posted on Mar, 1 2003 @ 12:35 AM
This is from Space.com... NASA is now lumping us in with the guys that say the moonlanding never took place (there is actually a lot of evidence that
Apollo never did happen...) Granted, a lot of really wierd stuff was put forth, but to be honest, if NASA was up front, it never would have gotten out
of hand... Still have to ask, why is NASA hiding something, and now so eager to cover it up??????
Alleged NASA Cover-up of Menacing ¥NEAT¥ Comet Threat is Pure Bunk, Experts Say
By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 02:30 pm ET
28 February 2003
Internet accounts of a comet, supposedly bigger than Jupiter and possibly bearing down on Earth, have concerned citizens e-mailing astronomers and
journalists worldwide asking if the end is finally nigh. True to form, the rumors also include allegations of a cover-up by NASA.
Scientists say there is absolutely no danger and call the suggestions of cover-up false and even silly.
The inaccurate portrayals on various Internet sites range from suggestions that the comet¥s electromagnetic field will drastically alter Earth¥s
weather in coming days to even wilder notions that it is not a comet but instead the long-missing and hypothetical "Planet X." In some accounts the
object is destined to fulfill dire Biblical prophecy.
Comet NEAT near the Sun on Feb. 18 as a coronal mass ejection billows out. The horizontal line running through the comet¥s head is an artifact caused
by saturation of the imager. The circle in the middle is created by a device that blocks out the main disk of the Sun.
The rumors are all based on a comet called NEAT, discovered late last year and imaged in mid-February by the SOHO spacecraft, which is operated
jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency.
Photos behind the rumors
SOHO took dramatic photos of the comet as it rounded the Sun. The spacecraft has imaged more than 500 similar so-called sungrazing comets in the past.
NEAT was the brightest comet ever photographed by the observatory, but it is not remarkable, size-wise, compared with comets in general.
Adding to scientific excitement during the comet¥s trip around the Sun was a chance event in which a solar eruption, called a coronal mass ejection
(CME), appeared to hit the comet on Feb. 17. SOHO captured the interaction, something scientists had not witnessed before. A kink appeared to
propagate down the comet¥s tail, which astronomers say is energized, or ionized.
Comets are chunks of ice and rock that form in the outer reaches of the solar system and orbit the Sun. When they approach the inner solar system, on
elongated loops, solar energy boils material away. This gas and dust shines with reflected sunlight, creating the telltale heads and tails that make
popular viewing targets out of the icy visitors.
NEAT (officially C/2002 V1) has already made its closest approach to Earth and is now headed harmlessly to the outer solar system, where it will
remain for another 37,000 years before looping around the Sun again. It did not break apart, as some have suggested. It will not change Earth¥s
weather. It will not hit the planet.
In fact NEAT turned out to be slightly disappointing, after some astronomers had speculated it might become bright enough to astound nighttime
skywatchers and possibly even be visible during the day. Instead, few casual backyard stargazers even noticed the comet¥s passage.
"The orbit of NEAT is pretty well understood, and it¥s on its way out, not in," said Philip Plait, an astronomer at Sonoma State University in
California who writes about misinformation in astronomy in an effort to set records straight. "The orbit of the comet doesn¥t bring it any closer to
us than 120 million kilometers [75 million miles], and that was two months ago. So there¥s nothing to worry about."
Range of errors
The accusations of cover-up result, in part, from a few alleged missing images, or images that NASA tampered with, in the series snapped over few days
by SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory).
Plait called the tampering suggestion silly.
Bernhard Fleck, a SOHO project scientist, said it is common for delays to occur in posting images to the SOHO Web site, primarily because the public
release of the large number of photos is done without funding and on a mostly voluntary basis. He said a heavy snowstorm in the Washington, D.C. area
on the days of NEAT¥s closest approach to the Sun prevented most scientists from getting to the office and processing the images.
"I can assure you that nobody manipulated any data," Fleck said today in a telephone interview. "All the images are there now." He called the
accusations of cover-up "pure nonsense."
One Web site, GuluFuture.com, misidentifies NEAT as a planet, saying it formed only recently and has a nucleus the size of Mercury. The account
accuses NASA of covering up this "fact" and of hiding images from the public. Another Web site, Rense.com, fuels fright with more subtle language:
"Maybe it is nothing. Maybe it is something. If something, it could be the most significant occurrence in recorded human history."
Plait, author of "Bad Astronomy" (Wiley & Sons, 2002) and founder of a web site by the same name, told SPACE.com these latest conspiracy theories
share a common trait: "They all have the distinct disadvantage of not being based on facts."
But conspiracy allegations spread rapidly in the Internet age, propagating to other sites such as Rumor Mill News (perhaps there¥s a clue in that
name, for those trying to sort fact from rumor). Plait said his own inbox had been
"hit pretty hard" in recent days with questions about the alleged cover-up and the safety of our planet.
Plait said the idea that NEAT is as big as a planet is just plain wrong.
"The actual comet itself, the chunk of rock and ice, is only a few miles across," he said. "What we see in the [SOHO] images is the cloud of gas
surrounding the nucleus, evaporated off the surface by the heat of the Sun. That cloud is huge, but the comet itself is tiny."
Plait said SOHO images have given fringe thinkers and writers plenty to chew on for years now.
"According to them, SOHO images show UFOs, giant planets, the eye of God, and probably even Bigfoot if you look hard enough," he said. "All of
these facts are based on these people not understanding how digital cameras work."
Many of the "sightings" claimed in SOHO images are the result of bright spots generated when solar radiation hits the spacecraft¥s detector, Plait
Other claims result from artifacts, or flaws, known to exist in the camera. SOHO engineers have detailed these shortcoming of digital imaging and have
even gone so far as to explain "how to make a UFO" out of a SOHO picture in their effort to combat the conspiracy crowd.
Plait complains that the alleged cover-up is "insulting to NASA and the astronomical community. These conspiracy theorists seem to forget that three
people can keep a secret only if two of them are dead. You can hardly ever shut up an astronomer; how would you keep thousands of them quiet?"
He also points out that before the comet came into SOHO¥s field of view, and since it has left that circle of electronic vision, it has been
photographed by several amateur and professional astronomers around the world. These images and other observations were used to determine NEAT¥s
trajectory -- a path that is widely agreed upon.
Benny Peiser, a social anthropologists at Liverpool John Moores University in England, has also been fielding questions on the alleged dangers of
comet NEAT. Peiser studies "neocatastrophism" and press coverage surrounding potentially threatening events.
In Peiser¥s view, the issue has become one of credibility for the science community revolving around public perception of whether NASA could -- or
would want to -- hide knowledge of an impending impact.
Peiser and other analysts inside and outside NASA agree that secrecy is not even possible given the number of non-NASA astronomers who have instant
access to the data and imagery.
"The conspiracy mania regarding comet NEAT is a reminder of just how important a pro-active communication policy can sometimes be," Peiser told
SPACE.com. He said rumors need to be debunked quickly and squarely by scientists so that public trust of science is not diminished.
"Regrettably, most in the scientific community ignore or underestimate these developments that are often driven by political extremists," he said.
In a separate event now tied into the NEAT affair, graduate student Geoffrey Sommer, speaking at a meeting of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Feb. 13, suggested that the government might consider keeping secret information about an impending impact if the
result were to be global destruction and the end of civilization. A few poorly conceived comments -- Sommer said he was misquoted in an AAAS press
release -- spun out of control and fueled conspiracy chatter around the Internet earlier this month.
Peiser warned at the time that the Sommer comments might serve as supporting "evidence" for future conspiracy allegations. That is one prophecy that
has come to pass as spoken, based on this reporter¥s survey of NEAT chatter on the Internet.
The AAAS "blunder is now being flagged up as clear evidence that the alleged cometary impact risk is covered up by NASA," Peiser said.
For those keeping track, comet NEAT is not the first space object purported to present terrestrial doom in 2003. As early as last summer, Web
prognosticators said a Planet X would pass so close to Earth in May of this year that its gravity would generate natural disasters and kill 90 percent
of the people on Earth.
That nonsense was based not on NASA images, but instead involved pure efforts at prophecy led by people like Nancy Lieder, who says she "channels"
aliens called Zetans (from the star Zeta Reticuli) who¥ve explained all this to her.
(Given that comet NEAT¥s arrival is well ahead of Lieder¥s May timeframe, it appears to represent a separate doomsday problem.)
Planet X is often discussed in conversations that include Nemesis, a possible companion to the Sun that¥s sometimes also called the Death Star. No
real evidence for either of these objects exists, though real scientists have put considerable effort into looking for them.
However, the possible presence of another object as big or larger than Pluto, lurking somewhere in the fringes of the solar system, has not been ruled
out. If one exists, astronomers agree, it would not pose a threat to Earth.
Doomsday aficionados might also recall that a chance alignment of planets in the year 2000 had been cited as a moment that would bring great
gravitational calamity to Earth. Nothing happened, just as reputable scientists had predicted.
Plait predicts the same non-occurrence of the present prognostications.
"I wonder what those conspiracy theorists will say a week or two from now, when nothing has happened," Plait said. "Will they say NASA covered up
the destruction of the Earth?"
Philip Plait: Top 5 Cosmic Myths
Comet NEAT: Images from SOHO
Nemesis: Does the Sun have a Companion?
Not Planet X: Largest Solar System Object Since Pluto is Found