Silly fringe theories about Planet X - an imagined planet typically named Nibiru that is on course to hit or pass by Earth with disastrous consequences - are the kind of thing normally relegated to vanity press-published books or those tabloids you browse in the supermarket checkout aisle. This week, they made it into Fox News, with the added caveat that maybe some other Biblical catastrophe could surprise us instead.
The Planet X theory first emerged in 1995 and is usually evidenced by tortured interpretations of religious texts, with vague suppositions that NASA either hasn't detected this ominous celestial body or is actively covering up its existence to prevent widespread panic. In an article filed to Fox's website on Wednesday, this time the prophesied doomsday comes courtesy of an article in British rag the Daily Express citing numerologist David Meade's interpretation of the Bible's Revelation 12:1-2:
Is The Rapture finally here? One Christian numerologist says a biblical sign strongly suggests it.
The passage reads: "And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth."
In the passage, the woman is represented as Virgo.
According to Meade, the alignment represents "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," marking the Rapture, the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on earth that precedes the end of time.
(Incredibly, while the Express article introduces Meade as a conspiracy theorist, the Fox News one does not.)
Meade is apparently telling every gullible soul with the time to listen that Planet X will appear above the Earth on April 23rd, 2018. This will trigger the Rapture, because the planet's massive gravitational forces will cause volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and all that other bad stuff you see in Roland Emmerich movies.
To contest this grand claim, Fox News includes one view from a mainstream scientific source in just nine words:
NASA repeatedly has said Planet X is a hoax.
To clarify, NASA has said that CalTech researchers analysing the orbit of objects in the Kuiper Belt have found some evidence that there is indeed a large planet in orbit around the Sun beyond Neptune that could be as large as 10 Earth masses. (This is also sometimes referred to by the nickname of "Planet X" in the media, though the conspiracy theories predate any scientific evidence of its existence.) The existence of this planet is merely theoretical, though similar analysis of Uranus' orbit laid the basis to first observe Neptune in 1846.
If it does exist, NASA says the available evidence indicates the unknown planet would be "about 20 times farther from the sun on average than Neptune" with an orbital period of 10,000-20,000 Earth years. That's way further away than Pluto, which no one really seems concerned about smacking Earth in the face.
Regarding the Nibiru theory, in an article on NASA's Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, NASA planetary astronomer Daniel Morrison says conspiracy theorists are "constantly changing their story" on the catastrophic nature of Planet X. Morrison warned that Nibiru stories circulate on YouTube and numerous websites, that he sometimes gets five emails a day about it, and that "If [a story] is real, it is likely to be in regular news media, not just posted on some website."
Fox, which is apparently some website, instead directed readers to this lengthy quote from Jonathan Sarfati, a physical chemist who happens to be a Young Earth creationist and is thereby maybe not the ideal person to pick for a debunker. According to Safarti, we don't need to worry about April 23rd, not specifically because Planet X does not exist, but because the Rapture will happen at any time it damn well pleases:
He told the Express: "As usual with any astrology (or Christian adaptations of it), one cherry-picks the stars that fit the desired conclusion.
"There is nothing to suggest that April 23 is a momentous date for biblical prophecy, and Christians need to be careful about being drawn into such sensationalist claims.
"We won't know the day or the hour - so we should be prepared at all times!"
There you have it, folks. Either a mythical planet is going to rend the Earth beneath its mighty gravity on April 23rd, or something else just as bad and unpredictable could happen at any time. The only thing that's clear? NASA is hiding something.