Hear ye! Hear ye! Nibiru, the fictitious planet in the hyped-up 2012 doomsday scare, is not real! This putative world has made a big splash in the human imagination and cyberspace, but there’s not the slightest trace of a ripple of it upon our solar system and planet Earth. There is simply no evidence that it actually exists, despite the claim that Nibiru will be in closest proximity to the Earth between Aug 17 and Sept 26. The idea is that a planet-sized object – sometimes called Nibiru, sometimes Planet X – will collide with or pass by Earth in 2012. But this idea is not supported by any scientific evidence and has been rejected as pseudoscience by astronomers and planetary scientists.
If you have any worries at all about a rogue planet called Nibiru invading the inner solar system, please watch the video below.
This video is courtesy of David Morrison, who is a senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute at NASA Ames Research Center in California. Morrison has said he hopes that the non-arrival of Nibiru will serve as a teaching moment for the public, instructing us all on “rational thought and baloney detection.” But he also says he doubts that will happen.
By the way, we’ve seen wild claims on the Internet that NASA scientists have confirmed Nibiru’s existence. They have done no such thing. For example, check out this claim that Nibiru and Earth would collide on July 21, 2012. Obviously, they didn’t collide.
How did the idea of a Nibiru or Planet X originate?
Real planets are born from vast clouds of gas and dust encircling their parent stars. The non-existent planet Nibiru appears to be the brainchild of Zacharia Sitchen, who apparently introduced it to the world in his book The 12th Planet in 1976. Sitchin claims to have translated Sumerian cuneiform tablets and supposedly discovered that the ancients had been aware of a planet Nibiru having an orbital period of 3,600 Earth-years.
Purportedly, the inhabitants of Nibiru (Anunnaki) first arrived on Earth about 450,000 years ago to mine for gold. Soon after arriving on Earth, the technologically advanced Anunnaki supposedly created humans (Homo sapiens) to serve as slaves. The Annunnaki performed this feat by the use of female apes and genetic engineering.
Apparently, Sitchin did not predict the return of Nibiru into the inner solar system in 2012. Instead, according to Zacharia Sitchen’s book, they predicted it for the year 2900 – 900 years from now.
Enter a woman named Nancy Lieder, founder of a website called ZetaTalk. Lieder describes herself as an alien contactee with the ability to receive messages from extra-terrestrials from the Zeta Reticuli star system through an implant in her brain. She predicted the return of Nibiru in May 2003. When that event failed to materialize, doomsday prognosticators forwarded the arrival date to 2012.
And why not 2012? After all, the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar – used by the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization among others – completes a cycle in 2012. Unless you’ve been on the dark side of the moon, you know that this ending of a cycle in the Mayan calendar has caused its own doomsday stir. It is probably the reason 2012 has become so littered with doomsday predictions.
If Nibiru did exist, we should be able to see it
Time is running out. It’s already 2012. But where is Nibiru, the great planet that’s supposed to bombard Earth and the inner solar system?
Given that its orbital period is 3,600 years, and that it is now the latter part of 2012, Nibiru should be well inside of Jupiter’s orbit by now. Dazzling Jupiter, the fifth planet outward from the sun, is impossible to miss with the unaided eye. In fact, you can view Jupiter’s four major moons with ordinary binoculars. So why is Nibiru nowhere to be seen?
Orrery and Planetarium programs show no Nibiru
Reputable sky charts are readily available for all the solar system planets, the larger asteroids and brighter comets, the dwarf planet Pluto and even dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Pluto. But where’s a comparably viable chart for the planet Nibiru?
Moreover, bona fide online orreries and planetarium programs let you visually see the present positions of all the solar system planets at the drop of a hat. But I have yet to see the planet Nibiru on any of them. Some orrery programs are even accompanied by an ephemeris, which is a table listing calculated positions of celestial objects at regular intervals. The ephemeris on the right lists the coordinates for the sun, moon, planets and even the dwarf planet Pluto for early September 2012. Noticeably absent, however, is the planet Nibiru.
Astronomers have discovered a number of large trans-Neptunian objects – most notably Sedna – in the far, far reaches of the solar system, but have yet to find the planet Nibiru within the inner solar system. How is it possible that astronomers can see an extrasolar planet some 25 light-years away but not detect Nibiru in our back yard? It’s not possible. Nibiru doesn’t exist.
If it did exist, Nibiru’s orbit would be highly unstable
Nibiru supposedly has an orbital period of 3,600 Earth-years. Let’s pretend for a moment that’s the case. Knowing the orbital period, we could use Kepler’s third law of planetary motion to compute Nibiru’s semi-major axis at 235 astronomical units (AU). Given the planet’s semi-major axis, we could go on from there to figure out other aspects of Nibiru’s orbit.
If the semi-major axis = 235 astronomical units (AU), then the major axis = 470 AU. We know Nibiru’s orbit around the sun can’t be a perfect circle (orbital eccentricity = 0) because, if that were the case, it would always be 235 AU from the sun and never reach the inner solar system. Assuming that Nibiru comes to within one astronomical unit (AU) of the sun, the outer edge of its orbit must recede as far as 469 AU from the sun. Thereby, the orbit would have to be a very squashed ellipse with an extreme eccentricity of 0.9957 (234/235 = 0.9957). The flattened orbit would more resemble the outer edge of a toothpick than a circle in shape.
An orbit with such a high eccentricity is highly unstable. Now that we know the planet’s semi-major axis, we can use what’s known as the Vis-viva equation to figure Nibiru’s orbital speed at any distance from the sun. I find that at the Earth’s distance from the sun, Nibiru would be flying at nearly 42.1 kilometers per second.
Quite by coincidence, that 42.1 km/sec figure represents the escape velocity from our solar system at a distance of one astronomical unit from the sun. Because Nibiru would be traveling at or near escape velocity, the slightest perturbation by another solar system object would destabilize its orbit and likely eject Nibiru from the solar system. It would, that is, if there were a Nibiru.
The non-existent planet Nibiru well demonstrates that out-of-sight does not necessarily mean out-of-mind.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.