The solar system's nine planets will cluster in a rare formation Wednesday and the occasion is being taken quite seriously in India - much more seriously than by the New York Center for the Strange or scientists who pooh-pooh fears that the event spells disaster.
For the first time since 1803 and the last time until 2357, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto will be within a 96-degree area on the same side of the sun. The event has given birth to all sorts of theories, fears and facetiousness.
The planetary arrangement was described in a book by John Gribbin and Steve Plagemann entitled 'The Jupiter Effect,' predicting the gravitational pull of such a lineup would suck cosmic winds from the sun and activate earthquake zones around Earth, particularly along California's San Andreas fault.
But Gribbin backed off his prediction in a letter to The New York Times last month.
'Our forecast wastied to changes in the sun's activity, which we believed to be driven by planetary alignments,' he said.
'The sun's activity peaked in 1979, not 1982, proving that the planets do not dominate the sun's behavior and removing the basis of our original forecast.'
That may be no consolation to the readers of the pro-government Sunday Herald in New Delhi. The newspaper said the positioning of the planets will cause disease, riots, labor unrest and possibly an earthquake.
A 'strange epidemic affecting the abdomen will stalk India,' and 'a southern state will create problems,' the newspaper said in a reference to political conflicts.
The New York Center for the Strange sees it differently. The group, which issues the Halloween predictions of witches, held a poll that revealed there will be problems but nothing as serious as what was predicted in India.
The poll said the planetary lineup will cause 'nationwide shortages of sparkling wine, hockey pucks, gerbil cages and soy sauce. French scientists will warn that massive quantities of chicken soup can cause erotic dreams.'
'Doomsday' won't be a somber occasion at the Arizona State University planetarium, where coordinator Dan Matlaga plans an 'End of the World' show and party tonight.
'Some people seem to thrive on predictions of calamity and mayhem,' he said. 'The one accompanying 'The Jupiter Effect' seems to have a lot of followers. We have been getting frequent calls about it.'
Matlaga said his party will include a planetarium show on the book and refreshments will include 'rapture punch,' 'fire and sulfur dip,' 'brimstone cookies' and 'flat Earth cake.'
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland also plans a party 'to celebrate the continuation of life on Earth.' But among the movies to be shown is 'When Worlds Collide.'
'Definitely not on the evening's schedule are killer earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or the arrival of war parties from distant solar systems,' museum spokesman Beverly Swaren said.
The Chinese government recently began a campaign to eliminate superstition and belief in the occult and the Wednesday alignment is a prime target.
Attempting to dispel widespread fears and worries among the Chinese, the People's Daily and other newspapers quoted scientist Zheng Ying as saying, 'There is no regular cause-effect relation at all between this astronomical phenomenon and natural disasters like earthquakes.'
Zheng, a researcher at the prestigious Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, assured readers 'the gravitational pull of heavenly bodies is but a very minor external factor that triggers earthquakes.'