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Will a Jan. 4, 2014 Planetary Alignment Decrease Earth's Gravity for 5 Minutes?


As shared on Facebook, Dec. 17, 2013:
Jan 4 2014 Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity

Netlore Archive: Viral article claims a rare planetary alignment on January 4, 2014 will reduce the Earth's gravity for 5 minutes.

Via Facebook

Description: Viral hoax / Prank
Circulating since: Dec. 2013 (this version)
Status: FALSE (see details below)

Text example
Via News-Hound.net, Dec. 16, 2013:

January 4th 2014 – Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity – Float For 5 minutes! #ZeroGDay

It has been revealed by the British astronomer Patrick Moore that, on the morning of January 4th 2014,  an extraordinary astronomical event will occur. At exactly 9:47 am, the planet Pluto will pass directly behind Jupiter, in relation to the Earth. This rare alignment will mean that the combined gravitational force of the two planets would exert a stronger tidal pull, temporarily counteracting the Earth’s own gravity and making people weigh less. Moore calls this the Jovian-Plutonian Gravitational Effect.

Moore told scientists that they could experience the phenomenon by jumping in the air at the precise moment the alignment occurred. If they do so, he promised, they would experience a strange floating sensation.

- Full Text -

Analysis: This may sound familiar to connoisseurs of April Fools Day pranks. It's a loose homage to what many consider to be one of the greatest leg-pulls of all time, namely a BBC radio broadcast on April 1, 1976 during which famed amateur astronomer Patrick Moore announced that an unusual planetary alignment would briefly counteract the force of gravity on Earth at 9:47 that morning.

Anyone who jumped in the air at exactly that moment would experience weightlessness, Moore promised. He labeled the phenomenon, which was supposedly the result of the planet Pluto briefly passing behind Jupiter, the "Jovian-Plutonian Gravitational Effect." Though it was (and is) a load of codswallop, listeners reportedly called in to say they had indeed felt the predicted weightless sensation.

Let's hope the silliness doesn't go that far this time around.

March 2014 update: News-Hound has re-published the prank article, now claiming the miraculous planetary alignment occurs on April 4, 2014. Fooled us twice? I hope not!

More astronomical folklore:
What is a Blue Moon?
Double Sunrise on Mars
NASA's $12 Billion Zero-G Space Pen
Can You Balance Eggs on End During the Spring Equinox?
Did Astronauts Have Sex in Outer Space?
The "Eye of God" in Outer Space
NASA and the Missing Day in Time

Sources and further reading:

January 4th 2014 - Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity - Float For 5 minutes!
News Hound (satire website), 16 December 2013

No, You Won't Be Able to Float on Zero G Day
Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog, 3 January 2014

Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity - April Fool's Day, 1976
Museum of Hoaxes

Sir Patrick Moore - Bio
BBC (date unknown)

Last updated 03/26/14

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