The Truth Behind the Rogue Planet Nibiru

By: Mark Mancini  | 
Many conspiracy theorists and doomsday prophets believe in the existence of unknown planet Nibiru, and that the orbital path of the passing planet will eventually bring destruction to Earth. NASA

Doomsday prophecies often can find receptive ears. Sure they're grim, but for various reasons, some people actually take comfort in apocalyptic predictions. That doesn't, however, make these prophecies true. A lot of widespread ideas about end times rely on faulty science and nonexistent "evidence."

Take the Nibiru cataclysm. It's perhaps one of the worst doomsday offenders. Most believers say that Nibiru is a mysterious planet that orbits the sun, completing a new trip around the star every 3,600 Earth years. And supposedly, hypothetical planet Nibiru, aka Planet X or Planet Nine, is a giant planet tracing a collision course with us. The story goes that Nibiru will someday crash into our home world or, failing that, get close enough to trigger a mass outbreak of natural disasters that'll destroy civilization as we know it.


Don't worry; Nibiru is pure fiction. If it were real, there'd be traces of its gravitational influence all over the solar system. No such clues exist. Besides, any distant objects with Nibiru's alleged orbit likely would've kissed our sun goodbye ages ago, leaving mankind in peace.

'The 12th Planet'

Nibiru entered the public consciousness in 1976 with the publication of "The 12th Planet" by Zecharia Sitchin. We should note that Sitchin himself didn't believe Nibiru posed any immediate threat to mankind. On the contrary, he thought it was linked to the creation of our species. Yeah, there's a lot to unpack here.

The late Sitchin was a journalist and a student of Sumerian cuneiform — ancient writings of Mesopotamia and Persia mainly on clay tablets. Somewhere down the line, he became convinced that Homo sapiens are not the product of natural selection — at least, not entirely. According to his (questionable) interpretations of ancient Mesopotamian texts and inscriptions, the first humans were bioengineered by some aliens called the Annunaki, who once colonized southeastern Africa.


Sitchin claimed these beings hailed from a place called Nibiru, a hitherto undiscovered planet. His writings state that Nibiru approaches Earth once every 3,600 years and then retreats to the depths of space.

"The 12th Planet" and Sitchin's follow-up books were never taken seriously by scientists or historians, but they sold millions of copies nonetheless.

A depiction of the mythical planet known as Nibiru or Planet X as it hurtles toward a cataclysmic rendezvous with Earth.
Marc Ward/Shutterstock


Doomsday and Conspiracy Theories

As for Nibiru, it was destined to become an object of fear. Starting in the mid-1990s, the imaginary Nibiru was incorporated into a slew of doomsday and conspiracy theories. One psychic decided to warn mankind that Nibiru would fly past us in the year 2003, causing mass destruction en route. Obviously, this didn't happen. But Nibiru kept making headlines.

Many proponents of the faux 2012 apocalypse thought Nibiru was going to strike Earth that December, vindicating their beliefs about the Mayan calendar. More recently, in 2017, some Christian fundamentalists declared that Nibiru or a similar object was fast approaching and would soon herald the apocalypse.


Sayonara, Solar System!

Let's take this opportunity to try and put some minds at ease. To recap, Nibiru supposedly has an orbital period of 3,600 Earth years. On its face, that claim seems plausible. After all, it takes the minor planet Sedna (which actually exists) an incredible 11,400 Earth years to finish one trip around our sun. But Sedna gives the sun a wide berth. Astronomers and planetary scientists use astronomical units, or au, to measure some of the vast distances in the cosmos. One au is equal to about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers), which is the average distance between Earth and the sun.

Even at its closest point to the sun, Sedna is 76 au away from the life-giving star — putting it in the outer solar system and far beyond the outer planets Uranus and Neptune, and the much-maligned ex-ninth planet Pluto (the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006). Yet Nibiru is supposed to make regular forays into the inner solar system, which is the domain of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.


Using these criteria, Bruce McClure at calculated that the far end of Nibiru's orbital path would be about 469 au away from the sun. So in the span of 3,600 years, poor old Nibiru would have to travel all the way from planet Earth to this very distant location — and back. To stay on schedule, the planet would need a ridiculously narrow, almost stick-shaped orbit instead of a circular orbit.

And Nibiru would be moving really, really fast. As it passed by the Earth, we'd expect such an object to have a dizzying travel speed of 26.1 miles per second (42.1 kilometers per second). That spells trouble. A planet cruising at such a high velocity — and along such an unstable orbit — would be at risk of getting ejected out of the solar system entirely. Bye, Felicia!


The Gravity of the Situation

OK, so what would happen if Nibiru actually stayed the course and maintained its weird orbit around the sun? Well, if that were the case, we'd have found telltale evidence.

According to NASA's planetary science division, it was in 1992 that astronomers who had "doggedly scanned the heavens in search of dim objects beyond Neptune" discovered the distant Kuiper belt, which is thought to contain hundreds of thousands of other objects, known as Kuiper belt objects (KBOs), or extreme trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), as well as smaller objects discovered, such as up to a trillion distant comets and three dwarf planets: Haumea, Makemake and Eris.


What other hypothetical planets could be lurking in our own solar system there that we don't know about?

Long before Neptune was discovered in 1846, astronomers suspected there might be a large planet in its general vicinity. Why? Because observers noticed that Uranus — which was first sighted in 1781 — kept deviating from its expected orbit. Mathematicians hypothesized that this was because a nearby planet was influencing Uranus. Lo and behold, these predictions were spot-on. The mystery planet turned out to be the gas giant we now call Neptune.

If the mythical planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X or Planet Nine, were actually found, the name would have to be approved by the International Astronomical Union.

Likewise, if Nibiru was real, its influence on the other planets in our solar system would be plain to see. And if — as many apologists claim — Nibiru was a giant planet Jupiter-sized or bigger, that influence would be all the more obvious because massive planets exert strong gravitational pulls.

Today, all the planets from Venus to Neptune orbit the sun on the same general plane (give or take a few degrees). But according to planetary scientist David Morrison, if a Nibiru-esque body was careening past Earth every 3,600 years, its gravity would've driven at least some of those planets way off the plane — leaving them with severely tilted orbital pathways.

(Also, spare a thought for Earth's natural satellite. Nibiru would have presumably stolen our moon away by now.)


Seeing Is Believing

Finally, there's the issue of direct observation — or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Astronomers would be able to detect Nibiru several years before it reached Earth. And several months prior to the wayward planet's arrival, it'd shine brighter than some of the stars that are currently visible to the naked eye. But nobody's ever seen the prophesized planet, amateur astronomers or otherwise, and there's no scientific evidence to think that anyone ever will. The jury is in: Nibiru's just a hoax.