This is a particularly silly story about Nibiru, published today (in the Daily Telegraph): The end of the world now predicted for December say doomsday groups: "Terrifying stuff. Apparently, the planet due to collide with us is often visible, you may have seen it already. If you spot a blob next to the sun when you take a photograph, it could be the deadly planet, not a reflection."
It is not written entirely seriously in tone I think. Still humour is easy for some readers to miss in print, and some people take all of this very seriously. So I thought I'd do a short debunking article, to reassure anyone who is concerned about Nibiru. And then talk a little about the very real asteroid threats that we should be concerned about, and the amazing progress that astronomers have made already detecting them, and what they could do with enough funding.
Amateur astronomers can spot Pluto, with a ten inch telescope. That's not a particularly big one.
This telescope is large enough to spot Pluto, at a distance of 7.5 billion kilometers. Pluto's diameter is 2,372 km, smaller than our Moon. How to Scope Out Pluto in the Night Sky Friday
There may be undiscovered large planets in our solar system, maybe as large as Mars, even Earth. But they would have to be many times the distance to Pluto away, in the very distant Oort cloud -where it's thought there's a vast population of icy bodies of many sizes stretching much of the way to the nearest stars. If they were as close as Pluto, or even, several times the distance to Pluto, we'd be able to spot them easily in a ten inch telescope, never mind any of the really large scopes.
Asteroids are detected nowadays by medium sized professional telescopes, with by far the most capable currently, Pan-STARRS. Here is a photo with people to show the scale.
Here it is with one of its images
It takes two 1.4 gigapixel images every minute, all night, every night, looking for asteroids. It is optimized for this hunt, with a high sensitivity very wide field, and with a Schmidt Cassegrain construction which means that the images are crisp and clear, without any distortion, right to the edges of its wide field of view.
And - it is not operated by NASA. It is true that it is under the auspices of the Hawaii university, which is in Hawaii, which became the fiftieth state of the USA in 1959. But it is managed by the PS1 Science Consortium consisting of ten institutions from four countries.
So if you think there is a conspiracy hiding Nibiru - then all of those institutions would have to be in on it.
But not only that, also all amateur astronomers world wide with telescopes of ten inches or more. It's just totally silly and absurd.
Pan-STARRS is doing a great job of finding asteroids. We have already found ALL THE ASTEROIDS OF TEN KILOMETERS IN DIAMETER OR LARGER inside of Jupiter. So not even a ten kilometer asteroid could be hiding there, never mind a planet. Also, we've found 90% of the one kilometer asteroids, and Pan-STARRS finds a new one kilometer asteroid, on average, every month. They expect to reach 99% coverage of Near Earth Object (NEO) one kilometer asteroids by the 2020s.
Nowadays amateurs don't have a chance of finding one and they have given up trying. Never mind spotting a new planet by photographing the sun :). Instead they do the follow up observations, where they are very much needed. With thousands of asteroids to follow, the professional telescopes can't keep up.
With all the nearby big ones already found - if a big one was headed our way, one as big as the asteroid that ended the dinosaur era, we'd be likely to have a couple of decades warning before it got close to Earth. And with all of the largest Near Earth Objects (NEOs) found already, that only leaves comets, which makes it an estimated perhaps less than one in ten million chance that we get hit by one of those in the next century. I.e. 99.99999% certain that we don't get hit by anything as big as ten kilometers in the next century. Many blockbuster movie goers would guess it is perhaps a 50% chance, I'd imagine :).
Now the asteroid threat is significant. But with all the largest ones found and most of the next size down going to be found in the next decade, the ones we need to worry about now are the smaller ones. A 100 meter asteroid hitting Earth in the wrong place could be very bad news for an entire small country. Here is Brian May talking about the effect of a 100 meter asteroid if it hit London.
All this doom saying Nibiru and other similar Armageddon nonsense is distracting people from a real threat, which we can actually do something about. We can predict, evacuate if necessary - but if we discover them a couple of decades in advance, we can deflect them also, relatively easy. So detection is the priority at present.
Astronomers know how to detect them. The issue is funding.
Our super sensitive Earth based optical telescopes can't look in the direction of the sun - as they can't operate in daylight. So, if a meteorite approaches Earth pretty much directly from the direction of the sun, we can't see it until it hits, or moments before, as it enters the atmosphere.
That's why nobody spotted the Russian Chelyabinsk meteor. If it had come from any other direction, they'd have had at least quite a few hours of warning, maybe as much as a day or two. But it came almost directly from the direction of the sun.
We can fix this with a space telescope. The B612 foundation has one designed, which they could launch by 2019 if they had the funding. It would find nearly every NEO of 20 meters diameter upwards quickly, within six and a half years, orbiting close to Venus, looking outwards towards Earth's orbit, in the infrared.
And the total cost is $450 million Asteroid Hunt: Private Groups Join Search for Dangerous Space Rocks
But they are struggling to raise enough funding, as they got less than a tenth of what they expected from donations.
NASA was never going to fund it, just provide support. But it has dropped this support now because of the funding gap. NASA drops partnership with private asteroid hunt.
NASA might possibly fund the less capable Near-Earth Object Camera which will be positioned at the L1 position between Earth and sun instead of an orbit close to Venus. This will help with asteroids of 140 meters diameter or larger. It is competing with other non asteroid related projects, so I wouldn't pin our hopes on it quite yet. And though certainly a major step forward, it won't find the more numerous, and still dangerous, 100 meter diameter or smaller asteroids.
Sentinel is still continuing as a project without NASA support.
By comparison to this $450 million figure, the NASA budget for the ISS in 2015 was three billion dollars.
And a new destroyer costs getting on for $2 billion Arleigh Burke-class destroyer
And the totally useless (in my view) Trident submarines will cost the UK government $100 billion. No to Trident
For that, we could fund Sentinel 200 times over, and still have some change. I'm not sure we have our priorities right here. The price is low enough so that a private investor, if some billionaire took an interest in the project, could fund the whole thing.
But anyway to summarize: Nibiru is just silly.
For more on asteroid detection, and deflection see Is it true that an asteroid will strike earth on [Insert Date Here}?
And in more detail as a kindle book:
which is also available to read online for free at Giant Asteroid Headed Your Way? - How We Can Detect And Deflect Them
NIBIRU NONSENSE DEBUNKING BOOKLET - FOR KINDLE - OR OTHER DEVICES
As you'll see I got many comments from this article, and based on my answers to them, I've written a booklet now, which can hopefully help combat some of the silly Nibiru "astronomy" books on Amazon.
You can get it here:
You can read it on a kindle device, read it online in the Kindle cloud reader, or get the kindle app to read it on any device.
I've also made the complete book available to read free online (about 120 pages) here.