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We're Not Living On Tatooine
If the Internet is to be believed, we are now living in a solar system (solars system?) with an unprecedented second sun.
That is the conclusion of many dozens of YouTube videos that document, in still photos and musically-torturous video, a bright round object appearing near our Sun in the sky. The pseudoscientific community is citing this as irrefutable evidence of the fictional planet Nibiru and/or Planet X having arrived in our inner solar system.
As a proud but unpaid shill for the skeptical inquiry industry, I had my doubts and decided to investigate further.
Video Evidence of a Second Sun? Really?
I've chosen to examine the video at left in greater detail, as the videographer was kind enough to include a date and location. This second sun was observed March 4th of 2011 from Manchester, United Kingdom. The video clearly shows an anomalous yellow circle to the right of the Sun in the sky not long after sunrise.
Very interesting indeed.
If this is indeed a celestial object near the Sun - or at least appearing to be near the Sun from our perspective - it would be seen from more locations than just Manchester. At this time, observers all over Africa, Europe, and Asia would be seeing the same object near the sun at high noon, midafternoon, and in the early evening. This, to my knowledge, did not happen.
We would also expect it to be visible from our Sun-observing satellites.
Walking Through The Streets Of SOHO In The Rain
I decided to check the imagery from one of these satellites: the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, which is positioned at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. This is one of five points in space where the gravity of the Sun and Earth balance each other and a satellite is able to remain stationary with respect to our planet.
There's no time stamp on the video, but checking a solar calendar I found that sunrise in Manchester was at 6:51 GMT that morning. Since the Sun is a bit higher in the sky in the video, I guestimated it to be shot at around 7:30. The images at right are from SOHO's Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment (LASCO) instrument, which observe the Sun's corona out to 30 solar radii in the white light spectrum. If there were another celestial object near the Sun - be it a second sun or a rogue planet - it would show up in LASCO's imagery.
I do not see a second sun or unusual planet in these images from the C3 (top) and C2 (bottom) instruments - just some nice big solar flares and background stars. There are two exceptionally bright dots to the right and left of the Sun, however. Further investigation using Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Solar System Simulator showed these to be Mercury and Mars - two interesting but certainly non-rogue planets.
While there is a pretty substantial solar flare visible in the image, this is highly unlikely to be responsible for the second sun seen in the video, as solar flares are far too dim to be seen from Earth with the naked eye.
With this in mind, I think we can rule out a celestial cause for the unusual sighting and begin searching closer to home.
How many Suns do we have in our solar system?
You're The Sun Now, Dog
One feature all of these "second sun" videos share in common is that they were all filmed near sunrise or sunset. This is a key detail, as there are a great many optical phenomena involving the Sun that occur around sunrise and sunset. Sun dogs, green flashes, mirages, light pillars, Fata Morganas, and other effects are caused by the refraction of sunlight in the atmosphere near sunrise or sunset.
Sun dogs (or parhelia, in more scientific terms), for example, are a fascinating and visually striking effect caused by sunlight deflecting through ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Under the right conditions, these can cause a complete halo around the sun in the sky. This effect has been recorded throughout history, and was often interpreted as an omen of impending doom. Today, we understand optics and light refraction and know that it is a completely natural phenomenon.
Sunlight is often refracted by ice crystals and temperature inversions and high clouds and other atmospheric characteristics as it nears the end of its 93 million mile journey from the Sun to our eyes. This is particularly common at sunrise or sunset as the light is arriving at a low angle and must penetrate through a much thicker blanket of atmosphere than when the Sun is directly overhead.
Our atmosphere has a well-established history of bending light in all sorts of fascinating ways, producing all manner of interesting and visually beautiful results. While the "second sun" effect is certainly interesting and pretty rare, its origin is also quite natural and explainable - without invoking ancient Sumerian myths or pseudoscience.
- Rainbows, Halos, Glories - Optical Phenomena
Rainbows and other light phenomena described using basic science. Rainbow colors, fog bows, double bows, halos and glories.
- Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph
Data and information for SOHO's LASCO instrument, which returns coronagraph images of the Sun and near-Sun Environment
- Sun dog - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikipedia explanation of sun dogs, an interesting related atmospheric phenomenon.
- Is Nibiru / Planet X Now Visible?
The hub by Sparkster that inspired this one. Thanks, Sparkster!