Edit: This article was posted on 21 June, the very day that the email discusses. Obviously it would have been simpler to just say “Stick your head out the window. How many suns do you see? Any questions?”, but emails like this tend to get recycled. Some genius adjusts the date (that “Mars as big as the Moon” hoax has hit my inbox every august for years now) to move the supposed event back into the future, and the affair gains new life. So next year, if this story rears its head again, you will be prepared to point and laugh derisively at whoever forwarded it to you.
2nd Edit: Sure enough, it’s back! As I predicted, it’s simply copy&pasted, with the year changed. I’d like to be able to boast about getting it right, but I think we all saw this coming!
This morning a reader forwarded me an email he had received, asking if it was fake:
I mean, seriously?
Before we even begin, the first thing I noticed while trying to copy the message into my editor was that the image was a link to a rather ugly website offering services in India. In other words, this is well disguised spam! Provocative text in broken english, pretty picture that links to your unrelated website, and with any luck it will go viral and save you having to pay professional spammer fees!
But regardless of the author’s intent, this sort of thing spreads confusion and misinformation about how the universe works and I cannot stand idly by and watch this happen! Let’s break this email down into points, and address them one by one:
1. Star Aderoid will be the brightest in the sky
I’ve checked my star charts, and my planetarium software. There is no star in the sky called “Aderoid”. If this was a new star that wasn’t known to our ancestors, then it would not have a name at all, merely a designation like HIP18861 (for example). And if it was important and dramatic enough to be given a proper name, it would be something cool and loaded with meaning. They would not just misspell the word “Asteroid”. This is not a very scientific argument, though, so let’s move on to the next point:
2. The star will be 34.65 million miles from Earth
Wow… that’s a long way away huh? Well no, not really. That’s a little more than 50 million kilometers, while the Sun is on average 150 million kilometers away – three times the distance. A star so close to Earth would not give you a pretty sci-fi view, it would melt your face off. Or at the very least, give you a case of terminal sunburn before baking you to death and making our current threat of global warming look like a mildly warm summer. But there’s also the issue of timing:
3. This will happen at 12:30pm, 21 June 2010, and it will be back again in 2287
In other words, “Aderoid” is in an orbit which takes 177 years to complete. Pluto’s orbit takes 248 years to complete, and Neptune’s lasts about 165 years. This star never gets further away than Neptune… so why couldn’t we see it before? Why don’t we have two suns in the sky all the time?
But even without that tiny orbit, even if it was just passing through to never return, it would have lit up the sky for the last few months. Stars are really very bright – they can’t just sneak up on you! At the very least, night time would have been banished for the past few years as the star got close enough to shine like a second Sun.
No, the entire thing is ludicrous. A star with a made up name will magically appear to give us a pretty show and then vanish, without disrupting the orbits of every single object in the Solar System, without roasting every living thing on planet Earth and without us seeing it coming. The astronomical community is pretty observant, with thousands of amateur telescopes on the sky at all times to pick up whatever the professionals miss while their backs are turned. Yet that return date could only be known if we not only knew about “Aderoid” but had been watching it for long enough to work out the orbital elements. Well speaking as an astronomer, we haven’t seen any stars in the sky turning the night into day and throwing the planets out of their orbits. It’s a hoax, and a pretty weak one at that.