12/21/12 Doomsday? We’re Still Here!

Stone version of the Maya 260 calendar at the Smithsonian (Photo credit: Matthew G. Bisanz)

Stone version of the Maya 260 calendar at the Smithsonian (Photo credit: Matthew G. Bisanz)

EARTH — It’s Dec. 21, 2012  and we’re still here.

The Mayan “long count” calendar, which marks the end of a 5,125-year era today, captured the imaginations of many and led some to predict that the world would also reach an end as the calendar “ran out.”

Scholars scoffed at the notion.

University of Florida anthropologist Susan Gillespie said that the 2012 phenomenon comes “from media and from other people making use of the Maya past to fulfill agendas that are really their own.”

“For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle,” said Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Fla. To turn Dec. 21, 2012, into a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she said, is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon expected his country to attract 52 million tourists this year because of the newfound interest in Mayan ruins. The Riviera Maya region was one of the top spots to party in the days leading up to Dec. 21 this year. Most hotels were booked months in advance in the bustling city between Cancun and Tulum.

Not everyone was inclined to party. Survival equipment and shelter makers saw a significant increase in orders as Dec. 21 drew closer.

Bishop Bernardo Bastres Florence of Punta Arenas, Chile encouraged those who believed the world would end on Dec. 21 to name the Catholic Church as the beneficiary of their wills. “I assure them that after Dec. 21, we will eternally pray for them,” he said. “Because I am sure that we will all be alive after that date. If they wish to pass on, they could do enormous good by donating their properties to the Church.”

According to a poll conducted in 21 countries by Ipsos on behalf of Reuters News earlier this year, one in ten believed that the Mayan calendar marked the end of the world. In the United States, that number was slightly higher at 12 percent.

Earlier this month, NASA took the unusual step of publishing a statement to reassure people that the world would not end on Dec. 21.

“For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact,” the statement said. “There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.”

Other doomsday theories also predicted the end of the world in 2012, and NASA took steps to debunk them as well.

One theory was that some sort of planetary conjunction would take place on Dec. 21 that would have somehow bring about the end of the world, but NASA noted that no conjunction would occur on that date. Further, “even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible,” NASA said. “One major alignment occurred in 1962, for example, and two others happened during 1982 and 2000. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.”

Another theory suggested that the Earth’s magnetic north and south poles would reverse with catastrophic effects during the next solar maximum, which was originally predicted to occur in 2012 but is now not expected to happen until next year. “As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth,” the NASA statement said. “Scientists believe a magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia.”

A third theory was that a wayward planet called Nibiru, Planet X or Eris is approaching Earth and threatening to cause widespread destruction. “If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye,” the NASA statement said. “Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.”

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