Exposing PseudoAstronomy

January 28, 2010

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


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


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


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.

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