Debunking comet ISON conspiracy theories (no, ISON is not Nibiru)

Apr 30, 2013 by David Dickinson, Universe Today
ISON as recently imaged from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. & Y. Li of the Planetary Science Institute & the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Team

Comets always seem to bring 'em out of the wood work.

There's a scene from the 1998 movie where the president, played by Morgan Freeman, reveals a terrible truth… the U.S. government has known for over a year that a doomsday comet is headed straight towards Earth, with Hollywood CGI destruction sure to follow.

While dramatic, the scenario is also extremely implausible. On any given evening, are sweeping the skies using telescopes mounted in backyard observatories that are the envy of many major universities. This effort to discover comets is collaborative and worldwide. If the "Big One" were headed our way, even the likes of Morgan Freeman couldn't keep it secret.

Trouble is, many unfounded claims are already making their way around the internet about this years' much anticipated "Comet of the Century," C/2012 S1 ISON.

Many of these conspiracy theories seem to be a recycling of last years' Nibiru nonsense. The train of thought runs something like this: Does NASA know something that they're not telling us? Why are they so interested in this comet? We've even had folks ask us why certain patches of Google Earth are "blacked out!"

What ARE they hiding, man?

It's funny how pseudoscience seems to bubble to the top on YouTube, but I won't give these conspiracy videos the exposure of the Universe Today platform. With hundreds of thousands of hits, they certainly don't seem to need it. A simple YouTube search of "ISON" will scare up many wacky ideas about the comet.

In any event, we've already fielded several questions from friends and the public on the "dangers" posed by this comet, so we can only imagine that these will grow in intensity as the comet approaches the inner solar system, especially if it performs up to expectations.

What are some of the out there about Comet ISON?

One currently circulating claim states that Comet ISON has "companions" that have been imaged trailing it. While comets do indeed fragment on occasion, the culprits that can be seen in the .gif animation circulating the internet are easily identified by photography experts as hot pixels in the camera.

Another brilliant sungrazer, Comet Lovejoy as seen from the International Space Station on December, 2011. Credit: NASA

Another even more extravagant claim is that Comet ISON will somehow appear "as bright as the Sun." Even if Comet ISON reaches an expected magnitude equal to that of the full Moon at -13, it will do so when it is less than a degree from the Sun. Our Sun shines at magnitude -26.74, or over 158,000 times brighter, so it would be very difficult for this comet to compete with the Sun's brightness in the daytime!

Others seem to worry that this comet—or particles from ISON—could impact Earth. Comet ISON will be making its passage safely 0.426 A.U., or a little over 63 million kilometers from Earth even on its closest approach on December 26th. Scientists have defined this comet's orbit very precisely, and it won't hit Earth. So, no Comet ISON is not Nibiru—that 'tenth planet' destined to destroy Earth that conspiracy lovers can't seem to let go of.

The debris—which might create a very nice meteor shower—is made up of extremely tiny grains of dust, no more than a few microns wide. Since they will be hitting Earth's atmosphere at speeds up to 200,000 km/hr (125,000 miles per hour), the particles will burn up.

Here's a video NASA released about the potential meteor shower from ISON:

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Other claims focus on how this comet may cause earthquakes or wreak other untold havoc on Earth. This type of comet hysteria is nothing new. Name a bright comet in history, and you can find a historical event for a convenient tie-in. When haven't there been earthquakes, pandemics, and wars in history? Plus, according to the US Geological Survey, on any given day there will be an average of 2,750 earthquakes around the world of which 275 are large enough to be felt by humans. But only about 100 earthquakes a year are large enough to cause any damage.

And so, its too easy to tie the "causes" of earthquakes and other events to comets in the sky. Comets have been seen before and during the Norman invasion of England in 1066, an outbreak of the Black Plague in London in 1665, and much more. Gary Kronk maintains a wacky and wonderful list of historical (and sometimes comical) comet "signs and omens" on his Cometography site.

Halley's Comet produced one of the first great comet hypes of the 20th century with its 1910 passage. Ironically, another comet made a brilliant passage just a few months prior, which became known as the Great Comet of 1910. In fact, many viewers in the general public actually saw this comet and confused it with Halley's! The recent discovery of cyanogen in the comet's spectra sparked a panic in the public as hucksters made a small fortune hawking "comet pills" and gas masks to panicked buyers. Never mind that folks ingest more toxic carcinogens from their daily environment than are ever seeded by the tenuous tails of comets.

Another curious bit of hype sprung up in 2011 around Comet Elenin, which promptly broke up and dissipated without even putting on a show. And the supposed earthquakes that conspiracy theorists predicted? Well, the evidence speaks loudly: nothing happened. And the same will be true of Comet ISON. It won't cause any earthquakes or other disasters. As Don Yeomans from said about Comet Elenin, "It will have an immeasurably miniscule influence on our planet. By comparison, my subcompact automobile exerts a greater influence on the ocean's tides than comet Elenin ever will."

So, what's the harm in all the comet hysteria? Well, one only has to look at the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997 to realize that it can be no laughing matter. The suicide was sparked by the idea popularized on the late night Coast to Coast with Art Bell radio show that a spacecraft had been spotted following Comet Hale-Bopp.

Dozens of comets are discovered every year. A great majority are tiny iceballs in unfavorable orbits that never rise above magnitude +10 and are thus of little interest to backyard observers. A couple of times a year, a comet might reach magnitude +6 to +10 and become a fine binocular object.

When a discovery is made—be it by amateur or professional—the first task is to gain enough observations of the object to ascertain its orbit. Once again, we see the international collaborative methods employed by modern science. Already, the cosmic cat's out of the bag as observatories worldwide make follow up measurements. There are no secrets about Comet ISON that hundreds of astronomers could keep quiet.

But here are some facts about Comet C/2012 S1 ISON. It was discovered last September by Russian amateurs Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok while making observations for the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON), hence the comet's name. At the time, it was farther than Jupiter and impossibly faint, but once ISON's orbit was determined, astronomers realized the comet would pass only 1.1 million miles from center of the Sun (680,000 miles above its surface) on November 28, 2013.

The orbit and orientation of Comet ISON the day after Christmas 2013 on it closest approach to the Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL’s Small-Body Database Browser

Comet ISON belongs to a special category of comets called sungrazers. As the comet performs a hairpin turn around the Sun on that date, its ices will vaporize furiously in the intense solar heat. Assuming it defies death by evaporation, ISON is expected to become a brilliant object perhaps 10 times brighter than Venus, or maybe even brighter. But that would only occur for a brief time around at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun).

In the end, Comet ISON may put on a good show, but don't believe the hype.

Comets are notoriously unpredictable when it comes to brightness estimations. To quote -hunter David Levy, "Comets are like cats… they have tails, and they do exactly what they want." But they cannot, however, violate the laws of orbital mechanics!

Explore further: Innovative use of pressurant extends MESSENGER's mission, enables collection of new data

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Maggnus
3.6 / 5 (11) Apr 30, 2013
Well written and informative article - and one that will make not one wit of difference to the purveyors of conspiracy theories nor those that choose to believe such nonsense. We will no doubt get our usual bevy of looney tunes suggesting this comet will be responsible for everything from the end of Earth as we know it to the cause of global warming, or cooling, to the cause of earthquakes.

cantdrive55 and his ilk will claim its an electrical phenomena of some kind. Zephyr and his ilk will claim its affected or affects aether somehow. There will be several claims that it defies gravity or alters general relativity somehow. And on it goes.

And it is useless to argue with them, or point out the truth, or discuss the science. They BELIEVE and that`s that. Ask the few climate change deniers still active on this site.
cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (13) Apr 30, 2013
And it is useless to argue with them, or point out the truth, or discuss the science. They BELIEVE and that`s that.


Discuss the "science", huh? I have yet see you discuss an iota of "science", the comment above is pretty much as sciency as you get. Name calling and derision are the name of your game.
LariAnn
1.8 / 5 (10) Apr 30, 2013
cantdrive55 and his ilk will claim its an electrical phenomena of some kind. Zephyr and his ilk will claim its affected or affects aether somehow. There will be several claims that it defies gravity or alters general relativity somehow. And on it goes.


Maggnus, don't forget "big science" with their "dark matter' and 'dark energy', each of which has about as much real proof of existence as you allege that aether and electrical phenomena in space have. What fun it will be if big science ever does prove the existence of dark matter/energy and it turns out to be the same as "aether" and is electrical in nature! To big science, it's crackpottery until big science pronounces otherwise and claims it as their own exclusive discovery. Not a conspiracy theory, just human nature in action. Those in charge make and enforce the rules, right or wrong. Pfft!
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (10) Apr 30, 2013
I challenge you to have an honest scientific discussion, about the "truth" as you see it. Please read the following and give me a "truthful" explanation of any one of these phenomenon.
For starters, a list of the enigmas would have to include these surprises: comet x-rays, a coma several times the size of the Sun glowing in ultraviolet light, strong electrical and turbulent magnetic fields, million degree coma "temperatures", supersonic jets, collimation of these jets over great distances, coherent and filamentary comet tails spanning up to a hundred million miles and more, explosive outbursts of dust hundreds of millions of miles from the Sun, the "inexplicable" break up and complete disintegration of comet nuclei far from the Sun, sharply etched surface relief, bright surface patches (camera saturation, most obvious in the case of Tempel 1), and "impossibly" fine comet dust. Intense energetic activity has, one discovery at a time, shocked astronomers.
Q-Star
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 30, 2013
Maggnus, don't forget "big science" with their "dark matter' and 'dark energy', each of which has about as much real proof of existence as you allege that aether and electrical phenomena in space have.


Both dark matter and dark energy produce observable consequences, so that is just plain wrong. Aether has never been shown to have any observable consequences. Electrical phenomena are what they are, and no more than they are.

What fun it will be if big science ever does prove the existence of dark matter/energy and it turns out to be the same as "aether" and is electrical in nature!


If it turns out to be aether, then aether is not what the aetherists have been claiming it is. If it turns out to be electrical, well, it can't,,,, otherwise it would not have been dark all these years.

Not a conspiracy theory, just human nature in action. Those in charge make and enforce the rules, right or wrong. Pfft!


Where are these rules written down? Who enforces them?
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Apr 30, 2013
Electrical phenomena are what they are, and no more than they are.

Wow, profound. It is what it is! Be that as it may, all the phenomenon in my last post have a similar origin, electricity can produce all of these enigmas. It is what it is after all.
Q-Star
3.8 / 5 (8) Apr 30, 2013
Electrical phenomena are what they are, and no more than they are.

Wow, profound. It is what it is! Be that as it may, all the phenomenon in my last post have a similar origin, electricity can produce all of these enigmas. It is what it is after all.


First ya must start with me, or anyone else agreeing the "phenomena" ya listed as being descriptions of real phenomena and not false descriptions or misapplied descriptions. (I bet ya got them from that very objective site ya use,,,, thundering something of other.)
Maggnus
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 30, 2013
To big science, it's crackpottery until big science pronounces otherwise and claims it as their own exclusive discovery. Not a conspiracy theory, just human nature in action. Those in charge make and enforce the rules, right or wrong. Pfft!¸


I must say that I am surprised and more than a little disappointed that such a statement would be made by you, considering other comments you have made on this site. I thought science was something you found interesting despite the nonsense of the snake-oil salesmen that seem to overwhelm this site.

It is, in fact, complete bunkum that it's crackpottery until "Big Science" pronounces otherwise, and it displays a lack of understanding of how science works that you would say this. "Crackpottery" in the sense that I have described several pseudo-scientific ideas in my post are ideas (not theories btw) that have been shown by science to be wrong. These are not unknown or unexplained phenomena, they are musings and posturings of people ..cont..
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (7) Apr 30, 2013
Here's one;
coherent and filamentary comet tails spanning up to a hundred million miles and more,


This from the highly objective site (in their own way) Nasa.gov.;

"Comet Hyakutake's ion tail stretched 360 million miles. That's nearly four times the distance from the Earth to the sun, and one of the longest ever observed by humans."

The term "ion tail" essentially describes "coherent and filamentary" being that is exactly the morphology of an "ion tail". The true irony lies in the fact they admit it is an ion tail (or plume), while at the same time overlooking the electrical discharge that produces ion plumes.
I think 360 million miles qualifies the statement "spanning up to a hundred million miles and more".

And another;
comet x-rays

http://heasarc.gs...ake.html

It's an interesting article, no part of the standard ice cube theory was support by the data, however there is a repeated appearance of the words surprised and unexpected. Weird!
Maggnus
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 30, 2013
cont.. of people who do not have the ability, or do not have the desire, to learn the mathematics behind the ideas they find so intriguing. Have you followed closely the discussions that have taken place between some people who actually have a grasp of physics, and those who try to promote these pseudo-scientific philosophies? To suggest that some faceless entity is in charge of deciding whose ideas are correct and whose aren't is to ignore that many people who make these claims have very little understanding of the actual theories and science they propose to overthrow. Oft times they are people who have read an entertaining and well written site and then decide that the outdated "mysteries" these sites pronounce as proof are somehow more believable than the actual science that has occurred in the years since the "mystery" was proposed. If an idea has traction, if there is actual science behind a proposed mechanism, be it aether or something else, it will be given its due..cont..
Maggnus
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 30, 2013
cont its due consideration. What ends up happening with the sites that promote the pseudo-science and the people that "believe" in them, is that they ignore the explanations and discoveries that take place in the years (and often decades) since the so called "mysteries" the pseudo-science sites cite as proof of their concepts. They then confuse "unexplained" with "unexplainable" and offer their particular explanations in place of the science.
When those who actually understand the science point out their failings (often very obvious ones) they retreat into cries that they are being oppressed by "the mainstream" who are "conspiring" to hide the "truth" they are preaching. It has nothing to do with the science, it has to do with the mindset.
Maggnus
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 30, 2013
As for your "challenge" cantdrive, I have been through that, thanks. In fact, months of it.

See this: http://cosmoquest...se-Model

Note when the discussion starts!
LariAnn
1 / 5 (6) Apr 30, 2013
Maggnus,
Thanks for your cogent and detailed response to my post. I know how science is supposed to work and it is one reason why I pursued scientific study in college, but to my dismay I found that the noble pursuit I thought existed was not so noble after all. The scientific method is our best way of doing science, yet what I saw in labs and amongst scientists was not what I understood to be "according to Hoyle" scientific method. Articles I've seen here have described what should be science in very unscientific ways, while some commenters criticize those with contrasting points of view for doing the same thing they applaud the "scientists" for doing. Unfortunately (IMHO) much science is governed more by aspirations for tenure, grants and approval by colleagues than by the pursuit of science itself. One investigator in a lab where I worked was told by the chief investigator to rewrite his experimental results because it did not show the results (con't)
LariAnn
1.2 / 5 (5) Apr 30, 2013
(con't) in a manner that would prove favorable to the organization providing the grant money! My comment about human nature refers to the fact that when your career and ability to provide for your family, future and retirement are at stake, you'll think twice before publishing something that will go directly against the status quo, particularly if your superiors and those who make the decisions about where your career is going are staunch proponents of the status quo. It is true that genuine scientists would not be so concerned about such things, but the human ego is not a genuine scientist, and few are willing to allow their careers to be crucified or burnt at the stake for the sake of genuine science.
LariAnn
1.2 / 5 (5) Apr 30, 2013
Finally, to me the mystery is where the interest is - once something is said to be known, it seems to lose fascination, like seeing the same movie more than a few times. Eventually it is taken for granted and can even become boring. But it is the unknown and the unsolved mysteries that, to me, drive exploration and discovery, and I hope they will always be the driving force for true science. To me, one of the most scientific statements that can be made is "I don't know", but somehow I get the idea that to make that statement is an affront to some scientists - they have to come up with an explanation, even if it is off the cuff and supported by little or no evidence. When they do that, it's often accepted as OK so long as it supports the status quo, but if someone out of the mainstream does that same thing and it doesn't support the status quo, isn't it labeled pseudoscience?
Q-Star
3.9 / 5 (8) Apr 30, 2013
But it is the unknown and the unsolved mysteries that, to me, drive exploration and discovery, and I hope they will always be the driving force for true science.


That is why all scientists do science. They certainly don't do to get rich. That is why science progresses. But ya have to approach the unknown in an orderly & disciplined manner.

To me, one of the most scientific statements that can be made is "I don't know",


True and for the most part they do. But the "arm-chair" "dilettante" Einsteins don't usually pick up on that, because it's usually presented with "best evidence", "observationally consistent with" and "inferred by". Unlike the cranks who say: "That is wrong because I can't/won't understand it."

come up with an explanation, even if it is off the cuff and supported by little or no evidence.


No, they look for explanations of unknowns in context of things known. An undisciplined "anything is possible" approach is wasteful of limited resources.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Apr 30, 2013
As for your "challenge" cantdrive, I have been through that, thanks. In fact, months of it.

See this: http://cosmoquest...se-Model

Note when the discussion starts!


LOL, you have a twisted understanding what "honest discussion" means. The first comment on the board;
"I thought I'd start this thread to help debunk some of the false claims of http://electric-cosmos.org/"

Yep, honest discussion!

SleepTech
5 / 5 (9) May 01, 2013
Go away, cantdrive. You add nothing to the discussions held on this site. Nobody likes you, nobody wants you here. Just shut up and go away.
Neinsense99
3 / 5 (6) May 27, 2013
And it is useless to argue with them, or point out the truth, or discuss the science. They BELIEVE and that`s that.


Discuss the "science", huh? I have yet see you discuss an iota of "science", the comment above is pretty much as sciency as you get. Name calling and derision are the name of your game.

Derision is what you deserve. On a nice sunny day. You don't want to know what your continuous bombardment of crud deserves on a bad day.

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