landscape to form the river. That’s the scientific consensus, in general, that the current Mississippi River owes its course to the last ice age, and it has nothing to do with a pole shift.
  • 705 B.C. Event – Miller claims that in 705 B.C., something happened to cause the Earth to stop spinning, rotate backwards for 10 hrs, then spin back the right way again but slightly slower such that the year had 365 days instead of 360 days. He claims as evidence for this that all 15 “major” calendar systems at the time were all revised “within just 2-5 years” of the event and that a few civilizations recorded it, such as the Chinese astronomers recording that the “sun set twice in one day” on that day. However, other than quotes from Miller, I could find absolutely no evidence to support this claim. And while I’m not saying that is proof against it, one should always be cautious when you cannot independently verify a claim. I would think something that significant would be out there, and so this also gets back to the point I made above that his people don’t publish any of their “findings” … they just sell them in DVDs for $24.95. I should also mention that the mechanism he thinks made this happen is a Planet X. But for reasons that I discuss below in the next section on “What Would it Take to Shift the Poles?” a “Planet X” passing could not do this. In addition, the claim is inconsistent. He states that so many people recorded that this event happened, and that many of them were excellent astronomers. But, they must have been incompetent astronomers if they didn’t notice a giant planet passing very close to Earth (since all ancient civilizations knew about Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn which are much farther away). So this would be the simple logical fallacy of inconsistency.

Examining His Present-Day Evidence: Just as there are many apparent lines of “evidence” of previous pole shifts that I’ve now at least cast serious doubt on if not outright debunked, there’s the question of his present-day “evidence.” However, what this “evidence” amounts to is an attempt to anomaly hunt and claim whatever anomalies one finds (or makes up) are proof of their hypothesis:

  • Chandler Wobble Stopped and Became Erratic – The Chandler Wobble is actually a kinda neat phenomenon and is a genuine pole shift. The wobble is where the rotation axis changes by up to about 0.7 arcseconds (where 1° = 60 arcmin and 1 arcmin = 60 arcsec) which translates to a physical movement of about 15 meters. The wobble has a period of about 433 days and is caused by Earth not being a perfect sphere, but rather more pear-shaped (Since, besides the equatorial bulge discussed above, the north and south hemispheres are slightly asymmetric). Miller claims that the Chandler Wobble was very steady until we entered his dark rift, and then it stopped, and now it’s erratic due to the gravity in the rift. However, he is wrong. There’s simply no other way to put it – he’s wrong. The wobble has varied since it was discovered in the late 1800s, and it has been measured since then and you can download the data for yourself. I graphed the x vs. y position of it since 1980 (shown below) and while it has varried in size, at no point during the last 30 years has it stopped, nor is it now behaving erratically. The only explanation I have for his claim is that either (a) he is completely ignorant of the actual data (perhaps one of his “quantum mechanics” told him wrong, or (b) he’s outright lying.

    Chandler Wobble, 1980-2009

    Chandler Wobble, 1980-2009

  • More and More Earthquakes – This has been a claim of doomsdayers for many years, that the frequency of earthquakes is increasing. This is not true. It’s our ability to measure and locate them that is increasing and hence they can be recorded. The large earthquakes – magnitude 5-6 and above – have remained steady for well over a century. This is according to the USGS (here and here), which is the data that Miller claims to be using. So again a case of inconsistency and just being ignorant of what’s really going on.
  • Weird Weather – This is another catch-all claim by doomsdayers, drawing attention the weird weather around the world (first snow in Baghdad in a century, record flooding and hurricanes, etc.). However, the scientific consensus is that this is due to global warming, where the few-degree temperature increase can easily cause global weather patterns to change, and it has nothing at all to do with the effects of a “dark rift.”

What Would it Take to Shift the Poles?

First off, let’s assume Miller’s basic mechanism of a gravitational event happening “to Earth” is real (assuming this for argument’s sake, and because it’s believed by many others, though they have different causes such as Planet X). If Earth entered a gravitational field of some sort, there is simply no mechanism to shift it (as in a pole shift). While, yes, Earth does rotate on its axis, this axis is an imaginary construct, there is nothing physical to pull on. This is where the analogy of a top spinning fails. And yes, while Earth does bulge at its equator, there is again nothing to really pull on it.

This is especially true when you consider that the field that Miller is proposing would take Earth 20 years to move through. You would need something incredibly focused (think tractor beam on Star Trek) in order to exert a torque (rotating force) on an object in order to spin it. A gravitational field could theoretically move Earth, but the type of field that Miller proposes could in no way exert a specific torque on Earth’s axis to shift the poles a certain amount and then stop.

What about a “Planet X?” Again, even a planet-sized body would exert a tug on Earth as a whole as opposed to through a specific axis and so could not effect a pole shift. I will address this further on a post specifically about what a Planet X could do.

So what would it really take to shift Earth’s poles? Well, in order to rotate something in any direction, you need to apply a force. That force has to be specifically in that direction on the part of the object to make it rotate in that way. For example, if you have a billiard ball and you want to spin it, you normally push it from a side (such as the top). You have provided the force to make it move. Now, if you were to apply that same force to the opposite side of the ball (so push away from you on both the top and the bottom), then it would just move away from you and not spin.

So in order to get Earth to rotate in a new direction, or to “shift” its poles, one would need to apply a lot of force in one direction on only one side. The easiest way I can think of doing this would be a planet-sized asteroid impact. As I have shown now on at least two other threads, even an impactor that is 100 km in diameter would be like a grain of sand plowing into a car. Sure, you’ll get a little dent (and wipe out some life), but the planet as a whole will not care. You need something that is much more comparable to Earth’s mass in order to really shift the poles. Something the size of the dwarf planet Ceres would do the trick – and that object is about 1000 km in diameter (Earth is about 12,900 km in diameter). And I should note that we know where all Ceres-sized objects are that are close enough to cause that to happen within the next few centuries. (Again, I will address that more on a post specifically about Planet X.)

Final Thoughts

This is by far my longest post over the last 4 months, over 50% longer than the previous record. And yet, again, I feel as though I’ve only just scratched the surface of just this version of the pole shift idea. Perhaps it’s because I’ve now listened to 4 hours of Coast-to-Coast AM (the two episodes for the 3 “hours” each that Brent Miller talks) three times each to really get down the bulk of his claims and ideas. And there is still more to get into from him, but for now I want to leave him and let this post stand on its own since it really covers the bulk of his claims. As I’ve stated on other conspiracy-related posts, it’s impossible to get into every single claim because more crop up as soon as you debunk one (much like conspiracy theories).

Hence I have tried to give you the basic information to be able to figure out why the idea of 2012 somehow coinciding with an event that will cause a geographic pole shift has no basis in reality by both debunking or calling into question all of his claims, as well as talking about what it would really take to shift Earth’s rotation axis. If you come across (or have) a claim that I haven’t addressed within this topic, please leave a comment!

December 17, 2008

The Milky Way’s Black Hole Verified – Creationists Still Work Around It with Non Sequiturs


Introduction

About a week ago, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) sent out a press release about a very long 16-year study that tracked the positions of several stars in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. By watching the stars move, they can infer the gravitational force that affect their orbits, and hence the mass in the center of the galaxy. The result was verifying the presence – and shrinking the error bars on the mass of – the black hole that resides in the center of the Milky Way.

I didn’t realize that this was in any way related to young-Earth creationism, and yet, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) today (Dec. 17) published an article by Brian Thomas entitled “Fast-Orbiting Stars Puzzle Astronomers” that somehow connects this research to imply support for their creation “model.” It is made of five distinct inferences and conjectures that I address below.

Claim 1: This Shows Stars and Planets Can’t Form in Stable Orbits Naturally

To quote from the article:

An ESO news release stated, “The mystery still remains as to how these young stars came to be in the orbits they are observed to be in today.” Given a purely naturalistic origin scenario such as that offered in the Big Bang theory, one wonders how so many stars and planets came to be in orbits at all, rather than swirling off into space.

This is a non sequitur (“doesn’t follow”) logical fallacy. The mystery is how these stars seem to be on quasi-stable orbits around the black hole since the requisite velocity of the stars to not fall into the black hole is fairly high and, given what we know of galaxy formation, it is unlikely that these stars formed in that location with that velocity.

This has nothing to do with solar system formation. The prevailing model of solar system formation is that a giant nebula of swirling gas and dust will collapse and have a net rotation. As the cloud collapses, the center of it will accumulate the most material and form the star. Other parts of it – that are rotating – will also collapse and form planets. It is actually thought that many would-be planets do get ejected from the system due to interactions with any massive planets (like Jupiter).

Objects get ejected when they are given too much energy – a velocity boost. If the mass of the system is no longer large enough to overcome that velocity, then the object will escape. If the object is gravitationally bound, then by definition, it will be in orbit. And ultimately, that’s pretty much how we measure the mass of all objects in the universe – how fast objects that are gravitationally bound to them are moving.

It’s really hard to see how the ESO quote honestly has anything to do with why planets “came to be in orbits” — it’s just a complete non sequitur.

Claim 2: How Could Stars Share Orbits?

Even more curious is that the astronomers closely observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital pattern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel.

I’m not sure if this is a logical fallacy or not: Mis-reading the press release (I’ll assume an honest mistake). Contrast the ICR article statement of “astronomers … observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital parttern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel,” with the actual statement from the researchers:

“The stars in the innermost region are in random orbits, like a swarm of bees,” says [Stefan] Gillessen. “However, further out, six of the 28 stars orbit the black hole in a disc. In this respect the new study has also confirmed explicitly earlier work in which the disc had been found, but only in a statistical sense. Ordered motion outside the central light-month, randomly oriented orbits inside – that’s how the dynamics of the young stars in the Galactic Centre are best described.”

I read the ICR statement 3 times and each time got the impression that they are reading the article as saying that these six stars are on the same orbit – hence the Ferris wheel analogy. A better analogy would be the six cars being on a race track contrasted with a swarm of bees. The six stars orbit in the same plane like the planets in the solar system, but they don’t “share” the same orbit. The stars that are closer to the black hole orbit in more random orbits, like bees, or to extend the solar system analogy, more like comets.

Claim 3: The Stars Should Be Shredded … Much Less Be on Similar Orbits

The next claim is the sentence following Claim 2 (repeated for context):

Even more curious is that the astronomers closely observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital pattern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel. The question is complicated by the likely effects of the violent “forces of the black hole” that would rip stars apart, not place them on a galactic train track.

This is a case of quote-mining. When the press release talks about “forces of the black hole” (in this case, tidal forces which occur when the gravity pulls more on one side of an object than another causing it to stretch), it does so in the context of it’s hard to get our current models to actually form stars near the black hole … it has NOTHING to do with the stars’ orbits.

\And that – what the press release says – is interesting science: Researchers want their theories to be tested and if they can’t explain something, that’s good because it forces them to revise their theories. If we already knew everything, there’d be no point in doing science.

Claim 4: Somehow Tying in SETI Makes Creationism Real

When I read the next paragraph, I honestly had to read it twice to see if there was any natural progression from the quote from the ESO press release to their claims about SETI. It may be there, but it’s extraordinarily tenuous:

The ESO also stated, “Excitingly, future observations are already being planned to test several theoretical models that try to solve this riddle.” These models will certainly not include one that involves an outside intelligence having placed the stars in their orbits, even though other cosmologists have dedicated themselves to the search for alien intelligence, which some believe may have even seeded life on earth.

Let’s analyze this:

(1) ESO is saying that more research needs to be done and that it is planned to be done to answer the question of how stars could either form close to the black hole or could migrate there fast enough (since they’re young stars). … Okay …

(2) ICR says that us secular scientists will no doubt NOT include models that say “God Did It.” … Okay …

(3) We won’t do this despite people who are dedicated to looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligent life. … Non sequitur …

(4) Some people believe in pamspermia – the idea that it was extraterrestrial life that originally seeded life on Earth. … Okay …

So the problem here really centers along that same non sequitur logical fallacy: Somehow, because the astronomers are looking for a natural means to get these stars here as opposed to an omnipotent being, that’s bad because other astronomers are actively searching for extraterrestrial life (effectively, SETI). It really is just that, a non sequitur; it’s hard to actually explain why because the two have NOTHING to do with each other.

Claim 5: Universal Fine-Tuning

The precise construction parameters of cosmic structures like these stars and the rules that govern them will only be intelligible as products of a supernatural Creator.

Rather than drag this post on any longer, I will refer you to my post where I directly address the issue of fine-tuning of cosmological parameters (basically a god of the gaps logical fallacy): Why the Universe’s Fine-Tuning Is NOT Evidence of Intelligent Design.

Final Thoughts

I really don’t have much else to say about this one. The only way Brian Thomas’ article makes sense is to completely ignore the non sequiturs – ignore any sense of logical progression from one claim to another, and simply take – on faith – that he’s tied it all together for you.

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