On 13 March 1781, William Herschel
discovered a new planet, which would be named Uranus
(God of the Sky, father of Saturn). This was a huge deal, as it overturned millennia of established knowledge about the Solar System. Uranus was studied and observed until astronomers were able to plot it’s orbit and predict it’s movements. Unfortunately, no matter how carefully they refined their figures and checked their calculations, Uranus did not move the way they expected. It kept drifting off the course they plotted for it. So, in 1846, two men (Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch Adams) suggested that perhaps there was still another planet, which nobody had seen yet, and whose gravity was tugging Uranus off course. Neither of these men were aware that the other was working on the same problem. They worked backwards from the observations and calculated a possible orbit for this new planet and distributed their work to astronomers around the world. On 23 September of that year, German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle found a planet almost exactly where they had predicted. After much in-fighting and squabbling, the world’s astronomers finally settled on Neptune as the new planet’s name. The discovery was revolutionary, because it was the first time a celestial object had been discovered through mathematical predictions, instead of blind luck.
Unfortunately, the observed orbit did not fully compensate for Uranus’s perturbations, and in fact had a few of its own.
In the Late 19th Century, Percival Lowell
(a wealthy Bostonian and keen astronomer) became fascinated with Mars, and built a private observatory specifically to observe it. In between mapping out the canals of Mars
, he worked on the Neptune problem. In 1905, he completed his mathematical analysis of Uranus’s orbit, and concluded that there was a ninth planet, which he called Planet X
. Having calculated a likely orbit for Planet X, he began his search which continued until his death in 1915. In 1929, Clyde Tombaugh
was employed at the observatory. As the most junior staff member, he was assigned to resume Lowell’s search. He did this by the painfully dull method of comparing photographs of the same section of sky taken on different dates, over and over, and looking for any stars
which seemed to move. On 13 March 1930, he found it. Remarkably, that day would not only have been Lowell’s 75th birthday, but the 149th anniversary of the discovery of Neptune! The movements were recorded and the maths completed. Planet X had been found, was estimated to have a mass about seven times that of Earth. In tribute to Percival Lowell, a name was chosen which began with his initials P.L.: Pluto.
In 1978, the discovery of Pluto’s moon, Charon, threw a spanner in the work
s. By measuring the speed and size of Charon’s orbit, Pluto’s mass could be accurately calculated and it was found to be only one fifth of a percent of Earth’s – utterly incapable of causing the deviations in Neptune’s orbit. It was only an extraordinary coincidence that Pluto happened to be in the right place in the sky to be seen by Tombaugh when it was found. Was Planet X still out there?
What’s more, at about the time that Lowell was searching for his Planet X, other astronomers were searching the inside of the Solar System — they had found that Mercury’s orbit was quite dramatically different from the predictions (In technical terms, it precessed far more than predicted by Newton’s equations). They called this inner planet “Vulcan”, but no matter how long they searched, it was nowhere to be found. The solution, to everybody’s surprise, came from an employee of the Swiss Patent Office: Albert Einstein
. In 1916, he published his General Theory of Relativity, which for the first time explained what Gravity actually was, and was able to provide far more accurate predictions than Newton’s laws. Once Mercury’s orbit was recalculated using the new theory, all discrepancy vanished. And Lowell’s predictions for Planet X? Modern astronomers are finding Neptune and Uranus exactly where they expect to find them. It’s generally accepted that Lowell and his predecessors simply suffered from inaccurate measurements.
These days, the news is all about planets being discovered outside our Solar System. But with increasing frequency, a new object gets found on the outer edges of the Solar System. Four of these are in the same scale as Pluto, but by this time announcements of “New Planets” was becoming so common-place that it’s understandable that the world’s newspapers stopped reporting on them. In fact, there are many hundreds more which have been observed and catalogued and this was a large factor in the decision to redefine the word ‘Planet’ to exclude Pluto
and it’s trans-neptunian
companions. It is quite astonishing that astronomers are able to find such vanishingly small objects at such mind-boggling distances, but that’s nothing compared to what the Doomsday Nibiru cultists would have you believe.
The Facts in a Nutshell
Nibiru is a real word, used by some of the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia, referring to astronomical points in the sky, and various bright lights and planets. The Mayan calendars are very complicated, with their Long Count dating the creation of the universe at a little over five thousand years ago. Since the Sumerians were fading from importance at that point, there’s probably no connection between these two civilisation’s mythologies and histories.
‘Planet X’ is a general term for any undiscovered planet which astronomers hope to find, and was in use for much of the twentieth century. Recently, however, the count of ‘planets’ beyond Pluto has become so commonplace (over a hundred at last count) that the IAU
(International Astronomical Union) voted to define the word Planet properly to exclude these minor objects. Incidentally, since some of these objects were larger and more planet-like than Pluto, Pluto ended up being demoted, sparking howls of outrage that still haven’t died down. The name ‘Planet X’ was only ever a place holder, and is no longer used.
It’s important to remember that some of these things are absolutely tiny, a fraction of the size of our own moon, and are unimaginably far away, yet they are being routinely observed and catalogued. In fact, since astronomers learned how to see planets in other solar systems (A claim which would have had you laughed out of the room as recently as ten years ago), the discovery of planet-sized objects in out own solar system has become downright boring – the newspapers won’t bother printing it.
The Claims in a Nutshell
The doomsday prophets don’t agree with each other. Each has their own tale of terror, and their own glossy novels and DVD’s to sell, but I will try to summarise some of the common elements.
In December 2012, the world will change forever. More moderate New-Age types say that the world will shift into a new era of enlightenment and joy, as the ancient Mayans predicted that the current age will end on that date. This sounds like a restatement of the old “Shifting from the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius” line. This is a religious position, and arguing against it serves no purpose. Depressingly though, this rather pleasant position is being drowned out by the disaster mongers. A number of bickering charlatans
have the following to say, when not accusing each other of plagiarism:
There is a mystery Planet X (also called Nibiru), which was known to both the Sumerians and the Ancient Mayans. It is about five times the size of earth, and has a highly elliptical orbit (like a comet). It takes about 3600 years to complete an orbit, and the next close fly-by is happening in 2012. NASA scientists took a photograph of it in 1983, and are trying to cover it up, but you can find it on the internet. When it makes it’s flyby of Earth, the Earth will have a Polar Shift and 90% of the population will die. If you buy my DVD and my survival kit, then you’ll come out on top. Nibiru is now so close that people in the southern hemisphere can see it during daylight, and soon we’ll all be able to see it and then the government can’t hide it any more!
You should be able to debunk most of this yourself based on information collected in this article alone (although I would never recommend limiting yourself to only one source – that’s just sloppy). The Sumerians watched the stars and noticed patterns in the movements of the moon, sun and planets, but their most sophisticated explanations for it all boiled down to “The Gods are angry”. The Mayans were a little more sophisticated, but were still limited to what could be gleaned from naked eye observations. Authors who try to show that these two people knew more than they did are inevitably confusing their cultures (presenting Aztec art as Mayan records, for example), or mistranslating original texts (very easy to do – Cuneiform is nothing like modern writing and reading it is a very specialised skill), or just plain lying.
A planet as described would be VERY easy to see
– if it’s only two years from perihelion (the point of it’s orbit where it’s closest to the Sun), then it would be closer to us now than Jupiter, and brighter than anything in the sky (except for the Sun and Moon)! As for the Secret Image circulating on the net, this was actually released as part of a routine announcement to the press. It was a picture from a brand new infra-red telescope mounted on a satellite in orbit, and the mission scientists were excited because they were seeing things never seen before. The press release included the speculation that “it could be a distant galaxy
, a dying star, a new planet, anything!”. One newspaper leaped onto the ‘new planet’ angle, and suddenly it became a conspiracy. There are a number of other photos, of course, but these are either very obviously photoshopped, or random images of moons or planets or nebulae with the word ‘Nibiru’ written on the bottom.
But the silliest claim is that of Polar Shift. The trick here is that the Magnetic Poles do occasionally reverse polarity
. The timing is pretty random, although it seems to average at once every 400,000 years. With clever phrasing, they make it sound as if the whole planet will suddenly flip over, with results like we saw in the special effects in the movie 2012
. In fact, a nearby passing planet can only have one of two effects: Either swinging both Earth and itself into radical new orbits, or if they get close enough, both planets get torn apart by tidal forces. But… considering how easily we can see such faint and distant things as extra-solar planets and the more local Trans-Neptunian Objects, the idea of something five times bigger than the earth getting so close without being seen is ridiculous.
There is one more very significant aspect to the whole Nibiru scare. In classic doomsday fashion, the ‘facts’ have been edited to suit current circumstances. This was all supposed to happen in 2003. It was supposed to be a huge menacing presence in the sky by 2000, which everybody could see. When it didn’t happen, the story was changed. Eventually the collision date came and went, without any problems at all, so the story changed. The Zeta Talk website even tried to claim that they had known the real date all along but had chosen to lie about it, “To mislead the authorities” for some reason. These people are spinning lies, and changing the stories whenever the facts become too inconvenient to ignore. And since a scientists one goal is to find the one true explanation for whatever they’re studying, it’s no wonder they have so little respect for this nonsense.