1. What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in December 2012?
The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. Zecharia Sitchin, who writes fiction about the ancient Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer, claimed in several books (e.g., The Twelfth Pfonet, published in 1976) that he has found and translated Sumerian documents that identify the planet Nibiru, orbiting the Sun every 3600 years. These Sumerian fables include stories of "ancient astronauts" visiting Earth from a civilization of aliens called the Anunnaki. Then Nancy Lieder, a self-declared psychic who claims she is channeling aliens, wrote on her website Zetatalk that the inhabitants of a fictional planet around the star Zeta Reticuli warned her that the Earth was in danger from Planet X or Nibiru. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was recalculated (a standard procedure for doomsdayers) and moved forward to December 2012. Only recently have these two fables been linked to the end of the Mayan long-count at the winter solstice in 2012 - hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.
2. The Sumerians were the first great civilization, and they made many accurate astronomical predictions, including the existence of the planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. So why should we not believe their predictions about Nibiru?
Nibiru is a name from Babylonian astrology sometimes associated with the god Marduk. Nibiru appears as a minor character in the Babylonian creation poem Enuma Elish as recorded in the library of Assurbanipal, King of Assyria (668-627 BCE). Sumer flourished much earlier, from about the 23rd century to the 17th century BCE. The claims that Nibiru is a planet and was known to the Sumerians are contradicted by scholars who (unlike Zecharia Sitchin) study and translate the written records of ancient Mesopotamia. Sumer was indeed a great civilization, important for the development of agriculture, water management, urban life, and especially writing. However, they left few astronomical records and they most certainly did not know about Uranus, Neptune or Pluto. They also had no understanding that the planets orbited the Sun, an idea that first developed in ancient Greece two millennia after the end of Sumer. Claims that Sumerians had a sophisticated astronomy, or that they even had a god named Nibiru, are the product of Sitchin's imagination.
3. How can you deny the existence of Nibiru when NASA discovered it in 1983 and the story appeared in leading newspapers? At that time you called it Planet X, and later it was named Xena orEris.
IRAS (the NASA Infrared Astronomy Satellite, which carried out a sky survey for 10 months in 1983) discovered many infrared sources, but none of them was Nibiru or Planet X or any other objects in the outer solar system (see spider _yet.html). Briefly, IRAS cataloged 350,000 infrared sources, and initially many of these sources were unidentified (which was the point, of course, of making such a survey). All of these observations have been followed up by subsequent studies with more powerful instruments both on the ground and in space. The rumor about a "tenth planet" erupted in 1984 after a scientific paper was published in Astrophysical Journal letters titled "Unidentified point sources in the IRAS minisurvey," which discussed several infrared sources with "no counterparts." But these "mystery objects" were subsequently found to be distant galaxies (except one, which was a wisp of "infrared cirrus"), as published in 1987. No IRAS source has ever turned out to be a planet. A good discussion of this whole issue is to be found on Phil Plait's website (www.badastronomy.eom/bad/misc/planetx/science.html#ir as). The bottom line is that Nibiru is a myth, with no basis in fact. To an astronomer, persistent claims about a planet that is "nearby" but "invisible" are just plain silly.
4. Maybe we should be asking about Planet X or Eris, not Nibiru. Why does NASA keep secret the orbit of Eris?
"Planet X" is an oxymoron when applied to a real object. The generic term has been used by astronomers over the past century for a possible or suspected object. Once the object is found, it is given a real name, as was done with Pluto and Eris, both of which were once referred to as Planet X. If a new object turns out to be not real, or not a planet, then you won't hear about it again. If it is real, it is no longer called Planet X. Eris is one of several dwarf planets recently found by astronomers in the outer solar system, all of them on normal orbits that will never bring them near Earth. Like Pluto, Eris is smaller than our Moon. It is very far away, and its orbit never brings it closer than about 4 billion miles. There is no secret about Eris or its orbit, as you can easily verify by googling it or looking it up in Wikipedia.
5. Do you deny that NASA built a South Pole Telescope (SPT) to track Nibiru? Why else would they build a telescope at the South Pole?
There is a telescope at the South Pole, but it was not built by NASA and it is not used to study Nibiru. The South Pole Telescope is supported by the National Science Foundation, and it is a radio telescope, not an optical instrument. It cannot take visible light images or photos. You can look it up on Wikipedia. The Antarctic is a great place for astronomical infrared and short-wave-radio observations, and it also has the advantage that objects can be observed continuously without the interference of the day-night cycle. I should add that it is impossible to imagine a way in which an object can be seen only from the South Pole. Even if it were due south of the Earth, it could be seen from the entire southern hemisphere.
6. There are many photos and videos of Nibiru on the Internet. Isn't that proof that it exists?
The great majority of the photos and videos on the Internet are of some feature near the Sun (apparently supporting the claim that Nibiru has been hiding behind the Sun for the past several years). These are actually false images of the Sun caused by internal reflections in the lens, often called lens flare. You can identify them easily by the fact that they appear diametrically opposite the real solar image, as if reflected across the center of the image. This is especially obvious in videos, where as the camera moves, the false image dances about always exactly opposite the real image. Similar lens flare is a source of many UFO photos taken at night with strong light sources such as streetlights in the frame. I am surprised that more people don't recognize this common photo artifact. I am also amazed that these photos showing something nearly as large and bright as the Sun (a "second sun") are accepted together with claims made on some of the same websites that Nibiru is too faint to be seen or photographed except with large telescopes.
One widely reported telescopic photo (www.greatdreams.com/nibiru-possible.jpg) shows two views of an expanding gas cloud far beyond the solar system, which is not moving; you can see this from the fact that the stars are the same in both pictures. A sharp-eyed reader on my website identified these photos as a gas shell around the star V838 Mon. Wikipedia has a nice write-up and a beautiful photo of it from the Hubble. Another high school student was initially impressed by posted images of a red blob that were said to be of Nibiru. Then he worked out in his Photoshop class how to make just such pictures starting from scratch. One video posted in summer 2008 on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDKtk WIxOOA) shows a guy standing in his kitchen claiming that one of the objects discovered by NASA's x-ray telescope is Nibiru. What is his evidence? That since this false-color x-ray image released by NASA is blue, this must really be a nearby planet with an ocean. This would be hilarious if it were not used to frighten people.
7. Can you explain the fact that the area at (5h 53m 27s, -6 10' 58") has been blackened out in Google Sky and Microsoft Telescope? People suggest that these have been blackened out because those are the co-ordinates where Nibiru is located at present.
Several people have asked me about this blank rectangle in Orion in Google Sky, which is a presentation of images from the Sloan Digital Survey. This can't be a "hiding place" for Nibiru, since it is a part of the sky that could be seen from almost everywhere on the Earth in the winter of 2007-08 when much of the talk about Nibiru began. Plus, that would contradict the claims that Nibiru was hiding behind the Sun or that it could be seen only from the southern hemisphere. But I too was curious about this blank rectangle, so I asked a friend who is a senior scientist at Google. He replied that he "found out that the missing data is due to a processing enor in the image stitching program we use to display the Sloan survey images. The team assures me that in the next run through, this will be fixed!"
8. If the government knew about Nibiru, wouldn't they keep it a secret to avoid panic? Isn 't it the government's job to keep the population at ease?
There are many objectives of government, but they do not include keeping the population at ease. My experience is that sometimes parts of the government do just the opposite, as in the frequent references to various terrorist threats or warnings about driving accidents on long holiday weekends, which are no more dangerous than any other time. There is a long history of associating bad things with political opponents (older readers will remember the "missile gap" in the I960 election, younger ones will note the many current references to who is or is not keeping the U.S. safe from terrorists). Further, social scientists have pointed out that many of our concepts of public panic are the product of Hollywood, while in the real world people have a good record of helping each other in a time of danger. I think everyone also recognizes that keeping bad news secret usually backfires, making the issue even worse when the facts finally come out. And in the case of Nibiru, these facts would come out very soon indeed.
Even if it wanted to, however, the government could not keep Nibiru a secret. If Nibiru were real, it would be tracked by thousands of astronomers, amateurs as well as professionals. These astronomers are spread all over the world. I know the astronomy community, and these scientists would not keep a secret even if ordered to. You just can't hide a planet on its way into the inner solar system!
9. Why does the Mayan calendar say the world will end in 2012? I have heard that they have been pretty accurate in the past with other planetary predictions. How can you be sure you know more than they did?
Calendars exist for keeping track of the passage of time, not for predicting the future. The Mayan astronomers were clever, and they developed a very complex calendar. Ancient calendars are interesting to historians, but of course they cannot match the ability we have today to keep track of time, or the precision of the calendars currently in use. The main point, however, is that calendars, whether contemporary or ancient, cannot predict the future of our planet or warn of things to happen on a specific date such as 2012.
I note that my desk calendar ends much sooner, on December 31, 2009, but I do not interpret this as a prediction of Armageddon. It is just the beginning of a new year.
10. What is the polar shift theory? h it true that the Earth's crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours? Does this have something to do with our solar system dipping beneath the galactic equator?
A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. It has never happened and never will. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-andswitch to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic field of Earth, which does change irregularly with a magnetic reversal taking place, on average, every 400,000 years. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal does not cause any harm to life on Earth. A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, anyway. But the 2012ers falsely claim that a magnetic reversal is coming soon (in 2012 of course) and that this is the same as, or will trigger, a reversal of Earth's rotational poles. The bottom line is this: (a) rotation direction and magnetic polarity are not related; (b) there is no reason to expect a reversal of magnetic polarity any time soon, or to anticipate any bad effects on life when it does eventually happen; (c) a sudden shift in the rotational pole with disastrous consequences is impossible. Also, none of this has anything to do with the galactic equator or any of the other nonsense about alignments that appears on many of the doomsday websites.
The author, StunnerCold (Alias), is an Electrical engineer specializing in cutting edge semiconductor technology with an eye out for the long overdue galactic rendezvous. Checkout the nifty blog on Alien Civilizations for a thorough scientific account of the Life Beyond, without the speculative conjuncture.