Jessica Ellis
November 15, 2015 5:04 pm

Look, we understand that one of the problems with the Internet is the sheer mass of data. You’ve got to be seriously on top of things to sift through thousands of aggregated stories, gleaning fact from fiction and cute puppy from average puppy (hint: there are no average puppies). But what’s worse than unclear sourcing or misleading data are straight up hoaxes, and the Earth going dark for 15 days is definitely that.

The story originated on a site called Newswatch33. According to the original false tale, Jupiter’s atmosphere heated up because Venus came dangerously close to it. This resulted in Jupiter emitting a burst of hydrogen, which hit the sun, which will attempt to cool itself off by making it nighttime on Earth for 15 days, seriously exciting all vampires. Oh, and the sun is going to turn blue first, which is terrible for me because it’s just not my color.

There are so many things wrong with this story, which has been thoroughly debunked by Snopes, among others, it’s hard to know where to start. In the first place, Newswatch33 is a notorious fake news site (other stories include Beyonce and Jay-Z buying the rights to the Confederate flag) that should never be trusted. Primarily, however, anyone who has taken a science class, visited a planetarium, or even watched an episode of Cosmos, should be at least a bit suspicious of the scientific details.

Also, there’s a bit in the original story about how NASA administrator Charles Bolden has detailed all of this in a 1000-page report given to President Obama. Even if Bolden, who is a real NASA administrator, had the time to write a 1000-page report, do you think the President has time to read one?

Nevertheless the story gained traction through social media, and even spawned it’s own hashtag, #NovemberBlackOut.

If you are now blushing a bit at being taken in by this story, don’t be down on yourself: there’s a lot of incredible news in the world and sometimes we just haven’t had our coffee yet. But you can let this be a good learning experience. We all benefit greatly from scientific interest and curiosity. As the world’s personal astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson says, “Scientific literacy is an intellectual vaccine against the claims of charlatans who would exploit ignorance.” Our suggestion? Any time you see a “news” story that suggests an apocalypse is on the way, be ready to ask questions.

(Image via iStock.)

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