The thing I love most about urban legends is how they mutate over time. Snopes.com has an excellent debunking of one such debunking: "The Lost Day." It recounts a tale in which NASA scientists doing orbital calculations are startled to discover a day of missing time ... which a Christian follower is able to quickly explain by recounting the day the sun stood still when Jesus was crucified.
Is the red supergiant Betelgeuse about to go supernova, giving Earth a second sun and half of its inhabitants a nasty burn? The short answer according to astronomer Phil Plait, is that yes, Betelgeuse could go tomorrow, but if it did it's greatest impact on the Earth would be to give us a new celestial phenomenon as bright as a full moon. It's too far away to do us any real harm.
Snopes.com debunks the claim that a "dark ring around the moon" presages a cancer-causing acid rain storm. The myth starts off claiming that this is an event that happens once every 750 years but mutates to say that the volcanic eruptions in Iceland are to blame.
Mars is invading. Or so claims a resurrected hoax that claims that the Red Planet will soon appear as large as the Moon in the night sky. It's a tweaked version of an earlier hoax from 2003, when Mars really was at its closest approach to Earth in thousands of years ... but remained a fuzzy red dot in the night sky. Read Space.com's new debunking or check out Nuketown's original one.
First: I continue to be shocked that AOL is still around.
Second, it seems those old familiar scams continue to haunt the online service. My local newspaper has a debunking of an email billing scam in which an email claiming to be from AOL arrives in the victim's email box. It says there's a problem with their account ... and that they should immediately e-mail AOL back with their account information, bank account information, etc.
At this point, I think it's safe to say we should be highly skeptical of any incoming billing e-mail, even ones we're expecting. Phishing schemes like this play with people's expectations -- they work by getting you to see what you expect to see. That causes you to trust the e-mail, and do things like mail in your credentials. If you get an e-mail from someone like AOL, your bank, Netflix or some other company you do business with, it's always best to login to their web site directly (not through any of the links in the email). If there really is an important message or account update for you, it'll be on their web site as well as in your e-mail. If you can't find it after logging in, call the company's customer service line.
It's like a scene out of a horror movie: an unsuspecting woman pumps gas into her car, only to be summoned inside by a gas attendant who informs her that -- horrors! -- a knife wielding lunatic is lurking in the backseat.
In truth, it is a scene from a horror movie -- the horror movie Urban Legend in fact -- and it far from being a horrifying new trend, this old tale's been with us for decades.
Here's the urban legend:
Date Collected: 5/27/2008
It was a big summer for Harry Potter. The seventh and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, as was the fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. After reading the first and seeing the second, I was reminded of a hoax I've had sitting on my hard drive for a few years, just waiting to be debunked.
It's entitled "Magic Vs Jesus" and it claims that not only is are the Harry Potter books inherently Satantic, they are also causing a mass conversion to Satanism among today's youth. And it's got the quotes to back them up.
Unfortunately for the e-mail's author, the quotes it so feverishly believes in were taken from a fictional article in the satirical webzine The Onion.
Here's the original e-mail:
Subject: Fw: Magic Vs Jesus
"Jesus died because He was weak and stupid"; this is a quote from
6-year-old Jessica Lehman of Easley, SC, after reading the HARRY POTTER BOOKS!
"Hermione is my favorite, because she's smart and has a kitty,"
The following is an email sent for the American Family Association:
This is the most evil thing I have laid my eyes on in 10 years ... and no
one seems to understand its threat. The Harry Potter books are THE
NUMBER ONE selling children's books in the nation today. Just look at any Barnes
Can a prescooler get drunk and even die from drinking hand sanitizer? The short answer is ... yes, they can. The following e-mail describes swallowing a squirt of hand sanitizer was enough to make a four-year-old loopy and while it gets some of the specifics wrong -- namely that the child couldn't have had an 85% blood alcohol level, since .10% is enough to kill you, and she probably had a lot more than one quirt -- the general warning is valid. Most hand sanitizer contains a large percentage ethyl alcohol, which can be intoxicating and even deadly if swallowed.
An e-mail claims that Mars will soon be looming so large in our skies that it will rival the moon. The truth is that while Mars did get very close to Earth a few years ago, that merely turned it into a slightly brighter red star in the sky. If it actually did get as close as the email claims, the Earth would be wracked by high tides and thrown out of its orbit.
Here's the email.
Two Moons on 27th, August 2007*
*27th August; the day the Whole World is waiting for .....
An old virus hoax stumbles back to virtual life with a debunking bait-and-switch that points to a real threat, then repeats the same tired warning.
Date Captured: 8/6/07
Subject: Serious Virus Threat per CNN Report Be cautious of this. Here is a link to the snopes page: http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/postcard.asp
PLEASE SEND THIS TO EVERYONE ON YOUR CONTACT LIST!!