Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 30, 2014

My First Infographic: What Have Our Planetary Space Probes Photographed Since 1970?


Introduction

This has been over two months in the making: I’m finally releasing my first infographic. It’s entitled, “Planets and Major Moons: Distribution of Non-Lander Spacecraft Photos Since 1970.” (Suitable for printing on A-size paper with a bit of top and bottom margin to spare.) The purpose is to show the number of images taken by different space probes of the planets (and major satellites), the percentage of the total images that were for each body, and for each body, the percentage taken by each different spacecraft.

PDF Version of Spacecraft Imagery Infographic (3.5 MB)
PNG Version of Spacecraft Imagery Infographic (4.7 MB)

Number of Images of Planets Taken by Spacecraft Infographic

Number of Images of Planets Taken by Spacecraft Infographic

Development Process

I’ve been wanting to create infographics for awhile. Really good ones are few and far between, especially for astronomy, but the good ones are often amazing works of art. I don’t pretend that this is an amazing work of art, but hopefully it’s not ugly.

To me, the key is to have a lot of information crammed into a small space in an easy-to-understand way that you don’t have to be an expert to interpret. In my work, I deal a lot with multi-dimensional datasets and so already I have to come up with ways of displaying a lot of information in as few figures as possible and yet still make them readable.

The Idea

An idea that I came up with is based on the claim that “NASA hides all its pictures!” (This is often, hypocritically, almost immediately followed up with NASA spacecraft imagery showing claimed UFOs and other pseudoscientific claims.)

And so, I wanted to investigate this: How many images really have been taken and are available publicly, for free, on the internet? After several days of research, I had the results, and I assembled them into the above infographic.

The Numbers

I was surprised by some of the numbers and I was not surprised by others. One thing that did not surprise me was that the outer planets have very few photographs (relatively speaking) of them, while most imagery has focused on Mars and the Moon (fully 86%).

But, I was not prepared for how very few photographs were taken by our early probes to the outer solar system. Pioneers 10 and 11 were the first craft to venture out, and yet, because of the (now) archaic method of imaging and slow bandwidth, they collectively took a mere 72 images of both Jupiter and Saturn. Compare that with the ongoing Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the moon, which has publicly released over 1.1 million images.

You can also see the marked effect of the Galileo high-gain antenna failure: Only 7.4% of the photos we have of Jupiter were taken by Galileo, despite it being an orbiter in the 1990s. Compare that with the Cassini orbiter of Saturn, which has returned nearly 50 times as many images, despite no dramatic change in technology between the two craft. This means that only 0.4% of our images of planets and moons are of Jupiter, while 1.9% are of Saturn.

You can also see the marked success of modern spacecraft and the huge volumes of images that (I repeat) are publicly available. The pie slices in the infographic are color-coded by approximate spacecraft operation era. Well over 90% of all images were taken after 1995, and the current suite of the latest NASA spacecraft (MESSENGER around Mercury, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the Moon, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter around Mars) account for a sizable fraction of the returned data for that body — especially MESSENGER, which accounts for 98.1% of all Mercury images.

What was I most surprised by? The Clementine mission to the moon. It returned and has publicly archived just shy of 1.5 million images of the lunar surface. I expected the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to have surpassed that. And, it still may, as it continues to operate and return data. We shall see.

Why the Conspiracy Theorists Are Wrong

As I said, one of the primary reasons I made this was to investigate the claim by conspiracy theorists that these space agencies hide photographs. The blame rests almost entirely on NASA by most conspiracists’ accounts. This infographic proves them wrong in two significant ways.

First, at least for the Moon, Mars, and Venus, sizable numbers of images have been taken by and publicly released by non-NASA sources. I specifically have data from the European Space Agency (SMART-1, Venus Express, and Mars Express), and Japanese Space Agency (SELENE / Kaguya). While both the Indian and Chinese space agencies have also sent spacecraft to the moon and Mars (Mars for the Indians with the recently-in-orbit “MOM” craft), and Russia has sent craft to Venus, Moon, and Mars, I could not find the public repositories – if they exist – for these missions. Therefore, I could not include them. But, a lack of those two does not affect the overall point, that non-NASA agencies have released photos of these bodies.

Second, as I’ve repeated throughout this post, these are the publicly released images. Not private. Public. To public archives. In the bottom-left corner, I have the sources for all of these numbers. (Please note that they were compiled in late October and may have increased a bit for ongoing missions — I’ll update periodically, as necessary.)

The total number of lunar images? About 3 million.

Mars? Around 1.6 million. Venus? Over 350,000. Mercury? Over 210,000.

It’s hard to claim that NASA hides lots of images when these numbers are staring you in the face.

What Conspiracists Could Still Claim

I think the only “out” at this point, given this information (and if they acknowledge this information), is for conspiracists to claim that NASA and other space agencies simply obfuscate the “interesting” stuff. I suppose that’s possible, though they’d need armies of people to do it on the millions of returned images. And they apparently do a pretty bad job considering all the images that conspiracists post, claiming that features within them are of alien-origin.

It’s amazing how the “powers that be” are so powerful, and yet so sloppy. Apparently.

What This Infographic Does Not Show

I had to decide to clip a lot of information. We’ve imaged a lot of asteroids and a lot of comets. Those are out. We have had landers on the three closest bodies (Moon, Mars, Venus). Those images were not included.

Also, I focused on visible-light images, mostly. There are some instruments that take more UV images, or far-IR images, or various other wavelengths, but this infographic focused on the visible or near-visible light camera data.

Pretty much the only exception to this is for the Magellan mission at Venus, which took radar swaths of the planet to “image” the surface. I included this because, in early test audiences, I did not have Venus at all, and they requested it. Then, I did not include Magellan, but the test audiences wondered what happened to it. Describing why that data was not present made things wordy and more cluttered, so I, in the end, simply included it and put a footnote explaining the Magellan data.

This also fails to show the volume of data as measured by or approximated by (for the older craft) pixel count. If I were doing this by amount of pixels returned, the Moon and Mars would be far larger in comparison, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would be much larger fractions of their respective bodies.

Final Thoughts

I’m releasing this under the Creative Commons license with attribution required, non-commercial distribution, and no derivative works (please see the CC stamp at the bottom of the infographic). This is so that I can at least have some semblance of version control (see release date at lower right).

I hope you find it useful and interesting. And at least somewhat purdy. If you like it, share it.

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January 16, 2013

Podcast Episode 61: Special Pleading with Large Impacts


A complaint I’ve heard is that the invoking of giant asteroid impacts to explain some odd solar system features (Venus upside-down, Uranus on its side, etc.) is just special pleading and as crazy if not more so than the pseudoscience ideas, like Velikovsky. While I obviously have my own opinion about Velikovsky in particular, I wanted to take an episode to talk about why giant impacts are used to explain some things, and whether we have a real reason to do so or if it’s just our own way of making stuff up.

There isn’t a new puzzler, though the one from last episode – send in your favorite planetary pareidolia – is still going on.

April 11, 2010

What Happens When All the Planets Line Up Against Us?


Introduction

This is a claim that has persisted for a long time, and though people who believe in the 2012 stuff have propagated it, it is not specifically a Planet X / 2012 claim: If all the planets (plus our moon) lined up opposite the sun, they would pull us out of orbit. As the “lolcatz” say, “Oh noez!”

Gravity

The force felt by an object due to gravity is a very simple mathematical function, codified by Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity:

In this equation, F is the force felt, G is the Gravitational Constant, M m are masses of the two objects in question, and r is the distance that separates them.

To figure out how much more or less two different objects will pull on the same object, we can simply remove one of the two masses, so the equation simplifies to F = G * m / r2.

The Math

To determine the relative forces, one simply needs to know the mass of the planets and sun, and the distances between Earth and those objects. This can be found in any basic astronomy textbook or online source. One then can simply plug in the numbers and figure out the forces.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the sun is on one side of this tug-of-war, and the moon, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and even Pluto are all on the other (Venus and the sun don’t count ’cause they would have to be on the sun’s side). Let’s calculate the force first due to the sun:

Object
Mass (1024 kg)
Distance from Sun (106 km)
Distance from Earth (106 km)
Relative Force
Sun 1,989,100 149.6 0.0059

Alright, now let’s do all the rest, remembering that for the planets, we’ll need to subtract out the distance between Earth and the sun from what are commonly quoted as the planets’ distances:

Object
Mass (1024 kg)
Distance from Sun (106 km)
Distance from Earth (106 km)
Relative Force
Moon 0.07349 0.3844 3.32·10-5
Mars 0.6419 227.9 78.32 6.98·10-9
Jupiter 1,899 778.6 629.0 3.20·10-7
Saturn 568.5 1434 1284 2.30·10-8
Uranus 86.83 2872 2723 7.82·10-10
Neptune 102.4 4495 4345 3.62·10-10
Pluto 0.00125 5906 5756 2.52·10-14
Ceres 0.00095 415 265.4 9.00·10-13

Final Thoughts

This is a really short post because it doesn’t need to be long. To be perfectly honest, I was actually surprised at how small the force of Jupiter actually is on Earth relative to the sun. If we add up the force from all of the other objects, we only get a force that is 0.566% as strong as the sun’s. And then if we take the moon out of the equation because that would be the first to move out of the alignment, then we have a force of only 0.000592% as strong as the sun’s.

If we look at Venus if it were also lined up, helping the sun, its force is 1.90·10-7, or about half as much as all the other planets (again, leaving out the moon), so it would cancel 54% of the effect of all those other objects (again leaving out the moon). The force from Mercury is only about 1/3 that of Mars.

So really, if anyone who makes this claim were to bother to spend about 10 minutes looking up the numbers and plugging them into an Excel equation (what I did), they would quickly see that this claim is simply and utterly nonsense. And this is besides the fact that the planets aren’t lining up any time soon on the other side of Earth to try to pull us out of orbit.

February 15, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 1


Introduction

While I was supposed to be working today, I was looking at the upcoming Coast to Coast AM late-night George Noory -hosted radio show. Tonight, February 15, 2010, they’re having what has been termed an “Astrology Special” with three astrologers coming in. I went to each of their websites just to nose around, and I found a page on Terry Nazon’s site dedicated to “The Mayan Prophecy of 2012.”

I’m an astronomer. Astrology is to astronomy what alchemy is to chemistry (or, for those about to take the SATs: astrology:astronomy::alchemy:chemistry). And, I’ve written many, many posts on the non-event of Planet X and 2012 (Planet X, 2012, and Planet X and 2012 — yes, those are different). So, this particular woman has combined two things that I just couldn’t help myself to post a break-down.

To do this, I’m going to examine both her numbered claims (part 1 – long!) and then claims she makes in the expository text (part 2).

Note: Several times I link to a NASA website on eclipses in this post. Unfortunately, that server seems to be down as of the time I’m posting this. You can do a search on Google for it and find the cached version of the page in most cases, however.

Other Note: It appears as though Ms. Nazon was cancelled from the show before it went live on Feb. 15. I am not sure when this change happened, but it was no more than 2-3 days before the episode.

Numbered Claim 1

“On December 21, 2012 The Winter Solstice, the Earth and the Galactic Center align. The Galactic Center is also called the Milky Way. The Mayans called the Milky Way, The Sacred Tree, or the Great Mother. This alignment of the Earth and the Galactic Center only happens once every 26,000 years! The Galactic Center is at approximately 26°-27° Sagittarius.”

I’ve addressed this claim directly, twice, on my blog before both in my post “ Planet X and 2012: What The Sky Looks Like On December 21, 2012” and “ Planet X and 2012: The PseudoAstronomy (or Just Plain Wrong Astronomy) About a Galactic Alignment.”

In sum and substance, no, there is no alignment between Earth, the sun, and/or the galactic center in 2012, let alone on December 21, 2012. Now, there was an “alignment” between the sun and galactic equator on December 21, 1998. I personally don’t recall anything special then except maybe taking my last semester exam in 9th grade. For references on this, see the two posts above and/or any astronomy planetarium software.

As for where the galactic center is located on the sky, it is true that it is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. It is located at the celestial coordinates 17 h 45m 40s RA, -29° 00′ 28.00″ DEC. So while she’s right about Sagittarius, she’s wrong about the galactic center’s location, off in declination (latitude on the sky) by the width of at least four sun / full moon diameters.

Numbered Claim 2

“Uranus squares Pluto at 7° – 8° of cardinal signs. This is the waxing square of the cycle that started in the mid 1960s, with the conjunction of these two planets in mid Virgo. December 21st, 2012 A.D., represents an extremely close conjunction of the Winter Solstice Sun with the crossing point of the Galactic Equator (Equator of the Milky Way) and the Ecliptic (path of the Sun), what that ancient Maya recognized as the Sacred Tree, or the Great Mother. This is an event that has been coming to resonance very slowly over thousands and thousands of years. It will come to resolution at exactly 11:11 am GMT.”

I find this claim interesting. I really can’t say anything about “Uranus squaring Pluto” as that has nothing to do with astronomy, but I find it interesting in that this claim directly backtracks from the previous! She’s changed “Galactic Center” to “Galactic Equator,” which is actually finally correct (almost). The problem with this is that which I pointed out above, and I invite you to go to the links to my previous posts on the alleged alignment.

Numbered Claim 3

“March 16th 2012, A lunar occultation of Pluto occurs today. This is the first anywhere on Earth since January 19th 1935. They will occur every month now from today upto [sic] August 17th 2013.”

Now is as good a time as any to point out that I’m just copying and pasting from Ms. Nazon’s website. If there are spelling mistakes, I am indicating that with the [sic] as is standard practice to indicate it is not a transcription error on my part.

Anyway, I looked into this. I’m not sure what software she’s using, but I was using Starry Night Pro. I started out in my default location of Boulder, CO (USA) and didn’t see any occultation. I then went to France, Iran, a few places in Russia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the UK, Benin, Egypt, Venezuela, China, Australia, Chile … the closest I saw any approach was about 15′ of Pluto to the moon. That means it misses it about a quarter of a lunar diameter, and that was from the Falkland Islands. Finally I tried the south pole, and pluto gets within 6′ of the moon (0.1°). Close, but no cigar.

As far as I can tell, this claim is simply false, unless someone can give me a different location where this happens. (Again, I did this via simulation in Starry Night Pro.)

Now, what’s cool is that after March, the occultations do actually start to take place as seen from Earth, about every 27 days or so after that. Those of us at my latitude in Boulder, CO won’t be able to see this until January 10, 2013, at about 6:30 PM, though at that time they’ll be about 11° away from the sun. And, the occultations will stop around the August 2013 timeframe for those of us in the higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere.

And then this did occur back in January 19, 1935, again from the South Pole, and it just missed occulting Pluto on February 15, 1935.

So while this claim is partly/mostly correct, I’m not sure what the significance is supposed to be. It’s not like it happens on December 21, 2012.

Numbered Claim 4

“May 11th 2012 Saturn conjunct Spica (2nd time) [sic]”

I’d like to see her work on this claim. I checked several locations around the globe for this date, and the closest Saturn gets to the star Spica is several degrees (around 4). With the full moon being 0.5° across, that’s 8 full moons away.

However, I spoke with a friend of mine who practices astrology (yes, I do have friends, and yes, some of them have beliefs outside of my own). According to her, astrologers consider anything within about 5° to be a “conjunction” which is “considered to be mutually enhancing.” So, under that definition, yes, this will be a conjunction.

However, even if it is true … so what? (a) This isn’t December 21, 2012, and (b) what does a conjunction between Saturn and a star as seen from Earth have to do with anything?

Numbered Claim 5

“May 20th 2012 Annular Solar Eclipse at zero degrees Gemini. Central eclipse 23:53 GMT. Eclipse visible from southern USA, central America, central equatorial south America and Africa.”

A solar eclipse is a “rare” and beautiful thing that I hope to observe in August 2017, when totality will be centered pretty much directly over my parents’ house. It’ll be a partial eclipse from Boulder, but it will be occurring right around sunset so I’m not actually sure if I’ll be able to see it (or if I’ll still be in Boulder at that time).

The only thing un-rare about an eclipse is that they generally happen twice a year. And an annular eclipse – where the moon doesn’t quite cover the entire solar disk so you have an “annulus” of sun around it – isn’t the neat kind where you actually get totality. You can go to NASA’s eclipse website to view the eclipses for many decades into the past and future, both solar and lunar.

So, yes, there will be an annular solar eclipse on May 20, 2012. This is not rare. And the time of greatest eclipse will occur at 23:53:53 GMT (so she’s a minute off, rounding, though that’s really nit-picking). And it will be visible from China, Japan, the Pacific, and western United States.

Otherwise, the where on the sky part of this eclipse is completely wrong. The sun and moon will lie within the constellation Taurus (the bull), with the sun at about 20° declination and about 4 hrs right ascension (see the diagram below from Starry Night Pro, location set to Boulder, CO). Far, far away from Gemini. In fact, it’s much closer to Aries than it is to Gemini. 0 RA is in the constellation Pisces … even farther from Gemini. I’m actually surprised that Ms. Nazon made a mistake this large unless she was using the wrong dates or just was making it up – about it being in Gemini. As for Gemini being at 0 RA, well, that just simply doesn’t happen and won’t for several thousand years.

Skychart on May 20, 2012 Showing Solar Eclipse

Skychart on May 20, 2012 Showing Solar Eclipse

Note on reading these images: First, you can click on any of the star chart images in this post for a much larger version. Second, a guide to reading these — Constellation names are in blue. Star names are in yellow. Solar system object names are in pale red. White outlines are constellation boundaries as defined by the International Astronomical Union nearly a century ago. Red grids are effectively the latitude/longitude system that we use in astronomy (declination (DEC) and right ascention (RA)). A green line is the line of the ecliptic – what the sun appears to trace out in the sky over the course of a year.

Numbered Claim 6

“June 4th 2012 Partial lunar eclipse at 15 degrees Sagittarius. Central eclipse 12:03 GMT [sic]”

We experience what are called “eclipse seasons” on Earth. This is when the nodes of when the moon crosses the celestial equator when it’s a new or full moon recur 1-2 times before they move away. In simpler terms, we only get an eclipse when the moon, Earth, and sun directly line up. Since the moon is on an inclined orbit, this only happens twice per orbit. And those locations (“nodes”) move around Earth. If we have a full moon when the moon is on a node, we get a lunar eclipse. If it’s a new moon, it’s a solar eclipse. And because it happens twice per orbit, then if you have one kind of eclipse, chances are very good that 2 weeks later, you’ll get the other kind.

That’s the case here, for June 4, 2012. And it will be a partial lunar eclipse – again, not the most interesting kind, and the time of greatest eclipse will be approximately 11:04:20 GMT (she was an hour off). But I’ll take this opportunity again to ask, “So what?”

The only thing wrong with this claim is that Ms. Nazon again gets the constellation wrong – the moon will be in the constellation Ophiuchus (which I think is the bane of astrologers since, because of precession, there are now 13 “sun signs,” but Western astrologers only recognize the original 12). The moon will be about 13° away from the edge of the constellation Sagittarius for this eclipse … that’s nearly 8% of the way across the visible sky at the time. Again, a fairly big miss for someone who studies the sky.

Skychart on June 04, 2012 Showing Lunar Eclipse

Skychart on June 04, 2012 Showing Lunar Eclipse

Numbered Claim 7

“June 6th 2012 Transit of Venus across the disc of the Sun.”

Now this is cool. Once every 122 years and then again 8 years later, the planet Venus transits across the disk of the sun as seen from Earth. Historically, this has been very important for astronomy because it was the only way to directly measure the size of the solar system and the distance between us and the sun. I invite you to read a bit more about it on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

Anyway, yes, this does happen, and will happen, though unfortunately it won’t be visible from most of the US as it happens from 22:09 June 5 through 4:49 June 6 (GMT). About the best place for this one will be Indonesia or Japan.

While this has historic significance for astronomy, though, I again fail to see the significance of it in foretelling, well, anything that is supposed to happen on December 21, 2012.

Numbered Claim 8

“June 11th 2012 Jupiter enters Gemini.”

If she’s right … So?

But yet again, Ms. Nizan is wrong. I’ll again direct you to any number of for-free or commercial planetarium sky programs and tell you to go to that date and look at where Gemini is and look at where Jupiter is. On June 11, 2012, Jupiter is clearly on the ARES side of Taurus, not anywhere near Gemini. Maybe she got her year wrong — Jupiter enters Gemini on June 27, 2013.

Skychart on June 11, 2012 Showing Jupiter's Location

Skychart on June 11, 2012 Showing Jupiter's Location

Also, Jupiter orbits the sun once every ~12 years or so. That means that about once a year, it moves into a new constellation. About once every 12 years, it repeats the cycle! Gasp!

Numbered Claim 9

“July 15th 2012 Lunar grazing occultation of Jupiter (visible from the UK with a clear horizon ) 02-00 [sic] GMT.”

This claim is true and pretty cool. The moon will occult Jupiter for several minutes at this time as seen from the UK. But it’s just as significant – and even more common – as the lunar occultation of the planet Saturn that was visible from the US and other parts of the world in 1997.

While in analyzing these claims so far I’ve concentrated on showing some of their flaws, I will yet again ask: So what? What does an apparent alignment from an insignificant planet floating in a vast universe have to do with anything?

Numbered Claim 10

“Aug 14th 2012 Mars and Saturn conjunct Spica [sic]”

Not sure what Ms. Nazon has against periods, but she leaves them out a lot in this list. Anyway, Ms. Nazon seems big on conjunctions with Spica. And as I stated for her 4th claim, this is another one that is simply not true. A conjunction is when things come together and appear to be in the same spot. Unless you’re using a very loose definition of the word – perhaps she meant “close conjunction” instead of “conjunction” – then this is again demonstrably false (just go to planetarium software and look!!).

Yes, they’re reasonably close, with about 3.5 full moons separating Mars from Spica, and 5.5 separating Mars from Saturn. I’m really not sure I’d call this a conjunction, especially if you’re trying to link it to some cosmic energy vortex being activated because these objects are supposed to meet. But, I suppose under the 5° idea that astrologers seem to use (based on my friend), the three will be in a “conjunction.”

Numbered Claim 11

“August 22nd 2012 The Moon, Mars, and Saturn are conjunct [sic] Spica.”

Moving the ol’ clock forward on Starry Night software and … Nope! For those familiar with photography, you could easily use a 100mm lens to photograph this close conjunction. You need something with wider than a 5° field of view, as Saturn from the moon is nearly 6° apart — even under the 5° rule we can’t really consider this to be a conjunction.

Now, granted, this would make a neat photograph. And if I remember, I’ll probably try to capture it. But in the grand scheme of things, this really is not a very close conjunction – definitely not a once-in-26,000-years event.

Numbered Claim 12

“October 5th 2012 Saturn enters Scorpio.”

Okay, I’m not sure what Ms. Nazon is using. But Saturn is still pretty much smack dab in the middle of Virgo in October 2012 (see image below). Unlike Jupiter, Saturn takes longer – about 30 years – to orbit the sun once. So, it will enter a new constellation about once every 2.5 years. And 30 years later it repeats. So, is there supposed to be some significance I’m not getting in it staying in Virgo on October 5, 2012 allegedly entering Scorpius?

Skychart on October 05, 2012 Showing Saturn's Location

Skychart on October 05, 2012 Showing Saturn's Location

Numbered Claim 13

“November 13th 2012 Total Solar Eclipse at 22 degrees Scorpio 22-12 GMT visible from north-eastern Australia.”

Let’s see … May + 6 months = November … we have another potential eclipse! Which is what Ms. Nazon is predicting for NE Australia. And, lo!, yes there is an eclipse on November 13, 2012, visible from northern Australia and the southern Pacific.

But in what seems to be a running theme, this takes place in the constellation Libra (the scales), and the declination is about -18°, not 22°. For those who don’t know, Libra is a full 3 constellations away from Sagittarius, over 11% of the visible sky away from Sagittarius. It hasn’t been since about the year 1400 B.C. that the sun was in Sagittarius on November 13 — assuming we use our calendar instead of what was in use at the time.

Numbered Claim 14

“November 14th 2012 The Moon occults Mercury (daylight occultation visible from the UK with a telescope) .”

Yep, the moon occults Mercury, visible from the UK, at about 10AM on November 14, 2012. And it does it again May 9, 2013. Mercury never strays too far from the ecliptic, so the moon has a reasonable chance of occulting it once a month. So again, this is not a rare occurrence, nor does it have any physical significance.

Numbered Claim 15

“November 28th 2012 Penumbral lunar eclipse 7 degrees Gemini. Central eclipse 15:33 GMT [sic]”

Yep, 2 weeks after a solar eclipse, we have the possibility of a lunar one. And not a very good one at that – the moon may appear to dim a little, but it’s unlikely that it will appear to go very red. That’s what a penumbral eclipse is versus an umbral – the good kind! And if Earth’s shadow could stretch farther into space, just a few hours later we would see a Jovian eclipse with Earth’s shadow turning Jupiter red!

Anyway, I’m getting kinda sick of saying it and hopefully I don’t have to post yet another screenshot for you to believe me, but she got the constellation wrong again. This happens in Taurus, not Gemini. And I’m not sure where she’s getting her coordinates from — she either needs a new calculator, better tables, or better software. The moon will be at about 4 hrs RA and +20° DEC … not 7° in Gemini. In fact, the farthest south that Gemini gets is just under 10°. Now, Gemini does cross through the 7th hour RA, but there are 24 hours of RA, not 360, so saying anything about it being 7° is either being completely oblivious about what RA means or making up numbers.

And she’s again an hour off, with the greatest eclipse time being 14:34:07 GMT. This eclipse will be visible in Europe, East Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific, and North America.

Numbered Claim 16

“Uranus will enter Aries in 2011. The last time Uranus transited Aries was in 1927-1935 which we all know as The Great Depression.”

Okay, for some reason this claim was bolded on her site, along with #17 and 18. Perhaps it’s because she actually ties these into past events. Let’s look …

Uranus has a longer year than Saturn, about 84 Earth years. When running open house observing nights on campus, we refer to it as the “once in a lifetime” planet because unless you have an unusually long lifespan, you will never see Uranus in the same location in a constellation (excluding retrograde motion, but that’s a different story). You will never see it in the same place in its orbit (that’s more precise).

So now let’s go through this without looking up to see if she has the constellation right. 1927 + 84 = 2011, so yes, wherever Uranus was in 1927, it will be returning there around 2011. So that would be a correct analysis.

Now, about depressions. For those who don’t know, one of my hobbies is coin collecting. As such, I’ve tracked US inflation rates throughout history and come up with some beautiful graphs. Suffice to say, the US has gone through several “great” depressions – present one excluded because only history will tell if it’s a “great” one. The first was during the Revolutionary War, when inflation skyrocketed. Second was around the War of 1812 – about 40 years later. Third was during the Civil War, when America experienced the largest inflation rates in its history as a country (excluding just after its founding) — that was 50 years later. And then the Great Depression – about 70 years later. If you want to play it forward, we experienced depression-class inflation rates again during WWII (15 years later) and again during the Korean and Vietnam Wars (30-40 years later).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see an 84-year pattern there.

United States Inflation Rates, 1776-2008

United States Inflation Rates, 1776-2008

Oh, and now let’s see if it’s actually in Aries (looks at Starry Night Pro …) Nope. Uranus is smack-dab in the middle of Pisces. It enters Aries in late 2018. And what would it entering in 2011 have to do with 2012?

Numbered Claim 17

“Neptune will enter Pisces its own sign in 2011. The last time this occured [sic] was 1847-1862 where it last transited during the time of the French Revolution.”

Just because I’m already looking at Starry Night for Uranus and Aries, let’s take a look at Neptune. Neptune takes even longer in its orbit – about 164 years. And in very late 2011 it moves into Aquarius, and finally in December 2023, it will move into Pisces. So, I am honestly curious now – Ms. Nazon, what are you using to make these claims? Are you just making them up? Are you using software that doesn’t account or over-accounts for precession? What’s going on here?

Anyway, about revolutions. Yes, 1847+164 = 2011. Now, I’m not a historian, so I did a quick look-see on Wikipedia … The French Revolution was 1789-1799, while there was a less severe one in 1848. But revolutions take place all the time. The Cuban revolution of the 1960s. The Islamic Revolution in Iran in the 1970s. You could even say the Civil Rights in the 1960s was its own kind of political revolution. Let’s not forget the Communist Revolutions in the mid-1900s in China, Vietnam, and Korea. Or Germany in the 1930s, Italy in the 1930s, the Russian Revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century … need I go on?

This – like the Great Depression link to Uranus – is an obvious example of retrodiction and anomaly hunting. She’s looked at the last time Neptune was in that place in the sky (NOT PISCES) and found something that would’ve made front-page headlines while ignoring any other occurrence of an event of that type that has happened since.

Numbered Claim 18

“Pluto has entered Capricorn, well, the last time Pluto entered Capricorn was 1762-1777 the American Colonial Revolution.”

I’ve heard this from several astrologers on Coast to Coast over the last few years, that Pluto is entering a place in the sky that it hasn’t been since the American Revolution. That’s because Pluto’s year is about 248 Earth years, so it takes quite awhile. The “only” problem is that, yet again, Pluto won’t be in Capricorn until about mid-2024. It’s still in Sagittarius until then.

Numbered Claim 19

“Venus will make a rare planetary loop above the Orion star system, a rare planetary passage over the disk of the Sun on June 6,2012.”

Let’s take this in reverse-order since there are actually two things here. Venus’ year, being an inferior planet relative to Earth (meaning that it’s closer to the sun than Earth), is shorter than ours and once or twice a year it will pass close to the sun. Unless it passes directly in front of it, as is actually the case in 2012, it will appear to pass above or below the disk. And as I already discussed in Claim #7. Double-dipping isn’t allowed.

As for “rare planetary loop,” this happens about once every 20 months – hardly a once-in-26,000-years. When Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the sun (its farthest distance) when it’s an evening star, it will appear to reverse directions in the sky and instead of traveling West-to-East, it will go retrograde and travel East-to-West. So, from Earth’s point of view, it will look like it stops and reverses direction, I suppose appearing as a “loop” in the sky.

This happens when it’s in Taurus in May 2012 (above Orion, yes). It will happen in the constellation Libra in October 2010. It happened in March in 2009 in the constellation Pisces, above Cetus and below Andromeda and Pegasus. In December 2013 it will happen in Sagittarius, just next to Capricornus. And in August of 2015 it will happen through Leo. In fact, just a month before that – on July 1, 2015, Venus and Jupiter actually will have a very close conjunction, appearing less than 0.5° apart in the sky. Too bad it’s during the day, though you may be able to catch them pretty close together just after sunset.

Numbered Claim 20

“We will be in an 11 year Sun Spot Cycle that is known to make us less compliant and more reactive over the slightest provocation.”

Please show your work. And, by the way, we’re always in an ~11-year sunspot cycle.

Final Thoughts, Part 1

Okay, there are two real take-away points from this analysis of Terry Nazon’s justification for why 2012 is meaningful astrologically or that it’s going to lead to something big that the Mayans supposedly predicted.

First take-away point is that she’s quite sloppy. Well over half of the specific claims that she made for where objects would be relative to constellations are demonstrably false – just use any planetarium software you like and you’ll see this.

Second point is really the main debunking point of astrology – what does any apparent alignment of an object with another object from Earth’s fleeting vantage point at that moment have to do with anything?

January 25, 2009

Planet X and 2012: The Real and Historical Story of Planet X


Introduction

This is the first post in what will become a series of posts over the next few days/weeks about the oft-portrayed mysterious, dangerous, possibly alien-harboring, Earth-destroying object touted as “Planet X.”

This being a blog about pseudo-astronomy, you should not be surprised to learn by reading it that there is no dangerous Planet X out there that’s going to cause a pole shift as Earth goes through the “dark rift” of our galaxy in 2012. However, in this first post, I’m going to describe what the real Planet X was in astronomy, a mystery that was created with the discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781, and didn’t end until we precisely calculated the mass of Neptune in 1993.

All posts in this series:

Finding Uranus

Until 1781, the solar system was known to consist of Earth, Venus, Mercury, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, along with the moon, some other moons, and some unexplainable and unpredictable comets. That was it, and it wasn’t until William Herschel observed a ball-like object (not star-like) moving among the fixed background stars.

It took two years for Herschel to admit that he had really discovered the first planet in recorded history. But since it was discovered after Newton created Calculus and Kepler the Laws of Planetary Motion, various astronomers and mathematicians were able to observe it and predict its orbit based on its distance from the sun and the gravitational interactions with other planets.

The First Planet X

One of these people was Alexis Bouvard, who published tables of dates and coordinates that predicted where Uranus should be at a given time. These were based on the known laws of physics. But, Uranus refused to follow Bouvard’s tables.

In 1843, John Couch Adams (from Britain) calculated the orbit of a hypothesized eighth planet that could account for Uranus’ odd orbit. But no one really seemed to care about this undiscovered Planet X.

Two years later, a Frenchman by the name of Urbain Le Verrier did the same thing, but more precisely. Again, no one seemed to care. That was until Le Verrier sent his calculations to the Berlin Observatory’s astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle. A then-student at the observatory, Heinrich d’Arrest, convinced Galle to look for it.

That evening, September 23, 1846, Galle looked for this mysterious planet, responsible for Uranus’ weird orbit, and he found the planet within 1° of where Le Verrier thought it would be (for reference, the moon on the sky is 0.5°). This was within 12° of where Adams thought it should be.

At the time, there was no real debate that this object was a “planet,” as they had been looking for it and thought it was massive enough to account for Uranus’ orbit.

The Second Planet X

However, there were still some unexplained perturbations of Uranus’ orbit. These persisted for 70 years, to the time that Percival Lowell became interested in the problem and wanted to search for a now possible ninth planet at his observatory in New Mexico. I think that he was the one who really first coined the term, “Planet X.” Lowell searched for 12 years, 1905-1916, until he died, without finding it.

The search resumed in 1929 when the then-director of the observatory assigned the task to a young, 23-year-old Clyde Tombaugh. After a year of fruitless searching, Toubaugh found an object moving against the background of stars from two photographs he had taken in January of 1930. Pluto was discovered, Planet X, that was supposed to solve all the orbital problems.

A Third Planet X? — Nope, Just Fixing Neptune’s Mass

When Pluto was initially discovered, it was assumed to weigh in at several times Earth’s mass. However, estimates over subsequent decades were refined down, not up, and it was realized that Pluto could not account for Uranus’ orbit. The present-day mass estimate is about 20% Earth’s.

The search half-heartedly didn’t really continue for a mystery object that could explain planets’ orbits.

In 1989, the space probe Voyager 2 flew by Neptune. Calculations based on the orbital changes from that gravitational interaction were published in 1993 by Myles Standish, and they revised Neptune’s mass downward by 0.5%. This revised mass, when put into the calculations for the orbits of the outer planets, was then able to precisely account for Uranus’ orbit. No mystery object was needed, nor found, and as a result, nearly all astronomers today discount its existence.

Modern-Day “Planet Xs” (The Real Ones)

To be sure, I do not mean to imply that there are no more large objects out in the solar system. But “large” is always a relative term that needs to be qualified. The proton is gigantic relative to an electron. A sequoia tree is large relative to an oak. And Neptune is large relative to Pluto.

What I mean by “large” in this context is 100s to possibly 1000s of kilometers in diameter, icy bodies much like Pluto. These are the Kuiper Belt Objects, or at least the large members of the Kuiper Belt Objects. To-date, (January 2009), 4 are large enough such that the International Astronomical Union has termed them “Dwarf Planets” (Pluto, Eris, Makemake, Haumeamea). These objects are “large,” but they are smaller than our moon (our moon is 3,474 km in diameter). And, since density is related to volume which is the cube of a linear measurement, the actual mass of these objects is much smaller than that of a planet.

But, But, But … There Could Still Be Giant Things Out There!

Maybe. But they would have to be very far away from the 8 planets and inner Kuiper Belt Objects. Remember, even with the technology over 160 years ago, astronomers were able to calculate that Uranus, an object 19x farther away from the sun than Earth was being very slightly perturbed by an object 30x farther away from the sun than Earth. And these were both objects that weigh about a dozen times more than Earth – fairly small compared with what modern-day Planet Xers are claiming (that will be addressed in future posts).

Nothing in science is locked in stone, so-to-speak, and it’s impossible to prove a negative. However, keep in mind now that we can explain all the orbits of the planets with known, observed solar system objects. For there to be another object out there, it either has to be very small, or it has to be very far away. And when things are very far away, they take a very long time to move. Even a comet out by Jupiter heading towards us would take at least a year to get to Earth. And we could see it. The idea that there is a massive, planet-sized object that will hit or pass by Earth in just 4 years is ridiculous, unless you invoke the supernatural or physics that we don’t know about that can somehow shield even gravity.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a historic basis for the present-day Planet X claims, as well as some preliminary information on why we “know” (as far as science can know anything) that there is no doomsday planet headed for us in 4 years, I will actually address the various fear-mongering premises that have been posited about Planet X, and how it is supposed to destroy Earth (or not?!), land ETs on Earth that want all our gold, or will cause a pole shift (another ridiculous idea that has its own problems), or whatever else people have invented throughout the past few decades.

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