EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

December 15, 2012

A bulwark against doomsday fears

(Continued)

Five days a week, Morrison calmly and logically explains to the masses through his “Ask an Astrobiologist” website why our days are not numbered.

One of the most common rumors is of a mysterious planet named Nibiru hiding behind the sun, ready to slam into Earth.

“Impossible,” Morrison said. “Earth goes around the sun. We see all sides of the sun. We’d see it.”

And he adds, if a planet were about to hit Earth in a few days, we’d really see it. “It would look like the moon in the sky,” he said. “You’d see it in the daytime. You wouldn’t have to ask the government.”

Kamikaze comets or asteroids? The more than 100,000 professional and amateur astronomers around the world would see those too, years before they got close to us, he said.

Solar flares? Sure, the sun has pulses and storms, which sometimes can disrupt electronics on Earth.

“That’s one of the few things here that is real,” Morrison said. “We know the sun has an activity cycle every 11 years. The peak is late next spring. There will be flares. But they don’t hurt us. This cycle the flares are weaker than last time.”

In recent months, Morrison has appeared in Web videos on NASA’s site, which he says is getting more clicks on doomsday topics than any issue except the Mars rover mission.

Although many claims are spawned by everything from religious zealotry to hucksters selling books, he said, there is a serious side.

“I get questions from people saying, ‘I’m 11 years old, and I can’t sleep, I can’t eat.’ I have had kids saying they are considering suicide, mothers emailing me saying they are considering killing their children before the end of times.”

Andrew Fraknoi, chairman of the astronomy department at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., said Morrison’s work is heroic.

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