Astronomical Doubts About 2012

The year 2012 is drama like a badly behaved celebrity. Frightful rumors and story are spreading. Already more than a half dozen books are advertising, to eager fans, astronomical fears on 2012 End Times..

Anyone who cruises the internet or all-night talk radio knows why. The olden Maya of Mexico and Guatemala kept a agenda that is about to roll up the red carpet of time, swing the solar organization into transcendental arrangement with the heart of the Milky Way, and turn Earth into a bowling pin for a rogue planet caption down our alley for a strike.

None of it is true. People you know, however, are likely becoming a bit frightened that modern astronomy and Maya secret are indeed conspire to bring our doom. If people know you're an astronomer, they will swiftly be asking you all about it.

Birth of a Notion

We've had similar scares in the topical past, but none quite like this. The last time the globe got all worked up over the magical turning of a calendar was the false Millennium of Jan. 1, 2000. Never mind the actual Y2K computer-date bug. True-believer authors (and their imitators) published scary and/or hopeful books about the moment's farsighted potential to catch an immense cosmic wave and change everything for moreover good or ill. Borrowing a forecast from Nostradamus, the 16th-century French riddler, author Charles Berlitz predicted calamity in his 1981 book Doomsday 1999. Berlitz (fresh off books on Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle), warn that 1999 could inflict flood, famine, pollution and a shift of Earth's compelling poles. He also spotlighted the planetary alignment of May 5, 2000, and warned that it can bring solar flares, severe earthquakes, "land changes" and "seismic explosions."

In the 1990s an entire "Earth Changes" pressure group swelled into being as the end of the century neared, with all sorts of Millennial outlook -- earthquakes, plagues, polar axis shifts, continents sliding into the sea, Atlantis rising and more. In England, the Sun tabloid predicted a "marvelous millennium of joy, peace, prosperity."

When Jan. 1, 2000, came and went with nothing inferior than ski-lift passes printing the date as 1900, the focus shifted to "5/5/2000" several months later. Most believers in the power of planetary alignments forgot the failure of earlier lineups to induce disaster. The "Jupiter Effect" cataclysm predicted for March 10, 1982 (named for the 1974 book about it by John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann) commanded headlines but never materialize.

Throughout history, end-of-the-world movements missing their mark number in the "hundreds of thousands at the very least, says Richard Landes, historian at Boston University and director of its Center for Millennial Studies. But people eager for the world to end are not to be denied, and this time, of course, all will be different.

Galactic Guessing Games

Fast-forward to 1995. That year John Major Jenkins package several of these themes into Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. According to Jenkins, the winter-solstice point and the centerline of the Galaxy will line up exactly on Dec. 21. Arguing that this goaded the Maya to contrive the datebook to end on that date, Jenkins concludes that it will be "a tremendous conversion and opportunity for spiritual growth, a transition from one world age to another."

In fact, astronomy cannot pinpoint such a "galactic alignment" to inside a year, much less a day. The alignment depends on the rather uninformed modern definition of the galactic equator, and/or the visual appearance of the Milky Way. There is no defined definition of the Milky Way's edges -- they are very vague and depend on the clarity of your view. (Jenkins says that he personally well-known the Milky Way's edges by recital it from 11,000 feet, far above anywhere the Maya lived.) So to give a precise illustration location for its centerline is not meaningful.

Jenkins did accept that the winter-solstice Sun actually crosses the center of the Milky Way anytime between 1980 and 2016. Elsewhere he expands this come close to zone to a 900-year period, and settles for an imprecise alignment to which Dec. 21, 2012, is illogically and circularly assigned. Real astronomy does not support any match sandwiched between the Baktun-13 end date and a galactic alignment. The advocates both admit and ignore this discrepancy.

It's almost a sidelight that the iciness-solstice sun will never actually "eclipse" the galaxy's true center, the point like radio source marking the Milky Way's vital black hole. Moreover, the winter-solstice sun won't even pass contiguous to it on the sky for another 200 years. What did the Maya themselves think about End Times? There is no evidence that they saw the calendar and a world age ending in either transcendence or calamity on December 21, 2012. Some Maya Long Count texts refer to dates many baktuns past 13 and even into the next piton and beyond. For case, a dedication commissioned in the 7th century A.D. by King Pacal of Palenque predicts that an anniversary of his accession would be commemorating on Oct. 15, 4772.

In all of the Long Count texts discovered, transcribed, and translated, only one mentions the key date in 2012: Monument 6 at Tortuguero, a Maya site in the Mexican situation of Tabasco. The text is damaged, but what relics do not imply the end of time.