#Broomchallenge: Eggs, equinox and misinformation

Broom standing upright Image copyright @r0CKS8

It is the social media challenge taken up by thousands but the scientific claims behind it are nonsense.

The #broomchallenge has people all over the world photographing and filming their brooms standing upright without any support.

Many people have cited Nasa as the inspiration to do this, and/or posted claims of gravitational or celestial phenomena as the reason behind the balancing brooms.

"Nasa said today was the only day a broom can stand up on its own because of the gravitational pull," posted a Twitter user in the US on Monday in footage which has been viewed millions of times and emulated by thousands.

However, the space agency does not appear to have made any public statement about the Earth's gravitational effect on brooms.

Freestanding brooms have nothing to do with planetary alignments, the full moon, or gravitational pulls, despite the claims of some social media users.

Image copyright James 'David' Burke
Image caption James 'David' Burke tried the challenge in his bedroom in Barbados: "It is still there," he said

So where has this misinformation come from?

Although the earliest uses of #broomchallenge this year were from users in Mexico around 4 February, one of the first posts to tag Nasa came from a Twitter user in Brazil on 8 February.

Fact-checking website Snopes says the broom challenge was widely circulated before in February 2012, and is another version of an egg-balancing trick which was attributed to the spring equinox.

During an equinox the Earth's north and south poles are not tilted towards or away from the sun, which also means the duration of daylight is almost the same at all points on the Earth's surface.

In a TV broadcast in March 2012, now uploaded to YouTube, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers explained it was possible to balance a broom or an egg at any time of the year not just the spring equinox.

"If you set the egg up long enough, the yolk will come down to the bottom of the egg and that will be your centre of gravity down there," he explained. "Keeping a low centre of gravity makes a fast race car but also will make brooms stand up."

'Party trick'

Dr Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist from the University of Oxford, told the BBC she could not believe the misinformation being spread online.

"Broom balancing itself is not that impressive. It's a good party trick.

"The broom is wide at the bottom and at the right angle can be balanced

"We feel the same gravitational pull at all times of the year, so no matter whether it's the the spring equinox or not, the way the Earth is tilted would never be the cause of ordinary objects just balancing.

"Not even if the Earth was tilted a huge amount would it make a difference.

"When I saw this today on social media and couldn't believe what I was seeing in terms of the misinformation that was spreading.

"It highlights the importance of social media verification and using trusted sources from the scientific community."

As one Twitter user commented: "Your broom is able to stand on its own on any day of the year, and Nasa didn't say today was special regarding that"

While LA based News 15 meteorologist Cory Smith took a more humorous approach.

He also sees the positive in addressing such misunderstandings.

"While it is discouraging to see people believe a false premise for something like this, it still makes for a fun and easy social media challenge and a nice little experiment to talk about physics and the centre of gravity," Smith told the BBC.

It is not the first time Nasa has been linked to nonsense on social media. In 2016, 17 million people watched a Facebook video stream supposedly live broadcast from the International Space Station,

However, the agency confirmed the footage was from an older spacewalk.

Nasa have been approached for comment.