Exposing PseudoAstronomy

October 28, 2012

When You Worry that Any Bone Tossed Will Set Off Conspiracists: NASA Video on Fomalhaut b


Sorry the blog’s been a bit bare lately. As mentioned in my podcast, I’ve been very busy the last two months. Hopefully things will die down a bit in mid- to late-November after most of my stuff is due, such as three faculty applications.

Anyway, this is just a short, fun, and scary post ’bout a video that NASA’s animation group recently posted: “Zombie Fomalhaut b: Study of Hubble Data Revives a ‘Dead’ Exoplanet.”


For those of you who live outside of normal society, three days from today is October 30, my father’s birthday, and the day after that is October 31, the Big Candy holiday of Halloween. The dead and scary and related are celebrated and ultra-conservative Christians protest it as worshipping a guy named Stan. Or maybe they left out the “a” and meant Satan. Anyway …

Fomalhaut b

Fomalhaut is a star – a rather bright star as seen from Earth that’s about 25 light-years away. It made headlines in 2008 with the potential discovery of an actually imaged planet around the star. Following convention, the planet was termed Fomalhaut b.

Fomalhaut b

Fomalhaut b

However, controversy came earlier this year when, despite the apparent solid observations in visible light, it was difficult if not impossible to be seen in infrared light. It should have been prominent in IR light (which is where most people actually go for direct-exoplanet imaging) because planets are “warm” and so glow relatively brightly in the IR while stars are much brighter in the visible. Hence, the lack of an IR detection raised some significant issues.

But, a recent reanalysis shows that it probably is real, it’s just smaller than previously thought. And follow-up observations are being made. That’s what you can get from the neat-o 2 min 08 sec video I linked to.


If you watch the video, it’s obviously meant to be humorous and in the spirit common to Halloween in the US. But, if you watch the last 10 seconds, they show a disk-shaped 1950s-style UFO passing by Earth.

Yes, obviously it’s meant to be Halloween-y. But I guess when you’ve been listening to and watching conspiracy people for any length of time, you worry that ANY sort of thing like this from any “official” government body, especially NASA, is going to be latched onto and taken as an admission or a leak or whatever to support their ideas.

Take John Glenn. He appeared on an episode of Frasier and he stated:

“Back in those glory days, I was very uncomfortable when they asked us to say things we didn’t want to say and deny other things. Some people asked, you know, were you alone out there? We never gave the real answer, and yet we see things out there, strange things, but we know what we saw out there. And we couldn’t really say anything. The bosses were really afraid of this, they were afraid of the War of the Worlds type stuff, and about panic in the streets. So, we had to keep quiet. And now we only see these things in our nightmares or maybe in the movies, and some of them are pretty close to being the truth.”

Richard C. Hoagland, Face-on-Mars-guy extraordinaire, has used this many times to support his conspiracy claims. And yet, if you actually WATCH the episode, the entire point was to show the comedy of an argument between two of the show’s main characters, Roz and Frasier, that they are so self-absorbed in their own squabbling that they miss the sensational statement by John Glenn.

Conspiracists such as Hoagland, Mike Bara, or David Wilcock miss the entire point that this was a scripted show and not an off-the-cuff admission of ET life. Expat over at the Dork Mission blog has a good summary and goes into a bit more detail about this than I do above.

Final Thoughts

To return to my point, the NASA video is funny, and it shows how science works: This is a process of finding evidence to support a claim, testing it, and trying to figure out what’s really going on. The video was released just a few days ago obviously in the spirit of a US holiday. But just as the Frasier show was clearly scripted comedy but was used by UFO nuts, I worry that a few animation guys having fun may also be used by conspiracy / UFO folks to support their own claims.



  1. This isn’t the only one that will probably get misused. There’s a link to “proof” of Nibiru coming near Earth soon, supposedly issued by somebody at NASA, using Starry Night 6 or some similar program, with “Planet X” inserted in. Except the rogue planet goes through Earth’s orbit when we’re practically on the other side of the Sun, and mysteriously speeds up after circling around our star. Whoever did this thought they were clever, but it’s obvious whoever did it barely knows enough to set it up, but not get the math right so it gets close to us at the right time.

    And several times during the “simulation”, we’re told to click on links to other videos that “prove” this simulation indeed came from NASA and probably a few other sites that warn us we’re about to be hit by Nibiru. Turns out the guy is deliberately fooling everyone.

    The second video shows his software is essentially a “sandbox” to make up whatever you want in the way of interactions between stuff in space, from tiny rocks to entire galaxies. We’ll see how many conspiracy theorists latch onto this and demand the first video is real, while the second is a blatant attempt to cover up that the first one is valid.

    Maybe the sudden increase in speed of “Nibiru” in the first one was a deliberate clue that it wasn’t real? I’m not that good at handling the math, so I can’t say for certain. The fellow also has an interesting choice in background music for the second video. I thought it was a perfect fit.

    Comment by Rick K. — October 28, 2012 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

  2. By the way, thanks for sharing the real NASA video. Very slick work, humorous, and it fits the season well. However, I know for certain somebody will latch onto this as “proof” of something outrageous. Might as well laugh about it now, because we know there are credulous people who take things far too seriously!

    Comment by Rick K. — October 28, 2012 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  3. I’m the producer at Goddard who made the Fomalhaut b video, and I thought I would chime in with a tiny bit of “behind-the-scenes.” First off, thanks for posting about the video! I’m glad you enjoyed it. We actually did have a conversation about the end with the UFO (which a colleague made a couple of years ago just for fun.) What we decided was that it wouldn’t really sway anyone one way or the other. Most people will see it for what it is: a nod to old sci-fi and a humorous tweak of our usual “end tag.” The people who see it as some sort of confirmation of UFOs are already convinced of the existence of all sorts of conspiracies and aliens.

    I do see your point though, and I hope that it doesn’t get any UFO nuts too excited. We hadn’t used it in any other of our video releases because we knew it had to be added to a video with the right timing and tone. The Fomalhaut video is the first Halloween-themed video that we’ve done, so this was our one chance to use it, and I just couldn’t resist.

    Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Scott W. — October 28, 2012 @ 8:29 pm | Reply

    • Hey Scott, thanks for chiming in. As I wrote, I completely agree that the tone was good and it matched well. I also think, in all honesty, that the video probably is too small for the UFO nuts to latch onto, but I do worry that if one of the ones with a big name sees it, it’ll spread like wildfire.

      The fact that you actually had a discussion about it, though, is VERY reassuring — I’m glad that you folks are cognizant of the way these people think!

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — October 28, 2012 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for giving us some insight on your thoughts for the video. I’m also glad your team talked about how some folks might react. You’re correct that UFOlogists and the like will continue to believe what they believe, regardless of what anyone says or does. Let’s just hope more folks who are unconcerned about UFO’s see the video and enjoy it for what it is.

      Comment by Rick K. — October 29, 2012 @ 8:47 am | Reply

  4. “Yes, obviously it’s meant to be Halloween”.
    I am afraid you are feeding the lunatics,since a vast majority of Americans believe in supernatural-paranormal or superstitious bullshits

    “and it shows how science works….”
    Unfortunalty 90% of humanity has the collective wisdom of a bag of doorknobs..

    Debunkers and irrational individuals deserve each others, More than often Debunkers are acting out of the belief that they are on a quasi sacro saint mission to deliver the rubes from ignorance. On the other hand, the “believers” see themselves as the sole purveyors of truth & wisdom.
    Plato was a social Darwinist & he was right, “the rubes are not smart enough to know what is good for them”

    Comment by Tara Jordan — November 1, 2012 @ 2:34 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: