WEALTHY businessman Percival Lowell was a 19th-century astronomer who claimed to have found the ninth planet, although scientists have claimed no such planet exists.
The unconfirmed planet was named Planet X and has created a basis for conspiracy theorists who claimed it will cause the world’s end.
Is Planet X real?
As he searched for phenomena through the lens of a telescope, Lowell made numerous conspiracy claims, one of which was the belief he had found the ninth planet, which he called planet X.
Although Lowell never saw the planet, he remained convinced of its existence and when he died in 1916, he left $1million to fund research that would locate the elusive Planet X.
Astronomers continued to search for the ninth planet and thought they found it when they discovered Pluto in 1930, which later turned out to be a dwarf planet.
The search for planet X ended in 1989 when astronomers concluded the planet never existed and the search had been in vain.
However, the search was revisited after two astronomers discovered the Kuiper Belt in 1992 and discovered three other dwarf planets, Sedna (about 40 percent the size of Pluto), Quaoar (about half the size of Pluto), and Eris (almost the same size as Pluto).
The discovery showed a gravitational pull from outside the immediate universe that affected Sedna, taking it from the center of our solar system, which is about 11billion miles from the sun, to more than 84billion miles, meaning it takes 11k years to complete its orbit.
Astronomers believed this discovery meant there may be a planet outside our solar system that is between five and ten times the size of Earth.
Latest on the end of the world
More than 130 years after Lowell proclaimed there is a ninth planet in 1855, scientists have still been unable to find it but Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin are continuing their search.
Brown and Batygin are professors of planetary science at Caltech and co-authored their paper proposing that a massive planet does exist.
“I didn’t have a particularly strong appreciation for just how difficult would be to find Planet Nine until I started looking together with Mike using telescopes,” Batygin told the BBC.
“The reason it’s such a tough search is because most astronomical surveys are not looking for a single thing.”
He told the outlet their opportunities to search for the ninth planet are limited because they only get three nights each year to use the lab’s telescope.
Despite the limited opportunities with the telescope, he said: “The good news is that the Vera Rubin telescope is coming online within the next couple of years, and they are going to probably find it.”
What are the planet X conspiracy theories?
Conspiracy theorists first predicted that planet X would cause the end of the world in 2003, which they believed would smash into Earth, causing its complete destruction.
David Morrison, a planetary astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center and senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute and NASA Lunar Science Institute said on Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SERVI) website that he gets roughly five emails each day asking about Earth’s destruction.
“At least once a week I get a message from a young person ― as young as 11 ― who says they are ill and/or contemplating suicide because of the coming doomsday,” Morrison told SERVI in 2012.
Although followers of this conspiracy theory first believed it doomsday would occur in 2003, Nancy Lieder was the first person to predict such an occurrence in 1995.
Lieder claimed aliens in the Zeta Reticuli star system sent her messages through an implant they placed in her brain. She claimed they told her planet X would crash into Earth in 2003, effectively wiping out all civilization.
However, when her prophecy didn’t happen, her followers selected 2012 as the projected year for the collision, which coincided with other doomsday conspiracy theories and the end of the Mayan calendar which many believed predicted the end of the world because it ended that year.
Morrison advised those who follow conspiracy theories to gauge their belief system based on mainstream news rather than the opinion of an anonymous source online.
“If [a story] is real, it is likely to be in regular news media, not just posted on some website,” Morrison told the outlet, adding: “Not everyone who claims on YouTube to be a scientist or an employee of NASA is. But there is no simple way to distinguish truth from lies.”
Why are scientists fed up?
The conspiracy theory that planet X will collide with Earth has continued long past the first 2003 claim, with three additional projected dates occurring in 2017 and 2018.
Scientists have said they are tired of the substantial amount of doomsday misinformation that is circulating online, and Morrison expressed his disdain on the SETI Institute podcast in 2017 after he was asked about claims of a third apocalypse in three months.
“You’re asking me for a logical explanation of a totally illogical idea,” he said. “There is no such planet, there never has been, and presumably there never will be — but it keeps popping up over and over.”
He said NASA had contemplated responding for fear of legitimizing the doomsday claims, but after receiving an email from a 12-year-old girl who said she and her classmates were afraid of the end of the world, they decided they needed to say something.
Morrison started posting YouTube videos to educate young viewers about misinformation, and conspiracy theories, and to inform them that planet X does not exist.
When Morrison’s website was inundated with comments and predictions about the alleged 2012 collision of planet X and Earth in 2008, he wrote: “I assumed that Nibiru was the sort of Internet rumor that would quickly pass.
“I now receive at least one question per day, ranging from anguished ‘I can’t sleep;’ ‘I am really scared;’ ‘I don’t want to die’ to the abusive ‘Why are you lying;’ ‘you are putting my family at risk;’ ‘if NASA denies it then it must be true.’”
NASA finally spoke out in a 2012 statement, saying: “Nibiru [planet X] and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax.
“If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth … astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye.”
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