Would alignment of the planets cause catastrophe?

One could answer the planet question with a plain “no”.
Or, as Cecil did, explain why “no” is the correct answer.
I would like to get out my bazooka and kill the dead mosquito some more.

So, I hereby submit to y’all: even if the pangalactical uberspacesergeant in the sky managed to align all planets in the solar system on a perfect line, it would cause no more than headlines.

Come to think of it, it might cause some serious trouble. The headlines due to the perfect alignment might cause people to build bunkers, start bizarre religious sects and freak ot and start riots and whatnot. But let’s get back to the point I was trying to make: the moon does make a difference by causing tide and reflecting more or less sunlight, but the other planets in the solar system have a rediculously small impact on life on earth. (Other than indirect, placepo type effects manifested by such things as astrology and headline hubbub.)

I haven’t actually checked the figures, but to make way for some creative input in this thread, I will now shoot from my scientific hip and claim that:

  1. If someone throws a peanut close enough for you to see it, it has a bigger gravitational impact on you than a perfect alignment of planets.
  2. Even if the aforementioned uberspacesergeant moved all planets to the orbit of Mercury, it wouldn’t have any noticeable effect on the sun (which has such a fanfanbulously much greater mass than all planets combined that it just wouldn’t matter).

Is there any teeming caos theory expert out there who could elaborate on the effect of the flapping of a butterfly’s wings compared to the the flapping of planetary orbits?

Here’s a link to the column.

I was hoping for a more detailed analysis from Cecil – not that the catastrophe-believers deserve more attention, but just because the science is pretty interesting.

Here’s a link to the Bad Astronomer’s discussion of the topic. In particular, there’s a cool chart about half-way down regarding the planets’ gravitational effects on earth; and some links to other discussions about it at the bottom of the page.

The gravitational force from the peanut will still be less than that of, say, Jupiter, but the tidal effects from the peanut (which is really what’s relevant; gravity never hurt anybody) will be greater. A useful trick for calculating tidal effects is that the tidal effect due to a body is proportional to its density times the cube of its apparent size. So for things that have the same density, comparing angular size will let you compare tidal effects. The planets range from a little less than the density of a peanut to about six times as much, which is still pretty close to the same, for our purposes. But a planet appears as just barely more than a pinpoint in the sky, while a peanut appears as something much, much bigger than a pinpoint. So the tidal force from the nut will be significantly greater.

It’s not the alignment of the planets you need to worry about, it’s the alignment of the sun with the galactic core.:eek:

Chronos said:

Right. It’s the electrostatic forces at the bottom that cause all the pain. :smiley:

Actually its the turtles :slight_smile:

Yeah, an alignment wouldn’t noticably affect the sun. Though the sun can exert significant tides on planets, the planets won’t exert a significant tide on the sun.

See: I knew I was somehow kinda right. And the next time I’m hung over, I intend to blaim the headache on not the dehydrating or other ill effects of alcohol, but to the adverse tidal effect of the peanuts.

Which happens every January.

The alignment of the Sun with the galactic core is always there.

What bugs me about such claims is the implied ignorance of the timescales involved. Over the history of the solar system, of course there have been closer alignments, and Earth kept spinning along. It’s rather like the premise of The Fifth Element in which the super ultra mega evil whatchacallit is supposed to visit Earth every 5,000 years (hence its last visit coincided with Egyptian pyramid-building or some damn thing). Trouble is, 5,000 years is a trivial blip compared to the overall age of the Earth, so is this the super ultra mega evil whatchacallit’s 900,000th visit or what? In fact, any astronomical phenomena operating on a cycle that can be measured in mere thousands of years is blindingly fast compared to what’s going on around it, including timeframes for which the word “glacial” is an gross understatement. So when some astrology nut talks about cycles and alignments and crap, odds are they never looked at (or understood) a good logarithmic time scale.

Which is why January sucks. :wink:


Thanks for a lot of fun and interesting input, everybody! The tidal issues and the bad astronomers link have topped my “check out and learn some more”-list so far.

I guess one thing that inpired me to start this thread is the annyoing fact that if you take a bunch of randomly chosen scary (or good) events and compare it to a bunch of planetary orbits, you’re bound to find some kind of correlation. (Assuming you discard all findings that don’t support what you want to prove.)

Does this have anything to do with those harmonica virgins everyone was talking about 22 years ago?

Yeah, but worse, if there’s anything worse than listening to harmonica virgins. That one only lined up six of the planets plus our Moon. The one in the OP would line up those plus the other two/three/twelve planets, and do it better because they’d be in a real line, not a line as interpreted by second-graders waiting to go to the washroom. At least before Sister said, “I meant a LINE, children, and NOBODY goes until I see one.” She wanted a geometric object that passed between all points, not just any two. We got mathematical fast since you couldn’t go during class. The girl in the desk in front of mine went in her pants because she was embarrassed to go through the BS to get a special trip.

It’s been 45 years and I can picture exactly that hallway. And the girl? Before that I thought she was kinda cute, but not after. Shows I don’t have that particular kink. But if she wore glasses and cashmere, I might’ve made allowances.

Thank you. At last, I know why I have always been drawn toward salted peanuts.

All the planets together would not equal the pull of the moon.

All of the planets together are barely more than the pull of Jupiter alone.

All of the planets together are 0.017 times the gravity of the moon and 0.0000575 times the tides of the moon.

Give or take.