The End of the World?
tsunami rolls over the Himalayan Mountains in the new film
Books, internet sites and now even a major motion
picture suggest that bad things are going to happen on December
21, 2012. Is any of this craziness based on scientific fact?
Enter December 21, 2012 into any web search site
and you will come up with thousands of results. Some of these
websites will be filled with predictions that this date will be
the end of the world. Other websites will predict that there will
be a shift in global consciousness. Also, you'll find websites
that want to sell you books about the coming 2012 catastrophe.
Finally, there will even be websites willing to equip you - for
a price - with all the survival equipment you need to live through
What's so special about this date?
"Long Count" Calendar
The significance of the day and year goes back to
the ancient Mayans. The Mayan civilization existed in Central
America starting around 2000 B.C and continued till the arrival
of the Spanish in the 16th century. At the peak of their civilization,
which ran from about 250 AD to 900 AD, they were known for advanced
art, architecture and mathematical and astronomical systems.
The Mayans employed a number of different calendars
to keep track of their days. For everyday dates they used a combination
of a 260-day calendar and a 365-day calendar (something they referred
to as the "Calendar Round") This was enough for most people to
keep track of their daily lives. It could identify a single day
over a period of 52 years which was a length of time longer than
the average lifespan back then. For lengthier periods, however,
the Mayans turned to what they called the "Long Count" calendar
that had its starting point at what they considered to be the
beginning of the world: August 11, 3114 BC. The largest cycle
on the Long Count lasts 5,126 years and will therefore end on
the equivalent of December 21, 2012 on our Gregorian calendar.
(Some Mayan scholar argue that the end date is actually a few
days later on December 23, 2012) That date in 2012 also happens
to coincide with the winter solstice (shortest day of the year).
The significance of the end of this cycle to the
Mayans is something on which scholars are divided. While traditionally
the Mayans sae the an end of a cycle as an opportunity for celebration
and feasting, sometimes, like at the end of the Calendar Round,
these changes might be greeted with concern as the Mayans thought
that the gods might not grant them another 52 years.
Maya Palenque palace ruins in Mexico. (Wikipedia
Commons GNU Free Documentation License/ Chmouel Boudjnah)
According to Mayan creation accounts the present
world was preceded by other worlds, each created by the gods and
later destroyed by them. Some New Age authors have suggested that
the end of this cycle will also signal the end of the world, though
most scholars that seriously study Mayan culture and tradition
disagree. Anthony Aveni, a professor of astronomy, anthropology
and Native American studies at Colgate University, in an interview
with CNN stated, "I think that the popular books... about what
the Maya say is going to happen are really fabricated on the basis
of very little evidence."
So what are some of the claims being made about
what will happen in 2012?
One theory has the world going through what is popularly
called a "polar shift" involving a reversal of the earth's magnetic
field. Currently, the magnetic field of the earth has the north
magnetic pole in the Arctic and the south magnetic pole in the
Antarctic. Supporters of this theory argue that a massive solar
flare in 2012 will cause these poles to reverse. If this were
to occur, it would be very disruptive to human society as much
of our navigation equipment depends on the current orientation.
There is also an argument that the shift in magnetic
poles will also cause Earth's magnetic field to collapse for a
period of time. This may cause the planet to be exposed to massive
amounts of cosmic radiation. The radiation in turn might cause
the mass the extinction of plants, animals and people.
Supporters of this prediction point to studies made
by scientists that show that the magnetic poles have reversed
many times in Earth's history. Sometimes they stayed in one orientation
for tens of millions of years, other times they switched after
only 50,000 years. The last magnetic field reversal was 780,000
years ago, leading some people to suggest one is overdue. In addition,
the strength of the current magnetic field has been declining
in recent years which supporters point to as a sign of imminent
Scientists working in the field estimate that if
the decline continues at the current rate, the magnetic field
might collapse, not in 2012, but between the years 3000
and 4000 A.D.. However, the strength of the magnetic field has
fluctuated greatly in the past and it is quite possible the field
will regain strength without first doing a flip. There is also
little evidence in the fossil record that a flip anywhere in the
past has led to a mass extinction, so even if a reversal did take
place it might well be disruptive, but not catastrophic.
the Earth rotates on an axis running from the Arctic to
the Antarctic. Year 2012 fear mongers suggest the axis might
suddenly shift with disastrous results. (Wikipedia
Commons GNU Free Documentation License/ Dna-Dennis)
Another popular 2012 theory is that a polar shift
in the magnetic field might lead to a polar shift of the actual
axis of the earth so that the crust of the planet would no longer
spin west to east, but say, north to south. Supporters of this
theory picture these events taking place in weeks or even hours
with massive earthquakes and humongous tsunamis wreaking havoc
across the planet.
There is some scientific evidence of such a change
in Earth's past. Geologists Adam Maloof of Princeton University
and Galen Halverson of Paul Sabatier University in France say
that around 800 million years ago the North Pole was 50 degrees
further south than it is today. However, the change to the new,
more northerly pole position took about 20 million years to happen.
While this is startlingly fast on the geologic scale of time,
it is an eternity from the point of mankind's existence. There
is nothing in the past record of the earth to support the idea
of a rotational polar shift that would take place in a time scale
that would be noticed by humans.
Another theory floating around involves a planet
called "Nibiru." According to this theory the planet, reportedly
about 4 times the size of Earth, will pass close by our planet
in 2012 causing earthquakes, tsunamis and a possible rotational
polar shift. The only problem with this theory is that the existence
of Nibiru wasn't discovered by an astronomer with a telescope,
but by a woman named Nancy Lieder who claims the information about
the planet was implanted in her head telepathically by extraterrestrials.
In addition, Lieder and several other authors originally predicted
that Nibiru should have destroyed Earth in 2003 - which
it didn't - which makes their future claims of a collision a bit
Hubble telescope photo was claimed to be photographic evidence
of the planet Nibiru. It's actually a shell of gas around
the star V838 Mons. (NASA)
No legitimate scientist argues for the existence
of Nibiru and many point out that a planet as large as
described at the distance described should be easily visible in
our skies. Its gravity would also affect the orbits of most of
the other planets in our solar system. Neither of these things
have happened. Astronomer Mike Brown often gets emails from people
who mix Nibiru up with Eris, a real dwarf planet
he discovered in 2005. Eris, however, is much smaller than
Earth and never gets much closer to our planet than the orbit
Some authors have connected 2012 with the alignment
of the earth and sun with the galactic equator during the earth's
winter solstice (referred to by some writers as the "Galactic
Alignment"). This happens every 2,000 years or so and some books
claim that the Mayans were aware of the event and gave the date
a special significance (In astrological terms this transition
is sometimes connected to the beginning of the "Age of Aquarius.")
Supposedly it is a time which will harbor not disaster, but peace,
enlightenment and understanding. Skeptics, however, argue that
this arrangement of the sun, earth and galactic equator, does
not occur on during single day or year, but across a span of 36
years. They also note that the most precise alignment actually
occurred over a decade ago in 1998.
for Human Continuity
So, if there is little real evidence that there
is something special about the year 2012, how come there is so
much concern about it from the general public? Part of it might
be traceable to the website of The Institute for Human Continuity
(http://www.instituteforhumancontinuity.org/). According to the
website the mission of the IHC is to ensure the survival of the
human race beyond 2012. The website is filled with information
about the upcoming disaster and even includes a lottery you can
enter to be one of the humans included in their "safe haven" communities
designed to survive the catastrophe.
The IHC, however, is a totally fictitious organization
created as a part of a marketing ploy for the motion picture 2012.
The film, from Sony Pictures, is based on many of the inaccurate
ideas surrounding 2012 and uses special effects to effectively
depict the end of the world. The movie is by the same people who
have brought mankind to the edge of extinction in The Day After
Tomorrow and Independence Day.
IHC lottery ticket: Actually a clever gimmick for the film
2012. But is the advertising irresponsible?
In his blog, astronomer Mike Brown suggests that
publicity for the film, especially the IHC website, may be effective,
but irresponsible. Is it perhaps it is panicking people unnecessarily
about the future of the planet?
The year 2012 isn't the first time people have worried
about the world ending. The beginning of the current millennium,
2000, was of great concern for many people (especially as there
was an actual chance of some computer systems failing with the
Y2K bug). Then the world was supposed to be hit by Nibiru
in 2003, and of course it wasn't. Even as far back as 1910 people
feared that Comet Halley's tail
would poison the planet's atmosphere with cyanogen gas.
The earth will live through 2012 as it did through
all of these previous incidents and in 2013 the public will get
on with their lives, except those who will be writing books about
the next great disaster.
Krystek 2009. All Rights Reserved.