December 11, 2017

2012: Don’t Believe the Hype.

I was recently at a waiting room the other day, when the secretary noticed that I had brought a copy of Death From the Skies! to “kill” time. “Is that stuff true?” she asked. I mentioned that yes, sooner or later, a killer space rock may well have our species collective name on it. I knew what was coming next. “I mean, I like saw this documentary on the Discovery channel about how the world is supposed to end in 2012…”

Every generation enjoys its own Apocalypse, and for better or worse, 2012 is ours. Our grandparents panicked when we passed through the tail of Halley’s comet in 1910; the poisonous gas cyanide had just been discovered in cometary spectrum, and fears were that we would get lethal dose. Nothing happened. In the 1980′s, a great planetary alignment occurred, which was supposed to cause world wide calamity ala the Jupiter Effect… again squat. More recently, there was comet Hale-Bopp, (comets always bring out the wackiness in people!) which caused one cult-inspired mass suicide, and the Y2K debacle, in which computers were supposed to rise up against us, and still the clocks ticked on…

So, what gives? Is the world about to end or not? And what can astronomers tell us about it? Unfortunately, as apocalypse conspiracies go, 2012 is not even a very good one. A search around the Internet yields vague predictions of anything from a polar shift, to a mysterious killer planet headed our way, to a deadly alignment with the core of our galaxy… and that’s the semi-sane end of the spectrum. And just think, we’ve got three more years to go! That’s a long time in terms of water cooler chat-speak, not to mention bad pseudo-documentaries for your grandmother to call you about…not to mention Hollywood is already gearing up to cash in with their own spin, the movie 2012 due out this November, (Friday the) 13th.

But on with the science. Granted, the Internet never seems to let reality get in the way of a good viral hoax, such as the “Mars to appear larger than a Full Moon!” story, which now circulates every August. Apparently, Mars has tightened up its orbit appreciably since 2003. Although most 2012 doomsday espousers don’t even know it, the whole affair stems from what is known Mayan Long Count, a calendar used in ancient meso-American culture that dates year zero from August 13, 3114 B.C. And is set to expire in…you guessed it… December 21st, 2012. The Mayans based their calendar on the helical rising of the planet Venus, much like the Egyptian’s use of the Dog Star Sirius to predict the annual flooding of the Nile. Venus of course is itself orbiting, and thus its helical, or sun-centered rising oscillates in respect to our Gregorian calendar. The key concept is that Mayan cycle Baktun 13 (a baktun is 144,000 days long!) ends on this date. So, does this display any evidence that the Maya had some mystical knowledge of an apocalypse on that date? Fortunately, 12 other baktuns have come and gone, and we’re still here. Of course, the Internet never lets pesky reality get in the way of a good hoax, so lets run through the usual predictions and see if there’s anything to them;

Polar shift; yes, the Earth’s magnetic filed does change polarity occasionally, as evidenced by orientation in magnetic ore in bedrock. However, what happens when a shift occurs isn’t entirely clear. Does it happen overnight? Over the course of a millennium? Do all the dogs on the planet bark at once? Of course, the last recorded shift occurred in about 780,000 B.C., which well predates the Maya, or anyone that we know of, for that matter.

The Nibiru hypothesis: remember in the movie Deep Impact, when president Morgan Freeman revealed that the government was hiding evidence of a killer comet? In reality, that would would be extremely tough to do. A sort of techno-geek arms race exists between amateur and professional astronomers; on any given night, amateur scopes patrol the skies with gear that would make some major universities blush. Comet hunters in particular are an obsessive breed, mostly because of the eternal fame that comes with having your name attached to a celestial snowball. When Eris, the dwarf planet formerly known as Xena was discovered in 2005, amateurs were able to image it within weeks. If any threatening body was inbound, it would be darned hard to cover it up.

A galactic alignment: this is the silliest one of all, as we do in fact align with the Sun and core of our Galaxy once every six months!

In conclusion, I wouldn’t rack up any huge debts over the next few years with hopes that creditor won’t be around to collect them in 2013…the reality is, we live in the age of mediocrity, in a boring corner of the universe where relatively little of interest ever happens…which is why we bothered to evolve here in the first place. Now all we need is the comet of the century to pay us a close visit and really get things a cookin’! I would make a minor prediction that the Apophis flyby of 2029 will prompt the next wave of doomsday hysteria…or will it be the planetary alignment of 2040? I’m personally looking forward to the next palindromic year 2112, so I can play the Rush album of the same name at full blast on New Years Eve…of course, I’ll be 143 years old by then…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. 2012hoax says:

    Nice summary! Good Job, I’ll be linking to this from http://2012hoax.org/links

Trackbacks

  1. [...] go into great detail dissecting the whole 2012 debacle; that’s been done in this space previous. What’s especially bad is that the story writers even get the whole 2012 mythos hysteria [...]

  2. [...] of our modern age. The man on the street had yet to insulate his psyche from the likes of 2012, Y2K, and Tiger Woods. Even The War of the Worlds  broadcast hoax was almost three decades away. [...]

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