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OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

Despite what you've heard, the world is NOT ending today

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, April 23, 2018, 12:00 PM - Is planet Nibiru going to destroy the Earth on Monday, April 23, or later this year, or ever, for that matter? Despite what you may have heard, the answer to all these questions is a definitive "NO". Here's what you need to know about this persistent doomsday fiction.

This story has been updated.

First things first: Nibiru does not exist. It is a fictional story, and we have nothing to fear from it.

Word of a mystery planet lurking in our solar system, on some wide orbit around the Sun that takes thousands of years to complete, has been circulating around the internet for about as long as the internet has existed. Yet, for all of the hype about this doomsday planet, we have never seen it in our skies, nor have any of the numerous doomsday predictions about it come true.

UGC photo by Tanya Dwyer.
Notations by Scott Sutherland

Images show up from time to time, of course, which people claim depict Nibiru. Most often they are pictures of clear or mainly clear skies, where the bright, glaring Sun has a mysterious, dimmer "companion". This companion only exists in the image, however, and is not visible without the camera. It's known a lens flare - a reflection of the Sun directly on the camera lens, which shows up in the picture as a disk, offset from the position of the Sun. If the image was instead a video, the position of the flare would move as the angle of the camera lens to the Sun changed.

Other images pick up atmospheric optics effects in the sky - optical illusions produced by the combination of sunlight, clouds, ice crystals, raindrops and/or water vapour. Proponents of the myth have even gone so far as to concoct an elaborate story about how Nibiru has multiple moons, which reflect and distort light (from the Sun? from the planet?), causing these effects in our sky. However, these phenomena are easily explained simply by the interplay of light and the conditions in our own atmosphere. No other planet is required.

Some "evidence" offered up is even taken from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) - a satellite operated by NASA and the ESA, which watches the environment around the Sun for space weather. Whenever a planet like Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter or Saturn wanders through SOHO's view, it shows up as a very bright diamond, which some in the doomsday community immediately claim is Nibiru. The problem with that claim is that one only needs to open any bit of software that tracks our sky, which has unerringly shown the positions of the planets and the stars, to see what is actually showing up in SOHO's view. It is never Nibiru.

SOHO's view of the Sun on May 15, 2000, showing planets Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the Pleiades star cluster, and a coronal mass ejection (up and to the left of the Sun). The Sun's position is denoted by the white circle in the centre of the image. Credit: NASA

Where did "Nibiru" come from?

It all started with references to a "Planet X", made by a woman named Nancy Lieder, who claimed that she had been contacted by aliens who she called Zetas. These Zetas supposedly spoke through Lieder, via an implant, saying that all the official reports of 1997 encounter with Comet Hale–Bopp were false, and that these reports were spread to cover up the approach of this "Planet X", which was to cause widespread upheaval on our planet and destroy human civilization, on May 27, 2003. Shortly after her initial claim, Lieder also absorbed the stories of another fictional planet, Nibiru, into her own, in an attempt to prove that her claims were true.

Planet Nibiru was first proposed by author Zecharia Sitchin, as the homeworld of aliens who he claimed were the basis for the Anunnaki, a group of gods that appear in the mythology of ancient Sumeria. Sitchin's timeline for the Sumerian encounter, along with his proposed orbit of 3,600 years for Nibiru, was to bring the planet around to Earth again in the year 2900. Although Sitchin denied that Nibiru and Lieder's Planet X had any connection, and there's roughly 1000 years between their proposed dates of the encounter, the association between the two planets continues even to this day. As far as many doomsday conspiracy theorists believe, Nibiru and Planet X are one in the same.

Numerous predictions, all wrong

To date, there have been numerous predictions of the passage of Nibiru/Planet X, and to date, none of these predictions have come true. Lieder's original 2003 date came and went with no encounter, after which she claimed her prediction was a "white lie" to fool those in power and refused to set a new date. Others took up the cause and claimed Nibiru would visit on December 21, 2012 - the time of the supposed "Mayan Apocalypse" - yet nothing happened. Just last year, in 2017, conspiracy theorist and author David Meade (a pseudonym) claimed that Nibiru would arrive in September, based on his examination of bible passages with what he called 'Christian numerology'. Neither this prediction, nor his revised prediction of it happening in October, panned out. Further claims, by apocalyptic writer Terral Croft, and Youtube conspiracy theorist and pastor Paul Begley, also said that 2017 would see the arrival of Nibiru and the destruction of the world, yet 2017 ended with no cataclysm.

Now, we have Meade coming back, after at least two failed predictions, to say that Nibiru will be spotted in the sky this year, and it will usher in a time of turmoil, which will result in the world ending. The results of this prediction, however, will be the same as all the others - nothing will happen. No extra planet is going to show up in the sky on April 23, and we will suffer no celestial cataclysm as a result.

What is Meade's prediction all about?

The man who calls himself David Meade (his real identity is apparently unknown) came back in early 2018, after his 2017 predictions failed, and claimed that 2018 was now the year of the apocalypse, based on the January 31 lunar eclipse, the Winter Olympics (of all things) and the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence. In an article for the International Business Times, he said that Nibiru would destroy the world in March. After that didn't come true, he changed his story (a common theme), saying in the Daily Mail that it was actually on April 23 that Nibiru would appear.

It is not going to be a quick destruction, according to Meade, since this appearance by Nibiru was not supposed to immediately destroy the world, but instead was supposed to herald several events: World War III, the rise of the Antichrist and seven years of Tribulation.

All of this is based on Meade's interpretation of a biblical passage, Revelations 12:1-2, and its connection to an alignment of the Sun, Jupiter and the Moon, through the constellation Virgo, on April 23.

As far as this alignment goes, that part is true... sort of. You have to count more than half of the sky around the planet, all at once, to get this alignment, though. This is because on April 23, the Sun, Jupiter and the Moon are scattered so far apart in the sky that noone on the planet would see them all in the sky, at the same time.

The positions of the stars and the planets on April 23, 2018. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland

In the image above, produced with the astronomical software Stellarium, the Sun and Jupiter are located roughly 200 degrees apart from one another in the sky on April 23. Although the ground and the atmosphere have been removed from this view, so that all of the objects involved here could be shown in the same image, the E and W denote the location of the eastern and western horizons. So, while the Sun is on the western horizon, Jupiter is still below the eastern horizon.

Since part of Meade's claim is that the alignment will be visible from Jerusalem, this view shows that his claim completely breaks down, since noone in Jerusalem would be able to actually see this alignment.

The problem with claiming that is a planetary alignment at all, though, is that if you need to count more than half of the sky in your alignment, you're always going to have some kind of alignment, all the time, between at least some of the objects in our solar system. This is due to all of the major planets orbiting the Sun in the same plane, known as the ecliptic. 

Also, since Virgo is a constellation that lies along the ecliptic, the Sun, the Moon and the planets are always going to be lined up through that collection of stars. 

So, there is absolutely nothing special or rare or meaningful about an alignment of the Sun, the Moon and any planets, through the constellation Virgo; not on this date, nor on any other date. It should also be noted that there is nothing meaningful about any planetary alignment, no matter which objects are involved or when, but that's a story for another time.

What about NASA's Planet X?

In recent years, we've been hearing about astronomers searching for a planet beyond Pluto. A planet that they've been calling Planet X or Planet Nine or even Planet Ten.

Using "Planet X" in this way has a long history. Long ago, we only knew of the planets from Mercury to Saturn, and astronomers had seen Uranus, but assumed it was a star. Neptune and Pluto were too distant and thus too dim for us to see with the naked eye. After astronomers discovered that Uranus was a planet, they suspected that something else was out there, beyond, because when they used mathematical calculations to predict where Uranus would be for future observations - calculations that were known to work properly for the other planets - Uranus still defied those predictions. Something else had to be out there, tugging on Uranus, to mess up the calculations.

Astronomers called this hypothetical planet, Planet X, until Neptune was discovered. Neptune's influence on Uranus only accounted for some of the problem with their mathematical predictions, however. So, they hypothesized another Planet X beyond Neptune, which turned out to be Pluto.

Now, astronomers have been watching the motions of tiny dwarf planets and icy Kuiper Belt objects, far out beyond the orbit of Pluto, which have a very peculiar arrangement. They all have highly elliptical orbits, and they're all arranged on one side of the solar system. One possible explanation for what they're seeing is there's a large planet - a few times larger than Earth - that's out there, with an orbit that balances out the rest.

The orbits of known icy bodies beyond Pluto (purple) and the theoretical orbit of an as-of-yet unconfirmed Planet Nine (orange). Credit: Caltech

The difference between this Planet X and Leider's Planet X, though, is that the Planet X discussed by NASA and these astronomers would never come close to Earth. Note the orbit of this "9th planet" in the image above, compared to the tiny yellow circle in the centre of the image, which denotes the orbit of Pluto. If this Planet X exists, it doesn't even come close to crossing Pluto's orbit, so it always stays in the outer solar system. It could never swing by Earth, causing earthquakes and cataclysms.

The discovery of this Planet X would be remarkable, as it would add yet another amazing fact to what we know about our solar system and its formation, but it would be nothing to fear.

To sum up

Nibiru, and the Planet X detailed by the doomsday conspiracy theorists, do not exist. They are fantasies, and poorly constructed ones, at that.

Any predictions that come out regarding an encounter with Nibiru or Planet X are also fictional. It is quite possible that the people who are making the prediction, or those spreading word of it, actually believe what they are saying. Regardless of that unfortunate belief, what they're saying is still wrong.

As NASA scientist David Morrison said in the video that leads off this article, there are always claims that the government would never tell the people of the discovery of something like Nibiru; that they would conceal it from us, because it would cause panic. However, there would be no way of concealing such an object. If it were out there, astronomers from around the world - professional and amateur - would have already seen it, for a very long time. As it drew closer to Earth, even as close as Saturn or Jupiter, the entire world would be able to see it, as planets show up very brightly in our night sky, and are much more noticable than the stars, even in light polluted cities. It would escape noone's attention, thus it would be impossible to conceal from anyone.

So, there is nothing to fear for April 23, and there is nothing to fear from this fictitious planet at any time in the future.

Update: David Meade claims "Fake News"

Over the weekend, David Meade went to The Guardian, to tell them that all the reports saying that he claimed the world will end on April 23 are "fake news".

In an interview, Meade specified that he believes that the appearance of Nibiru in our skies on April 23 signals the coming of the Rapture, sometime later this year. Originally, he had stated that it would be sometime in October, but according to The Guardian interview, he would only say "at some point between May and December of this year". After that, there would be seven years of tribulation, followed by a thousand years of peace and prosperity, and THEN the world would be destroyed.

"So the world isn’t ending anytime soon - in our lifetimes, anyway!" Meade told The Guardian.

Of course it isn't, Mr. Meade, but then the fictional planet of Nibiru isn't showing up anytime soon - today, this year, in our lifetimes, or ever, for that matter.

Nibiru itself is already the ultimate in "fake news". We can't be expected to take it seriously now, simply because the peddler of said fake news is upset that some reports got the details wrong.

Sources: Global News | NASAWikipedia | NASA | The Guardian

Note: The "teaser" image for this story is a combination of the NASA/JPL-Caltech "Planetary Smash-up" image and a NASA Goddard image of Earth. It does not depict any real situation and scenario, and is entirely fictitious.

Watch Below: Has a planet been discovered in the outer solar system? Not yet, but there is compelling evidence for one.

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