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The Question

(Submitted February 9, 2009)

I recently read on an organization's website about a newly found planet called "Planet X" and how it will end life on Earth in December of 2012. The group is called "The Institute for Human Continuity," and they are supposedly dedicated to seeing that human life is continued and that the people who survive can repopulate the earth. They have some sort of lottery entry that people can enter in "to ensure their survival" after this massive disaster (as if money is really going to matter then). You can find this info at www.instituteforhumancontinuity.org. Could you please tell me if their story has any merit and if it's possible that our exsistence on Earth could end on that date? Thanks!

Ashlee

The Answer

Hi Ashlee-

Thanks for your question. To be blunt, this is a complete hoax designed to get people's money. There have been several "Planet X"'s in science fiction over the years, but the only so-named object with any astronomical merit was a hypothetical planet with more mass than Pluto long thought to orbit the sun somewhere beyond Neptune. The search for such a planet has recently come to a fruitless conclusions, given that its "missing mass" is no longer deemed necessary to account for the orbital motions of the planets we do recognize:
http://discovermagazine.com/1993/sep/planetxisdead271/?searchterm=planet x

The site you mention appears to be a part of an advertising campaign for the upcoming Sony Pictures movie "2012" starring John Cusak, and indeed is linked from the official home page of the movie:
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/2012/

So the "Institute..." site is as trustworthy as the plot of, say, "Independence Day." It remains to be seen if "2012" is as entertaining.

Many serious scholors of the Mayan civilization are very annoyed about all these bogus predictions:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/01/27/2012.maya.calendar.theories/index.html

Hope this helps,
Laura & Koji
for the "Ask an Astrophysicist" team

Addendum (Nov 3, 2009): Another excellent article about this issue has been written by David Morrison, a Senior Scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute. This article is available as a free download from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific at http://www.astrosociety.org/2012

Questions on this topic are no longer responded to by the "Ask an Astrophysicist" service. See http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/ask_an_astronomer.html for help on other astronomy Q&A services.

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