Exposing PseudoAstronomy

January 24, 2013

Podcast Episode #62: Interview with Bill Hudson About 2012hoax.org


The Alexa web traffic tracking service currently has 2012hoax.org as among the top 120,000 most-visited sites in the world. (In contrast, my own domain, sjrdesign.net, is currently #3,578,209. whitehouse.gov is #1644 in the world and 435 in the US.)

In episode 62 of my podcast, I interview the man behind 2012hoax.org, and we discuss his motivation behind creating it, some of the stats, most contentious articles, and his favorite 2012 back-peddlers (so far). We also discuss his latest work, Cosmophobia.org (where 2012hoax.org is redirecting).

December 21, 2012

Podcast Episode 58: Post-December 21, 2012 Solstice – We’re Still Here


This post/podcast is going out as we pass through the December 21, 2012, solstice at 11:12 AM GMT. We’re still here.

That’s all.

December 18, 2012

Planet X and 2012: The Myth of Completing a Precessional Cycle


Introduction

I can’t believe I forgot about this claim. Well, maybe I can — it’s fairly minor. But, to try to milk this 2012 stuff for a few more days before Friday, here we go — let’s talk about the (minor) claim that on December 21, 2012, we complete a Full 26,000-Year Precessional Cycle!! (cue spooky music)

Precession

Picture a spinning top. Or, if you have one handy, spin a top. If you give it a good, quick spin, it should do pretty well. It’ll spin with its spin axis straight up-and-down, and from one moment to the next, you wouldn’t be able to notice a difference in where that axis is pointed.

But, as time goes on, the top will become unstable and that spin axis will start to wobble. It will trace out a circle in the air. That wobbling is called “precession.”

Just like a top, Earth precesses. From day-to-day, month-to-month, and for practical purposes, from year-to-year, Earth’s North-South spin axis is pointed in the same direction in space, towards the North Star to the north and towards nothing really in the south.

But, if you were to live for several thousand years and track where that spin axis is pointed, you would see it very slowly move. In the time of the ancient Egyptians, the pole star was different. In the time of the last ice age, the pole star was different.

How long does it take to complete one precessional “cycle?” 25,772 years. Or, roughly, 26,000 years.

For the Wikipedia version of this, if I haven’t quite made sense, see this link.

Completing a Cycle

So now the question is, when do we complete one precessional cycle?

The answer is that we complete one cycle 25,772 years from when you started to count.

There is absolutely nothing special about any particular “start” point … it’s a cycle. And it’s a non-descript cycle at that. Meaning that unlike, say, the water cycle where you can choose a starting point (say, water flowing on the planet’s surface) and so then have that be the end point, “completing the cycle,” you cannot point to one “point” in the precessional cycle that makes any better start point.

Yesterday was an end point for the one started 25,772 years +1 day. Tomorrow will be another end point for the one started 25,772 years -1 day. Next year will be another end point for the one started 25,771 years ago. 5,000 years ago was another end point for someone who started to count 30,772 years ago.

But It Ends on December 21, 2012, Right?

Again, no. Unless you chose, as your “start point,” 25,772 years prior to December 21, 2012.

Otherwise, the very concept of a “starting point” or “ending point” is literally meaningless.

Final Thoughts

Now that I’ve written about it, perhaps I know why I haven’t covered it yet: It’s a nonsensical claim. As in, literally, to make it is making nonsense. There is no sense to it — it is meaningless. It’s like taking an empty plate and spinning it and saying that some arbitrary point on that plate was the start point so there’s something special about returning to it.

2.5 more days ’til we start to see back-peddling …

 

And I wanna get in early on the next Doomsday. I just checked up Alexia’s ranking for the 2012hoax.org site, and it’s ranked among the top 200,000 on the internet. My podcast, on the other hand, is closer to the top 2.5 million. And really, that’s just my domain which includes my coin and photography website that boosts the rankings. Sigh …

December 15, 2012

Nostradamus and 2012: Some Internet Folks Get Punk’d


Introduction

Among the modern “scientific skeptics” movement – which is already small – I count myself (in the least arrogant way possible) among the even smaller subset who are actual career scientists. Being in that sub-set, a not uncommon question is: If you had no morals, what kind of scam would you perpetrate?

As in, if I wanted to go out and be on Oprah and Motel and Coast to Coast and sell hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions of dollars?) worth of pseudoscientific crap, what kind of crap would I shovel out to the masses?

To say that I haven’t thought about it would be lying. To say that I haven’t thought to try a social experiment would be lying. But this April, I unwittingly did just that.

April Fools

Some of you may remember my April Fools post for 2012: “New Nostradamus Quatrain for 2012 Discovered.” The idea was that people keep making up new things that Nostradamus “said,” after some event, and then claim it applied to that event. This happened with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. And, as also happened with that attack, people “reinterpret” quatrains that Nostradamus actually did write in order to fit them to the event.

In that spirit, I wrote my post about a “newly discovered” quatrain. And of course, tied it very obviously to the 2012 doomsday stuff. I even posted it on April 4, but I set the date back in WordPress so that it appears I posted it on April 1. People started posting in the comments pretty quickly and sniffed it out as an obvious prank.

And that was that.

December 2012

Fast-forward to the last week or two. WordPress is neat in that it tells you what people have searched for in search engines to get them to your blog. Usually, the top terms have something to do with Planet X or December 21, 2012. For a very brief few days about two weeks ago, the top term was “Glynis McCants fraud” — for which my blog is still among the top ten, and was briefly #2, in Google search results for that term.

But, for the last week, and indeed, now looking at the stats, for the past quarter (3 months), the top term outpacing all others by nearly a factor of 2 is “nostradamus quatrains 2012.” Ooops.

Search Terms for Blog Hits, 4th Quarter 2012

Search Terms for Blog Hits, 4th Quarter 2012

Disclaimer?

A few days ago, I added this disclaimer to my April Fools post:

Edited to Add (Dec. 09, 2012): Okay folks, one of the top search engine directs I’m getting to my blog is for stuff along the lines of “nostradamus quatrain 2012″ and folks are getting this post. Let me be clear: THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOLS POST. That is all. Now, on with the show …

Still on Forums

As of this writing, people on three different forums have picked upon this and are treating it as a genuine Nostradamus quatrain. One is a “Topix” forum, another is on a forum for people who own the Dodge Challenger (a car), and the third is Aantares.com forum. Intriguingly, none of them are cited, though the first two quote more of my post than just the quatrain I made up.

In fact, the last one made it up even more than I did. The poster took the first two lines that I wrote and then made up the last two lines.

Final Thoughts

Is this of large impact? No, of course not. Three people on random forums taking it and quoting me and thinking it was genuine does not a big issue make. And hopefully with this post, too, people coming to this blog will realize that there’s nothing to fear.

But, the fact that the most hits to my blog these days – and now every day for the past nearly two weeks – are for Nostradamus quatrains relating to 2012 … well, it does say something about the state of critical thinking in our society.

Exactly what does it say? Well, I know the answer, but if I told you, then you wouldn’t be thinking for yourself …

Housekeeping

WordPress has just informed me that this has been my 300th post. That’s an average of 5.3 days between posts for the last 4 years 4 months I’ve been blogging. Not horrible, though not great, I suppose.

December 10, 2012

2012 Mayan Doomsday: One Post to (Almost) Rule Them All


Introduction

This post is headed up exactly 11 days before the winter (in the northern hemisphere) solstice of 2012, assuming I got the time zones correct.

You know … THAT day. The one “everyone” is saying – or at least “everyone” is saying that the Mayans said – that the world is going to end. Or we’re all going to become higher vibrational spiritual beings. Or Planet X will swing by. Or some such other stuff.

In other words, only 11 more days people can suckle the milk from the teat of a meme that has frightened people, bilked them from money, made them see a pretty bad movie, and various other things.

If you’re just finding this blog through an internet search and don’t follow me regularly, perhaps you can tell that I clearly put zero stock in such things. In fact, the main purpose of this post is to create a “master” post for the majority of my 2012-related posts and podcasts. I’ve been known to suckle a bit myself, and there’s no harm in doing another post that’s just a bunch of links … it’s a public service, ¿ya know? to have ‘em all in one place.

After all, the majority of people coming to my blog these days are coming here due to searches for 2012-related doomsday stuff.

The Posts and Podcasts

The main blog posts:

I have also written a few posts that are tangentially related to the 2012 subject:

And my podcast episodes so far on 2012 and Planet X:

And podcasts on which I have been interviewed on 2012:

Other Sites

Why would you be going to other sites?

Well, if you must, I highly recommend 2012 Hoax.org.

Regrets

My one main regret is not doing my planned eBook on the subject. It was going to be free, but I just never got around to writing it. Even just as a compilation of blog posts. :(

I suppose my other main regret is that I have yet to do a post or podcast episode on the sun and 2012. The podcast episode will be coming out in 5-6 days, though … so, still have time, and it’ll come out.

Saving Face – Help Me Look?

All that said, there are lots of people who have made several explatives’-worth of money on 2012 stuff. I have to think that some of them are going to try to save face and back-pedal and make excuses.

If you find any, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! You can do this very easily by posting a comment in the Comments section below this post. I want to do a podcast episode on it early in 2012 (like February-ish).

End Stretch

So far, I really haven’t seen too much escalation of this stuff now that we’re less than two weeks away. Supposedly some people in Russia are worried, but I don’t know if that’s just the press making a big deal out of a few people.

Even Coast to Coast AM hasn’t really ramped stuff up — I almost expected that the producers would be having a 2012’er or Planet X’er on several times a week, but that hasn’t happened. Looking at their schedule for this week, Dec. 9-12 (what’s posted), we have Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the fiscal cliff, some mob-JFK show, and the “Watchers” and a cosmic battle with L.A. Marzulli. Only the last one is remotely 2012-ish. Perhaps “not with a bang but a whimper” is apropos.

Oh, and NASA’s come out with their “nothing’s going to happen” stuff, but the people who believe that “something” in 2012 is going to happen are rarely going to believe anything that NASA or any other part of any government says. It’s perhaps unfortunate, but that’s the case.

So that’s that for now. See ya on December 22.

Edited to Add (11/12/2012): Apparently now, even the Vatican is getting in on this, saying nottin’s happenin’. Which makes sense, considering that their holy book contains text that states no human (fairly sure it says “man,” but I’m generalizing here) will know the day nor the hour of the end stuff it talks about. Well, and the Maya, to them, are pagans so nothing they do should be taken seriously since the Vatican has a monopoly on spirituality, or some such thing.

May 12, 2012

Some Boring New Results Show We’re Still Not Going to Cross the Galaxy In December 2012


Introduction

Many œons ago, I wrote about how we’re not going to cross the galaxy’s equator in 2012. It’s one of those ideas about a physical galactic alignment that some people believe – we’re really actually physically going to cross the equator/plane of the galaxy in December 2012 (or a window around that date) and bad stuff is going to happen as a result.

I explained in that post that, no, we’re not. The latest data I had on-hand is:

[The sun] is about 35-70 light-years “above” it (since there’s no “up” in space, you could also say it lies below it). It is also currently still traveling “upwards” in the direction of the North Galactic Pole at a rate of 7-8 km/sec.

It is also not on a perfectly circular orbit relative to the plane of the galaxy, moving presently inward at a rate of 10-11 km/sec. Its rotational velocity around the center of the galaxy is about 200 km/sec.

New research announced this past week changes that.

We’re Still Okay

The new research comes from a Science paper by McComas et al. entitled, “The Heliosphere’s Interstellar Interaction: No Bow Shock.”

Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty details, the article talks about new observations by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft, also known as IBEX. The craft has been observing neutral atoms – meaning that they have no net electric charge – to understand the environment of the galaxy that the solar system is moving through.

The new result from this article that’s relevant to 2012 doomsday stuff is that the latest results from IBEX have revised the speed with which we thought the solar system was moving through the galaxy. We thought the sun was moving through the interstellar neighborhood at around 26 km/sec, but that value has now been revised downward to about 23 km/sec, or by around 11%.

NEW NASA DATA FROM NASA SCIENTISTS SEZ WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!

Okay, but seriously folks, this is not a huge huge deal in terms of this upsets everything we thought we knew about the universe. This is how science works. New data comes in that has incrementally increased our understanding of something. We’re still far from the plane of the galaxy, we’re still moving away from the plane of the galaxy, just we’re moving a little more slowly.

As in, we’re not moving more quickly in the other direction towards the galactic plane so that we pass through it in seven months.

Final Thoughts

That’s about all I have to say on this one. I found the paper a bit interesting and since it remotely applied to something that I’d discussed before, thought I’d share.

And it lets me muse about how people will use old data to support their pseudoscientific ideas and NOT revise them when new data comes out that differs (remember how 2012, back in 2004, was supposed to be a huge, ginormous, deadly solar max — something that’s still repeated often?).

Which incidentally leads me to mention that I’m going to start a new segment with the next episode of my podcast, a “new news relevant to previous episodes.” This’ll be one of those news items on the May 16th episode.

April 1, 2012

New Nostradamus Quatrain for 2012 Discovered


Edited to Add (Dec. 09, 2012): Okay folks, one of the top search engine directs I’m getting to my blog is for stuff along the lines of “nostradamus quatrain 2012″ and folks are getting this post. Let me be clear: THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOLS POST. That is all. Now, on with the show …

 

I usually don’t pay any heed to alleged prophecies or stuff like that, and I have written extensively about the 2012 stuff that won’t happen, but I was just made aware of this quatrain of Nostradamus that talks about 2012 and is uncannily foretelling:

In the year the sun shows his phases
And the second planet eclipses the brightest star,
The grand empire’s calendar foretells
The secret death of the world.

Now, as an astronomer, I found this particularly interesting. The first line seems crazy – the sun can’t show phases because it’s a star and is always “lit” relative to, well, any vantage point. But … during a solar eclipse, when the moon starts to cover it, it does sorta look like the sun is going through different phases. There’s a total solar eclipse in May 2012.

The second line also seems interesting. The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius, which is at a declination of -16° 43′, meaning that Venus could never eclipse it – pass in front of it. But, then I remembered a joke that we sometimes play on people. Ask someone on the street what the brightest star in the sky is, and most won’t know and they’ll throw out random guesses. The answer, of course, is the sun! (This also works for the closest star, though most will guess proxima Centauri.) And, in June 2012, Venus passes in front of the Sun as viewed from Earth, an event that won’t happen again for over 100 years.

So we have two lines that seem to uncannily point towards 2012. The third one, if we want to go with 2012, seems to point towards the Mayan calendar, though one could argue about how “grand” the Mayan civilization was. After all, they let themselves be destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors.

And then there’s the fourth line (I did mention this was a quatrain, right?). Doom and gloom in 2012? Kinda raises goosebumps on your skin, even if you don’t believe in 2012 stuff. After all, how could a guy writing in the 1500s know about this?

December 26, 2011

New Interview of Me on “Point of Inquiry” Podcast


Quick post to let you know that Karen Stollznow interviewed me for the December 26th episode – last of 2011 – of Point of Inquiry podcast. The subject matter was a summary of the 2012 phenomenon and associated phenomena, and it was appropriately titled, “The End of the World as We Know It.” It’s very, very roughly a 42.62-minute podcast, about the length of my own (so less detail on each subject). Enjoy!

And for reference, I figure it’s time to update my list of 2012 posts so far:

I have also written a few posts that are tangentially related to the 2012 subject:

And my podcast episodes so far on 2012:

December 9, 2011

Podcast Episode 14: The Mayan Calendar and What the Mayans Think of 2012


I have posted episode 14 of my podcast. This one follows episode 13 about the history of Planet X to be the second in my four-part series this month on Intro to 2012. (The next two will be on galactic alignments and what the sky looks like. Then, throughout 2012, there should be at least one episode a month about some idea related to it in the popular/alternative culture.)

In this episode, I interviewed Dr. Johan Normark who lives and works in Sweden*. Johan and I have been commenting on each others’ blogs for a few years now and actually he’s the only person I’ve ever asked to do a guest post on picking apart astrologer Terry Nazon’s “facts” about 2012. I’ve also used him as a quick resource a few times for some later posts on 2012 when I mentioned archaeology or the Maya.

Hence, it seemed like a good idea to interview him to get the “low down” (or whatever the kids these days are calling it) on what the Maya actually said or didn’t say about 2012 and to get an introduction to their calendar system. I realize this isn’t a podcast about archaeology, nor is it a blog about archaeology. However, the whole reason for the 2012 doomsday/goodday that most people are advocating is the Mayan long count calendar. So, in any series about 2012, you kinda need to get into the Mayan calendars.

This interview is long, and the audio quality isn’t stupendous. Blame it on going from Skype in America to a landline in Sweden. I’ve cut the interview down from around 1 hour 10 minutes to about 50-55 minutes, but I really didn’t want to cut out too much (a large portion of what was cut were pauses). We talk about a lot of things, but the basic coverage is (1) Johan’s background and interest in 2012, (2) about the Mayan calendar, (3) how their calendar may or may not line up with ours, (4) who some of the big players are or big claims related to 2012 from his perspective, (5) his least favorite “popular” claims related to the Maya or archaeology in general, (6) evidence, and (7) what the Maya actually “said” about 2012.

*As a quick end-note, I also want to apologize if I still got some Swedish words pronounced incorrectly … including Dr. Normark’s first name.

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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