2012 Hype vs. the Truth
Let me provide my answer to what is now a periodic phenomenon in the United States---claims that the world is going to end or some other apocalyptic type of events are going to happen. No decade has been without such a claim happening in that decade, though it seems the frequency of such claims has increased. Very likely it is the result of the fears people have with the uncertainty from the faltering, near-collapse of our financial institutions and the shrinking of the world via mass media and the internet that has brought all sorts of societies into contact with each other. The metaphorical solid ground under our feet seems to be constantly shifting so where can we securely stand? Into this mileau step some clever people seeking to take advantage and profit from this anxiety with claims about the world ending in 2012; on December 21st to be exact. Before I continue, here's a summary of my answer to if the world is going to end in 2012: NO, the world is NOT going to end. (However, if you want to sell everything you own because you don't think you'll need it after December 21, 2012, please donate some or all of the proceeds to the Planetarium or to Bakersfield College to fund our continuing efforts to educate people on how to tell facts from falsehoods, science from pseudoscience, junk sources from credible sources, information from mis-information, etc.---you get the idea.)
In recent memory there have been several claims about the end of the world: May 2003 was supposed to be the end according to one of the hucksters now on the 2012 bandwagon, January 2000 with all of the Y2K hoopla around the fixing of computer coding needed for them to work with 21st-century dates, spring 1997 with the apparition of Comet Hale-Bopp, June 28, 1981 was supposed to be rapture day according to Bill Maupin, and the ever-shifting dates from Hal Lindsey, et al.*
Rather than giving lengthy answers to the 2012 claims, here are brief summaries of the answers followed by places you can go to for reliable, credible, honest explanations.
- Is there a planet (or dwarf planet) that is going to crash into Earth? Answer: NO. Planet "Nibiru" is fiction.
- Is the planet going to topple over, reversing its rotation? Answer: NO. That is physically impossible.
- Is the magnetic field of the Earth going to reverse polarity? Answer: YES as it has done many times in the past, including a few times in the history of Homo Sapiens (human) without ill effects.
- Is the magnetic field of the Earth going to reverse polarity in 2012? Answer: NO (to 99.999999% certainty). The magnetic pole is constantly on the move and it has recently picked up speed such that the north magnetic pole will be in northern Siberia in the middle of this century (long after 2012).
- Are the Earth, Sun, and galaxy center going to be aligned on December 21, 2012? Answer: YES as they are every December 21st. The alignment is not exact (and it won't be exact in 2012 either). See the December 21st sky chart page for a picture of this.
- Will the alignment of Earth, Sun, and galaxy center on December 21, 2012 cause great geological stresses on the Earth? Answer: NO and the December 21, 2012 situation will be no different from the other December 21st alignments as far as any physical forces acting on the Earth due to the galactic center. If such damaging forces existed we should experience them every December 21st (at least in the past few years!) and we haven't---you and I are still here, none the worse for wear, yes?
- Will our solar system be aligned with the galactic plane on December 21, 2012? Answer: NO. The Sun and the rest of the solar system (including the Earth) orbit around the center of the galaxy much like the animal seats on a merry-go-around (carousel), bobbing up and down with a period of about 70 million years. The solar system was last in the plane of the galaxy about 3 million years ago, so we'll be exactly in the plane again about 32 million years from now.
- Is the Maya calendar ending in 2012? Answer: NO but it will be the end of one particular cycle that will have lasted 394 years. The Mayans believed that another cycle would start---no end of the world at the end of the current cycle in their belief system.
- Where can I go for more credible and reliable information? Answer: Whew! I'm glad you asked. Here are some good sites:
- 2012 Hoax is a wiki maintained by amateur and professional astronomers and others to examine all of the 2012 claims.
- Astronomical Society of the Pacific's statement from David Morrison who has fielded a number of questions from those anxious about 2012 on the "Ask an Astrobiologist" page. This is a local copy of the PDF from the ASP's 2012 webpage.
- Archeo-astronomer Ed Krupp's page at Griffith Observatory. Krupp also wrote an article in the November issue of Sky and Telescope that expands on the points raised in the webpage. See it especially for more details about the Mayan calendar. Here's a local PDF copy of the article (a 3.3 MB download, so allow time for it to appear on your computer screen).
- "Ask an Astrobiologist" page about 2012.
- NASA's 2012: Beginning of the End or Why the World Won't End? page
- Morehead Planetarium's video series on 2012 doomsday claims. The videos are posted to YouTube but since the YouTube page also also has links to bogus 2012 doomsday videos, stick with the index on the Morehead Planetarium site. Unfortunately, the automated process YouTube uses to group "similar" videos relies on number of YouTube views instead of any decent measure of quality so valid science material gets mashed up with bogus-fake science material.
- Universe Today's 2012 coverage. In a cruel twist though, most if not all of the Google ads on the site point to nonsense sites! The Google ads are not endorsed by Universe Today so please do NOT click on them (see also the note about YouTube above).
- Phil Plait's coverage of Planet X on his Bad Astronomy site.
- From the archaeology side of the house, Anthony Aveni gives more details about the Mayan calendar and society in his article in the November/December 2009 issue of Archaeology.
- Bakersfield College Library's page on evaluating web information. Has some questions to ask when considering the validity of the information on a webpage. Note that most of the sites hyping an upcoming 2012 disaster are also selling things---they want you to buy a book or DVD for more "information".
One final word: A common complaint I hear about NASA is that the money spent in exploring space could be better spent to help solve problems facing us here on Earth. Where are those complaining people when movies like Columbia Picture's 2012 come out---that was millions upon millions of dollars spent on a movie full of fiction and imagination capitalizing on people's fears. They'll probably be spending $20/person in the movie theater for the show and snacks and drinks. How many BILLIONS of dollars will be spent on end-of-the-world books and DVDs before December 21, 2012 comes to pass? Despite what you hear in the news, there is PLENTY of money (especially non-government funds) available to solve our problems, we just don't choose to spend our money that way. Well, I had better get off my soapbox before this turns into a real rant...
*I know I have missed many other predictions of the world's end---it is hard to keep track of all of them and I do have better things to do with my time.
December 10, 2012
(added Morehead Planetarium 2012 videos to the list of references and information about Sun crossing galactic plane)
original posted October 24, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel