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.

December 16, 2011

Podcast Episode 15: Galactic Alignments, Part 1


And now episode 15 is up. It’s the first part in a short two-part sub-series on galactic alignments in my Intro to 2012 month. Part 2 will come out on December 21 and will be “What the Sky Looks Like on December 21, 2012, Part 2” (yes, you don’t need to have the same title to be Part 1 / Part 2 … plenty of TV shows do it, too).

The episode is what I think is a more cohesive version – if slightly repetitive – of my nearly three-year-old post on the pseudoastronomy of galactic alignments.

I got a Q&A from a friend at the last minute and realized I had another Q that I’ll use next time, but I really would like yous folkses to submit ’em if you got ’em.

And that is all.

March 24, 2010

Planet X and 2012: Young-Earth Creationists Actually Can Do Real Science Reporting


Introduction

This post is brought to you by the letters, “A-G-E-N-D-A.” That’s really the key word here, “agenda,” to keep in the back of your mind as you read this post. I’ll tie it back to that word at the end.

For those of you who don’t know or haven’t figured it out, every day I look at the headlines from three Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) websites – Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and Creation.com. I do this to see if they mention astronomy, geology, or physics, to get ideas for potential blog posts since they will normally skew the information or leave out important parts to fit their worldview.

This time, however, the Institute for Creation Research and it’s “science” writer, Brian Thomas (who I have lambasted profusely on this blog before) had no agenda in terms of trying to get science to fit into the literal biblical worldview. Rather, for once, we faced a common foe: 2012 Doomsday proponents.

The Christian Bible and Revelation

From everything I have heard, a consistent theme that many Bible proponents/scholars/etc. have is that it is very clear that we will know neither the time nor the day in advance of Armageddon. From an outside position evaluating this in the same way I evaluate other predictions, that’s one of the most intelligent things the Bible could do that many of today’s alleged psychics still haven’t figured out — be vague and do not make specific predictions that could later be proven false. Saying that you can’t know ahead of time when something is going to happen ensures that you are never wrong.

Yet throughout time, nearly every generation has thought it’s lived in the End of Days, whether that be from the Christian Bible’s book of Revelation, some vague cosmic event, the Jewish Bible’s various predictions, Nostradamus’ quatrains, etc.

2012 “Earth Changes”

I have written extensively about the idea that Earth’s rotational axis is going to shift in 2012, and I’m not going to get into that here. Suffice to say, one of the lines of “evidence” that proponents of this idea point to is an increasing number of earthquakes that are reported each year.

Indeed, though, this has come to pass! In 1990, there were 16,590 earthquakes around the world. Nearly every year since then, the number has been increasing! In 1995, there were 21,007. In 2000, there were 22,256. In 2005, there were 30,478 …

NEARLY TWICE AS MANY THAN JUST 15 YEARS EARLIER!!!!!

(Sorry for the bold/italic/caps/color … I was trying to do what the doomsday websites do.)

Enter the Institute for Creation Research

As Brian Thomas writes in, “More Earthquake Data Does Not Mean More Earthquakes:”

On the surface, earthquake data compiled by the United States Geological Survey appear to show a sharp increase in the number of earthquakes in recent decades. … However, the increased number of recorded quakes does not correspond with an increase in seismic activity. Rather, it is due to the proliferation of seismometers deployed worldwide over the last few decades. A USGS fact sheet reminds readers that “as more and more seismographs are installed in the world, more earthquakes can be and have been located.”

Exactly! Very large earthquakes, such as those of magnitude 6 or 7 and larger, are hard to miss even when they’re over 100 km away. Hence, you do not need a dense network of seismometers to pick them up. Smaller earthquakes – because they release less energy – are not felt over nearly as large a distance. The consequence? If you don’t have a seismometer nearby, you can’t detect it.

So we have a hypothesis: As the density of seismometers increases over the world, we would expect to see an increase in the number of earthquakes recorded/detected that are small.

We have a way to differentiate this from a general increase in earthquakes: If this is due to an actual increase in the number of earthquakes on the planet, then we should see a uniform increase in number across all energy levels (magnitudes).

Let’s look at some of the data (from the above links, graphed by me):

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 7.0-7.9

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 7.0-7.9, Error Bars are Counting Statistics

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 4.0-4.9

USGS Earthquake Data from 1995-2008, Magnitude 4.0-4.9, Error Bars are Counting Statistics

The data clearly show that, yes we do see an increase in the number of small earthquakes, but the number of earthquakes that are magnitude 6 and larger are constant. Note that the error bars are purely due to counting statistics and do not take into account the density of the seismometer network.

Hypothesis that it’s due to better data recording – supported.

Hypothesis that it’s due to increasing earth activity in preparation for a pole shift – falsified.

In addition, as the world’s population increases and cities become more densely populated, the more people will be affected by any given earthquake. Hence, the number of injuries, deaths, and property damage will also be expected to rise, completely independently of any increase in the actual number of earthquakes.

Final Thoughts

The crux of this post was about earthquake data. But this was presented against the backdrop of an agenda. I have shown many times that Brian Thomas will not hesitate to bend the actual science to fit his YEC views (such as here, here, here, here, or here). I’ve no doubt that if the New Testament stated that the end of the world was in 2012 that Thomas would completely ignore the actual reason behind more earthquakes detected per year, as the other 2012-doomsdayers do (like Brent Miller does here).

But Thomas’ agenda seems clearly to uphold the Bible. And the Bible says that we won’t know the time nor place, hence biblical literalists are against the 2012 doomsdayers. That’s part of the agenda of Thomas’ article, and in this case, at least, I have found common ground with him.

February 4, 2009

Planet X and 2012: What The Sky Looks Like On December 21, 2012


Introduction

Continuing my series on Planet X and 2012, I already addressed the claim that the sun will be aligning with the galactic center on December 21, 2012 (the winter solstice). However, it occurs to me that I made some vague remarks of this galactic alignment not actually being any alignment what-so-ever, despite people saying it is, without actually going into the details of the situation. I wanted to clarify this with a diagram that, in fact, there is no alignment on December 21, 2012, with even the central plane of the galaxy, let alone the center of the galaxy.

What The Sky Looks Like

The Sky on December 21, 2012 (Click to Enlarge)

The Sky on December 21, 2012 (Click to Enlarge)

The above picture (click to enlarge it) shows what the sky looks like on the winter solstice on December 21, 2012 at 11:12 AM GMT (note that the time often quoted is 11:11, but that is not the case). In this section, I’m going to explain what is shown, while in the next section I’ll explain what it means.

The bright white object on the left side that intersects the green line is the sun.

The green line is the line of the ecliptic, which is the line traced out by the sun in the sky. Alternatively, it is the plane of Earth’s orbit through the solar system.

The red grid is the celestial coordinate system, which I briefly alluded to in the previous post. It is really an extension of Earth’s latitude and longitude system projected into space. Declination is the equivalent of latitude, while Right Ascension is longitude. Unlike longitude, which is measured in degrees (360°), right ascension is measured in hours (24 h in the sky). This is because it takes one hour for an object to move one hour of right ascension.

The purple grid is the galactic coordinate system. The horizontal lines are lines of galactic latitude, where the galactic equator (running through the middle) is really the, well, galactic equator – the plane of the galaxy. The vertical lines are the lines of galactic longitude, with the galactic meridian going through the center. Where the galactic meridian and the galactic equator intersect is defined as the center of the galaxy.

The definition of the winter solstice is when the sun is on the 18th hour line of right ascension. That occurs – in 2012 – at 11:12 AM GMT. (Summer solstice is when it is on the 6th hour of right ascension. Spring equinox is when it’s on the 0th hour line while autumnal is when it’s on the 12th hour line. By definition, it is always on the ecliptic.)

What Do We See from This Diagram?

No galactic alignment.

First off, the sun isn’t anywhere near the galactic center. So strike that one right off the list.

Second, the sun isn’t even on the galactic equator. It is 10.86 arcmin (0.181°) away from it. Though in the interest of full disclosure, the sun’s limb will be on it since the sun does have a finite size in the sky.

But, the closest approach to when the 18th hour of right ascension intersected with the galactic equator intersected with the ecliptic was the winter solstice of 1:50 AM December 22, 1998. The sun was only 0.30 arcmin (0.005°) off of the galactic equator. Funny … I don’t remember any doomsday happening then. Granted, I was in high school and not paying much attention to the news at the time, but I think I would have noticed if the world had ended.

Final Thoughts

As you can clearly see, there is no galactic alignment on this date. It already happened. And nothing happened. And in reality, the winter solstice has absolutely no relative importance in astronomy, just like alignments have no importance in astronomy (in the context of affecting Earth in a doomsday-like scenario). So, even if there were going to be an alignment – which there isn’t – it would have no importance anyway. It would happen every year. In fact, the sun crosses the plane of the galaxy twice every year … and yet nothing happens.

I know I’ve berated this claim many times now, but it’s important. I still see people making the claim. Please take note: It is baseless! And even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t matter anyway.

All Posts in This Series

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:

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!

January 27, 2009

Planet X and 2012: The PseudoAstronomy (or Just Plain Wrong Astronomy) About a Galactic Alignment


Introduction

One of the many “theories” behind the 2012 doomsday scenario – but one of the few that does not involve the “Planet X” (at least in sum and substance) is the idea that on December 21, 2012 (sound familiar?), the sun and/or solar system will come into alignment with the galactic plane or center of our galaxy and cause bad stuff to happen. There are several different proponents of this, including John Major Jenkins and Brent Miller, the latter also linking it with a Planet X (discussed in future posts).

Note that most of the numbers/values in this post come from the book, Galaxies in the Universe (an undergrad/grad text) by Linda Sparke and John Gallagher, © 2000.

All posts in this series:

A Crash Course in the Sun’s Orbit

We are on Earth. Earth orbits the sun (a star). The sun orbits the Milky Way, our galaxy. Just as Earth orbits within the solar system but still orbits the solar system’s center of mass, the sun orbits the Milky Way’s center of mass but is still inside the Milky Way (that’s a complicated way of saying that we are neither at the center of our galaxy nor at the edge).

As Monty Python’s song states, “The sun and you and me, plus all the stars that we can see, are moving at a million miles a day, … the galaxy we call the Milky Way. Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars, … we go ’round every 200 million years.” The numbers are reasonably accurate, though our orbital period is more recently calculated to be approximately 250 million years to make one complete ellipse around the center. Notice that I said “ellipse” for the orbit. This is correct, but to very good approximation, the stars out by us are mostly on nearly circular orbits.

Besides just orbiting in a single plane (as in like a flat piece of paper), stars also oscillate through the general gravitational plane of the galaxy. They generally stay within the “thin disk” that contains 95% of the stars, but this thin disk is on the order of about 1000 light-years thick (though, compared with the diameter of the galaxy being 100,000 light-years, this is still pretty thin). Our sun is one of those stars that does oscillate through the gravitational central plane of our galaxy.

The Sun’s Current Position and Velocity

Today, yesterday, and tomorrow, the sun does not lie in the galactic midplane, but it 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.

I should also note that the center of our galaxy, the supergiant black hole known as Sag A* (pronounced “Sag A-star” or “Sagittarius A-star”), is the celestial coordinates 17 h 45m 40s RA, -29° 00′ 28.00″ DEC. What those actually mean is unimportant at the moment, just keep it in mind.

First of Two Ideas of the Galactic Center/Plane and its Relation to 2012

There are really two main premises of what will happen in or around 2012 in regards to the plane of the Milky Way. The first was popularized by John Major Jenkins back in 1998, and it deals with an apparent alignment, as viewed from Earth. To quote him:

Amazingly, the center of this cosmic cross, that is, right where the ecliptic crosses over the Milky Way, is exactly where the December solstice sun will be in A.D 2012. This alignment occurs only once every 25,800 years. [page XXXIX, italics are his]

The bottom line of my theory is that the ancient Maya chose the 2012 end-date because this is the date on which occurs a rare alignment of the solstice sun with the Galactic Center. [page XLI, italics are his]

The Long Count calendar is a galactic calendar because it pinpoints a rare alignment with our Milky Way Galaxy, due to occur in A.D. 2012 – a date written as 13.0.0.0.0 in the Long Count. [page 105]

However, he gets the dates wrong, and corrects it in a later book published in 2002:

Early on in my research, I recognised that the solstice-galaxy alignment would occur around 1998 or 1999. This was based on precise astronomical concepts (e.g. galactic equator and solstice colure) and a rough estimate I made with EZCosmos astronomy software, confirmed by the calculations of European astronomer Jean Meeus and the US Naval Observatory. I’ll have more to say about this precise timing in chapter 21, but suffice it to say two things here. First, the fourteen-year error between 1998 and 2012 amounts to less than one-fifth of a degree – a tiny sliver of the width of the full moon and thus negligible, considering it is a forward calculation in precession of at least 2,000 years. Second, the sun itself is one-half a degree wide, so an alignment zone between 1980 and 2016 must be allowed, thus embracing the 2012 end-date. [page 12]

His math is a little wrong – 0.2° is actually 40% of the width of the full moon, not a tiny sliver, but I’ll forgive that for the sake of just presenting his argument.

Journalist Lawrence Joseph expanded upon this in his own book, Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization’s End. In a statement to USA Today, he said:

Part of the 2012 mystique stems from the stars. On the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years. This means that “whatever energy typically streams to Earth from the center of the Milky Way will indeed be disrupted on 12/21/12 at 11:11 p.m. Universal Time,” Joseph writes.

Why This Is Wrong

Jenkins’ premise is actually somewhat correct in the sense that, yes, the sun will be somewhat near the plane of the galaxy as seen from Earth around the winter solstice in 2012. But not anywhere near Sag A*. And there’s nothing mystical about the plane of the galaxy … in fact, the sun passes “through” it as seen from Earth once a year. It just so happens that for the last ~300 years through the next ~300 years, this will happen to coincide with mid-December – winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere and summer in the Southern. There is really NOTHING special about this other than New-Age woo and mysticism.

The Second of Two Ideas of the Galactic Center/Plane and its Relation to 2012

The second idea is that our solar system will actually pass through the plane of the galaxy on December 21, 2012 — instead of an apparent alignment, this version of the claim is that it is a physical alignment. I’m sure others believe it, but the person I have heard this from is Brent Miller of the Horizon Project. Now, just from a practical standpoint, I want to make this point: Brent and the folks at the Horizon Project claim to have incontrovertible proof that Earth will suffer considerably in 2012 due to various things. However, they don’t provide that information on their website (thehorizonproject.com). Rather, they want you to order their DVD for “only $24.95 each!” Now, capitalism is great and all that, but you would think that if they really want to help people survive this thing when they literally claim that up to half the world’s population will die within a day, then they’d be putting out as much free information as possible.

Note that the material and quotes in this section of the post come from Miller’s interview by George Noory on Coast-to-Coast AM from November 10, 2008.

Anyway … their idea is based on a few major false premises. Their scenario is that our galaxy has a central, massive black hole (this is true). Stars oscillate up and down through the plane of the galaxy (this is also true, as I explained in the beginning of this post). This black hole sends out gravity waves (this is predicted by Einstein, but has never been proven). These gravity waves radiate along the plane of the galaxy, creating a “dark rift” zone that is filled with asteroid-sized dust material (this is where it starts to get … incorrect would be the most polite term, or perhaps unproven and unlikely). In addition to being populated by this potentially dangerous material, it has “a very very large intense gravitational field to it, and it takes about 20 years for our planet and the solar system to pass through it.”

Miller makes many claims as to the effects that crossing through this “dark rift” would have on Earth, the bulk of which is called a “pole shift” that I will address in a future blog posting in this series on Planet X and 2012. For the purpose of this post, I am solely going to address his mechanism for doomsday, which is us passing through this “dark rift.”

Why This Is Wrong

First off, keep in mind that this is the entire mechanism for all of Miller’s doomsday predictions (that will be addressed in a future post, as the “pole shift” topic is quite extensive and has its own branch of pseudoscience surrounding it). Consequently, if I can show that his entire mechanism is flawed, then it should cast serious doubt upon his predictions.

And, I can do that fairly easily by referring to the data in the second section of this post: The sun right now is above the midplane of the galaxy by 35-70 light-years, and it’s still moving away from it. It is NOT, as Miller claims, currently in the middle of a 20-year process of moving through this midplane. It is far from it. And, if he has actual data (as in real science) to back up his claim of the sun’s position in the galaxy, then why doesn’t he publish it in the scientific literature? If nothing else, this should make someone seriously question his mechanism, and hence his claims. And ask for actual evidence that can be independently tested.

There’s another reason why this is wrong. The galactic midplane is not this abrupt region of increased gravity. This is a common misconception in astronomy, that galaxies are “solid” objects. All the midplane is is a non-pysical, mathematical 2-D plane where if you add all the gravity from the material below it and above it, then you get the largest possible value. Go a little above it, and there is more mass below you that will pull you back down (eventually). Go a little below it, and the reverse happens.

It is true that, simply by a “settling” of material over time, there is a greater density of stars and gas and dust the closer to this plane that you get. And there’s less as you get farther away.

A reasonable way to think of this is like a valley, or a gently sloped, shallow bowl. If you’re near the top of the valley or the rim of the bowl, then you are going to get pulled down towards the center. And then your momentum will carry you past the center, and you’ll climb back up the other side. And when your momentum runs out, you’ll fall back down towards the center, and this cycle will repeat.

What Miller wants to throw in there is effectively a brick wall … or perhaps a wall of molasses. In his scenario, when you get to the center, you hit that wall and will be affected by something that only exists in the center of the bowl (or valley). What I am saying is that the galaxy is not built that way, there’s no wall, no “dark rift” no “very very large intense gravitational field” to the central few hundred billion kilometers that’s filled with Planet Xs and asteroids and other dangers that will cause doomsday to happen in the neighborhood of 2012.

Final Thoughts

After reading over this post, I realize that some of the ideas are not laid out quite as extensively as I usually do. This is because I’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg on these galactic crossing scenarios, doing case studies on two specific peoples’ claims, and explaining superficially why they are wrong while trying not to get into other aspects that I will cover on other posts (like the “pole shift”). In addition, these claims are just so incorrect – according to everything that we can observe – that it is somewhat difficult to figure out where exactly to start with the debunking.

If you feel that I have not explained myself clearly, would like more information, or care to argue the point, please leave a comment so I know what to address.

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