Does the eclipse mean the world is coming to an end? Some say yes, NASA says no

Images from the Hinode spacecraft show the solar eclipse that darkened the sky in parts of the Western United States and Southeast Asia on May 20, 2012. (Image Credit: Hinode/XRT)

In advance of next week’s total solar eclipse, Sheriff Scott Berry of Oconee County, Georgia has some perhaps surprising advice for his constituents: panic.

In an August 3 post about the August 21 eclipse on the sheriff’s department Facebook page, Berry predicts that “very likely this is the end of life on this planet as we know it.”

“As your Sheriff I expect each of you to begin panicking today,” the post warns. “There is no need to wait til Sunday night to buy bread and milk. The shelves will be empty already as vast hordes descend on grocery stores. If you wait, the only thing left will be potted meat and knock off brand cereal with such names as ‘RaisinO's’ and ‘CheeriBran.’”

He also urges pregnant women to smoke and drink liquor during the eclipse in order to “prevent radioactive waves from making your ankles swell and being grouchy most of the time.”

The post has been shared more than 11,000 times.

In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Berry acknowledged that he did not intend for Oconee County residents to actually follow his recommendations.

“I like to use the page for my little missives,” Berry told The Post. “I appreciate sarcasm as a form of communication, so I try to incorporate sarcasm at appropriate times.”

Sheriff Berry may not be taking the prospect of the end of the world seriously, but others are, and they have plenty of biblical numerology to back them up.

Bear with us. This gets complicated.

August 21 is also the date of a black moon, the third new moon in a season that has four. This phenomenon occurs every 33 months. In the Book of Genesis, the name Elohim is used for God 33 times. The last time an eclipse like this occurred was in 1918, 99 years ago—or 33 times three.

The eclipse enters the U.S. in Oregon, the 33 state, and ends around the 33rd parallel in South Carolina. The event occurs 33 days before a celestial alignment that some believe is presaged in the Book of Revelation.

That symbol is described in chapter 12 of Revelation: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.”

On September 23, the constellation Virgo will be positioned with the moon beneath it and Leo, Mercury, Venus, and Mars arguably creating a crown of 12 stars above its head. Jupiter will be in what could be considered Virgo’s womb.

Depending who you ask, that may be the end of the world right there or it may just be the start of the seven-year “tribulation” prophesied by Revelation, during which various cataclysms will wipe out 75 percent of the world’s population in advance of the Second Coming. Giving credence, relatively speaking, to the tribulation theory is the fact that another annular eclipse is scheduled to pass over the U.S. on April 8, 2024, seven years from now.

How exactly the end will come is debatable—Revelation posits that the appearance of the woman in heaven will be followed by “an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.” One of the most popular theories is that the eclipse is a harbinger of a secret planet, generally referred to as “Nibiru” or “Planet X,” that is hurtling through the solar system along a very coincidental orbit that prevents it from being seen from Earth until just before it crashes into the planet and kills us all.

Among the adherents to the Planet X/Nibiru theory is David Meade, author of “Planet X-The 2017 Arrival.”

“The evidence to support this is overwhelming,” he wrote on the Planet X News website last June. “There are 40 volcanoes erupting at the same time on Earth now. Earthquakes have dramatically increased both in number and intensity. The Elite are frantically building underground “safety” bunkers. The public is being kept in the dark deliberately to avoid panic. Storm systems are multiplying both in type, intensity and size. Sinkholes and cracks are appearing in the earth’s crust. Heatwaves are getting stronger and are lasting longer. I’m just waiting for the fat lady to sing!”

According to NASA, the Nibiru story sprung from the writings of Zecharia Sitchin in the 1970s. Sitchin purported to write about the Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer and “ancient astronauts” who visited them. Sitchin claimed the Sumerians identified the planet Nibiru orbiting the sun ever 3600 years.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s. Self-described channeler-of-aliens Nancy Lieder predicted a massive “Planet X” would pass Earth in 2003, reversing the planet’s poles and destroying humanity. It did not.

At some point, her Planet X became associated with Sitchin’s “Twelfth Planet” Nibiru. "Planet X does exist, and it is the 12th Planet, one and the same," Lieder wrote in 1996.

After the 2003 apocalypse date passed and life continued, conspiracy theorists latched onto the Nibiru theory and connected it to the expected Mayan apocalypse of 2012. That also did not happen, but Meade and others are pretty confident this time.

One might not expect NASA to dignify dodgy predictions of impending Armageddon with a response, but the agency has pushed back on the Nibiru thing many times.

“Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims,” NASA said in a December 2012 FAQ explaining why the world had not ended with the Mayan calendar. “If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist.”

In 2009, NASA Astrobiology Institute Senior Scientist David Morrison wrote that he had received thousands of questions involving Nibiru, 2012, and in some cases the science fiction film “2012.” What followed was a 4500-word takedown of every piece of supposed evidence.

“The bottom line is that Nibiru is a myth, with no basis in fact,” he said. “To an astronomer, persistent claims about a planet that is ‘nearby’ but ‘invisible’ are just plain silly.”

Morrison repeatedly denied that NASA is even capable of hiding the existence of an entire planet, let alone one on an imminent collision course with Earth.

“If it were real, it would be tracked by thousands of astronomers, amateurs as well a professional,” he wrote. “These astronomers are spread all over the world. I know the astronomy community, and these scientists would not keep a secret even if ordered to. You just can’t hide a planet on its way to the inner solar system!”

He also attempted to debunk the notion that the world would end in 2012 at all, which in retrospect, he was clearly correct about.

“The whole 2012 disaster scenario is a hoax, fueled by ads for the Hollywood science-fiction disaster film ‘2012.’ I can only hope that most people are able to distinguish Hollywood film plots from reality,” he said overly optimistically.

Morrison ultimately rejected the premise that it is incumbent on NASA to disprove doomsday scenarios untethered to facts.

“Your questions should be to the doomsday advocates to prove that what they are saying is true, not to NASA to prove it is false,” he wrote. “If someone claimed on the Internet that there were 50-foot tall purple elephants walking through Cleveland, would anyone expect NASA to prove this wrong?”

Bizarre yet dire predictions about the impact of astronomical events have not always proven harmless. The Hale-Bopp comet passing over Earth 20 years ago inspired the largest mass suicide in U.S. history.

At a mansion in southern California in March 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult took doses of phenobarbital and washed it down with vodka in the hope that their souls would be transported to a spaceship traveling behind the comet and taken to the next level of existence.

“By the time you receive this, we'll be gone -- several dozen of us,” the group said in a press release at the time. “We came from the Level Above Human in distant space and we have now exited the bodies that we were wearing for our earthly task, to return to the world from whence we came -- task completed. The distant space we refer to is what your religious literature would call the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God.”

NASA has not responded to a request for comment on the current status of Nibiru, but its scientists have consistently been pretty unequivocal on the subject.

“You don’t need to take my word for it. Just use common sense,” Morrison wrote in 2009, possibly asking too much. “Have you seen Nibiru?... Just think about it. No one could hide Nibiru if it existed.”

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