To list the number of failed apocalypse predictions throughout human history would comprise a hefty volume indeed. In recent years alone, we have seen the Y2K scare, the 5/5/2000 prophecy, and now the Mayan-based 2012 end of the worlders.
In recent months, however, believers on the Internet have taken two belief-based systems, mixed them together, and served up the latest installment. The recipe was one part Ufology, a dash of 2012 Armageddon. Stir, bake, and let cool.
First, the story:
A SETI Astrophysicist named Craig Kasnov has confirmed that three massive objects are heading towards the Earth, and are due to arrive two years from now. That would be the ominous December, 2012.
And NASA’s own image gallery supposedly confirms it. The organization’s archive SkyView is filled with Hubble telescope data. One of those images shows something mighty strange (see the photo above.)
That unusual blotch is, according to the story, three alien space craft that are many kilometers long each, and are heading straight for Earth.
This news comes to us from online bloggers, YouTube posters, and various “citizen journalist” publications. The hoopla and hype has gotten even Discover Magazine to weigh in and lend an opinion.
Now, the reality:
The blue image above that looks like celestial seahorse? Experts say it is nothing. Literally.
Bad Astronomy writer Phil Plaitt examined the photographic evidence. In a thorough play-by-play, he lays it down:
I can tell right away this is what’s called an image defect, something that isn’t real. The original survey images were taken using glass plates sprayed with light-sensitive emulsion, which you can think of as film but on glass instead of thin flexible plastic. Later, the plates were scanned and digitized by technicians. When that happens, it’s impossible to get rid of all the defects that crop up, including hair or dust on the plate, small cracks and chips, and so on.
More to the point is his identification of problems with the story from the get-go. Just as Nigerian banks promising you money or Google Security demanding your password sounds fishy, there are little details which just don’t smell right.
The article mentions how big they are, too, saying they’re tens of kilometers long. That’s a HUGE red flag in any story like this. Why? Because it’s literally impossible to know how big an object is from pictures like this! You don’t know how far away the thing is, so there’s no way to determine its size. It could be a galaxy thousands of light years across and millions of light years away, or it could be a planet thousands of kilometers across and millions of kilometers away, or — and stop me if you heard this before — it could be a piece of belly button lint on the plate itself.
As Dickens said, sometimes it takes just a stray hair to reveal the lion in the grass.
Or a stray hair on a developer’s plate.
So yes, there is something strange in an actual NASA image. The strangest part is the eagerness of some to leap from “strange blue blob” to “extraterrestrial vehicle of specific dimensions heading towards the Earth and due to arrive at the precise moment of a Mayan calender date.”
And what about the SETI researcher? We can save our discussions of whether SETI can even be considered science for another time (author Michael Crichton famously said that “SETI is unquestionably a religion”.) Let us take to task this particular SETI researcher, this Craig Kasnov, and discover why he made the statements he did.
He didn’t. There is no one involved in SETI named Craig Kasnov. The quote, like the most convincing false attributions to spruce up an Internet hoax, is imaginary.
The weird shapes on the astronomical pictures were nothing more than photographic flaws. The UFO claims had no authority behind them. And the 2012 date merely capitalized on the Maya apocalypse hype.
It is a big universe, and possibly (depending on your preferred quantum mechanical philosophy) a multiverse. If extraterrestrial organisms have indeed developed, constructed a spacefaring civilization, and are actually on their way, it is a nice thought that by the time they arrive, they may encounter a culture which isn’t so quick to make a mountain out of a molehill… or a fleet of attack ships out of a scratch on a picture.