Jupiter and Pluto Suspend Earth’s Gravity

Some very typical April Fool’s jokes can include such things as covering a sponge in frosting and calling it a brownie, replacing the middle of an Oreo with toothpaste, covering someone’s car in post-it notes, taping chairs to the ceiling or filling someone’s room with balloons. April Fool’s isn’t just limited to simple practical jokes such as these, however. Many people in professional settings love to pull one over on the public, including many incidents with astronomical-related events. One of our Student Astronomical Society meetings happened to coincide with April Fool’s day, so we looked at some astronomical jokes that have been played in the past. I thought these were hilarious and worth sharing to those as ignorant as I was about how big some practical jokes can get.

Back in 1976, a radio announcer* told his audience that a rare alignment of Jupiter, Pluto and Earth would result in a strengthening of Jupiter’s gravitational pull on Earth: strong enough to momentarily suspend the Earth’s gravity for a few seconds. He said for anyone who wanted to experience this, all they had to do was jump at exactly 9:47 a.m.  and they would experience a “floating sensation.” Sure enough, when the time had come and gone, the station received hundreds of calls from people who had experienced this, including a woman who claimed that she and a group of her friends actually floated around the room. Sorry to burst these people’s bubble, but even if Pluto and Jupiter aligned with Earth, Pluto only has a mass of about 1.3×1022 kg while Jupiter’s mass is around 1.9×1027kg. That means Pluto is over 100,000 times less massive than Jupiter. So, even if they were lined up (which is doubtful), Pluto’s effect on Jupiter would be inconsequential.

Another one I found pretty entertaining, but at least a little more plausible than the last one, happened in 1993. A DJ announced that the Space Shuttle Discovery was being redirected to land at a local military airport in a couple of hours. Hundreds of people headed over there to witness the landing and honestly, can you blame them? I have to admit, if I had heard that announcement, I probably would have been right there with the masses. Imagine the disappointment when the shuttle never came. One of the saddest parts, however, was there wasn’t even a shuttle in orbit at the time!

A little less harmless prank occurred a few years ago in 2009 by expedia.com. The website came out with flights to Mars for only $99. “That’s right! Expedia has dropped all booking fees—including fees on flights to Mars. Right now you can save over $3 trillion on a Mars vacation—and in this economy, you can’t afford NOT to go! Only on Expedia!” (http://www.expedia.com/daily/mars/flights-to-mars/default.asp?mcicid=Mars_us).

It just goes to show humor can be found in most aspects of life! It’s also always good to remember not to take the media so seriously. If people had known a little bit more about Pluto and Jupiter or the space shuttle they wouldn’t have been fooled so easily. Ignorance is not always so blissful.


*All information from http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/af_database/display/category/space_and_astronomy.

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