The Aug. 21 total solar eclipse will cause stock market disruptions, national security calamities and power failures, some have predicted.
Others claim it will usher in a new era in human perception. Or wipe out humanity, when a planet no observatory has seen crashes into the earth 33 days after the eclipse.
All of those predictions are absurd, baseless and deserve other, earthier terms denoting how thoroughly wrong a notion is, University of Missouri director of astronomy Angela Speck said.
"I got in a big argument on Facebook because someone told me it is such a coincidence the moon is exactly the right size to block out the sun," Speck said. "Well, most of the time it is not big enough. People like to see the hand of God in this. If you want to see the hand of God in it, that is fine. But we don’t need to invoke God to understand it."
Eclipses are a regular part of the celestial revolutions and the exact time and location of ancient and future eclipses can be plotted for as long a period as anyone cares to do the calculations. The dates of ancient eclipses have been used to precisely date events as wars or dynasties.
Before mathematical precision brought predictability to eclipses — and for a long time afterward in many instances — they were believed to be omens of doom or displeasure of the gods.
Joseph Wright, operations manager of the Warkoczewski Public Observatory at University of Missouri-Kansas City, said he is alarmed by "the crap that radio stations have on at night" that discuss doomsday predictions related to the Aug. 21 eclipse.
"We have shows like that that are feeding this frenzy of non-science, when it is so easy to go to an observatory and look through some really nice instruments and see what is out there," Wright said.
The most widely circulated prediction that is wrong is that a planet variously called Nibiru or Planet X will crash into the earth 33 days after the eclipse. The catastrophe has been predicted before — most recently in 2012 in association with the supposed relation of the Mayan calendar to the end of time — but this time an author named David Meade claims he’s found biblical clues that this is, indeed, the correct time.
NASA responded to the notion in an article called "Beyond 2012: Why the World didn’t end."
"If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye," NASA reported. "Obviously, it does not exist."
A planet-sized body close enough to hit earth in 33 days would be close to crossing the orbit of Mars if it was moving as fast as earth revolves around the sun, about 1.6 million miles a day. It would appear as a large star and grow noticeably larger each night.
Smaller objects, which can potentially do a lot of damage but not a global catastrophe, are harder to track, Speck said.
"Things smaller than a car, those are hard to see, that is where we get a meteor like the one in Russia," she said. "Anything larger than, say, a bus, we will see it."
Once a large object is located, determining its orbital path around the sun is determined by long-set mathematical rules.
"Because of the way gravity works, it is really not hard," Speck said. "If it is moving fast, very quickly we would know its trajectory."
Less dire predictions include a discussion on coast to coast AM radio about stock market disruptions and blackouts. On Ground Zero, an article foretold a change in the world.
"The world is not ending, but the eclipse may once again signify that the times of the universe are about to go through significant changes; many of these changes will be subtle while some may affect a lot of people as the fore structuring process of a New Aeon or philosophy of mind will most definitely change the way we perceive time."
Speck laughed when she heard that read.
"I love things like that because it is vague enough that you can claim that it is true — how we perceive time is very personal," Speck said. "I have no doubt it will have an impact on people on a personal level. It is very emotional experience."
Some government agencies have made fun of the doom-and-gloom and some have been made fun of because of the serious nature of their preparedness warnings.
The Massac County, Illinois, Emergency Management Agency was one of the latter. It had to clarify what it meant after issuing a preparedness alert calling on people to fill their cars with gas and buy food by Friday, check on the elderly to make sure they are supplied, check medications and have a backup communication plan.
"There was no intent to paint a picture of ‘gloom and doom’, for lack of a better phrase, by its posting," the agency wrote on Facebook.
Oconee County, Georgia, Sheriff Scott Berry announced Aug. 3 that an eclipse would occur "as celestial forces no one understands will blot out the sun. It is very likely this is the end of life on this planet as we know it. As your Sheriff I expect each of you to begin panicking today."
Berry jokingly encouraged people to rush to grocery stores and pregnant women to smoke cigarettes and drink liquor to "prevent radioactive waves from making your ankles swell and being grouchy most of the time."
Missouri’s emergency management center will be activated during the eclipse but mainly because the extremely heavy volumes of traffic expected into and out of the path of totality, said Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.
"If you review our page, our page is very measured compared to other information that is being put out," O’Connell said.
In a recent article published by Space.com, Speck tried to explain the eclipse as a social phenomenon.
"There are so many ways in which eclipse day is going to resemble a zombie apocalypse," Speck told the space news website.
So far, Speck said, the internet echo chamber hasn’t morphed that comment into a claim that the eclipse will cause a zombie apocalypse.
"I don’t think so, but you never know," she said.
— You can reach Rudi Keller at email@example.com.