Ancient prophecy plus a dash of scientific disinformation equals fear (and the potential to make a lot of money)

The Mayan long-count calendar ends on December 21st 2012. For many reasons, this is a very important event, religiously and spiritually. However, there are a huge number of doomsday scenarios that are being pinned on this day too. Why? Well your guess is as good as mine. This is a very strange phenomenon. We’ve heard “end of the world” theories for millennia; from Nostradamus, the Bible to the Y2K Bug, but as yet (as far as I can tell) the Earth has not been destroyed. Many historic prophecies have been made deliberately vague to make a future event more likely to match the future prediction by the prophet. That’s fine, I have no problem with a mystical historic figure telling us the world is going to fry at an undetermined date by an undetermined harbinger of doom. But I have a huge problem with modern-day authors publishing scientific inaccuracies for personal gain.

I am writing this article after a number of emails were sent to me concerned about yet another 2012 Doomsday scenario, so I decided to investigate. This is what I found…
To avoid duplicating text I’ve already written about this subject, here’s some background information:

This is a topic that has kept me busy ever since I wrote the Universe Today article No Doomsday in 2012 way back in May. In the weeks following, I’ve continued with a series of articles, been invited onto radio shows and received a lot of messages from (rightfully) concerned individuals. There is a huge number of 2012 Doomsday websites out there (plus a growing number of 2012 videos on Youtube), and if this trend continues, by 2012 I think Internet hysteria will hit fever pitch.

So, another day, another 2012 Doomsday article “proving” that the author can predict the future by stringing a bunch of pseudo-scientific nonsense to “prove” the planet is in peril. Now this is where I get angry. Whether this article was written maliciously (i.e. deliberately fabricated to frighten people for personal gain), or innocently (by a non-specialist who doesn’t understand the science behind their writing), it is hard to tell. But in my books, using inaccurate science (particularly astrophysics) to prove the end of the world is nigh, is not only wrong, it is grossly irresponsible.

So what article am I talking about? So far I have kept it vague as to which sites I’ve referred to in my 2012 articles (as many spout the same theme), but this one is so terribly flawed, I have no problem pointing the finger. This particular article is hosted on the website “Viewzone Magazine” and it is called “The Real Doomsday?” (I have removed the link at the suggestion of one of my readers – why give the article any Astroengine traffic? Google the article if you fancy having a look).

Having checked out this website, we have quite a few “out there” articles, but none equal this article’s take on 2012. The first article of two focuses on the Sun as being the root cause of the proposed doomsday in 2012. Having already written an article about the possibility of a “killer” solar flare wiping out a high proportion of life on Earth, I was interested to see how this article was different.


The Aztecs, not the Mayans had a calendar carved into the Sun Stone (George and Audrey DeLange)

Firstly we have the usual drill of explaining why the Mayan Long Count calendar relates to the prediction of doomsday in 2012. This point I’m fine with, there are many spiritual reasons to believe something might happen when the Mayan calendar hits its last day on Dec. 21st 2012, particularly for the Mayans who still live in Central America today (although “doomsday” is never indicated by the Mayan calendar). But then by some dubious logic, the author explains that it is no coincidence that the Mayan Long Count calendar is also called the “sun stone.” This is the first major fabrication. The Mayan Long Count calendar was not called the sun stone; the Aztec calendar stone is also known as the “Sun Stone.” Yes, the Mayans and Aztecs were both mesoamerican cultures, but these two calendars are different entities and the Mayan Long Count calendar certainly is not referred to as the “Sun Stone.”

So we are already off to a rocky start. The link between the Sun and the Mayan Long Count simply does not hold water.

OK, so that problem aside, we start doing some astronomy and astrophysics. The detail is deliberately kept to a minimum, which is fine, but I would love to see how the centre of gravity (barycentre) of the Sun and Jupiter were calculated. So the theory is (briefly): Jupiter (being the most massive planet in the Solar System) has a huge effect on the Sun. Fine. In fact, its influence is so powerful that it makes the Sun wobble. Fine. The reason for the wobble? The centre of mass (or “barycentre”) will make the Sun orbit a point where the sum of the Sun-Jupiter total mass balances. Again, fine. Now this is where we get a little freaky:

The barycenter is not a single point in the Sun. Because the Sun is a rotating gaseous sphere, the barycenter forms a vertical, cylindrical “sleeve” that is partially inside and outside the main solar body. All of the planets have such a “sleeve,” one inside the other, depending on their relative mass and the location of their barycenters. The particular sleeve representing the mass of Jupiter intersects the solar surface at 35.9 degrees North and South. This is precisely where sunspot and flare activity begin and end during each 11 year cycle. – Viewzone (emphasis added).

Oh, right. There’s me thinking the barycentre for the Sun-Jupiter system was above the surface of the Sun, not inside it… hmmm, lets have a look.


Barycentre equation

To the left is the barycentre equation, where r is the distance of the barycentre from the centre of the more massive body (i.e. the Sun), a is the distance between the Sun and Jupiter (in this case I chose the orbital semi-major axis of 7.785 × 1011 metres), mS and mJ are the masses of the Sun (1.989 × 1030 kg) and Jupiter (1.899 × 10 27 kg) respectively. To cut a long story short, if all those numbers are plugged into the equation, we find that the barycentre for the Sun-Jupiter system is actually just over 47,300 km above the solar surface. Even if we use Jupiter’s closest approach (i.e. perihelion) in the calculation, the barycentre only migrates 300 km closer to the solar surface. At no point in Jupiter’s orbit does the barycentre slip below the surface.

So we have a huge issue with the article’s calculations. The point that Jupiter creates a “vertical, cylindrical ’sleeve’” through the interior of the Sun, intersecting the solar surface at 35.9 degrees north and south, is completely erroneous. Besides, the barycentre can never be referred to as a “sleeve,” it is a single point along a straight line intersecting the centre of two (or more) bodies. As the smaller body orbits, the barycentre sweeps an oval around the larger body’s centre of mass.

Need I really go on? There are a few more problems with this article including:

  • But some surprising activity on March 27, 2008, shows some huge eruptions with M-class radiation at about the equatorial region of the Sun. These surprising eruptions suggests a barycenter of disturbance from an object even more massive than Jupiter, placing the “sleeve” outside the Sun.” – Wrong. Why would this eruption be caused by a massive object (like “Planet X”)? Why should the barycentre be away from the surface of the Sun? There is absolutely no reason given for this. The sunspots in question were actually “old” sunspots left over from Solar Cycle 23 (for more information on this event, check out What’s Going on with These Sunspots? Are they from Solar Cycle 23 or 24?)
  • Scientists have noted that when Jupiter and Saturn are aligned on the same side of the Sun, the solar activity is at its minimum; when they are on opposite sides of the Sun the solar activity is at its maximum. The positions on December 21, 2012 are ideal for extreme solar activity.” – Wrong. Jupiter and Saturn are currently at a similar angular displacement as they will be on December 21st, 2012. We are currently in a state of minimum solar activity. Again, this theory is totally incorrect. Besides, there is little evidence to suggest that the alignment of the major planets has any effect on the magnetic activity of the Sun.


Magnetic view of sunspots appearing at the Suns equator. Could it be Planet X? No (NASA/SOHO)

So in short, the Viewzone article is using fabricated science to prove doomsday in 2012. So why would the author write such an article? It would appear that the Viewzone website is full of conspiracy theories and pseudo-science, certainly not a reputable scientific resource. Even though this is the case, writing a poorly researched web page about doomsday and then using the guise of science to galvanize your point is terribly wrong in my books.

What makes this even more alarming is the readership this website receives. By the site’s own admission, “The readership has grown to about a million per month.” Surely this is exaggerated? Perhaps, but the site does have a strong base of traffic. Either way, any website with a sizeable amount of traffic should be responsible for what they publish, posting disinformation is surely defeating the object of having a self-regulatory medium such as the Internet.

Although many people may see that the authors words are probably not scientifically accurate, there are individuals who may think the site has some authority (as my inbox will testify). And this is the key to any doomsday theory: fear. With fear comes money. As I’ve referred to in previous articles with doomsayers trying to get their publications into the bestseller charts, website marketing is no different. With web traffic comes advertising revenue. Irresponsible scaremongering, whether it is to sell a book or DVD or boost Internet traffic, generates cash.

I have no issue with scientific facts, but I have yet to find any 2012 doomsday scenario offering logical scientific evidence for their conclusions. So until I do, I’m going to view any article using astronomical reasoning to predict the future with utmost suspicion, and I suggest everyone should do the same…


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