In The Jupiter Effect (1974), Cambridge-educated astrophysicists John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann warn that a rare alignment of the planets on March 10, 1982, could set off a chain of cataclysmic events here on Earth, culminating in earthquakes and floods that could imperil human civilization. The book was a bestseller, and as the fateful date neared, many braced for the end of the world. At the Gates Planetarium in Denver, switchboard operators fielded a deluge of panicked phone calls. “We’ve literally had people ask, ‘Should I sell my house and move away?’” one employee said. Los Angeles residents, afraid of sliding into the void of the San Andreas Fault, fled the area for more tectonically stable ground.
Meanwhile, a small Christian sect in the Philippines built a network of padded cubicles in preparation for the foretold Rapture. Like all doomsday predictions before it, the Jupiter Effect failed to deliver. (To be fair, the tides that day were higher than normal—40 micrometers so, or about half the diameter of a human hair.) A year later, Gribbin and Plagemann published The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered, in which they explain why their prediction was off. It also became a bestseller.