Zero gravity day is a total hoax. Email me on 5 Jan to say I’m right.

On 4 January 2015, due to a supposed planetary alignment, Jupiter and Pluto are apparently going to overwhelm Earth’s surface gravity and so allow us to float like the astronauts on the space station.

Anybody see a monolith go by? A picture I made with my trusty Celestia installation - cool, free science software.
Anybody see a monolith go by? A picture I made with my trusty Celestia installation – cool, free science software.

It is, of course, total bollocks, not least because the idea began life as an April Fools day joke in 1976, and the exact same hoax did the rounds this time last year. But I’m fascinated by the fact that such an idea can gain traction in the first place.

The sole bodies in the solar system that have human-perceptible effect on Earth are the Moon and the Sun, which cause tides. Even if Jupiter’s effect on us was more than the 0.000037% of Earth surface gravity that it actually is, the only way it could cause us to perceive gravity as ‘nullified’ would be if Earth was somehow a fixed object, nailed down to something else that Jupiter wasn’t pulling on. In other words, if we humans were affected and the Earth wasn’t. As matters stand, the Earth is pulled along with us by other astronomical bodies.

As for the ‘alignment’, Pluto has a mass 0.002 times that of the Earth, or thereabouts (more soon, when New Horizons checks it out). Jupiter’s mass is 317 times that of Earth. Even if they were the same distance from us, Jupiter’s pull is so huge by comparison that Pluto can be discounted. But wait, it’s worse. In December 2014, Pluto was 5.03 billion kilometres from Earth. Jupiter was 739 million kilometres. Gravitational pull operates according to the inverse square law, meaning that if distance doubles, pull drops by a power of two; so even if they were pulling together, which they’re not, Pluto’s pull is so insignificant I won’t even bother doing the math.

And don’t get me started about what ‘zero gravity’ means, versus ‘free fall’, which is what actually gives the impression of ‘floating’ in space.

But hey, who am I to argue the point? We all know that in reality the only way to avert disaster is if you send me all your money. Now. In unmarked bills…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


13 thoughts on “Zero gravity day is a total hoax. Email me on 5 Jan to say I’m right.

    1. It always amazes me what rumours circulate. For Jupiter to actually do this, we’d have to be within 890,700 km of the planet, and the effect would also break the Earth up. I keep thinking I should start a really stupid one about Mars appearing large in the sky or something, and see how far it gets…

  1. I suspect the internet has given new life to this 1976 hoax! Anything that scares us, I guess, seems worth a look, I suppose. I just finished tomorrow’s blog post, which ends with the word afloat. Perhaps subconsciously I knew…. 😉 As you suspected, no money here, marked or otherwise. Thanks for the smile, Matthew!

    1. It’s amazing what circulates and gains traction – often, it seems, by keying into our fears of apocalypse or dramatic moment. I still recall, back in the 1980s, an absurd tale about planetary alignments knocking Earth out of orbit. I guess the internet makes these things circulate faster. What always surprises me is that proper science is often weirder than the ‘gossip’- quantum physics being a prime example. The latest on that, incidentally, is so fascinating I am going to have to blog about it as soon as I’ve found some papers on it.

  2. Sorry, don’t have any money to send, Matthew! Can’t imagine anything so preposterous as this! Almost as bad as Y2K which I didn’t believe either. Fascinating blog as always!

  3. Zero gravity day? I can hardly wait! Too bad it’s an entirely non-physical, impossible event. Fun idea though, I’ll admit that. Funny if it actually gets traction in kind of a sad way as it is a sorry commentary on science education.

  4. Would you accept Monopoly Money? 😉

    If the Earth occasionally lost gravity, even every 1000 years or so, life would have evolved very differently. Animals like Elephants would never have emerged. You can tell this is a hoax just by looking at our biosphere. Oh, and if it was two planets overcoming gravity wouldn’t people on the near side (facing Jupiter and Pluto) experience weightlessness, and then folks on the far side experience extra-strong gravity? A bad time to be flying on the far side of Earth!

    Still, hoaxes can be fun sometimes. Didn’t you do a post on the dangers of DHMO (DiHydrogen Monoxide)?

    1. Precisely! I’d forgotten I did something on dihydrogen monoxide. Very bad stuff. Corrodes metal, causes death by choking if you sniff it. Found, I discover, in huge quantities beneath Europa’s surface, which poses questions if NASA send a probe to bring some back to Earth for analysis. I really should start a crusade to have it banned.

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