It is the Nigerian-prince email of the astrophysics world -- a persistent rumor that a rare planetary alignment involving the Earth, Jupiter and Pluto will cause a momentary fluctuation of gravity here, rendering us all weightless and able to briefly float in the air, or at least land more slowly should we attempt to dunk a basketball at that perfect moment.
The latest iteration of this rumor tells us that this historic moment will occur Sunday morning at 9:47 a.m. Pacific Time. But if your memory is sharp enough to recall that the exact same rumor circulated about 12 months ago, then never came to fruition, perhaps you can join me in not strapping down all fragile and/or sharp objects as a precaution in advance of "zero G day."
Like many a chain letter assuring you that Bill Gates or an African royal has some extra money just waiting for you to claim it, the notion that we will be temporarily granted a reprieve from the mysterious force that tethers us to this wonderful marble is nothing more than a hoax that has been passed down through the decades.
First of all, no freaky planetary alignment or even an impromptu chorus line involving every rock in the asteroid belt would be able to turn off gravity here on Earth, even for a second -- the planets, especially the big ones like Jupiter with the most gravitational pull, are just too far away. And as for the inclusion of Pluto in the hoax, well this should give you some idea that it's provenance is less than serious. Pluto was, of course, demoted from planet to dwarf planet status several years ago, and it's way too far and way too small to have any noticeable impact on us.
In fact the laughable idea of Jupiter and Pluto conspiring to disable gravity here was originally just that, a joke that dates back more than 40 years to an April Fool's Day prank attributed to the late British astronomer Patrick Moore.
So, sorry folks, real science rains on the parade once again. Too bad, too, because without gravity the potential for epic cow-tipping and even cow-floating tales would have been historic. What would you do for a moment without gravity? Besides this cool trick with a, that is.