15 Days of Darkness in November? It's not going to happen
*Unless you are looking at the Sun through one specific camera filter of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, you're never going to see it like this. Credit: NASA SDO, with edits by author.
Sunday, November 15, 2015, 8:00 - A persistent internet rumour is causing a significant amount of anxiety as of late. Are we about to experience a "November Black Out" due to an astronomical event between Venus, Jupiter and the Sun?
It just so happens that, lately, we've had some fairly active space weather. High speed particles streaming out of a coronal hole on the Sun, along with a few coronal mass ejections - immense eruptions of matter that blast out during solar flares - have been interacting with Earth's magnetic field. This has sparked off some impressive displays of the Aurora Borealis over the past few weeks, which has been a delight for skywatchers and the rest of us as well, as it has meant a stream of amazing pictures showing up on social media.
There is a persistent rumour on the internet, however, that has been spreading a particularly nasty (and entirely untrue!) story about the Sun.
Supposedly, if this rumour is to be believed, an "astronomical event" between Venus and Jupiter will touch off an explosion on the Sun, which will result in Earth plunging into darkness lasting for 15 days, starting on November 15 and ending on November 30.
Fortunately, there's nothing in this rumour that is even remotely believable.
First, the story originated - at least this year's version of it - on the fake news website, Newswatch33. As the related links on their website show, they have stories regarding several persistent and thoroughly debunked supposed astronomical events.
Second, this story says that this will involve an explosion of hydrogen gas from Jupiter, set off due to Jupiter becoming heated by the proximity of Venus.
A view of our solar system, from Earth's perspective and from above, for November 13, 2015. Sizes of planets and Sun are exaggerated for detail. Credit: solarsystemscope.com
In the image above, Venus and Jupiter may be in fairly close proximity when viewed from Earth. They're currently two of the brightest objects visible in our night skies. However, the view from above tells a very different story. They are incredibly far away from one another, and they have certainly been closer together in the past. So, there's no reason why their current positions would cause any kind of "event" at all.
Third, the story goes on to say that this gas, from Jupiter, would fall onto the surface of the Sun, causing an explosion. Furthermore, this explosion would provoke a reaction from the core of the Sun, causing it to release heat, which would "dim" the Sun's surface to a blue colour.
Well, to start, if the Sun's surface dimmed, it would certainly not turn blue. Blue is reserved for some of the hottest stars out there - giants that dwarf our Sun and whose surface temperatures are around 20,000 Kelvin or higher. By comparison, our Sun's surface is only 6,000 K. If our Sun's surface actually did get dimmer, it would turn red, like a red dwarf star.
The story uses a blue image of the Sun similar to the one shown to the right, supposedly as an example of what we would see. This filtered view of the Sun from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory actually shows temperatures around 2.8 million Kelvin, to highlight active regions of the Sun's corona. The Sun isn't actually blue at those temperatures, though. The SDO team only uses blue as a base colour for the image to set it apart from all of SDO's other views of the Sun.
Next, if there actually was a gas eruption from Jupiter, it's doubtful the gas cloud would get anywhere near the Sun. Even if it was launched directly out of the sunward side of Jupiter at high velocity, it would be fighting "against the current" of the solar wind the whole way. The streams of particles flowing away from the Sun would be far more likely to mix up such a cloud and disperse it, and any coronal mass ejection being thrown off the Sun would sweep up such a cloud on its way.
Just for the sake of argument, if a cloud of hydrogen from Jupiter were to actually make it to the Sun, we wouldn't even notice it. The idea of it setting off an explosion seems to imply that the gas would be much cooler than the Sun, and thus it would ignite. However, as the gas spiraled inward, its temperature would gradually rise as it was bathed in the Sun's radiation. By the time it arrived there, it would be barely distinguishable from the rest of the ionized hydrogen boiling on Sun's surface. There is no reason why adding more heated, ionized hydrogen to the Sun's surface would set off any kind of explosion, let along a massive reaction from the star's core.
Finally, the story claims that all of this was revealed in a document released by NASA, and delivered to the White House in a briefing from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
Mr. Bolden is definitely the current NASA administrator, however no such document was released and no such briefing was ever given.
How do we know this?
The exact same claim was made, and refuted, in the years before this one, as shown in this post on the Facebook page of NASA's Earth Observatory, dated October 30, 2014.
Since we have been receiving quite a bit of Facebook mail about this, I will answer you all here. Contrary to what you...Posted by NASA's Earth Observatory on Thursday, 30 October 2014
Now, as it was then, no such statement was ever released. Also, there was no event in late December that even remotely matches the content of the story.
The latest version of the story changes the month and year from December 2014 to November 2015, and the number of "days of darkness" goes from 3 (or 6) to 15 (or 7 via some sources). However, it is simply the same hoax being repeated year after year, and NASA addressed it in their 2012 article and video, titled Beyond 2012: Why the World Didn't End, and in 2011, as they answered questions about Comet Elenin.
There was also some anxiety expressed online due to a supposed newly-updated statement by NASA, with the claim that the post was subsequently taken down off the NASA Facebook page (since noone can find it now). Rather than being a verified report, though, this was revealed to simply be a poorly-executed alteration of the above post (shown to the right) that showed up in the Newswatch33 article comment section.
In any case, this (perhaps well-intentioned) attempt still makes a valid point: no matter how many of the details are changed or how much of a story is wrapped around it, at its core, this hoax simply has no basis in reality.
Sources: Bad Astronomy | NASA SDO | NASA Earth Observatory | NASA | NASA
Related Video: Now that you know the Sun won't be plunging us into darkness for the rest of November, enjoy these spectacular views of solar activity provided by NASA.