Episode 4 (BONUS): Comet Elenin Special
NOTE: This episode was slightly updated and re-posted as of September 10, 2011, 5:00 GMT.
Recap: For some odd reason, there are a lot of crazy claims out there about Comet Elenin. In recognition of its closest approach to the sun on September 10, this bonus episode addresses many of the common claims out there about the comet including an exposé into Richard Hoagland's magical numerology that apparently proves i'ts a spaceship.
- YouTube and Audio Clips Used
- Some Sources Used
- Additional Comet Elenin Information Sources
- Mensur Omerbashich on RationalWiki, or his Personal Site
- Global Consciousness Project Homepage, or on Skeptoid
- Wikipedia on Hyperbolic Trajectories
- Relevant Blog Posts on "Exposing PseudoAstronomy" Blog: Post on Richard Hoagland
Transcript of the Main Material:
Claim: The basic idea I want to address relating to Comet Elenin is that it's some portender of doom and gloom and is a herald of 2012.
The background information on this object is that it is a comet. It was discovered by a Russian mathematician and amateur astronomer, Leonid Elenin. It is an unremarkable object, estimated to be around 3-4 km big, and it is currently in the inner solar system near its closest approach to the sun. The closest it's going to get to Earth is about the distance of Venus, 22 million miles or 35 million km. That's it. And it may not even get that close because it appears to be breaking up as of early September.
There's really nothing much else to say about it, as this kind of object has been seen many times in the past several years -- indeed, the last hundred or so years. But for some reason, people have been regressing in mentality by about 5,000 years.
That said, I'm going to go into two sets of claims.
The first could be loosely categorized as "random conspiracies." It's actually difficult to find any one cohesive picture out there on the internet and in home-grown YouTube videos, so I tried to find some clips that espouse more of the common thoughts.
One of the first is a set that says Elenin isn't even a person, that it is someone who is made up by those in charge and only the Army of Light can read the signs that the infinitely stupid Army of Darkness is leaving. [Day of the Lord YouTube Clip on "ELENIN"]
That particular clip comes from the "Seven Theory Ministries," and I'll be posting links to all these YouTube clips in the shownotes on the website. An interesting set of claims. Now, I don't know Leonid Elenin, so I can't honestly vouch for him being real. However, I've seen pictures of the man purporting to be him, and he looks real enough. But seriously, if you don't believe that the guy is real, then you have stepped into a level of conspiracy from which I can't pull you out. I suggest you turn this off now because it may cause your aluminum foil hat to explode. For those of you who are still interested, I will get into Nibiru in a later podcast on Planet X and 2012, but suffice to say for now, Nibiru is the name of a hypothetical "12th planet" proposed by the now-dead Zecharia Sitchin who created his own translations of Sumerian tablets to come up with it. The idea has been heavily adopted by the 2012 crowd, which is why I'll be talking about it more extensively in a future episode.
This next set of clips within this grouping of claims is from the "RT America" YouTube channel. [RT America YouTube Clip introducing Brooks Agnew] Some might accuse me of poisoning the well here, but I really should note that Brooks Agnew is also a person who has, for years, stated that Earth is hollow and if he only had a few more hundred thousand dollars, he could take the trip to the North Pole and find the entrance to the hollow Earth. More on that in a future episode. Anyway ...
[RT America YouTube Clip on we don't know where it'll end up] This may have been true when Elenin first discovered the comet. In actuality, you only need three observations to calculate an orbit. Since it was discovered, this comet has been observed literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of times. We know its orbit as well as we know our own, at least for the next several months. Claiming this is simply wrong.
In another segment, Agnew makes claims that relate more to the whole 2012 mythos, something that I'll be addressing in future episodes so I don't want to get into that so much here.
In another YouTube video, we have ... ["Warning" YouTube Clip on Waking Up] I'm not sure I really need to go into the conspiracy mindset here, but I did think it only fair to introduce this next series with this person's motivation to help us. With that in mind, this sets us up for a longer clip, but it's one that addresses a lot of what people are claiming. In this, you're going to hear about earthquakes and brown dwarfs and black holes.
["Warning" YouTube Clip on Mensur Omerbashich and stars] I tried to warn you that there was a lot of stuff there, and there is, so let's try to deconstruct it: The basic claim is that Elenin is causing earthquakes, therefore it must be massive, but it's faint, so it must be a small object, therefore it's a dead star coming through. And when that dead star makes certain alignments, bad things happen. First, the earthquakes. The person mentioned, Mensur Omerbashich, is such a crank that RationalWiki has its own page about him (which will be linked in the shownotes). Basically, he does what a lot of other earthquake "predictors" do, which is to look for anything astronomical that was going on when there were earthquakes and say that was the cause. He was actually very unknown until he started to write about Comet Elenin which rocketed him to pseudoscience stardom.
With that said, his ideas lack any credibility whatsoever. Alignments such as those suggested and those that I'll talk about later on cannot and did not cause any earthquakes, it is therefore not evidence that Elenin is incredibly massive and therefore not evidence that it's a dark star. If it were a star-sized mass, then it would perturb the orbits of the planets and asteroids to the point that it would be easy for even amateur astronomers to take notice, but that has not been the case.
Much has also been made about supposed alignments on special days with Elenin. I'm going to address those in the next set of claims, the scenario proposed by Richard C. Hoagland.
I'll do a show in the future on more about Richard Hoagland, but for now, for those of you who don't know, Hoagland made his name with the whole "Face on Mars," and his habit has been to take low resolution images, blow them up, and find conspiracies in the noise and pixelation. He's also invented a "hyperdimensional physics" that, as I said, I'll get into in a future show. What you need to know about it for this talk is that it's really big on numerology.
One more thing about Hoagland is that he talks A LOT. He will interrupt you and not let you interrupt him, even speaking through a commercial break. Hence, the clip that I want to play for you is about 10 minutes. Instead, I'm going to play parts of it and go through his claims individually as they come ...
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 1] So, Hoagland's basic premise insofar as this being a non-random event and therefore a spaceship has to do with probabilities of unlikely events. Let's listen to them. There are five in total.
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 2, Claim 1] There are a few things here right off the bat that are simply, factually, wrong. But first, a quick explanation of the magnitude scale is that lower numbers are brighter, higher numbers are fainter. Our sun is around -26 while Pluto is around +13. It is also a logarithmic scale where every change of 2.5 is a change of 10x in brightness, so a mag. 0 is 10,000x brighter than a magnitude +10.
Now on to the wrongness ... Comet Ikeya-Seki reached its brightest point at magnitude -10, not -17. But besides this, comets are NOT discovered at their brightest, they're discovered usually when they are in the positive teens of magnitude. This is the same case with Ikeya-Seki which was observed when it was a faint object on September 18, 1965.
This is really a fairly basic fact in astronomy and I'm surprised that Richard is making such a wrong statement. Now, it is true that finding a comet at +19.5 magnitude is impressive as that's fairly faint. But it's not unprecedented and it's not as though Elenin was using a backyard telescope, he was looking at images from a world-class observatory.
In order to figure out the odds of discovering the comet at such a magnitude, you would need to look at a histogram of at what magnitudes other comets were discovered. I'm not going to go into that much effort for this, but likely a 1 in 5 shot is not unlikely. Maybe even 1 in 10 if we want to be generous to Richard.
But another way to show how silly this kind of claim is and will set the stage for the rest, he claims that 19.5 is a 1 in 45.2 shot. Why not a 1 in 452? After all, he could have discovered it when it was 19.4 magnitude, or 19.6. Those deserve their own odds, too!
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 3, Claim 2] This whole thing with the odds of something happening on a particular day bugs me. It's the same issue I have with the whole Global Consciousness Project thing that I'll link to in the shownotes, but that's an issue for a different podcast.
In this case, what is supposed to constitute a "significant day?" Obviously Richard thinks that the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is a significant event, and I would agree it is. But what about Christmas? Thanksgiving? V-Day? D-Day? Pearl Harbor Day? Election day? Mothers' Day? Bastille Day? Guy Fawkes Day? Boxing Day? Cinco de mayo? Día de los muertos?
The point here is that you can really just pick a day and find something significant that happened on it. I suppose it also bears pointing out that Comet Elenin's closest approach to the sun is on September 10th for the vast majority of the world.
In terms of odds, we're at 1:1 for this.
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 4, Claim 3] I suppose I could've combined this with the previous claim, but regardless, making a tenth anniversary a 1 in 10 odds is just making things up. Why not say that Comet Elenin may have come by any time in the next 100 years, and so the odds of it happening this year are 1 in 100? Or if it happened 5 years ago, the odds would be 1 in 5 of it happening on the 5th anniversary? We're still at 1:1 odds here on this claim.
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 5, Claim 4] For Hoagland, the number 19.5 is a magical number. I'm not going to go into why it is in this particular episode, really all you need to know is that for him it's important. That's also why the whole magnitude of discovery at 19.5 was big.
Anyway, he harps on 19.5 because the closest approach to Earth happens at 19:50 GMT in October. Only problem is that 19:50 hours is 19.83, not 19.5. So now let's give him this, but use his 20-minute window because he's 20 minutes off. But you could be off by 20 minutes in either direction. And you could be in any one of the time zones around the planet. So in reality, you're looking at a 40-minute window in a 60-minute period, or odds of 2:3.
Multiplying this all up, we have a 2 in 15 to 30 chance.
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 6, Claim 5] Here we have another case where his magic number isn't quite so magical. 360 divided by 1.84 is 195.65217... . Rounding it's 196. Not 195. Nor 19.5.
Besides this, his math is wrong, it should be 90, not 360, that he divides into. The reason is that astronomers measure inclination angles from 0 to 90. If you're "above" 90, then you just measure 0-90 in the other direction. If you're "below" the plane of the solar system, you still use 0-90, just in the other direction. So 90/1.84 is a 1 in 48.9 chance that it would be at or below a 1.84° inclination relative to Earth.
Earth and most of the other planets orbit within a few degrees of the same plane. Same with the asteroids. Same with short-period comets. Long-period comets, like Elenin, can get up to much higher inclinations for reasons I'll discuss next episode in the solution to the puzzler from the last episode. But to really nail down a probability of having a long-period comet enter with this inclination, we need to look at a histogram of the inclinations of all long-period comets.
However, I have a feeling that regardless of what that comes out to be, Richard would find some reason to give it low odds of happening. Hence, again, I'd give this claim even odds.
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 7 on Final Odds] In the end, Hoagland has a 1 in tens of billions chance of this happening. My math is 1 in 15 to 30. How many comets do we see in an average year? It varies, but somewhere around roughly 10. So given two years or so, we'd get a comet with similar odds of being unique, based upon my rough math.
[Coast to Coast AM, August 29, 2011, Hour 4, Hoagland Clip 8 on Hyperbolic Orbits] Finally, we have the claim of this being the only comet ever discovered with a hyperbolic orbit. I don't know where he's getting this, because my source, NASA (I'll have a link in the shownotes), says that there are at least 258 known comets with hyperbolic trajectories.
Look folks, the bottom line here is that Comet Elenin is a basic, run-of-the-mill, non-spectacular object that isn't going to do anything . That's the science. That's the science based on all observations and modeling that have served us well for the past few hundred years. It's as simple as that.
Provide Your Comments:
Comments to date: 2. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:
2:02pm on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
Great show! Very entertaining and interesting. I've listened to all of them so far. My only complaint is that they're too short. Thanks for working on the show!
11:16am on Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
I find it odd that there are not hundreds of well equipped amateur astronomers confirming or debunking Elenin's trajectory.