This is yet another example of how outrageously bad Google News is when it comes to astronomy. I get asked this rather often, whether Earth is endangered by some distant planet or galaxy or black hole, by children or adults who have read stories in the sensationalist press that appear in Google News. This is a particularly outrageous one so I thought it would help highlight the issue to write a post about it here. To anyone scared by the story who is reading this - short summary, this planet is far away, orbiting a distant star and is not the slightest risk to Earth.
Remember, children as young as 11 are affected by these stories and also young parents who flunked physics and maths at school - may be talented in other areas but don't have a clue about astronomy. Sometimes they get so scared by all the Google News and Apple News daily doomsdays that they become suicidal.
With this particular one I’ve had several people ask me about it already - is Earth endangered by this newly discovered planet? It's no wonder with the story going right to the top of Google News. Distances mean nothing to them, and they don't know what a light year is, or what the "galactic bulge" is. They just read this story as "news" and think it must be true.
In this screenshot I used a tool designed for Google Adwords to simulate a search from the US - so it is not influenced by my location in the UK or ip address or search history.
In this case, it is a news story from the Mirror, a UK tabloid, saying that Earth is endangered by a planet orbiting a distant star in the galactic bulge 22,000 light years away. It’s no wonder I got so many PM’s about it as this story comes top of Google News if you search for “Planet discovered by NASA”
If you want to find the genuine story about this planet, this is a good summary: Astronomers Are Puzzled by a Huge Object at The Centre of Our Galaxy .
In short, the Spitzer space telescope has found a very distant planet, way away in the galactic bulge. It's interesting because it is only five times the distance of Earth from its host star, closer than Jupiter orbits our sun - yet is very heavy, 13 times heavier than Jupiter. It's on the edge of the "brown dwarf desert" - it is rare to find a heavy planet so close to its parent star, and astronomers are interested to find out why that is. There are many "hot Jupiters" that orbit very close to their star, with orbits measured only in days, but it is very rare to find anything quite this large so close to their star. That's the whole story. It's of interest mainly to astronomers who puzzle over star and planet formation.
The Mirror base their sensationalist doomsday entirely on the title of a discussion thread started by someone in a conspiracy forum.
The Mirror news story is here
They give their source in this quote:
Some users on conspiracy theory website Godlikeproductions questioned whether OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb's discovery could be proof that the end is nigh.
'Daniel' started a thread on the forum titled: "Has Nibiru Been Hiding in the Heart of Our Galaxy All Along?," in which people speculated about the existence of the apocalyptic planet.
That is the only source for the entire story. Remember this is a conspiracy forum - the sort of place you can expect Nibiru believers to hang out. But even they found his post unbelievable. The conversation goes:
‘Has Nibiru Been Hiding in the Heart of Our Galaxy All Along?
‘There is a mysterious object in the ‘galactic bulge’ at the heart of our galaxy that is puzzling scientists because its so big it might not actually be a planet.
‘The mysterious object is 22,000 light years away from Earth, and orbits its parent star roughly every three years.
‘Dubbed OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb, the object is thought to be 13 times the size of Jupiter.
‘Researchers say that the data was still not enough to establish the precise full orbit of the planet.
‘Are you F*ing retarded?
‘Please apply your MIND.. NIbiru is an ordinary planet that will never orbit near here again and it hasn't been hiding anywhere. What is a galactic buldge by the way?’
I hope that you can see that a paper that uses the title of this discussion thread as its only basis for an entire news story is sensationalist nonsense?
If you want to help put an end to this nonsense, please sign and share my petition here:
IN MORE DETAIL - FOR THOSE WORRIED BY THE STORY - WHAT IS THE GALACTIC BULGE?
So what is the galactic bulge and where is this star?
The galactic bulge is that fuzzy yellow bit in the middle of our galaxy.
This shows where the sun orbits.
Images from the Chandra X-Ray observatory Resources :: Milky Way Galaxy
The galaxy is about 100,000 light years in diameter so each pixel in that illustration is over 100 light years in diameter horizontally (and even more vertically). Our nearest star is 4.25 light years away. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, is 8.6 light years away. They would both be within the same pixel as the sun in that illustration.
We take 220 to 250 million years to orbit the galaxy. We have orbited it twice since the time of the very first complex multicellular microscopic creatures that eventually evolved to sea creatures and then the land animals and ourselves.
Actually the sun also bobs up and down above and below the galactic plane in its orbit, but it only goes a hundred light years above or below so you wouldn’t see it in that diagram.
SEARCHING FOR EXOPLANETS
Here is another artist’s impression of the milky way - showing our search for new planets around other stars (exoplanets).
We can’t actually take photographs from outside because we are inside the galaxy - so - the details here are artist’s impressions though we know some of the structure of the galaxy from our measurements of distances to stars as we can see them from where we are in the galaxy.
This shows the search space for the Kepler mission to search for planets orbiting other stars.
It is now in the middle of a second search, K2, which is a more general search but is still turning up exoplanets orbiting much fainater red dwarf stars:
(NASA Ames/W. Stenzel and JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt) - BTW notice that the central bulge is elongated - that's a recent discovery from a few years back
We are also continuing to find planets in the massive amount of data in its first search. And this is just one of many searches that are turning up exoplanets today. The Independent has a good new story about the Kepler searches here: NASA has discovered hundreds of potential new planets — and 10 may be like Earth
Astronomers now think that nearly every star in the galaxy has at least one planet orbiting it, and many stars probably have several planets orbiting them. As there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy (very approximately, hard to estimate) then there must be billions of planets in our galaxy. There are probably even billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy.
So, it’s no surprise at all if astronomers find a new planet. Indeed, nowadays they find on average several new planets orbiting other stars every day.
There were over 1400 new exoplanets discovered last year. Most of those are very large because the largest planets are usually much easier to discover from a distance. None of them are any risk to Earth at all as they orbit other stars and never will come anywhere near our solar system.
WHY WE WILL NEVER GET A NEWS STORY ABOUT A DISCOVERY OF 'NIBIRU'
For those of you who haven't heard of 'Nibiru' which will include many astronomers - it's a mythical hoax planet, a modern urban myth. There are dozens of blogs and YouTube channels that publish regular "observations" of this planet which they claim is about to hit or buzz pass Earth. Their 'photos' of it are generally lens flares, offset double reflections, or the sun shining on clouds and are taken by people who have rarely payed any attention to the sky before. Others are hoaxes. It's a minor industry with many earning thousands a year from the ad revenue on these videos and others selling books or supplies that are supposed to help you survive Doomsday.
Actually no genuine news story will ever be about a discovery of Nibiru because Nibiru is impossible. If you add a planet our solar system that buzzes Earth - it just doesn't work as a solar system as we wouldn't be in circular orbits if you do that. Especially if it is a brown dwarf, just one flyby of the inner solar system and the planets get scattered like confetti. Venus might have got scattered beyond Mars for instance, the effects would be so huge. That obviously hasn’t happened.
The effects would be very noticeable even for an Earth sized planet that came into our inner solar system 3600 years ago as they claimed.
But if it says the planet is light years away it's not even in our solar system at all.
WHAT WE CAN FIND IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM - AND WHY THESE PLANET DISCOVERIES CAN'T HARM EARTH
We may find planets way beyond Neptune. The most distant suggestion I know of is the Nemesis idea, that our solar system could have a second very dim star or brown dwarf 1.5 light years away, a third of the distance to the nearest star. That’s now pretty much ruled out but a smaller planet at that distance is still possible. We wouldn’t spot a Jupiter at that distance, for instance, not yet. The reason is because it’s so dark at that distance from the sun that we couldn’t see it easily by reflected light, and a planet as small as Jupiter or smaller might be too cold to spot by its infrared radiation at that distance.
Of course if we find a planet that far away it is no possible threat to Earth. Indeed there is no chance at all of us ever finding a new planet in our solar system that's a threat to Earth.
- If it orbits another star, a planet is no threat to Earth
- If it orbits our star, it must be way beyond Neptune or we’d have found it already - and it is no threat to Earth
- No planet in our solar system can ‘Buzz’ Earth because we wouldn’t be here if there was a planet like that.
That only leaves rogue planets - planets that don’t orbit any star but fly through interstellar space, perhaps ejected from their star system millions, or billions of years ago. But the ‘Nibiru’ idea is of a planet that orbits our sun, that they say came past 3600 years ago so is not a rogue planet.
ORIGIN OF 'NIBIRU'
Actually 'Nibiru' is a word used by the ancient Sumerians to refer to the brightest star or planet in the sky at the time of the spring or autumn equinoxes. Sometimes it would be Jupiter - this autumn I think they would surely have picked Venus and called it Nibiru. Venus of course is no threat to Earth.
The idea of Nibiru is a fable written by an eccentric "Sumerian scholar" Zecheraia Sitchin who read entire chapters into a single dot on a cuneiform tablet and then further elaborated by another eccentric Nancy Lieder who claims to have an organic implant in her brain by which she communicates with extra terrestrials and has now been taken over by numerous false prophets who churn out videos and blog posts every day saying it is about to hit Earth next week or month or year. The whole thing is total rubbish. For more on this see my Debunked: We need to find a way to deflect “Nibiru” - and how did this modern myth get started?
Also we aren’t at any danger from rogue planets either. The chance of one of them coming as close as the very distant Neptune in the next million years is less than one in a million. The chance of such a planet coming close to Earth is so tiny you can forget about it. It’s the same picture also for black holes, brown dwarfs, neutron stars, and other stars
- Short summary, why Nibiru is impossible
- Venus is Nibiru :) At least the ancient Sumerians would have said so
- Debunked: Our Sun or Earth could be hit by a rogue planet, neutron star, black hole, brown dwarf, or star
DOOMSDAY DEBUNKS HELP PEOPLE AND MAY EVEN SAVE CHILDREN FROM SUICIDE
The reason I write these posts is because as someone who writes about these topics, and as admin for our Doomsday Debunked posts I get often many PM's a day by people scared of this doomsday nonsense. In the lead up to 23rd September 2017 I had dozens of PM's a day, sometimes many to an hour, by often suicidal young children who were scared the world would end on that date. It's been so bad that I have taken several weeks off work completely just to answer their PM's and to write debunking posts to help them. It's heartbreaking and I'm sure the people who write these nonsense stories, and the programmers who work on the algorithms for Google News don't want to make their readers suicidal!
And the debunks work. It's also heart warming when you hear from children who just a few days or weeks ago were terrified, scared even to leave their house, panic attacks, vomiting, unable to eat or sleep, in some cases even in hospital from the health effects of their anxiety - who are now no longer scared and back to their previous happy selves again. Google News - you can make a huge difference to the lives of probably thousands of young children by changing your algorithm to make it clear which of the stories are fake sensationalist news!
And my top advice for those who got scared by these stories - to avoid getting scared by this utter codswallop and nonsense in the future - STOP READING THE DAILY DOOMSDAY NONSENSE FROM THE SENSATIONALIST PRESS
GOOGLE NEWS WITHOUT THE NONSENSE - AND SIGN THE PETITION
- Google News Without The Nonsense. It’s much the same as Google News, with the sensationalist nonsense fake news filtered out. Try sorting it “by relevance” as well as “by date”
Also do sign my petition if you agree with it - I think it’s appalling that Google News puts fake stories like this at the top of its search results.
Google News simply shouldn't run stories like this at all in my view - or at least - it should label them clearly as sensationalist fake astronomy - never mind put them right to the top of the search results!
I know some people object to any filtering of the news out of concerns that it will lead to political or religious biases. But this problem of fake news transcends all political or religious divisions. Google has an algorithm that puts the Daily Express which doesn't even employ science reporters, and publishes made up fake nonsense as "science" right to the top of the search results for science topics. That can't be right.
It's a case of filtering out fake astronomy and science news that's obvious nonsense written by people who aren't even trained in science and make things up. At the moment the Google News is very strongly biased the other way - putting fake news right at the top of the search results. So it's not introducing a new bias but getting rid of an outrageous bias it has already.
- Why Nibiru is utter codswallop, bullshit, balderdash, humbug, poppycock, baloney, hogwash, hooey, rot, rubbish
See also List of the articles in my Debunking Doomsday blog to date and you can try searching that page for a word like “Nibiru” or “Yellowstone” or whatever to find articles of interest.
Also if you want to help make a difference, you can sign and share these other petitions too - and do have a look at the comments to get an idea of the scale of the problem. Click “Join Conversation” to see more of them.
- To Youtube: Halt Ads on Doomsday Videos
- To Journalists: Debunk Rather than Dramatize "Doomsday" Stories - The Vulnerable Get Suicidal
And if anyone reading this has got scared by the 'Daily Doomsdays' on Google News and needs help - well message me of course and comment on any of these posts - and you can also join our Facebook group Doomsday Debunked. See also Seven tips for dealing with doomsday fears