Scratching Heads With Imaginary Stars
It was lurking out there, astronomers said. Our sun’s evil companion, invisible, dark, like a stealthy general of an enemy force, wandered silently in hiding, waiting for the next opportunity to order its agents of death into combat. Its name was Nemesis. Every 27 million years, using its gravity, it sent comets from the Oort Cloud, like special forces, toward the earth, bombarding the doomed planet’s helpless inhabitants into fiery cauldrons of mass death.
Cut. Wrong script. There never was a Nemesis. This tale now moves from documentary to fiction. Clara Moskowitz at Space.com reported on a study by Adrian Melott at the University of Kansas that “puts the final nail in the coffin of the Nemesis idea.” No object at the presumed distance of Nemesis would have a regular orbit, he calculated; there’s no way it could account for regularly-spaced extinctions.
As for what caused the extinctions, he has no idea. “For me, it’s a complete head-scratcher,” he said. Others mentioned in the article added further unknowns. “Some in the field question whether the fossil record is really accurate enough to establish a cycle going back that far,” Moskowitz reported.
If they felt comforted scratching their heads with an imaginary star, they’ll now need to scratch that itch without an imaginary scratcher from an imaginary Oort depot (see 06/20/2010). The cycles are imaginary, based on scientists’ imaginary ability to perform divination on the fossil record. That means the cause of the itch, like a phantom limb, was imaginary, too. For that sooooothing feeling of reality, maybe they should stop reading Nemesis 1:1 and start with another passage that rhymes with it.