Archive for July, 2011

A World Class Physicist’s View Of 2012

July 29, 2011 Leave a comment


Professor Brian Cox, OBE, is a British particle physicist, a professor at the University of Manchester, and a member of the High Energy Physics group working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

He is also a populariser of science, hosting major TV series such as “Wonders Of The Solar System”. The latter was named best documentary series of 2010, and received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in documentary film-making. Other awards for his work in popularising science include the Institute of Physics Kelvin Prize, for communicating the appeal and excitement of physics to the general public. Some have called him “The New Carl Sagan”.

He is an outspoken critic of all areas of pseudoscience, particularly Astrology, 2012, the Mayan calendar prediction, and conspiracy theories concerning the Moon landings. [1] He is also dismissive (in a similar manner to Richard Feynman) of “philosophy of science” written by non-scientists; “to put it bluntly, vast amounts of drivel have been written about the subject by armies of postmodernist philosophers and journalists”. His comment that Astrology is “a load of rubbish”, made during one episode of Wonders Of The Solar System, provoked many complaints from Astrologers. His reply to this, in the Huw Wheldon Lecture, was: “I apologise to the astrology community for not making myself clear. I should have said that this New Age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation”. [2]

He does have a reputation for plain speaking. The Creationist belief that the world is 6,000 years old is dismissed as “bks”, anyone who believes the world is going to end next year because of the Mayan calendar is “a moron”. And people who believe Cern’s Large Hadron Collider will suck the universe into a black hole are “t—ts”. [3]

Views on 2012

Cox’s main output concerns serious science and major projects such as the Large Hadron Collider. His comments on 2012 have generally been made through less official channels, such as his Twitter account and YouTube, where he often uses colourful language and slang. For example, on Twitter he said “the 2012 end of the world stuff is a steaming pile of turd, and if you believe it u r a nobber – that’s my considered view”. There are two videos in which Cox speaks about 2012, filmed informally while on a car journey. The following is a transcript of the first video: [4]

The maya had a long count, which was a calendar, it was basically base 20, mayan calendars are always base 20, that’s because you’ve got 10 fingers and 10 toes, so it’s a HUMAN based calendar. And so the long count began – this current long count – began in 3 thousand 100 and 16 or 17 BC, I can’t remember which, and if you add them all up, then the year 13 0 0 0 0 – which is the end of that long count – is 2012. And in the mayan calendar then, a new long count begins, so the mayans believed that the universe was created in three thousand whatever it is BC, and will end in 2012 because a new one’s going to be created, a new cycle’s going to be created – it’s in the same sense that the day ends when the Sun is devoured in the East <corrects himself> in the West, and reappears again in the East.”


The maya have a calendar which cycles around, and there are many, many, many, correspondents on the internet that believe that that’s still going to be the case, that the universe is going to end in 2012.”


What kind of MORON do you have to be? ….. to?” <pauses>


See the maya had some elaborate system of counting, it all cycles around and their whole civilisation was built on it, so I have no quarrel at all with the maya, I think they had a beautiful civilisation. [but] People on the internet today who …. the thing is, the calendar is based on the number of fingers and toes you’ve got, right. How can that have cosmic significance? 5 5 5 5. How can that have cosmic significance? It just depends entirely on what – on how many dextrous protrusions the organism that invented the civilisation’s got. So …..” <shakes head, lost for words>


“So your opinion of people that think the world will end in 2012 because that’s the end of the mayan long count is? Your opinion is?”

Brian Cox:

I reckon that they might be statistically right, because you’ve got to be such a <expletive bleeped out> to believe it, that you might have a higher statistical chance of walking in front of a bus. So in that sense, they could be statistically correct. And it will be to the advantage of all of us, because the human race will progress in a more measured way, if the people who believe that are statistically removed in 2012.”

The following is a transcript of the second of Cox’s videos about 2012, in which he covers the same ground: [5]


“What do some people think’s going to happen in 2012, and what do you think?”

Brian Cox:

What IS going to happen in 2012, is that the current mayan long count is going to end, so it’s going to go to 13 0 0 0 0. and then, as our experts on mayan culture tell us today, it will go to 1 0 0 0 0, and carry on. But what the maya believe is that the universe will be recreated at that point, because they believe that every long count cycle the universe begins ends and then restarts again. <laughs> However ….”


“What do other people on the internet think will happen in 2012?”

Brian Cox:

The problem with the maya’s view of history, as we now know, is that it’s based on a base 20 counting system, right, base 20, so it’s not base 10, it’s base 20, and that’s because you’ve got 5 fingers on that hand, 5 fingers on that hand, and 5 toes on each foot. So their calculation of when the universe will end, requires you to have 10 fingers and 10 toes. Hence, you would have to be a complete tw*t [6] to think <laughs> that it has any bearing on Cosmolgy. Not if you’re maya, see the maya believed that people influence time passing, people are required actually to keep time passing, so their view of the world was self-contained and sensible. If, at the turn of the 21st century, you still believe that that’s the case <laughs> then you are a tw*t.

On the dangers of the Large Hadron Collider

Cox dismisses “doomsday” scenarios involving black holes or other products created by the LHC in 2012, or any other year;

“according to Dr. Brian Cox at CERN, the universe conducts the equivalent of ten trillion lifetime runs of the LHC every second, and has been doing so for billions of years, with not a single observable consequence.” [7]

What this refers to is the fact that the universe itself creates particles with similar and greater energies than the LHC, and that these naturally occuring particles have been colliding with other particles, in bodies such as the Moon, for billions of years, with no disastrous effects. [8]

Gia Milinovich

Brian is married to Gia Milinovich, an American TV producer. Her blog includes a page entitled “Apocalympics 2012 – Mayan “Prophecy”, in which she berates 2012 believers. Here are some quotes from Gia’s Blog: [9]

Some people – whacky New Agers and many people who should know better – have taken this to mean that the world will end. The fact that the end of the Mayan Long count ends on or near the Winter Solstice adds much more significance to people who seem to think there’s some kind of ‘supernatural magic’ in the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.


What I can’t understand is why people think the Maya had more of an ability to see into the future than any one else.


I’m afraid that anyone who believes there is any deep significance in Mayan Prophecy is quite clearly incapable of finding joy and wonder in the real world and instead insists on creating stories which are based on fear, negativity, insecurity and self-loathing. Seriously, you can’t predict the end of the world *and* love Yourself, Humanity and the Universe, can you? Sad really.

Published scientific papers by Professor Brian Cox (not including CERN);


Media Writing Credits;


1. Brian Cox speaking about Moon Landing conspiracies:
2. Astrology comments during the Huw Wheldon Lecture, at 9 min 20:
6. Tw*t (noun): A stupid incompetent fool, a person who lacks good judgment, a foolish or despicable person.

No, 2005 YU55 Won’t Destroy The Earth

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

On November 8th of this year, the 400-meter-wide asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass the Earth, missing us by the comfortable margin of 325,000 kilometers (200,000 miles).

While this is the largest asteroid (that we know of) to swing past us for the next 17 years or so, YU55 is not an immediate threat to Earth. Its orbit does bring it close enough to our planet that it’s been deemed a potentially hazardous asteroid, but the orbit is well-enough known that we can rule out an impact for at least the next century. That’s long enough for me personally to not be concerned.

I’ve seen some small amount of buzz on the usual conspiracy sites about this asteroid, and I do see some folks trying to play this up a bit (search on “YU55 doomsday” for example), but fear-mongering chatter is surprisingly low for this event. I expect that by this fall you’ll be seeing breathless YouTube videos accusing NASA of covering up a imminent impact — and I don’t say this blithely; it’s happened before. Remember asteroid 2007 TU24? No? That’s because nothing happened, despite the claims of panic-promoters.

As you can see in this JPL animation below, in November YU55 will miss us by a cosmic mile as well (click to embiggen and get a clearer animation):

You can see the Earth at the center (the diagonal line if the Earth’s orbit around the Sun), the Moon orbiting the Earth, and the path of YU55. The scale on the bottom is a million kilometers, about 620,000 miles. The Moon’s orbit is roughly 770,000 km (475,000 miles) wide. The path of YU55 cuts a shallow chord across the Moon’s orbit, well away from our planet.

Still, there’s a chance for some real science on this rock. At that distance, it’ll appear so small (1/4 arcseconds across, where the Moon is 1800 arcsec across for comparison) that it’ll be too small even for Hubble to make much of it — at best, in Hubble’s cameras it will appear to be just two pixels across. And that’s even if Hubble could track it, which it can’t.

But the Deep Space Network of radio telescopes can actually get very high resolution imagery using sophisticated techniques, possibly getting images with a resolution of just 4 meters — the size of an SUV — on the asteroid. That means YU55 will be 100 pixels across, enough to see some details on the surface, including craters, boulders, and even possibly a moon if it has one. Pretty cool.

So anyway, just in case the icky underside of the internet tries to play this up later this year, shouting doom-and-gloom, let me be clear:

By Phil Plait.

Quebec man in end-of-world sect accused of inciting suicide

July 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Man was a member of end of world 2012 cult

A Quebec man who belongs to a religious sect that believes the world will end in 2012 is being investigated by France for allegedly inciting people over the internet to commit suicide.

The man, who has not been charged with a crime, is a member of a New Age religion that believes the world will end in 2012, according to French police.

A few months ago, a French internet user became worried after noticing exchanges between a Quebec man and a group of French followers on several sites discussing the sect.

The Quebec man invited what he called his “divine children” towards “ascension,” according to the Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires (the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances), a French government agency.

“In New Age language, that means ending your days on Earth to reach another universe,” said the organization’s secretary-general, Hervé Machi.

The agency’s latest report reveals that several people under the man’s influence consulted a notary and even began funeral arrangements.

French judicial authorities have opened a preliminary investigation into provoking suicide, Machi said.

The man also wrote on the web that his followers were ready to take off and move towards a vessel of light before a certain date.

French authorities met the potential victims before the date listed to ensure they were safe.

They also notified Canadian police forces about the case, although authorities in Quebec refused to comment and would not confirm whether an investigation had been opened.


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