Five Astronomical Non-Events of 2018

Five Astronomical Non-Events of 2018
Artist’s impression of interstellar object ‘Oumuamua

Every year has its astronomical events – and its non-events. Here are five stories ranging from the doubtful to the unhinged.

1. Did an alien spacecraft sail through the Solar System?
‘Oumuamua is the strange object detected in 2017. From its path and velocity, it was recognized to be of interstellar origin. But scientists aren't sure what it was. Since it was too small to image clearly, what we know is based on its brightness, movement and a general understanding of small bodies. So is it a comet? Or an asteroid?

Or an alien light sail? Some Harvard researchers linked the data to different possibilities. And one suggestion was that the evidence was compatible with light sail technology. This is a long way from its actually being alien technology, especially with such sketchy data. But the media loved it. Sample: Mysterious interstellar asteroid 'Oumuamua could be a giant solar sail 'sent from another civilization to look for signs of life,' claim astronomers

2. Mars will look as big as a full moon
Sometime during the past sixteen years you may have seen the “unique cosmic phenomenon called 'two moons'” in which Mars appears as big as the Moon. It's shown up almost every year since 2003.

The distance between Earth and Mars varies. If Mars is directly opposite to the Sun in our sky, we call this opposition. Around that time, Mars is at its closest and apparent biggest. Some oppositions are closer than others because of the shape of the Martian orbit. August 2003 had the closest opposition for thousands of years, and the Mars-the-size-of-the-Moon meme was born.

The 2003 opposition wasn't actually noticeably closer than others that had been seen, all with Mars about 56 million km (34 million miles) away, looking like a bright reddish star. This photograph of the Moon and Mars shows a notable size difference. [Photo credit: Rick Stankiewicz, taken about a month before the 2003 opposition] Mars would have to be only 800,000 km away to look as big as the full Moon.

3. World to end on April 23, 2018
In the non-events of 2017, there was an end-of-the-world set for September 23rd. A prophet of doom wrote a book showing how he'd applied numerology to the Bible and come up with the date. The End would occur as the rogue planet Nibiru collided with Earth. Nibiru is a crazy creation from the 1970s that is still occasionally invoked as Earth's nemesis. There's no evidence of such a planet, and both Christian theologians and astronomers were giving the prediction eye rolls.

But perhaps the date just needed some fine-tuning? The End was changed first to October, then to November. And finally, it was on for April 23, 2018. But 2018 is over with no sign of Nibiru.

4. Gatwick Airport drone could have been ALIEN UFO – shock claim after flight chaos
That was the headline in the British (news)paper, the Express, which regularly enlightens its readers with such stories.

Gatwick Britain's second largest airport, and it serves London. For three days in the run-up to Christmas 2018, over 1000 flights were affected by reports of drones within the airport perimeter. It was all very peculiar, and did not amuse the 150,000 people whose travel was disrupted.

As of January 2019, the authorities hadn't found out exactly what was going on. However a helpful UFO believer had the answer. Not drones, but alien spacecraft! He told the Express that the authorities were aware of it, but had obviously “down played [it] as drones to control the situation.”

5. Man writes book, proves Moon landings faked, except maybe one wasn't
The Express has also brought to reader attention the man – “an astronomer” – who “believes he may have found the top-secret location where [the landings] could have been staged on Earth.” [Note: The man isn't actually an astronomer, though he sells meteorites. And writes books.]

In reality, the Apollo program is one of the most extensively documented sets of events of the 20th century. Nine missions went to the Moon. They were in the public eye. The Soviet Union, America's Cold War enemy, tracked them. The Soviets had been ahead in the Space Race, delighting in showing up the Americans. Since they were working on a manned Moon program of their own, they would have loved to see the USA fail.

But the Express headline read, “MOON HOAX PROVED? Is this where NASA filmed 'fake lunar landings on Earth?'” The meteor man says he found the place in Hawaii that looked like Taurus Littrow, site of the Apollo 17 landing. Scott Brando of website dismissed this as nonsense, noting that NASA scientists chose locations in Hawaii as part of the Apollo 17 training, “to represent geological situations similar to those the crew might encounter on the Moon”.

But why fake the missions? Well, says the book, US prestige was at stake, but astronauts can't get to the Moon. They can't survive crossing the Van Allen radiation belts. Actual scientists – including James Van Allen himself – agree that it can be done safely with careful planning. And indeed it was done 18 times.

Yet contrary to the Moon hoaxer's assertion about the radiation, he also suggested that one mission – presumably Apollo 11 – might have landed on the Moon. BUT then they encountered the aliens based there, and were warned off. Otherwise "Why has there been no serious attempt to return to the Moon?”

You Should Also Read:
Mars Myths – Would You Believe Them
Carrying the Fire – Book Review
Exploring the Apollo Landing Sites

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