Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 11, 2013

Podcast Episode 80: The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 7 – Mark Hazlewood


Planet X, again,
With claims like Nancy Lieder’s,
By Mark Hazlewood.

A bit of a longer episode, this is yet another in the ongoing saga that is Planet X. A lot of the basic claims about Planet X itself, by Mark Hazlewood, are very similar to those made by Nancy Lieder. However, the narrative that Mark tells is interesting in and of itself, and that’s what I focus on in this episode. Especially on the conspiracy aspects and the level of evidence that Mark considers trustworthy.

There’s also a Puzzler and Feedback in this episode.

This episode was written and recorded a few days early so that I could put it out whilst I’m at TAM … as in, now.

The next episode will probably be about young-Earth creationists’ contention that the speed of light changes — it’s one of the main methods they use to argue that the universe can be young in light of modern cosmology. The next episode was originally going to be about the claims of David Serida, but, that is going to have a lot of Coast to Coast AM clips, and since the last two episodes (including this) have a lot of C2C clips, I figured I would give y’all a break. At least for one episode.

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April 17, 2013

Podcast #71 – The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 6 – Andy Lloyd’s “Dark Star”


A dark star could save
Sitchen’s Anunnaki claim
But problems it has.

When I upload the RSS feed for the podcast, I have to provide both a “subtitle” (short description) and “description.” I use the “description” from my 3-4 sentence summary I post for every episode. I never know what to put for the other. I’ve decided to start posting haikus related to the episode.

Anywho, this episode is yet another in the Planet X saga. It covers Andy Lloyd’s idea, which is an offshoot of Zecharia Sitchin’s Anunnaki-hosting planet Nibiru from his interpretation of Sumerian tablets. Andy’s major change is to stick the planet around a brown dwarf star. In the episode, I do actual math and show why what he proposes is impossible.

There’s also a puzzler (yay!), new news item, and two announcements. The episode is also a bit longer than normal, coming in at a bit over 37 minutes.

Regarding the second of two announcements — Brian Dunning, the guy who does the Skeptoid podcast, has pled guilty to wire fraud. Based on this material, he is likely facing jail time. I greatly admire his skeptical work and think that clearly still stands on its own, and this does not diminish what he has done for our community.

July 14, 2010

The Sun’s Binary Companion, Nemesis – Fact or Fiction?


Introduction

It’s the stuff of science fiction – companion planets to our Earth, or a companion star to our sun. Wouldn’t it be cool (or maybe hot) to see two suns in the sky? Maybe even of different colors? Could our sun actually have one and we just don’t know it?

Nemesis

No, I’m not talking about the one bad even-numbered Star Trek movie. Three decades ago, a group of scientists examined the geologic record and found that, seemingly like clockwork, there was a major extinction event on Earth roughly every 27 million years. Our planet doesn’t go through a cycle like that, though, by itself (that we know of), and cycles of that length of time are usually an indication of an astronomical source. After all, we are talking about astronomical timescales here (I love words with double meanings).

The paper was published in 1984, by two paleontologists: Raup, D.M., and Sepkoski, J.J. (1984). “Periodicity of Extinctions in the Geologic Past.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 81, pp. 801-805. Kindly, the paper is available online for free (Click Me!). I skimmed through the paper and did a text search, and I mention this because no where do the authors actually state that there may be a companion star. Rather, they are more vague and simply state:

“[We may be] seeing the effects of a purely biological phenomenon or whether periodic extinction results from recurrent events or cycles in the physical environment. If the forcing agent is in the physical environment, does this reflect an earthbound process or something in space? If the latter, are the extraterrestrial influences solar, solar system, or galactic? … [W]e favor extraterrestrial causes …”

Two papers followed that one in 1984, this time by astronomers, suggesting that the unnamed extraterrestrial forcing agent was a possible companion star to the sun that orbited very far away, but would sometimes come close in and disturb the Oort Cloud (a vast region of cometary nuclei that extends far from the sun). This disturbance would send some comets to the inner solar system, periodically at that fixed orbital interval, and an impact event on Earth could then cause a mass extinction.

That’s the basic idea behind Nemesis.

A Binary Companion?

This is not so odd as it may seem. It is estimated that fully 60% or more of stars in our galaxy are in a binary system, where two stars are gravitationally linked together and orbit each other around a common center of mass. Most that we have identified have orbital periods that are reasonably short, like less than a few thousand years.

It’s possible for a binary system to have an orbital period significantly longer. The problem is that we can’t really tell. By far, the easiest way to detect a binary system should be to see the two stars orbiting each other. The problem is that stars don’t do this very quickly, and for two stars that are far enough apart to actually see as separate objects from Earth, they won’t orbit each other in a human lifetime.

Obviously, since we know of many binary star systems, there are other ways to detect them. That’s not the focus of this blog post, though. I just wanted to talk about it for background information.

But, it sets the stage for the sun’s potential companion: Another star, a small, faint one (a brown dwarf or red dwarf), that takes roughly 26 million years to complete one orbit. This means that its average distance from the sun is roughly 90,000 times the Earth-sun distance. That’s really far away in terms of trying to see something that’s really small and faint.

Why This Post?

This is a fairly random topic to talk about, and one may be wondering why I’m doing it. It’s because there was a recent Wired Science article about it, with the typical poor media headline that makes something much more sensational than it actually is: “Death Star Off the Hook for Mass Extinctions.”

That’s not the science, it is the conclusions of a new study that extends the original database of extinctions from 250 million years to 500 million years. The authors of this latest study say that the extinctions occur at almost “exactly” 27 million years. Because the proposed Nemesis star is relatively far away from the sun, it would be perturbed in its orbit by passing stars, and this would cause some fluctuation in the 27 million-year cycle. The new authors claim that the observed pattern is too predictable for a star that can be perturbed.

The rebuttal by many is that the geologic record is not precise enough to say that it’s “exactly” 27 million years, and that the margin of error in the dates more than allows there to be a changing frequency that a companion star can be responsible for.

Personally, I agree.

Absence of Evidence Is Not Evidence of Absence

The obvious problem for the Nemesis hypothesis is that we haven’t found the star. Many have looked for it, but a rather convenient happenstance of timing is that right now it would be about as far as it gets from the sun, so it is the most difficult to detect from Earth. Nemesis has not been found.

However, it would be a fallacy to claim that this absence of evidence is evidence of absence, at least for the time being. There are now several telescopes that have the sensitivity and are looking over the entire sky that are fully capable of finding a Nemesis-type star. We’ll see what happens. If these surveys come up empty-handed, then it becomes much less likely that the star is out there, and a different mechanism will need to be proposed.

Final Thoughts

I’ve always thought the Nemesis hypothesis is an interesting one. I like the idea that something as basic as a companion star to the sun is still out there, undiscovered. I also like to think astronomy is important, and an extraterrestrial cause for mass extinction events would definitely be a notch on the “YES, Astronomy is Important” side of the scoreboard.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that some people have fallaciously tied Nemesis into 2012 doomsday scenarios, saying that it’s Nemesis that is Planet X that will cause everything to go boom in 2012, or saying that it’s the Christian biblical “Wormwood” from the book of Revelation that it itself will destroy Earth in an apocalypse. Hopefully needless to day, those ideas for Nemesis are baseless.

March 12, 2009

Planet X & 2012: My Interview on “The Conspiracy Skeptic” Podcast


This is a quick post to alert my loyal readers (hi Hanna) that I have been interviewed for an episode of “The Conspiracy Skeptic” podcast put out by Karl Mamer. I admit up-front – this is a looooong interview, with the edited version being about 111 minutes. But the time just flies by!

In the interview, I touch on nearly all aspects of the 2012/Planet X conspiracy/doomsday stuff that I’ve discussed so far on my blog, but this time in “condensed” form.

The site for the podcast is here, and at present, my interview is at the bottom of the page. A direct link to the episode MP3 is here.

In other news, now that I’m nearly done with a grant renewal and conference poster, I should be getting back to semi-regular posts shortly.

February 18, 2009

Planet X and 2012: Could Planet X Be a Planet Around a Binary Star to Our Own – a “Dark Star?”


Introduction

This will likely be one of my last posts on 2012 and Planet X in the near future. I’ve been waiting awhile on an interview I sent out to a Mayan scholar but he has yet to get back to me. It may have been because my questions were too long, but we’ll see. If he does, I will be certain to post his take on what the current scholarship is in regards to what the Mayans actually thought about their calendar and 2012 (on our calendar).

This post, however, is about Andy Lloyd’s (not “Andrew” – I just don’t want you to think I’m using a derogatory nickname) ideas on Planet X. And to be honest, they make a lot more sense than most.

All posts in this series:

Andy’s Premise

Andy runs his “Dark Star” website where he advocates his various conspiracy theories and other ideas. He also has a BSc in Chemistry which may be why his “Dark Star” premise (not “theory”) is more plausible than others: He actually seems to have taken actual astronomy into account.

Andy is an advocate of a modified idea of Zecharia Sitchin – the man who thinks he’s decoded Summerian texts that prove a race of aliens called the Anunnaki came from the Planet X, Nibiru, to mine our gold. However, he was dissatisfied with Sitchin’s ideas because they didn’t make sense in an astronomical context: How could Earth-like intelligent life survive on a planet that goes from the frigid outer solar system where it’s maybe -220 °C to the inner solar system where it’s closer to 300 °C? It doesn’t make sense.

So Andy proposes a modification: The sun is in a binary star system – it has a gravitationally bound companion star. Only, this companion star is a brown dwarf, a type of failed star that never gained enough mass to start fusing hydrogen into helium as normal stars do. This brown dwarf star is the one that has a highly eccentric orbit (as many binary star systems do) that brings it from the outer solar system to the inner solar system. And, orbiting around that star is Nibiru, home of the alien race of Anunnaki.

How this Solves Problems

It really beautifully solves a few major problems of Sitchin’s ideas. First, it solves the temperature problem. While a brown dwarf star is not a star that produces heat through fusion, it does produce heat through gravitational contraction. A planet that orbits the star sufficiently closely could conceivably be Earth-like, getting enough heat to bring temperatures near the triple point of water (where water can exist as a solid, liquid, or gas).

In addition, Andy doesn’t think that it has anything to do with 2012. He rightfully knows that a planet (or star) in a regular orbit cannot go from the outer solar system to the inner solar system in just 4 years. Granted, he believes that it’s come close in the past and has delivered its alien cargo and the populace is responsible for lots of things on Earth, but he at least does not in any way connect it with 2012.

He also places its location in the constellation Sagittarius. For those of you not intimately familiar with the night sky, Sagittarius is a rather large constellation that is visible during the summer in the northern hemisphere. Part of it looks like a teapot. But another feature of it is that the core of the Milky Way stretches through Sagittarius, making it one of the richest areas of the sky to look at nebulae, star clusters, and other objects … making it very difficult to search for a small, faint, red object. This – at least to his reckoning – answers the question of why we haven’t found it yet.

Is This Falsifiable? Is This Provable? Are We in Danger?

A problem with his idea that I hinted at in the previous paragraph is that it really still is unlikely that we would not have found a binary companion if it’s really gravitationally bound to the sun (as it is in his hypothesis). A brown dwarf would be one of the brightest infrared sources in the sky (infrared can be thought of as “heat” light). He cites the fact that there is no complete infrared sky survey and so there’s still a chance that his dark star could be in the gaps.

But while there is no one complete sky survey, there are several different infrared sky surveys that do cover pretty much all the gaps. And the ecliptic – the plane of the solar system that passes through Sagittarius – has been thoroughly imaged in high-resolution in searches for solar system objects. While it’s possible that we may have missed an object like a brown dwarf star within our solar system, the likelihood is practically nil.

Which brings us to falsifiability. Andy recognizes that his hypothesis is testable and can be shown wrong by just looking for the object and not finding it. Conversely, it’s obviously provable by finding it. However, since Andy harps on the the IRAS (InfraRed Astronomy Satellite) from the 1980s and does not acknowledge more recent surveys (such as 2MASS, the 2 Micron All-Sky Survey), I am not certain how genuine he is when stating that he would readily accept that he was shown to be wrong.

Rather, he seems to be of the mind that once his condition is met (which it really has), he will either not acknowledge it or will say something along the lines of, “Yes, but it could still be possible because of [fill in the blank].” This is a moving the goalpost logical fallacy (commonly employed by conspiracy theorists and creationists – every fossil just creates two more holes).

Final Thoughts

So what’s the bottom-line here – does Andy’s “Dark Star” with its orbiting gold thieves exist? In the interest of academic honesty, I have to say, “possibly.” But it’s around the same likelihood that when the LHC becomes operational it will create a polka-dotted unicorn that farts out rainbows. Or for those of you who are Simpsons fans, perhaps it’ll make a twonicorn.

In other words, it’s very unlikely. It should be incredibly bright in red/infrared light. And that’s just addressing the astronomical aspects. All the other parts of the idea – the anomaly hunting within historic records – come up short in (a) plausibility, and (b) evidence. In my opinion, from the evidence (or lack-there-of), Andy Lloyd’s “Dark Star” is another failed Planet X premise.

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