A thoroughly sporadic column from astronomer Mike Brown on space and science, planets and dwarf planets, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the joys and frustrations of search, discovery, and life. With a family in tow. Or towing. Or perhaps in mutual orbit.

Sony Pictures and the end of the world

Based on all the email inquiries that I’ve been getting lately, it seems pretty clear that the world is going to end in 2012, and it is at least partially my fault.
The email inquiries are, of course, generally misguided: the world is not going to end in 2012, and whether it does or doesn’t has little to do with me.
For years I’ve been getting these emails, asking if Eris, the biggest of the dwarf planets, and something that actually does exists, is somehow related to Nibiru, a made-up planet allegedly known to the Sumerians that, in fact, does not actually exist. The main reason for the confusion is that both the real Eris and the mythical Nibiru have extremely elliptical orbits. The non-existent Nibiru does things that the real Eris can never do, however: in 2012 this made-up planet is supposed to swing close by the earth and, well, destroy life as we know it. Bummer.
I try to respond to most of the email that I get from people who are generally interested in understanding more about the universe around them, but I tend to simply ignore inquires about 2012 or Nibiru or Sumerians. People interested in this type of pseudo-science tend to be uninterested in understanding the scientific reasoning which shows that those beliefs are unfounded. But lately I have been getting an ever-increasing amount of this email along with frequent phone calls from 2012 people. What is different this time is that these people sound truly worried. One voice mail I received said “I’ve got kids; this really scares the hell out of me. Is there something I should be doing? Is this real?” He left an email address. Slightly shaken at his tone, I wrote back saying that, no, this is one of those crazy internet hoaxes and that I’ve got a four year old myself and my biggest worry for 2012 is what she is going to be like as a seven year old. He wrote back relieved. Weird, I thought. This didn’t seem like typical pseudo-science wackiness. This guy was inherently skeptical about the 2012 claims, and was happy when someone with a ring of authority told him there was nothing to it, but, still something had made him worried enough that he had tracked down some astronomer he had never met and called him to reassure him about the safety of his family.
What gives?
Curious about why some people are more than usually worried about this sort of stuff, I actually read a piece of spam I got this week from something called the “Institute for Human Continuity.” It seemed ever so slightly more slick than usual:
As the Communications Director of the Institute for Human Continuity, I'd like to thank you for taking an active role in preparing yourself for 2012. Please note your ticket is only valid for one person. Therefore, we strongly suggest that you encourage your friends and family to register for lottery numbers at TheIHC.com.
The IHC has uncovered evidence indicating that the disasters of 2012 are both real and unavoidable. We believe with 94% certainty that exactly four years from today, cataclysmic events will devastate our planet and many who inhabit it. December 21, 2012 cannot be ignored.
Though the future is uncertain, there are several things we can and must do to prepare. You have already begun by entering the IHC lottery and visiting our website. In the coming weeks, I will be hosting an online discussion during which I will answer your questions and provide additional knowledge on how you can continue to prepare. You may submit your written questions to me via twitter and email. We will also be accepting video questions and will have more details for you in the coming weeks.
I look forward to receiving your questions and working together to ensure that the end is just the beginning.

Dr. Sorën Ulfert, PhD
Communications Director
The Institute for Human Continuity
Twitter: sorenulfert
Curious, I decided to check out the web page linked above. As I ran my mouse over the link, though, my eye was momentarily caught by the real address that popped up at the bottom of my browser:
Sony Pictures?
OK, now I was really intrigued.
Check out the web site yourself. It’s got press releases, an “education” section all about Planet X, a history of the IHC, and a list of the Ph.D.-heavy staff. Some even wear bow ties. And, hey, you can participate in a poll! (“Which sport would you like to see reestablished first after 2012?” I vote for stock car racing, though basketball and football might be doing better so far.) You are encouraged to sign up for a lottery to see if perhaps, by the grace of the IHC, you will survive the cataclysm. But your chances are limited, and the number of slots is almost full. Best act quickly, you are told. An odometer showing how many people have already signed up for their chance to live continuously increases in the upper right corner of the web site (8,422,601, as of this moment). Most of these people, sadly, are destined to die.
On occasion – usually late at night at a telescope trying to stay awake -- I amuse myself by going to similar apocalyptic sites. They all have a similar look and feel, sort of like the web equivalent of a typewritten piece of paper that has been Xeroxed dozens of times. It’s clear that they’re kooky just by looking at them.
This one is different. It is slick. It is professional. There is no obvious sign anywhere that this is the work of kooks.
And then, if you look ever so closely, you might note at the bottom that all of this is copyright 2009 by Sony Pictures. And you might see a link to the “2012 Movie Experience.” But you’d be forgiven if you missed these, what with the end of the world happening and all.
So the entire web site and spam that I received that directed me here is an advertisement. Except that it never says that. It purports to be a real site from real scientists with real concerns about the end of the world, but, in the end, it just wants to make a buck by having you go to what is likely to be a crummy movie.
If the spam email had tried to scare me about the end of the world and then directed me to a web site which turned out to simply advertise the movie, that would have been distasteful. But what is the right word for a spam email that tries to scare me to go to a web site which then tries to scare me even more and doesn’t even admit to being simply an ad for a movie. Well beyond distasteful. Disgusting? Outrageous? Putrid? Reprehensible?
Am I overreacting? It’s just a movie, right? And a witty viral ad campaign, right? At some point they will break the silence and say “Surprise! The world is not ending! This is just a movie! Aren’t we clever?” And we’ll all be so happy that we’ll decide the best way to celebrate is to go see a movie. Any movie except one from Sony Pictures.
Maybe at that point I’ll quit getting phone calls from people who are scared for the continued existence of their families. Or maybe not. Maybe this fear-mongering ad campaign is not the reason I’ve gotten so many more scared phone calls and email messages lately. Sadly, though, if it is the fault of the ad campaign, Sony Pictures would presumably be pleased.


  1. Professor Brown,
    Just because it's an ad, doesn't mean it isn't true.
    Prepare to die, Dr. Brown. I'll be watching that
    first stock car race without you, enjoying my Coors,
    safe in the knowledge that I prepared by supporting
    IHC with big bucks, while you smirked in your ivory tower there at Caltech. Your dwarf-planet hunting
    days are numbered.

    Professor GM

    1. What Happened??

  • Laurel KornfeldJune 7, 2009 at 10:03 PM

    I'm an actress. Does it have any information about where they are holding auditions for the movie? I was in "Deep Impact," so I already have experience with big disaster films.

  • It's an established literary technique for an author to write a story in the same style as a factual document, a diary or report of some kind.

    But when you buy the book, context tells you that the book is fiction, and the author's tricks are just there to help you suspend your disbelief. Usually the author also slips in sly clues for the smart reader that he's just playing a game with you, perhaps a reference to another well-known fictional character.

    It sounds like Sony is playing the game a little too well, without recognising that without the context that a book or movie at the theatre has, a website will look too real. Possibly down to cynicism on the part of the web-developers; they may think that no-one could possibly be taking doom-in-2012 seriously.

  • Huh. If a bunch of people leaving Lite Brites laying around Boston cause a terror alert, shouldn't Sony get a visit from the cops?

    Just because it's Americans doing it to Americans doesn't make it terrorism.

    OK, extreme, but... damn. The fellow you described sounded terrified.

  • On December 21st, 2012, Asteroid 19 Fortuna (~200km) will harmlessly pass within 6.5Gm of asteroid 687 Tinette. The Maya civilization predicted the 2012 solstice.

    On December 20th, 2012, dwarf planet Ceres will pass within 1.6842 AU (251.9Gm) of the Earth at an apparent magnitude of 6.7 in the constellation of Taurus.

  • You don't say if you've done anything to check whether this really has anything to do with Sony Pictures. A quick "whois" check and various other poking around show a group of nameservers and domains registered to:

    Business and Legal Affairs
    Sony Media Software and Services Inc.
    6080 Center Drive 10th Floor
    Los Angeles CA 90045
    LALegal@am.sony.com +1.3105868811 Fax:

    You're probably better placed, geographically, to determine whether this is real.

  • Looks to me like Sony is taking a cue from Orson Welles. It was a bad idea in 1938, and it's a bad idea now.

  • Hi, Mike :(

    Maybe you ought to take ed_davies' advice. I don't think Sony Pictures would appreciate this if they knew about it. There may be firings - or, Sony Pictures routinely and automatically brings the full weight of the Law against all those who make unauthorized use of their name, image, copyrighted works, pirated music, etc. etc.

    They have a complete legal section that doesn't do anything else. They routinely sweep YouTube and MySpace and erase such ripoffs. I believe that either Sony isn't behind this, or that some rogue employee went way beyond what Sony is trying to do.

    At any rate, it would be a good idea to notify Sony of the threatening/terrorist e-mail in their name. Be sure to go beyond what ed_davies (thanks, ed :)) suggested so that you satisfy yourself that you are talking to the real Sony Pictures and not some fake site or fake office.

    From what I've seen, these creeps are going to be sorry they messed with Sony Pictures. I think it's probably an outside group, I've seen advertisements for this "Nibiru" group for a long time, somehow I don't think Sony Pictures does advance work that far in advance.

    I have been intimidated by all this when I try to talk about Raup/Sepkoski/Muller/Alvarez. You mention "Nemesis" and these Nibiru guys will automatically discredit you. When I first moved to Austin, people would hear about my Lagrange ideas and ask if I've ever heard of Immanuel Velikovsky. Yeah, I had ... he's some kind of a nut. If his scenario were true, both Earth and Venus would be red hot.

    Sometimes I think the whole UFO scenario was designed to discredit all those who want to seriously consider the possibility of life on other planets. Or just make it all a great big joke.

    -Michael C. Emmert

  • no, no, check it out. it really IS an ad for Sony Pictures. They really have a new movie coming out. They are the ones who are directly responsible!

  • Bah! Sony jerks.

    The webcomic "minus" features a vastly preferable doomsday scenario: http://www.kiwisbybeat.com/minus37.html

  • Hi Mike:

    Interestingly, I first heard of this from an advertisement for the movie '2012'. I saw a trailer for the movie, was intrigued, and just followed my mouse. It was my opinion that since many of the links, puctures, and other references on the IHC web site didn't work, it was obviously a hoax, a tool to advertise the movie.
    However, some friends of mine and I have figured out why the Mayan calendar runs out at the winter solstice:
    they ran out of rock.


  • Dear Mike Brown, you make fun from simple questions from people who know little about problematic tied with year 2012. You but ignore scientific worries from people who devoted lot of time to serious researches of Planet X, Nibiru problematics. I started this research bit sooner than you started looking for planetoids,....and it was really serious hard work, but done with enthusiasmus. You havn't given answear on my many questions till now, you simple ignored them. Why? If 2012 means endangering of whole mankind, possible extinguishing of whole civilisation, similar how it was in Noe's time so this is not important topic?!
    you know well, that 2011 is transit of Venus, aphelion of Jupiter, Solar minima, ...all planetoids, Pluto,...are close to their perihelions or apehelions,... why only it is misshappening or what?! Two "spots" detected by Milagro cosmic rays detector correspond to spring and outumn positions of Nibiru/dark matter what is comming and is less distant than 2 billions km from us?
    Dr. Pavel Smutny

  • That don't worry be happy in 2012 can stop so called panic, but panic wasn't on beaches of Sumatra, Sri Lanka,.. in 2004. People were even shooting, filming coming tidal waves. Animals escaped in panic,.. and survived, but those 300000 sunbathing,...people not! So make fun from 2012.

    People were laughing on Noe preparing his ark. Rain was 40 days, water was 150 days higher than mountains, 150 another days water was rising and receeding (clear tidal effects of Nibiru). So, when flood lasted circa 1 year so it means that body what sucked waters from one hemisphere on another,... X was among inner planets circa one year. It means, that perihelia had to be approx. 100-500 millins km from Sun. This is message of Bible. Jesus said, that it would be on the end how it was in Noe's time. There are but also writings of Summerians, of Egyptians, Mayans, from China,...what speak similar way. One ancient writing from China's mountain say's how should be land desalinated after flood and that water was in China till level of ever lasting snow in mountains,...minimum 2000m.
    It depends probably also on us, on our decisions if history repeats similar way and we repeat that whole one cycle of Nibiru or we make step to higher level of life,more spiritual,...existence.
    Pavel Smutny

  • Oh, play along.

    John Cusack, with his reporter hat on, has to save the girl (Amanda Peat) and absorb some of the craziness from Harrelson's Pinchbeck2012 wannabe character.


    Director Roland Emmerich follows this up with a film adaptation of Issac Asimov's "Foundation" for Columbia Pictures.

    The Mayan's had it goin' on. From the Yucatan, sitting just below the Tropic of Cancer ... right at the convergence of the Pacific & Puerto Rican Quake zones ... during hurricane season...during a Solar Max -- they were just reporting what they saw. Red skies, too much water, and a whole lotta shakin' goin' on.

    They really knew their math, too.


  • "However, some friends of mine and I have figured out why the Mayan calendar runs out at the winter solstice: they ran out of rock."

    Has anyone ever considered flipping it over and seeing what's written on the back side?

    Seriously, I have to wonder at the hysteria. I've been following (from a safe distance) the whole Nibiru thingy since about 2003. I'll admit to being intrigued by some of the theories concerning a possible binary companion to the sun (a brown dwarf, perhaps?)

    But 2012? Surely, if something so big and disruptive were that close to the earth, we wouldn't need a telescope to see it.

    Thanks for weighing in on this, Mike. I, too, couldn't help thinking about Orson Welles and "The War of the Worlds". Pretty irresponsible of Sony to pull such a stunt.


    Bob Shepard

  • link for official trailer

    some my youtube short videos:
    for advanced Nibiru researchers,...suitable for watching only after reading of my webs:
    Pavel Smutny

  • Like all predicted disasters, 2012 will likely come and go with no more problems than any other typical year. Why does every generation think they are the *chosen generation* to witness the end of days? (Shaking my head)

    Jupiter will come to perihelion (4.94838AU from the Sun) March 18th, 2011, basically like it does every ~11.8 years. Jupiter came to perihelion on 1951-Nov-20 @ 4.94841AU from the Sun. Jupiter came closer to the Earth in 1951 (1951-Oct-02 @ 3.94872AU). Does Jupiter's gravity influence solar cycles? Maybe. Does the 2011 Jupiter perihelion passage mean a disaster is coming? No. We could all die on any given year... :-)

  • Mike, you're looking at this the wrong way. From now on, when you get questions about Nibiru, reply and tell them "It's not real -- it's just a movie" and send them a link to the main Sony site for the picture. That'll be far, far more convincing than any scientific argument.

    You should thank the Sony folks. :-)


  • No, No, No, its not Nibiru that's going to cause the end of the world it Mars when it passes so close to Earth this August that will appear as large as the full moon.

  • Thanks Mike, I've just read the article it was giving confidence after all what I read in the internet regarding the subject issue, but still you have to reply seriously to what Dr. Pavel Smutny says, one of you should be right.

  • Well we might all die in a billion years. :-)

    'Tiny chance' of planet collision

  • The Boston Terror scare was pathetic. But technical point, Sony is Japanese, not American... :P

    Anyways, if you guys doubting it was Sony didn't notice, Mr. mike brown included the link that proves it's Sony, no one can fake an url that has news.sonypictures.com at the start... Sony obviously owns sonypictures.com and any URL that has -Insert Word-.sonypictures.com at the front...


  • Hello, Daniel :/

    Gee that's terrible, Sony Pictures runs Nigerian-style ad campaigns. I mean, if you look at "Dr. Soren Ulfert"'s letter, that's pretty sordid.

    Well, I hope Laurel lands the part. She could play herself and it would be an interesting character.

    The most disastrous event we'll have in 2012 is yet another election. That's actually more likely to cause the end of the world as we know it.

    I had a neat video of "It's the End of the World as We Know It" on my YouTube Favorites but the copyright people swept it out so it's no longer available. Too bad, that was a great clip. BTW, I lost Joe Satriani and Steve Vai and John Petrucci & crew doing "Lagrange" the same way.

    I did a science-fiction song once, it was called "Lazy Weightless Spaceship", played with slide guitar. People liked it. I think they liked the effects, "magnetic plasmas" and "Coriolis jam" and the tilting gyros...fun song to do.

    Dr. Brown's organized, systematic survey has debunked any "Nibiru" idea (already, Dr. Smutney). It is not the purpose of surveys like this to debunk science fiction. The purpose is to learn about the Universe. Debunking science fiction happens quite by accident in cases like this. So does "debunking" "existing" planets, for that matter.

    One of the guys in the TV room explained to me that science fiction is supposed to be so unbelievable, so out of the norm of proven existence, that you can divest from your mind from reality thinking so that you can completely immerse yourself in the storyline. I think better stories come from more plausible scenarios. My opinion.

    Sony Pictures may be trying to get rap-music style "cred" from having a real scientist debunk the movie. Weird.

    -Michael C. Emmert

  • Robert Carnegie rja.carnegie@excite.comJune 25, 2009 at 6:09 AM

    In other disgraceful commercial activity online, see BBC news link. On Twitter "The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us (a furniture business) and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to", with content such as "Join the database for free to win a £1,000 gift card", attached to those randomly selected topics. As it happens, those topics include the crisis in Iran over the disputed election outcome, and that, rather than the entire effort, is considered to be the offensive part. For heaven's sake, it's just spam, the same as posting into, I dunno, an astronomer's blog. And sure they want you to join their database. And you can never leave it.

  • I read something about this over on on this post http://whenistheworldgoingtoend.blogspot.com/2009/06/end-of-world-in-2012.html

    The IHC is a big load.

  • I honestly didn't have a problem when I checked that site out.

    1. (c) Sony 2009 at the bottom
    2. Some guy who is certainly NOT chief of staff on the right-hand-side (I know that and i'm from Europe)
    3. The site works too well. If this was a real website of such magnitude the whole thing would be clogged with inefficient communication of the facts.
    4. The whole institute of whatsit sounds so sci-fi I don't know how anybody could take such a thing seriously.

    That said, billions of people inhabit the earth. Just because I and other people like me will take it as an obvious hoax/ad, doesn't necessarily mean that it will be taken as such by someone from a less educated background with less amenities with which to keep up to date.

    It is quite irresponsible of Sony to do this, but then I seem to remember they wanted a perfect replica of a church in Manchester (or somesuch) so you could blast aliens' brains out on the alter. I think they thrive on such interest, and bad publicity like this will delight them.

  • Evidence Mounts For Companion Star To Our Sun (More fuel for the fire?)

  • I'm worried that Sony's marketing techniques could backfire bigtime. Remember Comet Hale-Bopp, and the religious nutters who killed themselves? Now, to be honest, I wouldn't worry too much if another bunch of nutters do the same, but if any children die then I'd want Sony prosecuted for murder.

  • Comet Hale-Bopp would be the Heaven's Gate group.

  • I wrote a song about Captain Button, another person in the news at about the same time as the Heaven's Gate affair. Cpt. Button broke off from his formation of A-10 Warthog airplanes during a live fire exercise over Arizona and disappeared. I was hoping he'd bailed out. So I had Cpt. Button join a commune.

    The lick I wrote illustrating him downing the drink the guru offered him was the hardest lick I ever played. It involved harmonics, bending strings without bending them too far (killing the harmonics), it took lots of practice. Fortunately I pulled it off, I guess Matt the Electrician showing up caused me to apply high quality performance standards because Matt had high quality standards.

    The song was hilarious and got a lot of laughs from a lot of folks. But then they found Cpt. Button, he'd run the airplane into a cliff. Not funny any more...

    Captain Craig Button did this, not the Air Force. Hale and Bopp are not responsible for Heaven's Gate.

    Hi, Kevin :), it's a little hard to see how the Binary Research Institute got a resonance from a 12,000 year period and a 26,000,000 year period. I followed the link at the bottom of the article and he started talking about Sumeria and such. BRI was founded in 2001 so that's quite a bit longer lead time than the movie, I'd say. I ran into this a couple of years ago. Sony is probably not directly involved.

    -Michael C. Emmert

  • Sedna is in resonance with Nemesis,...so called binary companion of our Sun. Sedna has orbital period circa 12700 years and orbital period of Nemesis is approx. 25400 years so there is 1:2 synchron. But there is planet X/Nibiru with orbital period circa 1500 years.
    Nibiru is 7th, Sedna is 9th and Nemesis is 10th in Titus-Bode law,...
    Pavel Smutny

  • respect. Nibiru is 9th, Sedna is 11th and Nemesis 12th planet,directly for calcul. in Titus-Bode law....
    there were discovered periodical waves of earthquakes with period circa 1300years in mediterranien see area,..-resonance with Nibiru's orbital cycles?!
    Pavel Smutny

  • Pavel, there are a lot of convenient assumptions about the existence of mutiple objects in your posts. It is always easier to disocver an object when it is near perihelion, ie: Pluto, Sedna (around the year 2075), and most comets. If the "Planet (by size) / Comet (by orbit)" Nibiru was going to pass close enough to influence the Earth surely we would see it by now.

  • Kevin,if you had seen that star map from Milagro cosmic rays detector,.. so there are hot spots-clear positions of Nibiru at circa during spring and autumn equinoxes. Nibiru was at Aldebaran during spring, Nibiru was at Castor and Polux during autumn equinoxes, what represents positions of Nibiru in distances approx 1,5 billion km from us.
    Staff from Milagro should tell to us, to public, what parts of spots are from what years and so I can tell more about comming Nibiru.
    I sent them prooper materials, to every of them, but not response was till now?!
    They have no their own explanation, but they don't want to accept other expl., what is reasonable.
    Ancient star maps what I have are very clear, with many details.Senmut map, maps on my ancient carpet show exact possitios of Nibiru on sky during last years before Nibiru's arrival to perihelia.There is depicted Nibiru how very dark object what is visible only when is as close circa as Band of asteroids.
    That astro carpet is actually part of so called tablets ME, what were reason for wars among ancient sumerian so called gods. there is no interest to know what about are those tablets....Do you think that our destiny will be better than that one of Atlanteans?!

  • Hi, folks :)

    Today after biology lab I told my lab partners about the eclipse/occultation event for Namaka and Hi'iaka. Unprompted he asked what I thought would happen in 2012.

    "Nothing!" I replied.

    Then the girl chimed in with stuff about the Mayan calendar. Then she said, "Well, it's just a movie, anyway."

    So I guess Sony Picture's publicity campaign is working. I kind of got the impression that these people were considering seeing it.

    It's not a statistically significant finding but it might be that Sony has stumbled on to a gold mine.

    I wished I remembered the election joke. That's probably the best response. Make up new jokes.

    Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon launch. It turns out that NASA lost the historic original videotapes of the Moon landing. A Hollywood studio has been contracted to enhance the copies...

    Wait a second. That's not a joke, it's true #/


    -Michael C. Emmert

  • If you have been watching the History Channel and several other cable channels there have been a plethora of “end of days” shows. The Mayan Calendar, Nostradamus' predictions, Edgar Casey, The Bible Code, ect all state that the end of the world will occur on December 21 2012. What is even more astounding is that all of the shows are produced by Sony Pictures!!

  • Professor Brown;

    Thank you for writing this. I wanted to let you know that I've added a link to this article to 2012hoax.org under the 'Guest Views' section.

  • Nobody knows the hour or the day that the lord God will bring the end of the world Dec 21 2012... even the angels even the Son of God Jesus Christ himself doesn't know...only the Father in Heaven... My fellow Brother's and sister's....

  • 2014...still no sign of "Nibiru".
    Whole subject matter is hysterical. Read this afternoon that the new date the crazies are giving Planet X is 2016.
    Gotta laugh aint ya?