The ringed planet Saturn

Saturn Will Appear Closer To Earth Than Moon On May 1, 2016: Hoax Goes Viral

A meme claiming that on May 1, Saturn will appear so close to Earth that it fills the entire sky, has gone viral on social media. According to the meme, Saturn will loom so threateningly large in the sky on May 1 that it would appear even closer than the Moon.

Snopes reports that the meme began circulating on Facebook and Twitter in April 2016, with the claim that Saturn would appear perilously close to Earth on May 1. The meme included an image (see below) showing the ringed Saturn in the sky over a city, with the caption, “On 5/1/16, Saturn will be the closest it has ever been to Earth — It will look like this.”

Although the meme is a flagrant hoax, it may have been inspired by news from astronomers that on June 3, Saturn, the sixth planet in our solar system from the Sun, will be brighter than usual in the sky.

According to the astronomy website Earth and Sky, on June 3, Earth will pass between Saturn and the Sun, and Saturn will be opposite from the Sun as seen from Earth. The planet will rise in the east at sunset, reach its highest point in the sky around midnight and then set in the west.

The enhanced visibility of the planet in the sky on June 3 means that it would be an ideal time for sky watchers armed with telescopes to view Saturn’s rings and moons. But, this is far from suggesting — as the viral meme does — that Saturn will loom large in the sky, apparently larger and closer to Earth than even the Moon.

The Saturn meme is one of several hoaxes that have emerged online in recent times, exploiting the anxious fascination of the Internet with threatening astronomical phenomena, such as asteroids and comets, rogue planets, solar flares, and collapsing magnetospheres. This is in addition to threatening seismic and weather-related phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic activity and tsunamis, believed widely in conspiracy theory circles to be influenced by geoengineering technology being applied secretly by the government.

The latest fear-mongering astronomical meme comes after the Inquisitr reported on April 5 about a viral hoax which claimed that a rare, green moon will appear in the sky on April 20 or May 29, for the first time in 420 years. Fact-checking sources debunked the rumor, noting that the reference to 420 years appeared to be a veiled allusion to the number 420 adopted as a code for marijuana in the 1971 by pot devotees at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California.

Astronomical hoaxes spread fear and anxiety among susceptible individuals because they usually suggest events or changes in the natural environment that could have catastrophic impact on life on Earth. For instance, a close approach by Saturn such that it fills the entire sky could be disastrous to Earth due to the overwhelming gravitational influence of the gas giant.

The series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in recent weeks have also led to rumors of imminent mega-earthquakes in the U.S. West Coast that could cause the death of millions of people. Fear-mongering rumors about an impending eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano at the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and the even more recent viral rumor that the magnetosphere — which protects life on Earth from harmful solar winds and deadly radiation — collapsed for two hours on April 23, all reflect the anxious preoccupation of the Internet with threatening natural events outside human control.

The conspiracy theory blogosphere also continues to be preoccupied with fear and anxiety, inducing rumors that the government, through NASA, has been dosing Americans on an anti-psychotic substance called lithium to make the citizenry docile and amenable to control.

Hysteria over imminent asteroid or comet impact events are common online, not to mention periodic fears about an alien invasion of Earth.

Last year, end of world mass hysteria was ignited by doomsday prophets who announced that a catastrophic asteroid impact would occur in the month of September that would nearly wipe out humanity.

The Inquisitr reported, at the time, that doomsday conspiracy theorists spread rumors that the U.S. government has been briefed by experts about an impending asteroid impact catastrophe that would lead to a major extinction event. There were rumors that government agencies were sharing information about the alleged imminent impact event secretly with privileged individuals and that the “elite” were making feverish preparations to survive the global catastrophe by building underground bunkers.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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