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  • World Fails to End in June; Bloggers Hardest Hit

    Posted by Jay Manifold on June 30th, 2004 (All posts by )

    A while back, I noted an awesomely silly end-of-the-world prediction and promised a gleeful follow-up at the end of the month. Since I haven’t posted anything on ChicagoBoyz in a while, I figured that was as good an excuse as any to put the follow-up here instead of on Arcturus.
    The original piece was posted due to the anonymous “Bush Country Staff”‘s belief that “[t]he coincidences are incredible” — so after assuring readers that “unless the entire world is introduced to the Anti-Christ in June, we have to believe these events will not be taking place,” they ran it anyway, all 2,900 words and ten screens of it, apparently on the theory that one apocalyptic scenario’s just as good as another. Latitudinarianism in action?
    Don’t worry; I’m not going to fisk the whole thing. Let’s cut to the chase, namely the list of falsifiable predictions:

    … here are the days and the events which are supposed to happen on them:

    • June 8-9 Dust Cloud begins to reach the Earth and darkening of the skies.
    • June 18-20 1st impact
    • June 24-25 2nd impact
    • June 27-28 3rd impact of the “anomaly”

    Since I’m writing this in the early evening, Central time, of June 30, I can state with some confidence that there has been no “darkening of the skies,” or even one impact, much less three.
    Now notice the “intuitive physics” in the above. “Bush Country” readers are presumed by “Bush Country” staffers to find it plausible that if a cloud of dust enveloped Earth, the result would be darkened skies, as though a blanket of atmospheric cloud had formed, or a dust storm had blown in.
    But any particles of dust approaching Earth from interplanetary space will be accelerated by gravity to Earth’s escape velocity plus whatever their relative velocity was beforehand. They hit the upper atmosphere at anywhere from 11 to over 70 kilometers per second. Ironically, a cloud of debris really is approaching us, and the result will be — a meteor shower.
    (A cloud of debris dense enough to block sunlight and starlight would create such an intense meteor shower that the radiant heat of the meteors would start wildfires all over the world.)
    The plausibility of the multiple comet impacts is undoubtedly based on fugitive memories of Shoemaker-Levy 9. But if a comet had broken into three large pieces that were orbiting Earth in a manner analogous to SL9’s orbit of Jupiter, it would have had to pass within the Roche limit of Earth, which is only 15,500 km from the center of the planet and only 9,100 km above the nearest point on Earth’s surface! For comparison, comet C/2001 Q4, which was briefly visible to the unaided eye last month, was 50 million km away at closest approach. Reduce that by a factor of over 3,000 and it would have been over 10 million times brighter — several times brighter than a full Moon, in fact. I think we’d have noticed.
    And if we’re talking about three separate comets hitting us over a period of ten days, well, that’s some mighty fine shooting, partner. First, there’s the historical evidence, which shows only 35 such events within ~15 million km since 390 AD, or about one every 46 years. Three in ten days seems a bit much. Then, turning to this groovy simulator, we find that the typical cometary impact velocity is 51 km sec-1; subtracting the 11 km sec-1 added by Earth’s gravity at the end leaves us with a relative velocity of 40 km sec-1. In the prediction above, the first and second impactors were at least four days apart, and the second and third impactors were at least two days apart. In other words, their physical separations would have been on the order of 14 million and 7 million km, respectively. Earth is less than 13,000 km in diameter. For three comets strung out over 21 million km to hit it, they’d have to be aimed to an accuracy of 2 arc-minutes. This is like hitting a bullseye 2 inches across at a hundred yards, three times in a row.
    Physical problems aside, every amateur astronomer in the world would have been thoroughly aware of any upcoming event even remotely as dramatic as this one was supposed to be, thanks to this mechanism and discussion groups, web pages, etc, referring thereto; an example is here.
    So the formula seems to be: (fascination with apocalypse) + (intuitive physics) + (vague recollection of astronomical events) – (knowledge of existing network for transmitting actual findings) = wildly propagating hoax. Since none of those factors is disappearing anytime soon, my prediction is that there will be more predictions of this type. ;)

     

    15 Responses to “World Fails to End in June; Bloggers Hardest Hit”

    1. MatyaNoBaka Says:

      I’m no marksman, but once my father taught me to exhale and squeeze slowly, i hit a 2.5″ bullseye five times in a row at scout camp. This is in probably a couple dozen or so trials of five shots each. Might have been 60 yards rather than a hundred though, too long ago to remember…

      Tungusta did happen, and there have been other, bigger “events”.

      The Earth survived them, though usually with a big species die-off. And the next one will probably do the same.

      Since foolish predictions are inexhaustable, sooner or later one will be right.

      Maty no baka…

    2. Anonymous Says:

      i can hit 1 in at 100 yards all day long brotha : )

    3. Andy Dolberg Says:

      The above comment was posted by me.

    4. Jay Manifold Says:

      I should have said “hitting a bullseye 2 inches across at a hundred yards, three times in a row” without a rifled barrel.

    5. j.scott barnard Says:

      I can write my name in the snow when I pee…

    6. Sylvain Galineau Says:

      From over a hundred yards ? Damn. The man is good.

    7. rdbrewer Says:

      So the formula seems to be: (fascination with apocalypse) + (intuitive physics) + (vague recollection of astronomical events) – (knowledge of existing network for transmitting actual findings) = wildly propagating hoax. Since none of those factors is disappearing anytime soon, my prediction is that there will be more predictions of this type.

      Not to get too far off topic, but something about this sounds like the Michael Moore forumla for documentaries . . .

      So the formula seems to be: (fascination with [conspiracy]) + (intuitive [reasoning]) + (vague recollection of [historical] events) – (knowledge of existing network for transmitting actual [news, facts]) = wildly propagating hoax. Since none of those factors is disappearing anytime soon, my prediction is that there will be more predictions of this type.

    8. Mitch Says:

      Townsend’s Law of Prognostication: The future will resemble the past, except for an unknown number of unpredictable and important changes. This seems to pass the test. Maybe they just got the date wrong?

      ;-)

    9. Engineer-Poet Says:

      I have one physics nit to pick:

      Then, turning to this groovy simulator, we find that the typical cometary impact velocity is 51 km sec-1; subtracting the 11 km sec-1 added by Earth’s gravity at the end leaves us with a relative velocity of 40 km sec-1.

      Such velocities don’t add linearly, the kinetic energies do.  As kinetic energy of the meteroroids at the top of the atmosphere is ~51 km/sec and Earth’s escape velocity is 11 km/sec, the V(infinity) of the incoming meteroids would be (51^2 – 11^2)^1/2 = 48.8 km/sec.

      And it’s not fair to use superscripts and not let anyone quote you properly in their response.

    10. Andy Dolberg Says:

      I thank the Marine Corps, Jeff Cooper and Steyr ; )

    11. Jay Manifold Says:

      I note that increasing the relative velocity of the putative comets to nearly 49 km/sec (hey, the <SUP> tag doesn’t work in comments!) merely strengthens the case for improbability of the predicted events, as the distances between them grow commensurately, to 17 million and 8 million km, respectively. We now have three unrelated comets distributed across one-sixth of an AU, subject to orbital changes caused by outgassing, just like Halley (or, to take the extreme case, LINEAR). So it’s like shooting at a target with a musket and bullets that have little extra charges on them that go off in flight.

    12. Engineer-Poet Says:

      I don’t think the outgassing makes a difference to the probability of hitting a particular target, as it would appear to turn hits into misses with the same probability as the reverse. All it does is make prediction more difficult.

      It’s far more interesting to calculate the probability of the prognosticators being right. I wonder if the Heaven’s Gate group wasn’t optimal in this regard, as they removed their nonsense from the meme pool in true Darwinist fashion. ;)

    13. Jonathan Says:

      I predict that most people’s predictions will prove inaccurate, but that that won’t stop them from continuing to make predictions :)

    14. Sylvain Galineau Says:

      Indeed. I am blanking on his name at the moment, but one of the fathers of modern statistics, commenting at the end of a long career on statistical predictions, pointed out that, quite ironically and paradoxically, the only consistently reliable statistical prediction he knew of said that about 90%+ of statistical predictions were bound to be wrong. And it seems to remain true, regardless of technology or the increasing volume of predictions.

    15. Jonathan Says:

      Right. The squirrel-in-the-road theory is applicable to both asteroid impacts and interest rates. If it’s far away and it looks like you’re heading straight at it, relax: it’s probably going to move before you get there and you won’t hit it. Similarly, whatever the benchmark interest rate is, the larger the number of economists who predict steady rates for the forseeable future, the greater the chance that some kind of bond-market debacle is around the corner.