How Have the 2012 Doomsday Myths Become Part of our Accepted Lexicon?

The whole “December 21st, 2012 Doomsday” hype had pretty much fallen off my radar. I hadn’t received an email from a concerned or fearful person for months and no one had alerted me to any new breathlessly hyped end-of-the-word videos for quite some time. Optimistically, I began to think that the Mayan-Prophecy-Pole-Shift-Nibiru (et. al) nonsense was just a passing fad.

But, somehow it seems, doomsday hype has made it into the public’s psyche. I recently saw a local newscast that mentioned the world would be ending soon, albeit jokingly, and sometimes even well-meaning publications give the Mayan prophesies undue credence with unfortunate headlines. But a couple of recent polls say that 10-12% of people have doubts they will survive past Dec. 21st of this year. And a few conversations I’ve had with those who have been on the front lines of debunking the 2012 doomsday predictions reveal that an upcoming “end of the world” is somehow very real for a measurable segment of the population.

How has something that is steeped in nonsense with no scientific accuracy whatsoever managed to capture such attention?

Dr. David Morrison has been answering the public’s questions on the 2012 predictions for over five years on NASA’s “Ask and Astrobiologist” page on the Astrobiology website. Even after all the information Morrison and other NASA scientists have made available debunking the doomsday myths and providing real scientific reasoning, Morrison said he still steadily receives 5-6 emails every day from people asking if the world will end in December.

“These are for the most part from people who fundamentally distrust science and the government,” Morrison said in an interview for a podcast for the NASA Lunar Science Institute and 365 Days of Astronomy. “It is very hard to get through to them. These are people who… get their information from the internet,” (and You Tube videos and History Channel documentaries, Morrison later added.) “And among the kids, the information just passes from person to person. I’d like to think that the things I’ve posted and the videos I’ve made help, but a lot of people just don’t get it.”

And some people don’t want to get it.

“They are so invested this,” Morrison said, “with their books and websites and videos,” and when Dec. 22 rolls around, they may not want to admit they’ve either been part of the hoax or taken in by a hoax. They may end up changing the goalposts by saying they were off by a couple of months or years, like many of the failed end-of-the-word predictions have done.

Bill Hudson, who helps maintain the 2012Hoax website – a site that offers scientific information of why the world won’t end and a forum for people to express their concerns – says he has seen a steady uptick in traffic to the website in recent months and he anticipates there will be a surge ahead of December 21st.

“Most of the astronomical claims are easily dismissed, but a lot of our visitors have apparent anxiety issues, and the 2012 rumors set those off,” Hudson said. “So they realize intellectually that it is bunk, but emotionally they struggle to get past it.”

For example one woman has written in for the past few years in a constant up and down cycle of first feeling fears for herself and her child, then feeling calm when reading information on the 2012Hoax site, but then falling back into fear if she watches a new You Tube video hyping doomsday, or if she sees a big star in the sky she thinks she hasn’t seen before (it usually end up being Venus.)

Unfortunately, Hudson said, there are more people like this, who just can’t get past their fears.

Ian O’Neill producer of Discovery Space News and former Universe Today writer who authored a series of articles for UT debunking the 2012 doomsday myths says that he’s also witnessed how the “Mayan doomsday” has worked itself into society’s lexicon.

As an example, O’Neill shared via email a story of a person next to him at the gym watching TV reports of the recent swarm of earthquakes south of LA:

“The guy watching the TV next to me asked what was going on — I said that it was a USGS press conference to discuss the mini quakes. He responded with “Yeah, it’s not long until the world ends, we’re bound to be seeing more of this kind of thing.” A little taken aback, I questioned him on it (thinking he was joking) and he was positive that the world was really going to end and that he’d seen “videos on YouTube” about it. No matter what I said to him, his view was that he’d rather be safe than sorry — he’d stocked up on fuel and water.”

O’Neill said he’s found that among the public, stories of doomsday are generally accepted. “Some people know that it’s all crap, but others are totally convinced that it’s real,” he said. “It’s really sad that, after I’ve written countless articles on the topic and appeared on several news shows and documentaries communicating the real science, people are still out there needlessly worried, happy to believe a badly edited YouTube video over science and reason.”

The real unfortunate effect here is that children are being caught up by these doomsday predictions, whether by adults in their lives who are buying into the hype or by having access to websites and videos that purport to have the “real” truth and answers.

Hudson says the 2012Hoax site has been receiving a constant stream of questions from children who are fearful, and Morrison said many of the emails he gets are from children. There are at least two documented cases of young people committing suicide from their fears of the world ending, and Morrison shared a story from a teacher he knows where parents of two children in her class have come to her saying the families plans to commit suicide so they don’t suffer in the end times coming up.

This is almost more than anyone involved in debunking these doomsday myths can bear. Morrison called the people propagating the doomsday myths “evil.”

“These are evil people, whether consciously or unconsciously whose main effect is to frighten children,” he said. “I think it is a terrible thing.”

Morrison, Hudson and O’Neill said they all hope Dec. 21 can come and go without anyone else taking drastic actions that are completely unnecessary.

Asked what he will be doing on Dec. 22, Morrison said all he really hopes is that this whole subject will be dropped, never to be heard from again.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like this before and I hope I never have to deal with it again,” he said.

Watch Jupiter Get Hit in the Original HD Video

Caught on webcam by amateur astronomer George Hall in Dallas, Texas, the impact on Jupiter that occurred yesterday at 6:35 a.m. CT can be clearly seen in the brief video above as a bright flash along the giant planet’s left side.

According to Hall on his website the video was captured with a 12″ LX200GPS, 3x Televue Barlow, and Point Grey Flea 3 camera using Astro IIDC software.

Great catch, George! Currently this is the only video footage we’ve seen of this particular event. Also, tonight at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT the SLOOH Space Camera site will broadcast a live viewing of Jupiter to search for any remaining evidence of an impact. Tune in here.

Video © George Hall. All rights reserved, used with permission.

End of the World Averted: New Archeological Find Proves Mayan Calendar Doesn’t End

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So much for the world ending on December 21, 2012. We’ve been saying it for years, but a new find by archaeologists confirms the Mayan calendar indeed does not end this year but keeps going, just like turning a page to a new calendar.

“It’s very clear that the 2012 date, while important as Baktun 13, was turning the page,” David Stuart, quoted by Alan Boyle on MSNBC’s Cosmic Log. “Baktun 14 was going to be coming, and Baktun 15 and Baktun 16. … The Maya calendar is going to keep going, and keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future.”

A team of archaeologists found a small room in Mayan ruins where royal scribes wrote on the walls — apparently like a blackboard — to keep track of astronomical records and details of the complex Mayan calendar. The writings date to about 1,200 years ago.

These are the oldest known astronomical tables from the Maya. They were found at the Xultun archaeological site in Guatemala’s Peten region. Scientists already knew the Mayans must have been keeping such records during that time period, but until now the oldest known examples dated from about 600 years later.

The room, about 2 meters (6-feet) square, contains walls decorated with images of a king and some other notable figures, as well as astronomical numbers and writings, the scientists said. The room had a stone roof rather than a thatched one, which may indicate the importance of the room.

Why did they write on walls, as opposed to other Mayan texts that have been found on bark paper?

The time period of the early 9th century was not a stable time for the Mayans, as there was political turmoil between the various city-states of the time, and the researchers said that perhaps the Xultun scribes wished to make a more permanent record of their data related to the calendar.

By some supposed “researchers,” Dec. 21, 2012 has been correlated to the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which was based on a cycle of 13 intervals known as baktuns, each lasting 144,000 days.

But the newly found writing on walls of the ancient room shows wide ranges of accumulated time, including a 17-baktun period. “There was a lot more to the Maya calendar than just 13 baktuns,” said Stuart, talking with reporters. Seventeen baktuns would stand for about 6,700 years, which is much longer than the 13-baktun cycle of 5,125 years. However, Stuart cautioned that the time notation shouldn’t be read as specifying a date that’s farther in the future than Dec. 21.

“It may just be that this is a mathematical number that’s kind of interesting,” he said. “We’re not sure what the base of the calendar is.”

William Saturno, an archaeologist at Boston University who led the team of archaeologists said many different scientists have been trying to get the word out that the end of the Maya culture’s 13-baktun Long Count calendar doesn’t signify the end of the world, but merely a turnover to the next cycle in a potentially infinite series — like going from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 on a modern calendar.

“If someone is a hard-core believer that the world is going to end in 2012, no painting is going to convince them otherwise,” he said. “The only thing that can convince them otherwise is waiting until Dec. 22, 2012 — which fortunately for all of us isn’t that far away.”

Read the team’s abstract.

Read more at Cosmic Log, ABC News, Science, National Geographic.

Still Concerned About 2012?

Don’t be.

Don Yeomans, senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, was kind enough to address some common questions regarding 2012, such as the much-misunderstood Mayan “long-count” calendar, Nibiru, pole-reversal and other such purported “doomsday” devices. Check it out.

Still set on the world ending come Dec. 21?

Back off, man. Don’s a scientist.

Help Astronomers Measure the Solar System!

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As the bright Mars-crossing asteroid 433 Eros makes its closest approach to Earth since 1975, astronomers around the globe are taking the opportunity to measure its position in the sky, thereby fine-tuning our working knowledge of distances in the solar system. Using the optical principle of parallax, whereby different viewpoints of the same object show slightly shifted positions relative to background objects, skywatchers in different parts of the world can observe Eros over the next few nights and share their images online.

The endeavor is called the Eros Parallax Project, and you can participate too!

433 Eros' path from jan. 30 - Feb. 1, 2012. (transitofvenus.nl)

Discovered in 1898, Eros was the largest near-Earth asteroid yet identified. Its close and relatively bright oppositions were calculated by astronomers of the day and used, along with solar transits by Venus (one of which, if you haven’t heard, will also occur this year on June 5!) to calculate distances in the inner solar system.

Having both events take place within the same year offers today’s astronomers an unparalleled opportunity to obtain observational measurements.

Through the efforts of the Astronomers Without Borders organization, along with Steven van Roode and Michael Richmond from the Transit of Venus project, anyone with moderate astrophotography experience can participate in the observation of Eros and share their photos via free online software.

Using the data gathered by individual participants positioned around the world, each with their own specific viewpoints, astronomers will be able to precisely measure the distance to Eros.

The more accurately that distance is known, the more accurately the distance from Earth to the Sun can be calculated – via the orbital mechanics of Kepler’s third law.

The tumbling motion of elongated 33-km-long Eros creates a changing brightness. (via transitofvenus.nl)

The last time such a bright pass of Eros occurred was in January of 1931. Observations of the asteroid made at that time allowed astronomers to calculate a solar parallax of 8″ .790, the most accurate up to that time and the most accurate until 1968, when data acquired by radar measurements gave more detailed measurements.

In many ways the 2012 close approach by Eros – astronomically close, but still a very safe 16.6 million miles (26.7 million km) away – will allow for a re-eneactment of the 1931 event… with the exception that this time amateur skywatchers will also contribute data, instantly, from all over the world!

One has to wonder…when Eros comes this close again in 2056, what sort of technology will we use to watch it then…

Find out more about the Eros Parallax Project and how to participate here.

And be sure to check out the article about the project on Astronomers Without Borders as well.

Top Astronomy Events Coming Up in 2012

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As 2011 is drawing to a close, the festive season is here and many of us are winding down and looking forward to the holidays. But this is a great time to look ahead to 2012 and pencil into our calendar and diaries the top astronomical events we don’t want to miss next year.

2012 is going to be a great year for astronomy observing, with some rare and exciting things taking place and a good outlook with some of the regular annual events.

So what top wonders should we expect to see and what will 2012 bring?

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Venus & Jupiter Conjunction Credit: Anthony Arrigo UtahSkies.org

On March 15th the Planets Venus and Jupiter will be within 3 degrees and very close to each other in the early evening sky. This will be quite a spectacle as both planets are very bright (Venus being the brightest) and the pair will burn brightly together like a pair of alien eyes watching us after the Sun sets.

This conjunction (where planets group close together as seen from Earth) will be a fantastic visual and photographic opportunity, as it’s not often you get the brightest Planets in our Solar System so close together.

Transit of Venus

Transit of Venus Credit: Australian Space Alliance

For many, the transit of Venus is the year’s most anticipated astronomical event and it takes place on June 5th – 6th. The Planet Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun and you will see Venus (a small black circle) slowly move across, or “transit” the disc of the Sun.

Transits of Venus are very rare and only a few have been witnessed since the dawn of the telescope. Be sure not to miss this very rare event as the next one isn’t visible for over another 100 years from now in 2117 and the next after that is in 2125.

The full transit of Venus in 2012 will be visible in North America, the northwest part of South America, Western Pacific, North East Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Other parts of the world will see a partial transit such as observers in the UK, who will only be able to see the last part of the transit as the Sun rises.

First contact will be at 22:09 UT and final contact will be at 04:49 UT

Take note! You have to use the right equipment for viewing the Sun, such as eclipse glasses, solar filters, or projection through a telescope. Never ever look directly at the Sun and never look at it through a normal telescope or binoculars – You will be permanently blinded! The transit of Venus will be a very popular event, so contact your local astronomy group and see if they are holding an event to celebrate this rare occasion.

Meteor Showers

Don't Miss the Major 2012 Meteor Showers Credit: Shooting Star Wallpapers

2011 was a poor year for meteor showers due to the presence of a largely illuminated Moon on all of the major showers; this prevented all but the brightest meteors being seen.

In contrast 2012 brings a welcome respite from the glare of the Moon as it gives little or no interference with this year’s major showers. The only other issue left to contend with is the weather, but if you have clear skies on the evenings of these celestial fireworks, you are in for a treat.

  • The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peak is narrow and just before dawn on January 4th this shower is expected to have a peak rate (ZHR) of around 80 meteors per hour.
  • The Perseid Meteor Shower peak is fairly broad with activity increasing on the evenings of the August 9th and 10th with the showers peak on the morning of the 12th. Perseids are the most popular meteor shower of the year as it tends to be warm and the shower has very bright meteors and fireballs, with rates of 100+ an hour at its peak.
  • The Geminid Meteor Shower is probably the best meteor shower of the year with high rates of slow bright meteors. The peak is very broad and rates of 100+ meteors per hour can be seen. The best time to look out for Geminids is on the evenings of the 12th to 14th December, but they can be seen much earlier or later than the peak.

If you want to find out more and enjoy the meteor showers of 2012, why not join in with a meteorwatch and visit meteorwatch.org

Jupiter and the Moon

Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon on July 15th as seen from Southern England Credit: Adrian West

European observers are in for a very rare treat as the Moon briefly hides the planet Jupiter on the morning of July 15th. This “lunar occultation” can be seen from southern England and parts of Europe at approximately 1:50am UT (dependant on location) and the planet re-emerges from the dark lunar limb at approximately 3:10am UT.

This is a great chance to watch this rare and bright event, and it will also be a fantastic imaging opportunity.

Annular Eclipse

Annular Eclipse Credit: Kitt Peak Observatory

American observers will have treat on May 20th with an annular eclipse of the Sun. The eclipse will be visible from many western US states and a partial eclipse visible from most of North America.

Because the Moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle and is slightly elliptical, it moves closer and further away from us slightly in its orbit by 13% and on July 15th it is at its furthest point away from the Earth as it passes in front of the Sun.

Normally the Moon covers the entire disc of the Sun and creates a total solar eclipse, but because the Moon is at its furthest point in its orbit on the 15th, we get an annular eclipse, where we can still see a ring of bright light around the Sun, but we don’t get totality.

The eclipse starts roughly at 6:20pm local time for the Western US states and lasts for four and a half minutes.

As mentioned earlier; never, ever look at the Sun without proper protection such as eclipse glasses or filters for equipment! This can damage your eyes and permanently blind you. This is the same for cameras; the sensitive chips inside can be damaged.

The World Not Ending

End Of The World

Finally we get to December 21st, in which astronomy-minded folks will celebrate the solstice. But in case you haven’t heard, some have prophesied the end of the world, saying the Mayan calendar ends. This has been the subject of much discussion, comedy and media coverage, and it has even been made into films.

Will the Antichrist press the red button and will there be the Rapture? Will the Earth reverse its magnetic poles, or will we get wiped out by a solar flare, rogue comet or asteroid?

Nope, probably not. You can read our entire series which explains why this whole 2012 end-of-the-world craze is complete hokum.

All I know is 2012 is going to be a great year for astronomy with some very interesting, rare events taking place, with many more regular events to see, as well.

I’m sure it’s not going to end.

 

World Ending on May 21? Don’t Count on It

Why do some humans have a fixation on the world coming to an end? From ancient Nostradamus to Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate fame, there have been a myriad of ultimately failed predictions that the world will meet its demise. The latest prediction comes from Harold Camping, a preacher from California who says the Second Coming of Jesus will occur conveniently at 6 pm local time for each time zone around the world coming up this weekend, on May 21, 2011.

While he claims to have used math to predict this event, perhaps a better use of math would be to count how many times soothsayers and doomsday con artists have incorrectly predicted the end of the world in the past. So far they have all been 100% wrong. Camping himself is guilty of incorrectly predicting the end of the world back in 1994, so his track record is not very good either. So if you’re wondering – mathematically speaking — based on the number of past predictions of the end of the world being right, and the number of past predictions of Camping about the end of the world being right, the odds of Camping being wrong this time are 100%.

So sleep well, and enjoy your weekend!

Need some proof? Here’s a look at some past failed predictions, as well as an infographic from LiveScience.com about the many predictions of doom. Humans seem to like doomsday predictions so much that we even like to make movies about it.

And by the way, the end of the world predictions being pure nonsense goes for the 2012 prognostications, as well. You can read our series about why they are all wrong here.

Interestingly, many past predictions of the end of the world coincide with religious fanaticism (from the top image, above, it appears Camping’s prediction has the biblical seal of approval…) and/or trying to make money. (Camping has amassed $120 million in donations from fervent followers). One of the most recent was God’s Church minister Ronald Weinland who pitched his book “2008: God’s Final Witness” by predicting the world would end by 2008, with the “end times” beginning in 2006.

Before that, it was the Heaven’s Gate mess, where Applewhite’s followers actually did kill themselves so that they would be taken by an alien spacecraft coming along with comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, (I guess, unfortunately the world did end for them…). This prediction included accusations of a huge cover-up by NASA who supposedly knew the alien craft was hidden in the comet’s coma.

Televangelist Pat Robertson predicted Judgment Day would come in 1982. Scarily, Robertson later ran for president of the United States.

Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church predicted the world would end by 1891, and a group that would eventually become the Seventh-Day Adventists predicted the end by 1843.

Some bad-science related predictions include the Y2K scare (which didn’t even burn out a light bulb), several “planetary alignment” predictions that would throw the Earth into tumult (including one in 2000 by Richard Noone), the return of Halley’s Comet in 1910 would envelope Earth in deadly toxic gases, and of course, all the 2012 predictions, which are based on very inaccurate science and the downright mean and nasty tactic of trying to scare people.

Nostradumus, a.k.a. Michel de Nostrdame has been one of the longest-running predictors of doom and gloom, and his vague, metaphorical writings have intrigued people for over 400 years. The vagueness allows for very flexible interpretations, allowing some people to claim that a number of Nostradamus’ predictions have come true. One prediction he gave included a year: “The year 1999, seventh month / From the sky will come great king of terror.”

I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen, just like all the other predictions. The ones listed here are just a sampling of the incorrect predictions throughout time.

 A brief history of doomsdays
Source:LiveScience

2012: NASA’s Scientific Reality Check

NASA is now joining in to combat the 2012 nonsense. Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object office has produced a video and written an article, providing the scientific realities surrounding the celestial happenings of 2012. Yeomans has done a wonderful job explaining everything that is and isn’t going to happen in 2012, and we’re happy to add his work to our collection of 2012 debunking articles.
Continue reading “2012: NASA’s Scientific Reality Check”

Surviving 2012: Ian O’Neill on Discovery Channel Sunday Night

Our very own resident expert on 2012, Dr. Ian O’Neill will be on a special Discovery Channel show, premiering Sunday evening. I just saw a promo piece on the Discovery Channel, and it looks really great. On TV, they called it Surviving 2012, however online it is titled Apocalypse 2012. On his blog, Astroengine, Ian says that science is the focus on this show, (unlike the idiotic Nostradamus nonsense on another channel). As you probably know, Ian is now the producer over at Discovery Space, (and doing a bang-up job!) but he still posts on UT now and then. His series of articles on 2012 are outstanding, and are some of our most popular articles, so I can’t wait to see him debunk the nonsense on television. The Discovery Channel in my area (US Central Time) says 8 pm, but check your own local listing. And if you miss it Sunday night, check for repeat showings later in the week. Go Ian!

2012: Combat the Nonsense

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In a rather cruel media ploy, the creators of the upcoming science fiction movie “2012” are purposely feeding the flames of internet panic about the ridiculous claims that the world will end in 2012. This viral marketing campaign has created fake science websites and encourages people to search for “2012” on the Web. While there are many websites, like Universe Today, which provide solid and methodical evidence that the 2012 hysteria is complete nonsense, hordes of other sites out there are full of gobbledygook and a gross misstating of what they claim to be scientific evidence that some astronomical event will decimate our planet. Why are these hoaxers doing this? For the oldest reason ever: for profit and notoriety. If you visit their websites, most are trying to sell books or videos.

For those reading this article because you have concerns about 2012, we encourage you to read our complete series of articles on 2012, and it won’t cost you a thing. The articles were written by Dr. Ian O’Neil, who has a PhD in solar physics. Additionally, below is a list of other resources that should help answer any questions or concerns you may have on this topic:

1. NASA scientist Dr. David Morrison Dr. Morrison, a world-renowned expert on the solar system (and asteroid impacts) has published a free pdf, “Doomsday 2012, Planet Nibiru and Cosmophobia,” a concise summary of the claims and answers containing solid scientific responses. It is published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific as a public service.

2. Morrison also serves as the public scientist for NASA’s “Ask an Astrobiologist” service, where he answers questions for the public. You’ll find many questions and answers about 2012 there, as well as other space topics.

3. The 365 Days of Astronomy podcast has a couple of great, short podcasts that address the 2012 claims, where you can get lots of information in about 10 minutes of your time. Will the World End in 2012? provides an overview of all 2012 doomsday hoaxes, and “Ancient Astronomy: The Mayans” discusses the significance of the Mayan calendar and, briefly, how the world is not going to end in 2012.

4. The Griffith Observatory has a great, concise page on the different claims called “The Truth About 2012: The End is NOT Near,” written by astronomer Dr. Ed Krupp.

5. “2012 Hoax” is a website written by several professional and amateur astronomers that thoroughly discusses the various doomsday scenarios and crackpot websites. You can also follow 20 12 2012 Hoax on Twitter.

6. Gia’s Blog, written by science groupie Gia Milinovitch (also married to physicist Dr. Brian Cox) has a great page titled “Apocalympics 2012: Mayan ‘Prophecy'”

7. If English isn’t your native language, astronomer Florian Freistetter has written several 2012 articles in German. They can be found on his website, Astrodicticum Simplex. Of special interest, Florian has recently put together a “2012 FAQ” page in German.

8. Daniel Fischer has a webpage in both English and German, Ist Es Wahr? Nachrichten vom Rande der Wirklichkeit (Is it true? News from the Edge of Reality), which tracks articles related to all sorts of doomsday and conspiracy theories.

9. (Added later) With the release of the Movie 2012, NASA published a short page that answers several doomsday predictions with concise, scientific answers.