Answer Man

Niribu makes a fun story, but it’s not real

Astronomers discover new earth-sized planet

A new Earth-sized planet, named Proxima b, has been discovered by a team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's 3.6 meter telescope in La Silla, Chile, as well as multiple other telescopes around the globe. The planet is orbiting
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A new Earth-sized planet, named Proxima b, has been discovered by a team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's 3.6 meter telescope in La Silla, Chile, as well as multiple other telescopes around the globe. The planet is orbiting

Q: There is a lot on the internet about the planet Nibiru. Since you seem to enjoy investigating weird things, I was hoping you could dig a little deeper to see if any of it holds water. I’ve had more than one person who is supposedly “in the know” tell me that the average Joe is best left in the dark when it comes to government black projects.

Vic, of Fairview Heights

A: With apologies to all the fine ladies in the Red Hat Society, this preposterous urban legend of an invisible planet on a collision course with Earth seems to be straight from the Tinfoil Beanie Brigade.

I should know. Back in 2003, an acquaintance started warning me in the spring to get right with my Maker because Nibiru/Planet X was already well into our solar system and bearing down on Earth for a doomsday smashup that fall. During months of exchanging emails, I tried to use my knowledge of astronomy and other logic to try to prove that her “evidence” sounded like a plot from Guardians of the Galaxy.

I finally gave up, and, not surprisingly, I’m here today writing about it. Meanwhile, like all the other predictors of the end times through the centuries, the Nibiru fanatics are once again using Windex to clean their crystal balls and readjust their dates accordingly. Meanwhile, I stand by my conclusion that the closest you’ll ever come to Nibiru is seeing the so-named volcanic planet make a cameo appearance in the very fictional “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”

As usual, though, this apocalyptic yarn is based on a smidgen of history. In Babylonian astronomy/religion, Nibiru is the seat of the god Marduk, who controls the stars.

“Nibiru is (Marduk’s) star, which he made appear in the heavens,” it says in the creation story Enuma Elis. “The stars of heaven, let him (Nibiru) set their course; let him shepherd all the gods like sheep.”

But in the past half-century, authors hoping to profit from the doomsday crowd began appropriating this ancient story for their own profit. In 1976, for example, Zecharia Sitchin wrote “The Twelfth Planet: Book I of the Earth Chronicles.” (Six others followed, including one in which he wondered whether it wasn’t a nuclear bomb that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)

He alleged that he had discovered Sumerian (not Babylonian) documents which stated that 3-foot-tall humanlike aliens lived on Nibiru. About half a million years ago, they decided to mine gold in Africa and began crossbreeding with our ancestors, producing our current evolutionary line. However, he did not expect that we would meet up with Nibiru again until about 3000 A.D.

“This is in the texts; I’m not making this up,” he told the New York Times in 2010, sounding more like humorist Dave Barry shortly before Sitchin’s death at age 90.

But his story was pretty esoteric, so, in 1995, self-described alien contactee and psychic Nancy Lieder started writing on her ZetaTalk website of a coming pileup between Nibiru and Earth. This was what my acquaintance latched onto — and so, apparently, did millions of others. According to NASA astrophysicist David Morrison, there may be 2 million websites devoted to this coming close encounter of the worst kind.

Like me, Morrison says it’s all a bunch of galactic garbage. As he noted in an explanatory video, when we’re able to track relatively small pieces of space debris, how could a good-size planet just a few million miles out escape detection? Obviously, it can’t. Moreover, if it visited our solar system regularly in the past, it likely would have altered the orbital paths of Mars and the Earth, perhaps even stripping our moon away from us. Yet in all this time, nary a peep.

That it didn’t come in 1995 didn’t stop these people. When the 2003 disaster failed to materialize, Lieder conveniently moved it to 2012 to match a Mayan calendar. NASA received so many queries that it again had to issue a statement saying the whole thing was ridiculous, but, of course, since they were associated with the guv’ment, they weren’t believed. Earlier this year the yarn was given new life in David Meade’s book, “Planet X — the 2017 Arrival,” in which he talks about several impossible-to-detect planets circling a star called Nemesis that now are swooping in on Earth.

To me, Nibiru is the pro wrestling of astronomy: mildly entertaining but certainly not to be taken seriously. I’ll rely on science, which tells me that while a major “perturber” may lie on the fringes of our solar system, the closest it would come to Earth is 200 astronomical units (a.u.) with just one a.u. being the distance from the Earth to the sun.

Today’s trivia

Trivia books will be gathering dust as I take a three-week break in the action. See you back here July 12.

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: Songwriter Jimmy Webb was barely 19 when the Supremes made the first commercial recording of one of his tunes — “My Christmas Tree” on their 1965 “Merry Christmas” album. You may not remember that one, but you most likely know many of those that soon followed: “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Up, Up and Away,” “MacArthur Park” and “Wichita Lineman,” just to scratch the surface. As a result, Webb was just 39 years old when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in January 1986, making him the youngest such honoree ever. Now 70, he earned the Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 and its Johnny Mercer Award in 2003 and served as its chairman emeritus from 2010 to 2014. As a fitting tribute, Glenn Campbell’s farewell album just released is entitled “Adios,” which has Webb’s “Adios” as its final track. Webb also recently released an autobiography, “The Cake and the Rain: A Memoir.”

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer