Cosmophobia [noun]: from cosmo (space) + phobia (fear), the irrational fear or fear of space or of catastrophes coming from space
Well, it’s the end of the year, and that means it must be time for more astronomical claims about the astronomical doomsday by crackpots and tabloids.
These appear every few months and are generally poorly heated ideas recycled from the Internet last time when the earth was not destroyed. And here we are again.
It’s 2020, of course, so maybe you shrug and think, “Oh, it’s something about the end of the world? Yeah, add it to the stack.” But we have real issues right now – you may have noticed – and many people aren’t familiar enough with astronomy to understand how stupid these claims are.
The claims I see are, bizarrely, almost the same as last time and from the same people. Mayan prophecy, dark pastors who have bizarre tirades on YouTube, and the like. I debunked this stuff in June 2020 – please read that first – but here they are again, with very slightly different material.
What’s new is that they add in the Jupiter / Saturn conjunction, the solstice, and a newly discovered asteroid. Let’s take a brief look at these.
On December 21, 2020, the two giant planets Jupiter and Saturn will appear in the sky so close to each other that they will almost appear as one object. They have been approaching each other for a while now and it is now becoming quite noticeable in the low southwest after sunset. It passes just 0.1 degrees apart on the 21st and is the closest such event (one conjunction, although many doomsday prophets prefer the term alignment) in about 400 years, and will not be repeated much more.
So is this dangerous? Can the combined gravity of the two planets add up, creating earthquakes or planetary destruction here on Earth?
No. Jupiter and Saturn are both huge planets indeed, but they are very far awayand gravity weakens very quickly with distance. 20 years ago there was a “Grand Alignment” of many planets, which caused the same fears, so I did some math on my old Bad Astronomy website, which showed that all the planets together have a much weaker gravity on Earth than the Moon. At best, Jupiter’s effect on Earth is only 1% stronger than that of the Moon!
Not only that, but the moon’s orbit is elliptical, so the gravitational effect on the Earth changes cyclically every month, getting much stronger and fainter than all other planets combined. If Which if the earth does not destroy, neither will the planets.
Think of it this way: if an alignment like this can cause widespread death and destruction, why didn’t it last time this happened?
The conjunction is on the same day as the December solstice. But that says nothing. The equinoctes and solstices depend on the axial tilt of the Earth (that top of 24 ° you see on spheres) in relation to its orbit, which has nothing to do with Jupiter and Saturn. There is no gravitational effect or anything else. It’s just a fun coincidence.
I’ve also heard about an asteroid that was recently discovered that could pose a threat to Earth. The asteroid, dubbed 2020XR, is indeed a so-called Potentially Dangerous Object (or PHO), an asteroid larger than 140 meters wide that can get closer to Earth than 7.5 million kilometers. An impact from such an object can be very serious. 2020XR is a PHO in the sense that it is likely about 300-400 meters wide and can get closer to Earth than our own moon.
However, he has not come closer than 2 million kilometers from us for at least 170 years, and on his next pass, January 2, 2021, he misses us by a reasonably comfortable 50 million kilometers margin. So not alone not passes us during the solstice, but it misses us by a significant portion of the size of Earth’s orbit. Heck, the folks at JPL who keep track of dangerous objects didn’t even mention it on their site. In fact, no asteroids have been known to come close to us for quite some time.
That does not mean that there will not be a stone that we do not know, but the probability of this is extremely low for some time. Plus, the rocks we often miss are small and don’t do that much damage, if at all.
The thing is, these prophets are seers, charlatans, crackpots, whatever wrong.
And stuff like this really ticks me off. To start, every time – every time – they spit about things like this, I am approached by people who are afraid of what they have heard. Some of these people may have cosmophobia (the fear of space) or other fear issues, but they certainly don’t deserve to be opposed by people who distort science and truth.
And that’s the other part that upsets me. The conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter is amazing, a rare and beautiful event that can be shared by millions of people around the planet, people who can then experience some joy.
And these hawkers make something terrible out of it. They use it to scare people. And whether they really believe it or not doesn’t matter as much to me as they actually make it they are wrong.
So get out there and enjoy these wonders of the sky, and remember – if you want to know what really going on in the universe, listen to what scientists say about it. It’s what they do, and they’re pretty good at it.