More Options

Tsunami Conspiracies and Hollow Moons

Psychic Vibrations

Robert Sheaffer

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.3, May / June 2005

Almost as soon as the scope of the destruction became clear from the recent tragic tsunami that devastated much of coastal southern Asia, claims began to surface of strange events associated with it. Humans are pattern-seekers, and to many it seems impossible that an event so awesome and destructive could occur without at least some violation of the natural order, no matter how small.

One of the first survivors of the disaster to return to Britain, nurse Debbie Bates, told the Daily Record (December 28, 2004), “'I saw a palmist the day before [in Sri Lanka]. He said, 'Stay out of the sea, big wave coming.' At the time, I thought it was a joke-now I just think it is freaky.” Unfortunately, we don't know how many thousands of people may have received that same warning for days on which nothing unusual happened. Indeed, given the popular custom of visiting fortune-tellers in Thailand and other Asian countries, it seems remarkable that there was anyone left unwarned, unless the prognosticators themselves were equally in the dark. Meanwhile, a prominent Thai fortune teller blamed the tsunami on the “bad luck” of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Pinyo Pongcharoen, president of the International Astrology Association, said that Thailand’s astrological sign was already under the adverse influence of four ill-omened stars and, worse yet, one of the stars was further aggravated by malicious influence from Thaksin’s astrological sign (The Nation, Bangkok, December 28).

People from a nearby camp for the displaced bathe in a river January 26, 2005, in the tsunami-ravaged town of Meulaboh, Indonesia. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Once the tizzy over the mostly clueless fortune-tellers died down, media outlets were rushing to report how animals seemed to have a “sixth sense” causing most of them to avoid the coming tsunami. H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Department, told Reuters, “No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit. I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening.” Even the National Geographic News was reporting (January 4) anecdotes of how “elephants screamed and ran for higher ground” and “Dogs refused to go outdoors.” What is usually not mentioned is that the tsunami was preceded by an extremely powerful earthquake, capable of alarming both man and beast. Furthermore, it does not appear to be the case that wild animals cluster along the ocean’s open shore in the same manner that humans do-they usually prefer to remain hidden in the relative safety of the forest.

Lynette Hart, an animal researcher at the University of California-Davis, explained to the Sacramento Bee (January 14) that many animals are exquisitely sensitive to sounds and to vibrations in the ground. “It may only take one antelope becoming frightened by sensory changes to communicate, 'Let’s get out of here,' and they all go.” Andy Michael, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told National Geographic, “What we're faced with is a lot of anecdotes. Animals react to so many things-being hungry, defending their territories, mating, predators-so it’s hard to have a controlled study to get that advanced warning signal.”

Next, just as predictably, the conspiracy theories began to emerge (these usually don't surface immediately, as it takes a while to cook them up). The Egyptian Nationalist weekly Al-Usbu published an investigative report by Mahmoud Bakri on January 1. In it he suggests that the earthquake and tsunami were a consequence of secret nuclear testing by the U.S., Israel, and India: “The three most recent tests appeared to be genuine American and Israeli preparations to act together with India to test a way to liquidate humanity. In the[ir] most recent test, they began destroying entire cities over extensive areas. Although the nuclear explosions were carried out in desert lands, tens of thousands of kilometers away from populated areas, they had a direct effect on these areas.” These alleged nuclear tests “destabilized the tectonic plates,” leading to disaster. A (possibly fictitious) American scientist was quoted saying “the center of an earthquake that took place some forty kilometers under the ocean floor could not have caused such destruction unless nuclear testing had been conducted close to the tectonic plates in these countries, or unless several days previously there had been [nuclear] activity that caused these plates to shift and collide.” A Saudi professor attributed the tragedy to divine retribution for homosexuality and fornication, while various religious leaders warned that it was caused by corruption, the presence of infidels, and other sins (see here).

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyed of the Egyptian National Research Center said in an interview on Al-Majd TV on January 16 that NASA had discovered that Earth is emitting short-wave radiation. “When they discovered this radiation, they started to zoom in, and they found that it emanates from Mecca-and, to be precise, from the Ka'ba” (see here). What’s more, they found that the radiation was “infinite.” NASA found that the radiation extends well past Mars, apparently extending to “the celestial Ka'ba,” effectively connecting heaven and earth. NASA, says Al-Sayyed, had this information on their Web site for twenty-one days, but then took it down, apparently as part of yet another cover-up of amazing findings in outer space.

Speaking of NASA, the recent, highly successful Cassini mission to Saturn has returned a wealth of scientific data, especially the Huygens probe that landed on Saturn’s moon Titan, the first such landing on a planetary satellite other than our own Moon. However, NASA conspiracy theorist Richard Hoagland, the chief promoter of the “Face on Mars,” claims he has made dramatic discoveries from its photos, not of Titan, but instead of Saturn’s moon Iapetus, an unusual body having one relatively dark hemisphere and one lighter:

In our opinion, Cassini’s discovery of “the Great Wall of Iapetus” now forces serious reconsideration of a range of staggering possibilities . . . that some will most certainly find upsetting: it could really be a “wall” . . . a vast, planet spanning, artificial construct!! . . . There is no viable geological model to explain a sixty thousand-foot-high, sixty thousand-foot-wide, four million-foot-long “wall” . . . spanning an entire planetary hemisphere-let alone, located in the precise plane of its equator! (See here.)

Hoagland has further discovered that some of Iapetus’s craters appear to be somewhat “square,” and are allegedly lined up along north-south, east-west lines: “Clearly these are not random, 'square craters'-but remarkable, highly ordered evidence of sophisticated, aligned, repeating architectural relief! . . . The impression of a vast set of extremely ancient ruins-most now without roofs, but with ample surviving walls-covered both by 'snow' . . . and whatever the 'brown stuff' is . . . is unavoidable.”

Stressing the near-impossibility of these structures being built by living creatures on the surface of a cold, airless, waterless world, Hoagland leaps to a conclusion that presupposes an even greater engineering impossibility: “what if Iapetus is not a natural satellite at all . . . but a 900-mile wide spacecraft-an artificial 'moon?!'.” He suggests that Iapetus was assembled millions of years ago by some alien intelligence using the principles of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, and that many of the craters are in fact “deformed hexagons,” where the moon’s surface is collapsing from eons of meteoritic erosion, revealing the underlying hexagonal supports. My brief summary cannot possibly do justice to the zaniness of Hoagland’s “hollow Iapetus” theory-you need to read the original on his Web site.

It is telling that Hoagland does not discuss the problem that his “hollow Iapetus” theory poses in accounting for that moon’s measured mean density of about 1.21 grams per cubic centimeter, less than our own moon’s but greater than that of Saturn. This is perplexing, since he begins the piece arguing that Iapetus’s relatively low density and slow rotation means that the centrifugal force at the equator would be extremely small. It’s too bad that Hoagland didn't follow through and give us any calculations designed to show how it would be possible for an essentially hollow sphere to have a mean density greater than that of water. He must have realized the fatal flaw this calculation would pose for his wild assertion, which is why he avoids the subject.

A NASA Web site notes: “Cassini’s next close encounter with Iapetus will occur in September 2007. The resolution of images from that flyby should be 100 times better than the ones currently being analyzed. The hope is that the increased detail may shed light on Iapetus’s amazing features and the question of whether it has been volcanically active in the past” (see here). Until then, we can only wonder what Hoagland’s amazing “artificial structures"-which, like all allegedly anomalous objects photographed, are near the limit of resolution of the cameras-will look like with one hundred times finer detail revealed.

Last December 8 The Telegraph of London carried an item written by Uri Geller, the noted Israeli-born spoon bender, about an “alien egg” allegedly given to him by the late John Lennon. According to Geller, he, Lennon, and Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono were having dinner in a New York restaurant one evening when Lennon surprised him with the following account:

About six months ago, I was asleep in my bed, with Yoko, at home, in the Dakota Building. And suddenly, I wasn't asleep. Because there was this blazing light round the door. It was shining through the cracks and the keyhole, like someone was out there with searchlights, or the apartment was on fire. . . . There were these four people out there. . . . They were, like, little. Bug-like. Big bug eyes and little bug mouths and they were scuttling at me like roaches . . . I tried to throw them out, but, when I took a step towards them, they kind of pushed me back. I mean, they didn't touch me. It was like they just willed me. Pushed me with willpower and telepathy. (See here.)

Today, “insectoid” aliens play a significant role in many stories of UFO abductions, which was not the case when Lennon allegedly related this account. So either John Lennon was a pioneering “experiencer” of a now-common alien encounter, or else Geller made up this story long after Lennon’s death.

The next thing that Lennon could reportedly remember, he was back in bed with Yoko, left holding a smooth, metallic egg-like object he subsequently gave to Geller in the hopes that Uri could figure it out. Says Geller, “I have a strong sensation that John knew more about this object than he told me. Maybe it didn't come with an instruction manual, but I think John knew what it was for. And whatever that purpose was-communication? Healing? A first-class intergalactic ticket?-it scared him.” Yet despite all the hype, Geller seems to have made no attempt to initiate any serious scientific analysis of his potentially miraculous “egg.”

Robert Sheaffer

Robert Sheaffer's "Psychic Vibrations" column has appeared in the Skeptical Inquirer for the past thirty years. He is also author of UFO Sightings: The Evidence (Prometheus 1998). He blogs at