Vic Lloyd

(Investigator 61, 1998 July)

Be warned! Any day now, if it hasn't already happened, someone is going to write a newspaper or magazine article foreshadowing the dire consequences of a "planetary-line-up" on 5 May 2000. Already, some overseas publications have jumped the gun (two years too early) predicting earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves and assorted similar mayhem on that date.

It is, of course, as is usual with such extravagant, scary predictions, utter nonsense.

Certainly, on 5 May 2000, the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, together with the Sun, will all lie in our sky within about 25°, of each other (the planets will never array themselves in a dead straight line – it's impossible). Astronomically speaking, this would be a superb display to observe, but disappointingly, Earth will be on the opposite side of the Sun to this planetary pageantry (with its nightside facing away from the rest of the solar system) so we will be denied a view of the spectacle. However, this will be the only downside effect. There will be no sensational dramas.

Richard Talcott, writing in "Astronomy" magazine, points out that although the scaremongers insist upon catastrophic occurrences, basing their predictions on the combined gravitational pull of the planets, there isn’t the slightest scientific support for such a claim.

The gravity of the planets pale in comparison with that of the Sun. The influence of gravity diminishes with the mass of the object and the inverse square of its distance, and all those planets combined are much less massive and much further away from us than the Sun on 5 May 2000. The combined gravitational pull of the five planets will, on that day, be only 0.00003 times that of the Sun.

In fact, when the Sun is closest to Earth in early January 2000 (Earth's orbit is elliptical) its gravitational pull is greater than the Sun and all the planets combined on 5 May. Even a Boeing 747 flying at 30,000 feet produces a greater tidal effect on Earth’s surface, minuscule as it is, than do all of the planets combined, on that date.

And if a clincher is required, consider that the same five planets were even more tightly bunched on 31 January 1962 but no one detected any ill-effects beyond a few isolated events which had nothing to do with planetary juxtapositions, and would have happened anyway.

These nonsensical predictions fall under the same unhealthy heading as that other idiotic pursuit, astrology, and can just as safely be ignored as the dishonest (but lucrative) advice offered by its shady practitioners. Some people will try anything for a fast buck – and the scarier, the better. They thrive on the philosophy that "there’s one born every minute..."

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