Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 31, 2016

Podcast Episode 154: Impact Crater Pseudoscience Mishmash


Impact cratering
Is neat, but crazies like to
Abuse the science.

To end 2016, we have some crater-related pseudoscience. This is an episode where I talked about three different claims related to impact craters and how two of them misuse and abuse impact craters as a way to make their brand of pseudoscience make sense, in their own minds. The third claim falls under the “bad headlines” category and I get to address the Gambler’s Fallacy.

I’m still experimenting with a new microphone setup and you can hear the audio change tone noticeably part-way through. That’s when I moved my computer from off to the side so I was talking into the side of the microphone to more in front of me so I was talking into the top of the microphone. I also have a new laptop and figured out that the clicking/crackling that’s been in some recent episodes is when I stop recording, start again, and for a few seconds, every fraction of a second, the computer just records nothing for a much tinier fraction of a second. In this episode, I spent an extra half-hour editing all those out so there’s much less of it.

Artistic Rendering of Asteroid Impacting Earth

Artistic Rendering of Asteroid Impacting Earth

Advertisements

January 10, 2013

No, Asteroid 99942 Apophis Will NOT Hit Earth in 2036

Filed under: asteroids,astronomy — Stuart Robbins @ 12:40 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

New radar observations during Apophis’ close approach to Earth over the last few days have narrowed down the uncertainty in its orbit enough to know that it will NOT hit Earth in 2036, according to an article published in Sky and Telescope (I’m still trying to track down a more primary source).

This is despite still not knowing several things about it (like its shape), but the uncertainties on its orbit are now so small that the combination of all the other unknowns are too small to put it on a collision course with Earth in 2036.

That’s all the info I have on this for now. Doesn’t mean it may not hit in the future, and it doesn’t meant that something else won’t hit in the future. When looking for things in space to kill us, asteroids are by far the most likely because we know it WILL happen, it’s just a matter of when and how big.

Edited to Add: And here’s more of an official story, this one from NASA’s Asteroid & Comet Watch.

January 7, 2013

No, Asteroid 99942 Apophis Won’t Kill Us This Week


Introduction

Unfortunately, the UK’s The Guardian has a misleading title in an article that came out today (January 7, 2013): “Apophis – a ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid – flies by Earth on Wednesday.”

Now, technically, the headline is correct. For awhile, asteroid 99942 Apophis (or just “Apophis” for short) was potentially dangerous with as much as a 1 in 37 chance as calculated in December 2004 of striking Earth in 2029. Then, the worry was that in 2029 during a close approach, it might pass through a very narrow region in 3D space that would alter its orbit so it would come back in April 2036 and strike Earth.

Apophis’ Orbit

To be clear, from hundreds (if not thousands) of observations at this point, the chance of it striking Earth in 2029 is as close to 0 as you can get, and the chances of it striking in 2036 is about 1 in 250,000. Yes, 2029 will be a very close approach, with estimates being it passing by at only 5.6 times the radius of Earth. But that’s not a hit.

So what’s all this then about 2013?

It’s just a close approach. It’s the closest approach in awhile and it will let us refine its orbit even more.

Why do we need lots of observations over a very long time to get a better orbit? It’s like watching a hot air balloon in the sky: If you observe it for 3 seconds, you can get a very rough idea of how fast it’s going and where it’s headed. But if you watch it for 3 minutes, you’ll have a much better idea. And if you watch it for 3 hours, even better. It’s the same idea with asteroids, or really anything else.

That’s why this Wednesday, January 9, with its closest approach in awhile and for awhile, is important. The closer it is, the better we can pin-point its position and so the more accurate orbit we can derive in the future. We can also get a better estimate of its size. But, this approach is perfectly safe – Apophis’ closest approach this year will take it about 37-38 times farther than the moon.

Final Thoughts

I wasn’t even going to comment on this, but I’ve already seen people asking on various forums based on The Guardian‘s headline. So, there it is. Yes, technically Apophis is “potentially dangerous” because, based on our current orbit estimates, there’s a 0.0004% chance of it striking Earth in 2036. But no, the world is not going to end in 2 days after just “narrowly” surviving the “Mayan apocalypse.”

I’m hoping that the author of the article, Stuart Clark, didn’t select it. He’s written popular astronomy books and various other things, so he should know better unless he was trying to drum up page views. I’m guessing it was some editor.

August 24, 2012

Podcast Episode 49: Billy Meier, Michael Horn, and Asteroid Apophis Prophecy

Filed under: podcast,ufo — Stuart Robbins @ 11:15 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sorry this episode is coming out late in the day. Pretty much all of today was spent catching up on sleep and working on this and some other blog posts. Plus I’m working on three papers and two conference abstracts plus a grant proposal, all due in the very near future. Fortunately or unfortunately, my normal weekend social engagement won’t be happening so this’ll give me a chance to get more done …

Anyway, this is really an analysis two years later of the whole saga of the “red meteor” “prophecy” of Billy Meier and the analysis I did in 2010 and the responses since then. For background on Meier podcast-wise, check out Episode 32.

This episode returns to my median length of around 30 minutes for an episode, but to get it that length the only segments other than the main one are a quick New News and then a single standard announcement. No puzzler this time. I also haven’t 100% figured out what the next episode is going to be, possibly earthquakes caused by the full moon.

P.S. (8/28) – As I expected, numerous people have come out of the woodwork on this post who have criticized my posts before on Meier. I’ll repeat again that no matter what their criticism is, unless they have evidence linking the “red meteor” to Apophis with specific information before Apophis was discovered, then the root conclusion that it was a retrodiction still stands.

March 31, 2012

Podcast #29: Was the Asteroid Belt a Planet? Part 1


In this episode that is one second shy of 30 minutes, I talk about some of the historical reasons why some people may think the asteroid belt was at one time a planet, but then I go into four ways to show that it could not have been a planet. Next episode (“Part 2”) will get more on the wacko-conspiracy/crazy/pseudoscience exploding planet ideas.

September 24, 2011

Follow-Up on the Dino-Killing Asteroid


Introduction

Last night, after making my post “What’s Going on with the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid?” I contacted the lead author from the original 2007 paper, Bill Bottke (in the interest of full disclosure, I actually collaborate with him and see him about once a week, including yesterday morning).

I asked Bill if he would be willing to glance over the short post and let me know if I got any of the science outrageously wrong. His reply was a bit more than I had expected of a simple “yes” or “no,” where he instead wrote a more elaborate explanation of what was going on. I asked if I could post his response to my blog as an addendum and instead, he sent a more detailed reply for me to post. Since it was somewhat lengthier than the original post, I figured I’d just make a separate one. What follows is Dr. Bottke’s reply, slightly edited for grammar/spelling as he requested.

Note: You should read my original post before reading Dr. Bottke’s response.

Bottke’s Reaction

First of all, this is science, and not every idea is going to work. One has to do the best one can with the available data, and some models do not survive first contact with new observations.

With that said, let me try to realistically assess where we are and where we are not.

From the dynamical end of things, having a smaller parent body and smaller family members means things can get out of the main belt faster than before. If anything, this moves the impact closer to the peak of the impact spike distribution, which is good for our 2007 model. Moreover, many potential impactors can now get out by being injected directly into the “escape hatch” right on top of the family. We did not model direct injection in detail in 2007 because the K/T hit appeared to be made in the tail of the Baptistina shower — those results would not impact our work. Now that things have changed, we can examine this more closely.

Overall, I find it highly suspicious that K/T occurred in the middle of the Baptistina asteroid shower. Asteroid showers are very rare in solar system history, though coincidences do happen in nature. This makes me think the new results could potentially strengthen our story, not weaken it.

A smaller asteroid means there are fewer large projectiles in the Baptsitina population. This hurts our original model. Interestingly, though, new estimates of Ir (iridium) and Os (osmium) associated with K/T that came out after our paper suggest the impactor may have had a diameter 4-6 km, not 10 km, so this may all be a wash. Impact energy is strongly a function of velocity, and impact velocities on Earth can be very high for asteroids, so there is not necessarily a contradiction here. For those that want to know more, see recent papers by Frank Kyte and Paquay et al. (2008) (“Determining Chondritic Impactor Size from the Marine Osmium Isotope Record” in Science).

The main hit to the 2007 story from the recent WISE work is composition. If Baptistina and its family members turn out to be a different asteroid composition than we suggested in our 2007 paper, we cannot link the family to the limited compositional information we have on the K/T impactor. From Cr (chromium) studies of K/T terrains on Earth, it looks like the impactor was a particular kind of carbonaceous chondrite. A high albedo (reflectivity) for Baptistina could suggest it is not actually this composition. Preliminary spectra for Baptistina family members may also work against it being a carbonaceous chondrite, though most of the family has not been examined from a spectral standpoint. Observers have mainly looked at asteroids near Baptistina, not “in it” as defined by our paper, and interlopers in this part of the main belt are a major pain to deal with. What observers need to do is look at the prominent “clouds” of objects observed for the family, where interlopers are less of an issue. This should be dealt with in the near future.

Note that if Baptistina family members turn out to have a radically different composition than carbonaceous chondrite, it would imply we were strongly misled by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey colors for Baptistina. Nearly 300 objects have been examined, and they have been classified as C/X-types of asteroids, which link to most objects as carbonaceous chondrite-like objects (see Parker et al., 2008).

There is also the surprising and unusual possibility that some asteroids that look like carbonaceous chondrites may have higher albedos that we expect. For example, interesting work on (21) Lutetia, which was recently visited by the Rosetta spacecraft, has a high albedo and a composition that many say looks like a carbonaceous chondrite. For those that know and love asteroid taxonomy, K-types asteroids look like they may be able to produce many kinds of carbonaceous chondrites, yet they are spectrally similar in many ways to those asteroids that may produce ordinary chondrites.

Note that even if composition is knocked away, one could question whether Cr is diagnostic, or whether different parts of the asteroid could have different Cr signatures. However, this strikes me as a desperation ploy, and I will do no more than mention it until new information on Cr comes to the fore.

Final Thoughts

With that response from Bill – more technical than I normally have in my blog but I think important for those who are interested – I’ll close out by reminding readers of what he stated at the beginning and what I have stated many times on this blog: This is how science works. We make observations, gather data, create models, make predictions, and in light of the evidence revise our models or make new ones. Contrast that with the way many creationists, conspiracy theorists, UFOlogists, astrologers, etc. work.

September 23, 2011

What’s Going on with the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid?


Introduction

A NASA press release spawned many, many headlines this week in pretty much all newspapers and online news sites, both major and minor, with variations on the theme of, “The origin of dino-killing rock is back to being a mystery.” If somehow you managed to miss the news, I invite you to read the BBC version, though you could also read the original NASA press release.

So, what’s going on here? Is this another case of the media blowing headlines out their collective … well, mouths? Or is there something to this where we’re no longer sure what may have ended the dinosaurs?

2007 Paper

As may have been obvious from the way I worded the question, the answer is very much the former: Headlines are meant to grab you and to be sensationalist so you’ll read the story. Stretching the story or even missing the point are generally irrelevant.

The actual story goes this way: In 2007, Bill Bottke and two co-authors had a paper in the journal Nature entitled, “An asteroid breakup 160 Myr ago as the probable source of the K/T impactor.” The article was actually much more than that, and an extension from their conclusions was that based upon their modeling, the timing for an asteroid breakup would work dynamically for spawning the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs.

Yes, the asteroid theory for the destruction of the dinosaurs is still valid, it is still by far the best one out there and the one that fits the most data the best. So let’s get that sensationalist headline grabber out of the way.

Again, the crux of the Bottke et al. article was that they dynamically modeled an asteroid family (a group of asteroids that travel together and likely formed from an original, larger asteroid, that broke up). This particular family is called the Baptistina family. Based on an assumed brightness for the asteroids, they can estimate their mass and subsequent sizes. Based on how spread out the family is, they can model when it broke up, and the mass also factors into this calculations. Based on all these, their results show that the Baptistina family formation event could have spawned the asteroid that we pretty much “know” resulted in the destruction of the dinosaurs.

Edited to Add: I have a follow-up post from the author of the 2007 paper, Bill Bottke.

2011 Paper

This brings us to the press release and subsequent hubbub this week. The new paper talks about a lot of things, but what’s most applicable is that they have a better measurement of the brightness of these asteroids, and it’s around a factor of 5 times brighter than what Bottke et al. assumed (based on some of this paper’s teams own assumptions, though it’s likely a more accurate result).

The result is that there is much less mass and smaller sizes of the asteroids in the Baptistina family. Meaning that it disperses more quickly (so would have broken up more recently). And finally meaning that the likelihood that it was the source of the asteroid that led to the death of the dinosaurs is much smaller.

To Repeat

No, this does not mean that an asteroid didn’t wipe them out. It does not mean it was a comet. It does not mean it was aliens. It does not mean it was volcanoes. It does not mean it was the Earth growing in size so the dinosaurs got crushed under their own weight. It does not mean it was [insert: whatever the person you read before coming here invented].

It means that the likelihood that the impactor is from the formation event of this family of asteroids is now significantly smaller.

Final Thoughts

Really, that’s about it. But “Higher reflectivity of asteroid family means scientists less certain of the source of the asteroid that likely killed the dinosaurs” does not a good headline make. Oh well.

Edited to Add: I have a follow-up post from the author of the 2007 paper, Bill Bottke.

January 28, 2010

Another “The Conspiracy Skeptic” Interview – Update on T Pyx and Apophis (Concerning Billy Meier and Michael Horn)


Introduction

Following my appearance on The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast on January 12, 2010, two events occurred that caused me to go running back to Karl Mamer (the host/producer/creator) and asking if he would deign to allow me back on to do a “quick” follow-up interview about what we had discussed. The first event was that two days later, Michael Horn (the Swiss alleged UFO-contactee Billy Meier’s American shill) was interviewed on the late-night 4-hour radio show Coast to Coast AM by George Noory, about asteroid Apophis. The second event was The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast episode #235 where they also discussed T Pyx and that the astronomers got the numbers wrong … despite NO news source reporting on it other than what I could later find in Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog.

The Corrections/Updates

First, I encourage everyone to actually listen to the full episode (bottom of the page, or subscribe through iTunes).

But, if you don’t have time … here’s a quick summary:

(1) No, even if T Pyx is 1 kpc (~3200 light-years) away instead of 3.5 kpc away, if/when it goes supernova it will not kill us all. The astronomers used the incorrect energy values for how much energy is released in a Type 1a supernova, instead using the values for a gamma ray burst with the burst aimed right at us. Unfortunately, NO major media outlet has updated their story (Scientific American, Space.com, MSNBC, to name a few). Rather, I heard about it through the SGU episode and got the information from Phil Plait’s blog. I consider this a failure on my own part, too for not actually trying to run the numbers before appearing on Karl’s podcast — that’ll teach me to trust the news [said partially tongue-in-cheek].

(2) Apparently vampires don’t live forever and when their head is ripped off in the heat death of the universe, then they’ll die. My bad.

(3) Apophis still isn’t going to hit us. Unless you for some unfathomable reason believe in Billy Meier’s “prophecies” and what’s said by Michael Horn. This came wholly unexpected in that I hadn’t planned to ever address Meier and Horn until I heard Horn on the Coast to Coast AM show and then did my original post here. Based on everything I’d heard about Horn, I gave it about a 70% chance that he would find my blog and post a comment. I had decided before I even completed the post that if that happened, I would reply once to him, and that was it. Which I have maintained, despite the numerous (literally dozens) of comments on that particular post (I invite you to peruse them if you have time to kill). I then did a follow-up post that addresses not the language of the alleged contact predictions, but the actual content and shows that, no, Billy Meier did not predict Apophis and that it is going to hit.

Since that post, my blog has been picked up and re-posted by the Independent Investigations Group of the Center for Inquiry – Los Angeles as part of their exposé on Billy Meier and Michael Horn. It’s listed under “The Prophecies Of Billy Meier” as “Asteroid Apophis Deconstruction.” I encourage you to go through some of the links there to really understand the scope of the Meier alleged “contacts” as well as the disinformation and deceit by Michael Horn … if it wasn’t apparent already from the comments he has posted to my own blog. I’ve since offered my continued services to them in anything astronomy-related, but we’ll see what happens there.

Final Thoughts

That’s about it. The episode lasts about 55 minutes, which is shorter than my others on the show, but it’s one of the shortest episodes of the podcast in it’s new “Unplugged” format.

January 21, 2010

Follow-Up on Apophis and Michael Horn / Billy Meier Documented Claims


Introduction

Im my most recent post, “Asteroid Apophis and the Michael Horn Claims of Billy Meier,” I addressed the very recent claims of Michael Horn, the “Authorized American Media Representative” of alleged UFO-contactee Billy Meier, a Swiss farmer. The claims were regarding retrodiction of the near-earth asteroid Apophis, its close encounter with Earth in 2029, and formerly ~1:40 chance of hitting Earth in 2036 (now revised to around 1:250,000).

My post centered around critiquing two main claims, the first being why Meier had called an impacting object “red,” and the second why a “meteor” instead of “asteroid.” In the two days since I posted it, I have come across additional material that addresses another claim by Michael Horn, that Billy Meier had predicted this event (or been told of it by his alien contacts) way back in 1981, over 20 years before Apophis was discovered.

Added (11/09/2011): Two minor corrections have been made.

1981 Documented Prediction?

This is actually one of the first claims made in the Coast to Coast AM radio show from January 14, 2010, that Horn makes. It is quite lengthy so I do not want to directly quote, but effectively Horn states that there is indisputable documented evidence that Meier made this prediction in 1981, as the prediction was published in books that post-date that event but pre-date the discovery of Apophis.

So I did some digging, along with the help of “Conspiracy Skeptic” Karl Mamer. What I found was a wiki site devoted to Billy Meier, which conveniently has all of his alleged contact transcripts in both the original German and translated in English; I will note, however, the site is “unofficial and unauthorized” so “may contain errors” … however, it’s the best I have at the moment. The original claim dates to Contact #150. It seems as though, during a previous contact that I cannot find documentation of, the Plejarens allegedly told Meier of a “red meteor” as he asks, “Insbesondere interessiert mich dabei der ‘rote Meteor.’ Ist das nun der Zerstörer, oder handelt es sich um einen anderen Kometen, der immer wieder durch unser Sonnensystem zieht?” or, “I am particularly interested in the ‘red meteor.’ Now, is this the Destroyer, or is this another comet that passes again and again through our solar system?” (From now on I’ll just be posting the English translation.)

The alleged response: “Neither, my friend. The meteor mentioned in the prophecies, which will exhibit an enormous size and cause very vicious, destructive havoc on Earth, and which threatens to bring climatic and also tectonic and other changes, will also threaten to split the Earth’s crust, from today’s North Sea to the Black Sea, but this doesn’t have to be true with certainty because now, certain factors speak otherwise.”

That is about the extent of the prediction in terms of identifiable information. It is not named. It is not said when it will hit, come near Earth, nor be discovered. It is simply the “red meteor.”

2002 Reader Feedback

The next mention of this anywhere that I can find is in 2002. A question was asked by a man named George Madeyski of Meier: “Is the impending ‘Red Meteor’ event still on? (it will rip a gush in Europe from Baltic Sea to Black Sea). Is it fair to ask you this. When you say ‘IMPENDING’ does that mean: within next 20 years, 50 years or what does that word realy [sic] imply? Will this event stop the growth of the food crops for few years and consequently cause famine leading to war for food sources by nations who have nothing to loose(desperate)?”

The response: “It is still on its way. It has not yet been discovered. Well, “officially” Billy doesn’t know. 🙂 Regarding the end question: No, and the Earth will not explode.” I am assuming this response was actually made by Michael Horn rather than Meier speaking in the third person. It has been pointed out to me that the likely source of this response was either Meier (speaking in third person) or, more likely, Christian Frehner.

So, in 2002, 21 years later, we have a question asking for any more information on it, and still there is none.

Enter 2008

Remember, Apophis was discovered and announced towards the end of 2004.

The next mention anywhere that I could find of “2029,” “2036,” or the “red meteor” was in Contact Report 471: “But since we are talking about Mars, the red planet, the Red Meteor comes to my mind, of which it is written in a prophecy. … If I remember correctly, he said that the great danger by the meteor would threaten Earth on the 13th April 2029, while at the same time he also named a date for the year 2036.”

Woah! Where did that come from? Suddenly, we have the exact date of when Apophis will come near Earth (April 13, 2029) and the would-be impact year, 2036. Now, I cannot read minds (though I always envied Lwaxana Troi’s abilities), and there could be documentation out there that I have not been able to find. But to me, it sure seems as though Meier has taken a previous alleged prediction – by using the “red meteor” term – and fit it to Apophis by attach Apophis’ information four years after Apophis was discovered.

So far we have: A documented prediction in 1981 of a “red meteor” that is prophecised to hit Earth – with an escape clause (“this doesn’t have to be true with certainty”). There is no name, no date, no other definitive information. The next mention of it by Meier is in 2008 where he’s taken the “red meteor” from nearly 30 years before and attached Apophis’ information.

Second “Contact Report” of 2008

Contact Report 475 comes out two months later in November 2008 with yet another veiled reference to Apophis: “Regarding the Red Meteor that endangers Earth on the 13th of April, 2029 and of which we have already spoken on the 16th of September, I have been asked about certain things and, therefore, would like to know how big that bloke is. To my knowledge the terrestrial astronomers have already detected it for quite some time and are calling it Aprophis or something. It shall either hit Earth in the year 2029, or only whizzing by very closely. Should it be the latter case, it (the meteor) would reappear in the year 2036 and its close approach to Earth could really lead to a catastrophe if the scientists undertake nothing against it.”

At this point, we have fully linked to Apophis, calling it by name (sort of).

Final Thoughts

At least from what I have been able to find that is documented, I think any objective look at this would say, at the very least, that Meier did not actually predict Apophis. There is no definitive link between the “red meteor” prophecy in 1981 to get to the exact information that Meier states 4 years after Apophis is discovered.

On a related but unrelated note, I invite readers of my first post who may not have read the Comments section of late to go back and look through. As of when I’m posting this in the evening of January 21, 2010, Michael Horn himself has posted a response many, many responses. After this post goes up, I will make my own reply to his comments.

I would also like to invite you to rate my posts and comments. If you are viewing an individual post as opposed to the list of latest ones on the main page (you can get to individual posts just by clicking on the titles), then you will see a series of 5 stars. Click on them (1 through 5) to rate the post. Similarly, there are thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons at the start of every comment. Please use them to rate the comments. Feedback is always good!

January 19, 2010

Asteroid Apophis and the Michael Horn Claims of Billy Meier


Introduction

I was recently (last week) interviewed yet again on The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast in what I thought would be a short (20 minute) talk about the Russian press release of asteroid Apophis and the AAS press release that the star T Pyx may be 1,000 parsecs away instead of ~3500 parsecs away which would be bad news for Earth if/when it goes supernova. I encourage my readers to listen to that episode for more information, especially the introduction about asteroid Apophis as I’m going to be skipping over much of that in this post.

Anyway, coincidentally, just two nights after the interview went live, Coast to Coast AM had Michael Horn, the “Authorized American Media Representative” for Billy Meier (a Swiss UFO guy), talk about Apophis and spew out some fairly blatant pseudoastronomy that I felt I should address. Note that this post is NOT about Billy Meier and his alleged UFO contacts and predictions, nor Michael Horn’s media-loving frenzies. It is ONLY about what Michael Horn stated on the January 14, 2010 episode of Coast to Coast AM.

Update: I have posted a follow-up to this entry, “Follow-Up on Apophis and Michael Horn / Billy Meier Documented Claims.”

Added (11/09/2011): One minor correction has been made.

Overview of Asteroid Apophis

I’m going to be very brief here in my overview because I go into a fair amount of depth about this Earth-crossing asteroid during my interview. Apophis was discovered in 2004 and preliminary calculations gave it about a 1 in 40 chance of hitting Earth in 2029, and if it didn’t hit then, a possibility of its orbit being altered in 2029 by passing through a “keyhole” region of space. If it were to pass through this keyhole, then its orbit would be altered in such a way that it will hit Earth in 2036.

Needless to say, in the 5 years since this discovery, the asteroid has been observed hundreds if not thousands of times and its orbit has been better-defined. As a result, the latest odds of an impact in 2036 are now estimated at around 1 in 300,000. Definitely not worth worrying about, but it does raise awareness to the fact that one day there will be an asteroid that will hit Earth that is large enough to do serious damage – wipe out a city or small country, for example.

A slight side-note is a discussion of the Torino Scale which is an integer (0-10) and color-coded (white, green, yellow, orange, red) scale developed in 1995. It is a scale of classifying how dangerous an asteroid is to Earth. The 0-10 integer value is based upon the size of the asteroid and probability of impact with 10 (red) being a dinosaur-killer. When it was first discovered, Apophis was rated a Level 4 (yellow), which is defined as, “A close encounter, meriting attention by astronomers. Current calculations give a 1% or greater chance of collision capable of regional devastation. Most likely, new telescopic observations will lead to re-assignment to Level 0. Attention by public and by public officials is merited if the encounter is less than a decade away.” It has since been down-graded to Level 0.

Enter late December 2009, when the head of the Russian space agency told reporters (at least in the English translation) that they were assembling a team to put together a mission to nudge Apophis away from impact. The story – again, at least in the English translations – seemed to imply the Russians thought it would impact in 2036 (“by 2032” was the quote, but I address that in my interview) despite the latest odds by NASA and other researchers. In other words, this statement by him added much fuel to the fire of conspiracy theorists.

Overview of Billy Meier and Michael Horn

I said I wasn’t going to get into this, but I think there does need to be a very brief background into these two personages. Billy Meier is a Swiss farmer who is fairly old – born in 1937 he turns 73 this year in February. Meier made a name for himself in the UFO community by producing alleged UFO photographs and video that is very widely regarded as fake, even among many if not most UFO researchers. He claims to be in contact with the aliens, who are from the Pleiades, and are named the “Plejarens.”

Michael Horn, as stated in my Introduction, is the “Authorized American Media Representative” for Billy Meier. In other words, his English-speaking spokesman who very strongly pushes Meier’s story. He has a well-documented habit of demanding time on television, radio, and podcast shows to advocate Meier’s story, including claiming that people agree with him when they don’t.

As I said, I really don’t want to get into these two right now because it would be a VERY lengthy blog post – but I thought I needed to introduce the players. Episode 85 of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe has a fairly lengthy discussion of Meier and Horn, starting about 30 min. 30 sec. into the episode.

Michael Horn’s Statements About Asteroid Apophis

In Hour 4 of the January 14 broadcast of Coast to Coast AM, Horn states several things about Apophis, though there are really only 3 or 4 main ones that I want to address.

He starts out stating the case that Meier predicted (through information from the Plejarens) that Apophis would be discovered and would impact Earth well before the asteroid was found by scientists. I could not find the sample documentation Horn stated was on his website, though admittedly I did not look too hard. However, from his statements on the air, it seems as though Meier did not actually name the object nor provide any additional material, but he stated that it would be called “The Red Meteor.” For the sake of this post, I will assume that Meier actually did make this prediction, that there would be a “Red Meteor” that would hit Earth in the future.

Update: I have done additional research and made a follow-up post about this “prediction”: “Follow-Up on Apophis and Michael Horn / Billy Meier Documented Claims.”

The next claim is that if it hits in 2029 or 2036, it will hit “right in the heart of Eastern Europe – Russia, Ukraine, … Germany … you have millions of people dead, tremendous releases of lava and gases, a wall of sulfurous waste starts coming across, the sky is darkened” (7:20-7:30 into the episode). This is another claim that I’m not going to dispute, though I’ll mention that a “release of lava and gas” would not happen unless this ~270-m-wide asteroid were to hit near an active volcano.

Anyway, the first claim I want to address occurs at about 10:00-11:45 into the program. The jist of what Horn states has to do with trying to do a post-hoc analysis/justification of why the alleged Plejarens call this object “Red.” He says he was contacted by an Austrian physicist who linked it to the Torino scale. Quoting the other person, Horn stated, “‘This could be’ – I’m not saying with certainty … – ‘their way, by naming it this, of giving us the ultimate clue we need’ – which this translates to, ‘this is going to hit your planet.’ … This just blew my mind. … Here’s the kicker: The scale wasn’t even developed until 1995!” (George’s response was, “Jeez! He was way ahead.”)

Hopefully, dear reader, I don’t have to point out how much of a retrodiction this is. But, just to name a few reasons: Meier could have picked “red” because historically it’s a color of destruction. He could have picked red because many people think that Planet X is red. He could have picked red just on a whim. He could have picked red because it’s a “danger” color and most scales use red for bad things – just look at the dashboard of your car. In short, entertaining this idea of the Torino Scale as the reason why an alleged alien allegedly told Meier that an object that will hit Earth is called “red” is one of the largest stretches of correlation that I’ve heard. (Source: Common sense.)

The second claim I want to address occurs at about 12:30-13:15 into the program: “Skeptics will say, ‘Well, you know, he’s calling it a “meteor” why isn’t he calling it an “asteroid?”‘ And here’s the last piece of the puzzle that I found! According to something called the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, Apophis is a ‘good match’ for a rare type of stony meteorite known as a Type LL Chondrite. So they gave Meier a clue in the first part of it – ‘red’ – and they told him not to call it an asteroid, but a meteor. And here, in totally unrelated information …, they are corroborating this.”

To be blunt, this is one of the most ridiculous confusions/entwinings of nomenclature that I’ve heard. An asteroid is a rocky body in space. A meteor is when it’s in the atmosphere. A meteorite is when it hits the ground. Saying that something is an LL chondrite has nothing to do with where it is – on Earth, in our atmosphere, or in space – but has to do with its mineralogy and iron content. Saying that an asteroid is a “close match” to a type of meteorite just means that we know what the spectra of an LL chondrite is and that Apophis matches that more closely than it matches other known types of meteorites that were once asteroids. Trying to claim that because the DPS states it’s a close match is justification for why Meier calls this a “Meteor” instead of “asteroid” is playing nonsensical word games. (Source: Dictionary.)

Oh, and just for your information, LL chondrites (Low-iron, Low-metal) comprise the smallest fraction of the most common type of asteroids (chondrites) at about 10-11%, meaning they are about 8-9% of all asteroids out there. So Apophis had about a 1 in 10 chance of being an LL chondritic asteroid. (Source: “Planetary Materials,” J.J. Papike ed. (1998).)

Final Thoughts

Again, without getting into the broader Meier/Horn claims, just talking about Apophis, claims, you can see fairly obvious (and poor, in my opinion) attempts to retrodict a non-event by playing word games and drawing causal links that an elementary school student would question. The best estimates today are that Apophis, as its orbit and the body itself are better understood, has a continually decreasing chance of going through the keyhole in 2029 that would send it on a collision course in 2036. As I state in The Conspiracy Skeptic interview, the Russians may have been mis-quoted, they may have been using Apophis’ close-miss as a wake-up call that the world should have in place a plan to deal with an incoming asteroid – one that really will hit us.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.