Ring of untruth

By Phil Plait | October 11, 2007 8:30 pm

One thing I like to do is check incoming links. When someone links to my site, I can see the URL for that page. That helps me figure out who links to me, and why. You find all sorts of funny things that way…

… like that some really super-dumb conspiracy theories never die, no matter how many nails you drive into their coffins.

Remember, back in 2003, when Jupiter suddenly turned into a star?

No? Oh, right: that’s because it didn’t. The idea was that NASA’s Galileo probe, carrying a load of plutonium, would explode and cause a runaway chain reaction turning Jupiter into a star, and that NASA was doing this on purpose. Shockingly, every single thing about the conspiracy theory was completely wrong.


I debunked that silliness quite thoroughly on my site and on the radio, but wouldn’t you know: even though there was no reason to think it would happen, no way for it to work, and no evidence that it did happen, someone decided to extrapolate beyond Galileo and say the same thing will be done to Saturn using the Cassini probe?

Welcome to The Lucifer Project (subtitle: "Where Nonsense Never Dies"). This is yet another in a long line of conspiracy theory pages espousing reams of nonsense, speculation with no basis in fact, and ideas that are in fact totally contradicted by reality.

But why let that stop anyone? Right at the top of the page it says:

I could not be so confident in my assertions if it were not for the additional key research of Jacco van der Worp, a Netherlands physicist, and former NASA Consultant, Richard C. Hoagland. I am sure I will be accused of being an alarmist, but I believe the information presented here will convince any open mind that there is at least some suspicious activity regarding NASA’s Galileo and Cassini missions.

I’m not accusing this person of being an alarmist. I am accusing them of being utterly wrong, and willing to spin wildly inaccurate tales without a shred of actual truth or fact-checking.

And how surprised are you at Hoagland’s name being brought up in this nonsense?

Yeah, me neither. Incidentally, a Google search on "Jacco van der Worp" returns all manners of crank sites, too. I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, the author of the Lucifer Project says that plutonium on board Cassini will turn Saturn into a star, yadda yadda, making all the same wrong claims made about Galileo and Jupiter. I’ve debunked those before, and nothing has changed.

This new page does discuss the aftermath of the Galileo probe burning up in Jupiter’s atmosphere. He talks about the Mysterious Black Spot (cue spooky music) that cropped up after the probe went in. Slight problem with that claim: the black spot was nowhere near where Galileo went in — it was thousands of miles away. And it was at a different latitude, and spots don’t move north/south in Jupiter’s atmosphere. And we see black spots like that one all the time, caused by rising and falling of parcels of gas at Jupiter’s cloud tops.

OK, so that’s lots of problems. And they ain’t slight, they’re show stoppers. Worse, Hoagland was supporting the black spot idea. That should send up all kinds of alarm bells.

Conclusion: the spot had nothing to do with Galileo. So before, during, and after the mission, there’s still no reason to think Galileo was going to do anything other than plunge into the giant planet and burn up harmlessly.

So this Lucifer Project goofiness is just more of the same garbage Hoagland and his ilk spewed about Galileo, but this time it’s Cassini. Different name, same smell.

I suppose I should be more upset, since these guys are denigrating some of the most successful missions NASA and the ESA have ever launched, and which have delivered such devastating imagery. But what the heck: it’s like having an incredible picnic on a glorious summer day, and seeing one ant on the blanket. It’s a minor nuisance, quickly disposed of, and just as quickly forgotten.

Hat tip to My Paranormal Life which had the good sense to note that I was right about Jupiter. 😉


Comments (57)

  1. Dan

    The crazies are always good when a little humor is needed. I mean, it’s nice to go through the science of it all, but it can get a little stodgy from time to time, and when a Chicken Little shows up, well… It’s fun to laugh, and when it comes to science, so long as no one takes them too seriously, the crazies do make things fun, don’t they?

  2. B. Dewhirst

    When you consider some of the real things in this world, these theories pale.


  3. Pierre

    Ugh, 2010 was an awful movie… ¬¬

  4. Arthur Maruyama

    I’m always amazed at the hubris displayed by such predictions. It takes the cumulative effects of billions of humans working over many decades to have a possible effect on just the climate of our comparatively small planet, and yet somehow our tiny probes are supposed to have devastating effects upon planets which have atmospheres which are millions (billions?) of times more massive. Have these people considered the energy generated by the impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter? Now THERE was an event that might have tipped the balance (of course, the balance of Jupiter beginning fusion is tipped far AWAY from it ever becoming even a brown dwarf).

  5. Christian Burnham

    I was surprised to see that Hoagland’s book is in the Amazon top 100.

  6. bumhaskins

    Oh God, What advantage would making Jupiter a star even have? That would screw up daylight, our temperature and countless other aspects of human life. Man, conspiracy theorist make me so mad!

  7. Eric Briggs

    I’ve heard some interesting ideas for Cassini’s End Of Mission from CNN:


    Such as gravity assists past Titan and Jupiter following a course across the solar system to crash on Mercury while the BepiColombo spacecraft observes.

  8. zeb

    Why couldn’t a nuclear device turn Saturn into a star? It split an asteroid in Armeggedon and we all know how accuate that movie is, right?

  9. Steve P.

    Yeah, Phil, how DARE you give otherwise uninformed people the real scoop on astronomy, making the truth accessible to the general public. I mean, haven’t they all taken a basic astronomy course anyway? Little kids surely will know who to believe between a “former NASA consultant” (Hoagland) and… umm…. nobody…. right?!

    Debunkers do not cause woo. C’est tout.

  10. Steve P.

    By the way, I saw Jupiter through a 100-year-old 9″ telescope a few months ago. Fear not… it’s still a planet.

  11. BillyB

    But…but…there still is a face on Mars….right? Right?!?

  12. Dave

    what’s next? big black obelixes eating up jupiter from the inside and creating a new solar system?!

  13. When I search for “Jacko van der Worp” (without quotes) on Google, I find several dutch pages that contains fragments of that name. I’m still baffled that parents would be so cruel to call their kid “Jacko”.

    Anyway, I also searched it with the quotes and that turns up absolutely not hit.

    Why did I do this and not just trust Phil? Simple: because my mother tongue is Dutch and the name really stuck me as a phony one. I bet this person doesn’t even exists. I’ve been proven wrong by Google since both “van der worp” and “jacko” seem to be common dutch names.

    I still think it’s a made up name…. A physicist would turn up in an Internet search if he had done any significant research.

  14. bassmanpete

    I am sure I will be accused of being an alarmist, but I believe the information presented here will convince any open mind

    I think he’s getting confused between an open mind & an empty mind.

  15. I would like to have it on record the he is not me. I have posted several times on this blog and I would hate the idea that anybody would take me for him.

    And, Jorg, please don’t trust yourself either. It is Jacco, not Jacko. Maybe brits/americans/canadians/australians/whateverians laugh at my name, in the Netherlands we think it would be cruel to call a baby Bill, for example. And I suspect in english speaking countries they will make fun of your name too. Do I need to explain?

  16. Ernst


    Jacco (with two c’s) is a perfectly normal name in the Netherlands. It is derived from Jacob.

    Btw, what is normal in one language often is quite funny in an other language. Case in point: a member of the Dutch senate goes by the name of Tiny Kox.

  17. By the way, I actually have looked into this some time ago. Just out of curiousity I searched on the web for people with the same name as me. When I stumbled upon Jacco vd Worp his name rang a bell. I remembered having read about him in Randi’s weekly newsletter and the JREF forum. There was some confusion wether he was a scientist or not. Having the advantage of being a native Dutch speaker I looked into it.

    Jacco van der Worp has a Master of Science degree (Applied Physics if I recall correctly) from Twente University in the Netherlands. He never had the position of a professional scientist. He works as a traffic or transportation risk management consultant. He has no professional authority on astrophysics whatsoever.

  18. I thought Jupiter was to be turning into a star in 2010, according to the movie when Hal flies into it.

    I vaguely remember Heather Cooper saying that could not happen. Is it because Jupiter is too small?

  19. Well… at least it’s good to know that Arthur C. Clarke inspires people…

    Of course we know that to turn a gas giant into a star, neither Galileo nor Cassini will work. You need a two-kilometer long, self-replicating black monolith to do that 😛

  20. Alex Whiteside

    I got this far and gave up:

    “A fusion-ignited Saturn-sun would be the key to creating a human-habitable area on Titan.”

    Yes, come live on a hydrocarbon-coated lifeless rock, that’ll work.

  21. Dig a little further into this mess, and it’s amazing how far the conspiracy theories go.

    Dig just a little and you get Hoagland and his pseudo-spiritual theories for why NASA does anything.

    Dig a bit further and you get to William Cooper (the guy who thought Barney the Dinosaur was a front for a coming alien invasion, and that it was physically impossible for humans to get more than 300 miles from Earth).

    Keep digging, and you wind up at the Masons, and the Bavarian Illuminati.

    Wow! For conspiracy theorists, it really is “turtles all the way down…”

  22. Tom Servo

    If the amount of plutonium in the Galileo probe would have been sufficient enough to turn Jupiter into a star, I suppose I’m unaware of living on a supernovae right now, with all the nukes we’ve tested.

  23. I think I’m developing an irrational fear of the word “anomaly”.

    It seems that whenever the word appears in some discussion, you can bet that yahooery will follow. “Loose Change” was all about anomalies, for example.

    And right on the front page of that site, there it is… an “anomaly” on Jupiter.

  24. A mysterious black spot on Jupiter? Uh-oh. Please tell me it’s not comprised of thousands of rectangular objects whose proportions are 1 by 4 by 9. . . .

  25. Doc

    While I hate seeing these woo-goobs get any more press than they already do, and I know responding to them feels like a total waste of energy (like shouting at a rock), if they’re not plainly and clearly debunked they will spin the lack of criticism into a form of credibility.

    They’ll say something like: “The powers at be are too frightened of the truth to even acknowledge my existence.”

    … or …

    “The establishment knows I’m right, which is why they can’t respond.”

  26. JOrge

    Wow Can we create new Stars?? I have no idea!! :-)

    And we can do it with a litte amount of radiactive material….

    First, i think that its a joke, but no, there is people believing on this…

  27. Do they ever say why anyone would want to turn the planets into stars? Usually conspiracy theories have some deep ( if not deluded ) meaning for the conspiracy. So what’s the big gain of turning Saturn into a star?

  28. PK

    Thanks to Jacco and Ernst for clearing up the name confusion: You beat me to it. But even English speakers can find out for themselves on the coast to coast website.

    I would like to start a conspiracy theory right here and now: all that gravity assist of space probes screws up the orbits of the planets and will wreak havoc with astrology. Consequently, the human race is doomed to eternal unhappiness!


  29. Daffy

    I thought 2010 was a terrific movie.

  30. Peptron

    Sometimes I wonder what leads people to make conspiracy sites. Is it a need for attention? A need to let their imagination wander (like I quite often do myself :))? To try to see how gullible some people are?
    Are the conspiracists usually ‘normal’, albeit bored people? Or do they really have some kind of paranoid and/or schizotypal tendencies?

    I know for myself that I sometimes ‘imagine’ big conspiracies for the heck of it, just to see the possible implications. But even when I try to keep it simple it usually reaches a point where there are so many places it could fail that I cannot get myself to make it sound credible (but from what I understand it doesn’t need to be credible).

  31. Richard Smith

    Alex Whitesideon: Yes, come live on a hydrocarbon-coated lifeless rock, that’ll work.

    By the time we can set up colonies there, it’ll be just like home!

    Regarding van der Worp, the first thing that came to my mind was Professor Gert van der Whoops, in a Monty Python sketch (near the end of the episode “The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes to the Bathroom” – I Googled it, I’m not that Python-obsessed…).

  32. Technically, doesn’t gravity assist steal a bit of the orbital energy of the body being used as the gravitational booster?

    Maybe the conspiracy is to gravity assist with enough spacecraft that Jupiter’s orbit widens so it crashes into Saturn, so the pressure of the colliding planets kicks off fusion and makes a star! Yeah, that’s it.

    Of course, now that I’ve said it the Illuminati will come after me and assinat..

  33. Folks– There were a couple of rude comments made. I deleted them. Since there were two more comments made in response by other people, I deleted them as well, since they would have been weird all by themselves.

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

  34. PK

    Nice one, ES! Let’s submit this to the Lucifer site…

  35. Irishman

    Evolving Squid, if Jupiter loses energy, it won’t fly out to Saturn, it will fall in to hit Mars.

  36. Morgan

    I thought 2010 was a terrific movie.

    I agree. We’re so sorry HAL! Please forgive us!

  37. anangbhai

    Conspiracy theories aside Phil, what’re your thoughts on using nuclear propulsion for future missions to Mars and the moon, manned or unmanned?
    We already use them on our aircraft carriers and submarines, what difference does it make if we use them to power our spacecraft?
    Don’t know a lot about the Orion’s engines, but why are we still going with old school fuel when we have a reliable source that will provide power AND propulsion?

  38. Hmm, for a moment there I was worried–I linked to this blog not so long ago and, well, I tried to remember where I’m a kooky crankcase wahoo. Other than the fact that I’m a Deist, of course (Irrationality! Bad! I chastise myself for Reason! *whip whip whip*). In any case, it’s nice to see that humanity hasn’t managed to microevolve past idiocy over the last few years. 😉

    > Don’t know a lot about the Orion’s engines, but why are we still going with old school fuel when we have a reliable source that will provide power AND propulsion?

    Project Orion’s concept was to chuck micronukes in a shaped propellant casing out the back and then detonate them; the propellant would be vaporized into plasma and then push against a very large pusher plate attached to the ship through an extremely robust dampening system. This makes it, in essence, an external combustion plasma drive (compare to, say, NERVA or your typical golden-age-SF fusion torch drives).

    The advantage to Orion is combining (in normal rocketry terms) high specific impulse with high thrust, so not only can you carry a lot of stuff for a given amount of propellant you can actually get places in some sort of decent time as well. I’ve run the numbers on an Orion-style spacecraft and done basic design work on such a thing, mostly for fun.

    The disadvantage is that you’re chucking micronukes out the back. Let’s just say that Greenpeace, Earth First, Riverwatch, and other groups that range from honestly concerned to simply wahoo wouldn’t much appreciate it. Then there’s the problem of atomic proliferation: okay, so the military has thousands of nukes and a few Russian ones may have been stolen. Now presume that the operators of Orion drives have millions of microatomic propellant squibs with the pinnacle of miniturized ‘active components’ and needing to keep inventory on every single one when a disgruntled worker could get a /lot/ of money from any tinpot Third World dictator (or First World terrorist) for smuggling out just one…

    And why do I constantly use “atomic” instead of “nuclear?” It sounds cooler, especially with the plosives to punctuate it. It’s a much heartier sort of word not prone to slurring (as opposed to “noocl’r”) or mispronunciation (the infamous “nucular”).

    > When you consider some of the real things in this world, these theories pale.

    > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto

    Come on, what’s /not/ totally awesome about an autonomous atomic ramjet Mach 3 cruise missile that flies nape-of-earth and is designed not only to blow up itself at some point, but carry still more nukes it has to chuck vertically due to the low altitude and generally make the Soviet Union lifeless territory simply by flying around and letting a combination of supersonic shock waves and radioactive exhaust do the work? In the paraphrased words of Strong Bad, atomics can be used for good or they can be used for awesome. Project Pluto certainly classifies as the latter.

  39. Yes, there is Hoagsters book in the top 100 Amazon list. How many has it actually sold ? ( I mailed Amazon to find out ). A clue ? Are we actually seeing “advertsing” in said Jupiter article ?

    Having been taken in by this stuff before I have a personal interest here. I hope I’m not being blinded by that. But I think I have something to offer. I was one of those Goobers but then “repented” as it were.

    I too, do not like these Missions being slandered in this way. I also wonder how seductive this stuff is. How many people are being taken in by all this ? Do we have any numbers ? Not that one is too many. I myself was deceived at a very difficult point of my life when I was too upset by other issues to tell I was being manipulated. Reminds me of the CSI / Randi stories about “Psychics” preying on family’s who have lost children. Serious …. humour is helpful though :)

    DJ Barney

  40. Dan

    I’m telling ya. It’s people like this Hoagland character that make me wonder why my people chose this planet to colonize.

    Bah… It’s only a matter of time before the revolution, and we’ll silence them… all…

    Don’t worry, Phil. We like you. Just, you know, go easy on the spiders.

  41. Evolving Squid, if Jupiter loses energy, it won’t fly out to Saturn, it will fall in to hit Mars.

    It was a joke.

    Flying out to hit Saturn would be an anomaly :)

  42. KaiYeves

    You know how hard it is to get a life today
    Our subject’s not cool but he thinks it anyway
    He may not have a clue, he may not have style.
    But everything he lacks- well, he makes up in denial!

  43. Will. M

    Uh, Jacco:
    WHY would it be cruel in the Netherlands to name a baby “Bill?” I’M a Bill and I don’t see anything cruel about my name. The U.S. has had many a Bill in its history: Bill Clinton (O.K., so there’s some funny stuff with him), “Buffalo Bill” Cody (ah, O.K., a real wild West hero turned showman), William Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the kid…maybe you’re right…

  44. slang

    It’s a dutch word for buttock.

  45. Doc

    Don’t name your kid “John Thomas” either.

  46. Joaoxp

    But crashing Cassini into Mecury… that would cause it to become a star! And two stars so close… supernovae! Black Holes! Wormholes!

  47. Troy

    This conspiracy reminds me of the Norse myth where Thor with his insatiable thirst is trying to drink the contents of the giant Skrymir’s mead horn, and when the illusion ended he realized he was drinking the ocean. The scale of human activity compared to a planet like Saturn is nearly incomprehensible.

    Cassini still has at least a decade to go (hopefully more like 2 decades); why are they talking about it now?

    A link to stories about Thor: http://www.geocities.com/medea19777/thor.html

  48. Cynthia

    Anyone who watched the 2010 follow-up movie to 2001knows that turning one of our gas giants into a star requires zillions of solid hydrogen monoliths to be sent through an alien stargate before star ignition can commence!

  49. Sergeant Zim


    Your tale of Thor reminded me of an old joke:

    The morning after the orgy in Valhalla, a young Valkyrie awoke to find herself sleeping beside the God of Thunder. He stirred, and woke up a moment later, looked at her and proclaimed, “I AM THOR!”

    The Valkyrie looked up at him and said, “You’re Thor? I’m tho thor I can hardly pith!”

  50. Lurchgs

    C’mon, people – con artists have been around for thousands of years… from Moses to Jesus to Hoagland, what’s the difference? (other than now we know better)

  51. Jim Walczak

    The only thing I have to take issue with here is Phil’s very last comment about these conspiricy terrorists (intentional typo there); “…It’s a minor nuisance, quickly disposed of, and just as quickly forgotten.” The problem here is that A LOT of uneducated people will buy into this kind of thing very quickly in much the same way religious fanatics are now trying to use the complexity of the Earth as “proof of intelligent design”. A great many people don’t really know any better and embrace this kind of garbage openly instead of learning the actual science behind it.

    Ignorance is still one of the greatest problems the human race needs to face and address as a civilization if we are to survive. Salutations go out to Phil and people like him for addressing issues such as these and their attempts to educate people about this stuff.

  52. Jay

    I’m glad to see so many open-minded people…. You remember what they said when Copernicus said the earth revolved around the Sun?? Nothing irritates me more than self-righteous HUMANS so confident in their infintesimal understanding of the universe… We are so sure we know everything…. Not to say that the crackpot idea has any merit, but you people just attack and attack, and I bet not one astrophysicist among you?? Are any of you astrophysicists?? Anyone??
    That’s what I thought…. I will laugh my a** off if that thing blows… rest assured you people will be the most afraid… Oh God our narrow viewpoint of the nature of reality was wrong… hahahaha makes me laugh out loud imagining the scenario (as unlikely as it might be)….

  53. Hey thanks for the hat tip, I only just saw it.


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