Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Solstice Blues Averted!

The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurred a couple of days ago on June 21 -- longest day of the year here, and of course for the Southern Hemisphere, the shortest. I always feel a twinge on June 21, because the nights start getting longer again. But this year, I had something new to think about -- in the lead up to June 21, a number of people sent me the following e-mail:
Please watch this on 21st June


21st June - the Whole World is waiting for.............

Star Aderoid will be the brightest in the sky, starting 10 June. It will look as large as the sun from naked eye. This will culminate on 21stjune when the star comes within 34.65M miles of the earth. Be sure to watch the sky on june. 21 at 12:30 pm. It will look like the earth has 2 suns.!!

The next time Aderoid may come this close is in 2287

The e-mail came with a photo:

The photo itself seems to have been inspired by the sunset on Tatooine sequence in the first-ever Star Wars movie (Episode 4 - A New Hope). It is, as you might expect, a product of the photoshopper's art, and not at all based ion reality. (Did you see two suns in the sky on June 21, or on any of the 11 days leading up to it??) The HTML in the e-mail has embedded text which reads "Fun & Info @". actually exists, and appears to be a site promoting the state of Kerala, which is in India. Clicking on a couple of links led to dead ends, so it doesn't look like has any significant content that I want to be looking for.

Notwithstanding the fact that I received this e-mail from respected sources, the content is total crap. (You really didn't see two suns in the sky on June 21, did you??)

What I find interesting is that people who are knowledgeable and canny are still taken in by junk like this, probably because the sky and astronomical matters in general are increasingly foreign to urban people.

Snopes, as usual, was right on top of this one. The following snippet is my favourite piece of their article:
An object as large as a star approaching the Earth would not suddenly appear at a particular hour of a given day and then be gone; if would be visible over an extended period of time.

If a star were truly about to pass within 35 million miles of Earth, the preparations we'd be undertaking would be to get ready to meet our makers and not to marvel at the beauty of the phenomenon, as the results would be catastrophic. By way of comparison, the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, while the planet Mercury orbits the Sun at an average distance of 36 million miles. If a star comparable to our Sun were to travel within 34.65 million miles of the Earth, our planet would quickly become like Mercury: a barren, lifeless, deep-fried hunk of rock.

The disconnect with the night sky in the majority of people in our modern society can likely be attributable, at least in part, to artificial lighting which makes it impossible for us to see the sky clearly at night.

But, whatever the source of the disconnect, one consequence of it is that nonsense like the "Aderoid" story gets circulated. And even more egregiously, the seeds are sown for the credulous to be taken in by more dangerous nonsense like Zecharia Sitchin's modern attempt to revive the lunacy of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken. Sitchin's books are likely one of the elements driving the belief in an apocalypse in 2012, a belief sufficiently widespread that NASA felt compelled to put up an educational web page about it.

This year, I spent a quiet summer solstice with my family, under a sky with only one sun. Nothing potentially world ending happened, unless you count my inability to locate my favourite chip dip.

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