Recently a rumor has been racing around the internet that Dutch astrophysicist Dr. Piers van der Meer has announced that the sun is going to explode in six years. This rumor started with an article published on the Weekly World News website, which has since been withdrawn.
The article was repeated on Yahoo News, but in the entertainment section. Nevertheless, because it is contributing to additional anxiety in a time when there is already too much of same, we have researched the story, and found the following...
The article claims that Dr. Piers Van der Meer is associated with the European Space Agency. In fact, no such person is listed among their personnel, and a request for information about him returned an e-mail stating that no information about him could be located.
In addition, the Astrophysics Data System has no record of any papers ever having been published by Dr. Van der Meer. The ADS is an extremely accurate database. It even contains papers published by graduate students, and it is relied upon by institutions all over the world that keep up with astrophysics discoveries and the careers of scientists working in this field. One cannot become a prominent astrophysicist without publishing in the field, and if you publish a paper in any established venue, it will be collected here.
There may be a Dr. Piers van der Meer, but he is not prominent, and probably not an astrophysicist at all.
The story not only states that the sun is going to explode, it states that it is acting in a manner similar to what was seen in observations of Kepler?s Star prior to its explosion in 1604. The problem with this statement is that observations of Kepler's Star did not start until October 9, 1604, when it was already exploding. There was no ability at that time to observe stars that were in a pre-nova phase, and nothing unusual was seen until the supernova actually took place.
In addition, astronomers do not believe that the sun is of a star type that has enough mass to go supernova. What will happen to the sun is that it will become what is known as a red giant, then slowly decline until it is a white dwarf, then gradually dwindle out. Earth will indeed be incinerated during the red giant phase, but this will not happen for billions of years.
One statement in the article is true?and indeed, we find that most of the best internet hoaxes contain a grain of truth. That is that the sun is indeed experiencing a period of unusually intense activity at the present time. The sun operates on an eleven year cycle that has been studied for many years, and predictive models have been evolved that accurately forecast the progress of the cycle from maximum to minimum, a process that takes place over an eleven year period.
In 1997, NOAA commissioned a study of the current solar cycle, prior to the predicted maximum. This prediction showed the cycle reaching its peak in early 2000. In fact, solar activity continued at peak levels into 2002, and the largest solar flare ever recorded took place in April, 2001.
The grain of truth in the hoax story is that a massive solar eruption was recorded by the SOHO satellite on July 1. The hoax states, "The alert was issued after an international satellite photographed a massive explosion on the surface of the Sun that sent a plume of fire 30 times longer than the diameter of Earth blasting into space." It goes on to identify this as an explosion that took place on July 1, 2002.
The July 1, 2002 explosion was indeed enormous, but it was not the largest solar explosion ever recorded. The truth behind the hoax is that the sun has not been acting, in recent years, according to prediction. Solar weather has been much more violent than expected. But nobody is sure what this means. However, it is most unlikely that it means that the sun is going to 'explode.' In fact, the sun is one of the most stable star types, and the evolution of this star type has been carefully studied, by analyzing the activity of similar stars of different ages.
There are levels of variability in the sun's activity that are not yet understood, and they undoubtedly have had, and will have, profound effects on earth and her climate. However, the sun is not likely to explode anytime soon, if ever.
To read the hoax story, click here.
To learn about solar cycle prediction and the 23rd Solar Cycle, click here.
To read about the July 1, 2002, eruption, click here.
To read about the largest solar flare ever, click here.
You can follow the sun on Unknowncountry.com. Go to the search engine on the lower left side of the homepage and input the words "solar flare." This will provide you with a wealth of credible and well-researched stories about the actual state of the sun.
When it comes to global warming, we need to separate internet rumors from well researched facts.
NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.