The first solar eclipse to span the entire United States has lots of people justifiably excited. The midday disappearance of the Sun is a truly novel and moving experience. For many people, it’s spiritual. Here’s how the exceptional American author and essayist Annie Dillard described seeing an eclipse in 1979 in the Northwestern United States.
At once this disk of sky slid over the Sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the Sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world.
Ancient people didn’t quite know what to make of eclipses, as they didn’t fully understand the geometry of the Solar System, nor that Earth and its Moon orbited around the Sun in tandem and that sometimes the Moon passed between the Earth and Sun. Often, they believed, mythical creatures ate or captured the Sun.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, in the modern era, humans would create their own myths about the eclipse. And because the forthcoming eclipse will cross the most prosperous country in the world, hucksters selling these myths are coming out now to peddle their ideas. Amazingly—well, perhaps not so amazingly considering our willingness to ignore reality—some people actually believe them.
The predominant conspiracy theory for the 2017 solar eclipse seems to be that the secret planet “Nibiru” will smash into Earth on, or around, the day of the eclipse. During the last two days, several British newspapers—The Express, The Daily Mail, and the Telegraph—have all run with some variant of the story. (We have purposefully not included links). Alas, NASA has already previously declared Nibiru an “Internet hoax” back during the 2012 Mayan calendar folderol. But hoaxes are like cockroaches, one can never fully stomp them out.
“I suppose the charitable thing to do would be to talk about how the wonder of a solar eclipse is inevitably a spiritual experience which has always caused people to create myths, and to say that this is the modern equivalent,” Chris Lintott, a British astronomer and author, told Ars. “But it’s really just lazy journalism-by-quote and press release, enabled by the lack of editorial standards that apply online.”
In this case, the real conspiracy appears to be between huckster authors—promoting hoaxes to sell books—and journalists in chase of clicks. “This kind of story takes maybe minutes to write, compared to, say, getting to grips with any of the real science stories around today,” Lintott said. “A scaremongering author with a book to push provides a few quotes, and the articles appear.”
At least in Britain, he said, this phenomenon has spread from The Express to The Mail and Telegraph, with topics such as Bigfoot, Martian aliens, or astrology. Lintott said he gets messages from parents seeking assurance for scared children. “It’s depressing how quickly this bollocks spreads, and upsetting that media brands like the Express, Mail, and Telegraph will put their names to it,” he said.
More Info: arstechnica.com