With dozens of doomsday stories circulating in popular culture about the year 2012, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently called on a panel of experts to help debunk some of the most widespread apocalyptic myths.
Five NASA scientists and a California science educator took part in a live videoconference on Wednesday, Nov. 28, and fielded questions from the public about the most pervasive doomsday scenarios. Social media users were invited to listen live to the discussion.
Topics ranged from the possibility of an undiscovered planet smashing into the Earth, to the prospect of the planet being sucked toward the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The information below is a summary of some of the most common myths NASA hears from the public.
Taking part were: David Morrison, an astrobiologist from NASA's Ames Research Center; Don Yeomans, an asteroid scientist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Mitzi Adams, a solar/archaeoastronomer from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center; Lika Guhathakurta, heliophysicist from NASA Headquarters; Paul Hertz, an astrophysicist from NASA Headquarters; and Andrew Fraknoi, a science educator from Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif.
NASA has already received more than 5,000 questions about Doomsday 2012 through its "Ask an Astrobiologist" webpage, and it has posted more than 400 responses on the subject.
NIBIRU, OR PLANET X
Myth: The ancient Sumerians discovered a planet on a collision course with the Earth, referred to as Nibiru, which has yet to be discovered by modern astronomers. Nibiru supposedly orbits the sun every 3,600 years, and is set to strike the earth this year on Dec. 21. Similar theories posit that a so-called "Planet X" is destined to slam into the Earth in December, and that NASA has been working to conceal the evidence from the public.
The Facts: The Nibiru story is the product of a 1970s-era fiction writer named Zecharia Sitchin, according to Morrison. In a series of books, Sitchin claimed to have translated Sumerian texts that describe a planet called Nibiru, as well as alien visitations from its inhabitants.
A woman named Nancy Lieder amplified fears about the Nibiru myth within the last two decades, according to Morrison. On her website, "Zetatalk," Lieder claimed she was in contact with aliens, who warned her the Earth was in danger from Planet X, or Nibiru.
Lieder's first prediction for the catastrophe was May 2003, but it failed to materialize. Nibiru theorists then merged the idea of a planetary collision with the existing myth about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012, according to Morrison.
Morrison points out the Nibiru myth is preposterous because if such a planet existed, it would now be visible to astronomers across the globe, who would have been tracking it for more than a decade. Nibiru would also be the brightest object in the sky, visible to everyone on Earth, and its gravity would be interfering with the orbit of our planet.
"This is such a pervasive idea that makes no sense," Morrison said.
Despite how far-fetched the Nibiru myth is, Morrison said it's now the foremost concern among people who contact him on NASA's "Ask an Astrobiologist" webpage.
One fact that complicates matters for Morrison when he tries to dispel the Nibiru myth is a decades-old prediction from NASA scientists that an undocumented planet exists in the outer stretches of our solar system.
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