11-11-11 All Good Children Go To Heaven

Although today's the big day to have your affairs in order, I suspect some of you will procrastinate. Photo: Bob King

So how’s your end of the world going? Unfortunately I have to put mine off until I get through this big pile of work. At least the gates of hell haven’t opened yet ,and frankly, I’m grateful for that. I don’t care for hot weather. November suits me just fine.

Various websites are shouting in all caps that this is the first time in 100 years that six 11s will align. Not only that, but the numbers are the same whether you read them forwards or backwards. Let me clarify. At 11:11:11 a.m. and for a second time at 11:11:11 p.m.-ย  in case you missed the morning catastrophe – today, November 11, 2011, one of three things will happen:

A. The aforementioned world catastrophe
B. Your life will take on a new spiritual dimension.
C. You’ll be heating your lunch in the microwave and completely miss both.

Since the world didn’t end on November 11, 1911, we’ve been given another chance to see it unravel. Numbers still have a mystical fascination for many of us. We seek patterns in their ordering that some say predict the future. It’s all in our heads and for good reason. If you’ve ever looked up at a puffy cloud and seen strange things like Al Franken’s hair or a herd of elephants, you’re aware how easy it is to see patterns and shapes in random things in our environment.

Two photos of the infamous "Face on Mars". The original, lower-resolution picture (left) taken in 1976 by the Mars Viking Orbiter shows a mound-like feature that looks remarkably like a face. On the right, the recent, higher resolution image from Mars Global Surveyor shows it clearly for what it is: an 800-foot-tall butte. Based on its human-like appearance, a some people insisted it was created by Martians. The resemblance comes from lack of detail, lighting and our ability to read patterns into random objects. Credit: NASA

Humans got this far in a chaotic world by learning to recognize patterns, to make sense out of the millions of sensory stimuli that ping us. Nature has painstakingly honed our ability to navigate the world, seeks companions and find food by wiring our brains to spot patterns and understand by analogy. One of the most influential ones at work in our heads is coincidence. Despite the fact that the world is rife with many unrelated simultaneous events, we’re easily led astray by coincidence. If you walk under a streetlight and it happens to goes out for a second, you might think that somehow you caused it, when it’s really a random outage. Not that all coincidences are meaningless. If we see tracks in the mud and our bird feeder missing, a bear comes to mind and rightly so.

Getting beyond coincidence and its big, bad brother superstition is one of the key accomplishments of science.When science works best, it probes beneath coincidence to find real connections … or not.

Now here's a couple that had a lot of fun with consecutive digits today. Michael Olson and Kathryn Levine got married at 11:11 a.m. Nov. 11 in Peace Church, which is located at 1111 E. 11th Street in Duluth, Minn. Congratulations! Photo: Bob King

Six repeating digits in a row makes our brains light up. The mathematical symmetry is irresistible. Surely there must be something here. Add in a cup of imagination and a pinch of anxiety over the ever-perceived dire state of the planet and before long, you’ve cooked up a stew of patterns that aren’t.

But getting back to 11-11-11. One thing to remember about calendars is that all of them are made by people.The forces of nature don’t recognize dates on a sheet of paper. 11-11-11, 12-12-12 and 9-9-9 are meaningless when it comes to Earth’s magnetic pole wanderings or whether and when the sun releases a flare.

We get carried away, that’s all. Knowing this about ourselves, we should exercise skepticism in the face of every new number, planet, sun or comet alignment that’s trotted out every three weeks. If we don’t, our innate pattern recognizing abilities will be hijacked by hucksters.

Having said all that, this end of the world today is nothing to the one we’ll experience at 11:11 a.m. on November 11, 11,111 A.D. Trust me, that’s the one to end all. Sure wish I could be there.

For the Russians and Mars science in general, it must feel like the end of the world this week. With only a day or so left to rescue the mission, the Phobos-Grunt probe is still silently orbiting Earth out of communication with ground control. If mission controllers can’t fire the rockets to boot it on its way to the Red Planet, the spacecraft will slowly lose altitude and burn up in the atmosphere sometime around December 18. Satellite watchers have reported seeing both the tumbling rocket stage that launched the probe as well as the probe itself. The good news is that the craft appears to be steady and not spinning out of control.

18 Responses

  1. James

    lol good article i missed the first end of the world this morning lol for the gates of hell to open today its mighty cold in hell someone lied to me saying it was hot in hell lol

    1. astrobob

      It might work both ways. In November it’s cold in hell but in August it’s hotter in hell. A seasonal thing.

  2. David

    She fine… She keeps being mean to everyone that comes around the puppies. I names each puppy. The biggest name is Asteroid the mid size one is Comet and the runtz name is Meteor. Lol

  3. BobN

    I am so bummed about the Russian Phobos mission failure. It was incredibly ambitious, with so many complex steps that had to go just right for it to succeed and then to have it fail in low earth orbit – well, shit. I hope our Curiosity mission makes it off OK in a few weeks – the landing sequence alone is just as complex. You have a great website – read it every day!

    1. astrobob

      Glad you like the site, Bob. I feel the same way you do about Phobos-Grunt. It’s not looking good. The U.S. has done better with Mars but had its share of troubles, too. Let’s hope Curiosity gets off to a better start later this month.

  4. Julian

    It’s great to see my cousin’s wedding photo here. I was there, sitting just to her right in the picture. The weather was great. The moon was full and I lost at the casino. Thanks.

  5. Eric Oquendo

    Great read Bob! I randomly ended up on this page, can you believe it? …very similarly to David, I often look at the clock at 8:26 (my birthdate 8/26) & it’s a fun coincidence. But personally, the most ASTRONOMICAL coincidence for me was at exactly 11:11PM EST on 11-11-11 where i was sitting in my car facing the north to northeast sky in Bridgeport, CT when I briefly saw what I called a shooting star (but may have been a comet or meteor, idk because I’m no expert)… I was very excited, and none of the three buddies that were with me saw it nor have I heard of anyone that saw what I did. Just thought I’d share that with you, keep up the good workโœŒ

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