Have you heard the doomsday theory about how a rogue planet is going to crash into Earth on Friday and kill us all?
Amateur astronomer Bill Hudson says that it simply isn’t true, and he can prove it—scientifically.
The prediction is supposedly based on the end of a cycle of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, which some have interpreted to mean that the Mayans believed the world would end on that day. According to the prophecy, doom may come in a variety of ways, but one key claim is that a 12th planet in our solar system, called Nibiru and orbiting the sun every 3,600 years, will ram into the Earth and destroy it.
That theory has gained credence in certain quarters and has spawned a cottage industry of scammers offering survival kits and backyard bunkers. In France, officials have announced a plan to restrict access on Dec. 21 to the Pic de Bugarach, a mountain that is supposed to protect people, some say by bursting open to unveil spaceships that will bring people to safety.
Mr. Hudson, a Californian whose day job is to run a computer system for a manufacturing company, is leading a scientific insurgency against the Nibiru theory with a website, talks at schools and online chats with other experts to engage the believers. The only way to convince some people, he decided, is to counter their fears with logical scientific arguments about why Nibiru is not nearby (it would have been detected by astronomers), is not about to crash into Earth (it would need to be orbiting elliptically, which would violate Kepler’s law) and is not, in fact, actually real.
He was spurred to act some five years ago, he says, after listening to several frightened questions from fifth-grade students to whom he was giving a talk on space. An Internet search revealed many questions circulating about the prediction. He began to post scientific answers dispelling the theory on YahooYHOO +1.50% Answers, where people can post and respond to questions.
His answers led believers to flag his comments as inappropriate, says Mr. Hudson, and he was eventually banned from posting. Answers that constitute venting or ranting, or that are meant to “solicit others for personal and financial gain” violate the Yahoo Answers community guidelines, according to the website.
In 2009 he began his own website, 2012hoax.org, and engaged the help of experts, including archeologists, anthropologists and an astrophysicist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Last month, he and NASA astrophysicist David Morrison addressed the doomsday prophecy in an online chat sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The site received up to 5,000 views a day this fall, but with the fateful day now approaching, it has drawn more than 10,000 visitors a day.
The website’s “planet X” page contains complex math carried out by a U.K. aeronautical engineer that shows why it is physically impossible for an undetected planet to be lurking close enough to the Earth to destroy it soon. To dispel another aspect of the doomsday theory, astrophysicists collaborating with the site have calculated the effect of a black hole if, as prophesied, it did line up with the Earth and sun. Their answer: virtually none.
Dr. Morrison, the NASA scientist, has become the government’s de facto defender against the doomsday hypothesis, because of his role answering questions from the public on the “Ask an Astrobiologist” feature of the agency’s website. Starting four years ago, he began getting so many questions about the prophecy that he felt he couldn’t ignore them anymore.
In a recent Web chat with the public, a reader asked, “How do you think the apocalypse will happen? Do you predict a nuclear war? Or an alien invasion, extreme fire, WW3, global warming, flooding, etc.”
Dr. Morrison’s response: “What apocalypse? I don’t anticipate anything unusual on December 21. The Earth has been here for more than 4 billion years, and I expect it to continue rolling along just fine for billions of years in the future.”
Angela Maylin, 30, who lives in Essex, England, first heard about the prophecy two years ago, after reading a newspaper article about solar storms due the following year. Interested in finding out more, she did a search on the Internet that turned up details about how the end of the world was coming in 2012.
Never having believed in any doomsday theories before, Ms. Maylin says she found this one worrisome because the descriptions she read about planet alignments and “pole shifts” leading to weather changes seemed convincing. There had been, in fact, strange weather that year. Ms. Maylin grew so concerned that it was all she could talk about with her family and friends. Her mother and brother laughed at her, she says, and “I could sort of sense my friends thinking, ‘Angela, you’re crazy.’ ”
Unable to sleep and experiencing chest pains, she went to a doctor, who suggested that she seek therapy. She later found Mr. Hudson’s website, which helped her with its rational, scientific explanations, she says. “Once [Mr. Hudson] explains it, it puts your mind at ease right away,” she says.
Still, true believers aren’t easily converted, says Mr. Hudson. “They will rationalize,” he says. “It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole. As soon as you knock down one claim, five more crop up.”