Nemesis, Nibiru, Planet X, and The End of the World (in 2012)

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I simply cannot wait to post on this blog on December 22nd, 2012. When the world hums along like it usually does, what will the doomsayers say? Will they realize they ‘made an error’ in their calculation and pick a new date? Will they argue that the “we were spared” at the last moment? What will the authors of all the 2012 “end of the world” books do – refund their money?

The End of the World As We Know It has been proclaimed on hundreds of occasions before, and has never proven to be true (obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this). Of course, the world *will* end, at some point, far from now. But it won’t be on December 21st, 2012, and it won’t be due to Nemesis, Nibiru, or Planet X.

Jet Prepulsion Laboratory’s Donald Yeomans dispels the myths surrounding this doomsday prophecy and discusses some real science behind it in the video below:

Credit: NASA/JPL

Some scientists suggest that a star exists, known as “Nemesis”, which helps to explain a perceived periodicity in mass extinctions on Earth. As Nemesis travels through space, it supposedly regularly disturbs comets in the Oort Cloud, sending large numbers of the icy projectiles on a collision course with Earth.

As read on, the problem with that idea, according to a new study, is that Earth shows no evidence that giant impacts have occurred with any regularity or periodicity. The pattern appears to be a statistical artifact.

“There is a tendency for people to find patterns in nature that do not exist,” said study author Coryn Bailer-Jones, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, in a statement. “Unfortunately, in certain situations traditional statistics plays to that particular weakness.” This is another example of “patternicity”.

Earth has, of course, been impacted by asteroids and comets throughout its 4.5-billion-year history. As many of us know, it’s believed that a massive impact is thought to have destroyed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Back in the 1980s, scientists reported seeing a periodic cycle in these catastrophic events, noting that they appear to have occurred approximately every 26 million years over the last 250 million years. It was proposed that a companion star to the sun – dubbed Nemesis – could be responsible for this pattern if it made regular passes near the Oort Cloud.

Some studies of Earth’s craters have supported the Nemesis idea, finding evidence of periodic variations in the impact rate. Every so often — the numbers vary between 13 million and 50 million years — the impact rate seems to go up.

The new study, however, contradicts those claims, finding that Nemesis — like the rogue planet Nibiru that some conspiracy theorists say will destroy Earth next year — is probably a myth.

Bailer-Jones used Bayesian analysis — a different kind of statistical technique — and found no such pattern. His results show a different trend: From about 250 million years ago to the present, the impact rate, as judged by the number of craters of different ages, increases steadily.

There are two possible explanations for this apparent increase, according to the study, which was published online in June in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

1 – Smaller craters erode more easily, and older craters have had more time to erode away. The trend could simply reflect the fact that larger, younger craters are easier to find than smaller, older ones. “If we look only at craters larger than 35 kilometers (22 miles) and younger than 400 million years, which are less affected by erosion and infilling, we find no such trend,” Bailer-Jones said.

2 – The increasing impact rate could be real. For example, analyses of impact craters on the moon— where there are no geological processes that can cover up, erode, or fill in craters — show a similar pattern.

Whatever is causing the apparent increase in impacts, the new study casts doubt on the existence of Nemesis.

“From the crater record, there is no evidence for Nemesis,” Bailer-Jones said. “What remains is the intriguing question of whether or not impacts have become ever more frequent over the past 250 million years.”

And so we must conclude that it is still possible that the sun could have an undiscovered large companion lurking far away, perhaps a red dwarf star or a brown dwarf… but it’s not likely that this companion has ever wreaked havoc on Earth in the past, or will spell our doom in the future.