Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's the End of the World...Again!!!


If the world had ended every time a bad prediction was made, we would be in some real trouble!  

Humanity's doom and gloom world ending predictions have happened several times in the past.  So, its no surprise that we're hearing a lot of buzz about it again, after all, it's been a while.  This time around the cause is based around the Mayan Calendar.  Here's what you need to know about this alleged curtain call that the Earth is facing on Dec 21, 2012.  First of all the initial chaos was based around a bad prediction made for the year May 2003 when a rouge planet by the name of Nabiru would sweep into the inner solar system and smash right into Earth.  Okay, so that didn't work out quite as well as the predictors anticipated.  NASA and various space agencies around the planet keep a watchful eye for asteroids, space junk, and definitely rouge planets that could cause problems.  Much to some people's dismay, the no-show of planet Nabiru in May of 2003 was embarrassing.  I mean, no one wants to be  totally wrong, right?  So, the next best option was to shift the end of the world to the next 'logical' time, Dec 21, 2012.  

Why Dec 21, 2012?  Its right before the holidays, everyone's cozy in scarves and sweaters, and we're smack dab in the middle of big holiday feasts.  Why would anyone possibly want this to be the end of the world?  Well, some people noticed that the Mayan Calendar ended on Dec 21, 2012.  This gave enough creative freedom to examine various other earth-ending options.  All of a sudden new ideas started to pop up surrounding this wintery deadline.  The predictions got real out there, real fast!  


It's not just a fun video game, it's a great way to end the world!  So, of course, plenty of asteroid theories started to appear.  Again, the experts shook their heads and used the proof of the planet's astronomical resources to explain that this could not happen.  Currently, we have the ability to track any major threatening asteroids all the way out to the asteroid belt!  That's about 100 million miles away, and moving at the speeds asteroids do we're able to spot them about 20 years in advance.  We've looked up and we've tracked the trajectories of all the big problems that could happen and we seem to be in the clear at the moment.  Regardless, the skeptics continued to think of other fun ways to keep the garbage from going out on Dec 22.  If asteroids wouldn't do it then perhaps something bigger could.  

How about…the…planets!

Yeah, that's the ticket!  Planets lining up and causing problems.  Kind of like when you see a line of bullies in the playground, you know you're in trouble.  However, other than the relatively larger size of some planets compared to us, they bare very little resemblance to a school yard bully.  If you see a line of bullies, you may be in trouble.  If you see a line of planets, you're going to be just fine.  In fact the planets in our solar system have aligned several times in this century alone.  With the exception of causing some fear on internet blogs, nothing else has really happened.  The 'fear' was that the planetary alignments would trigger a series of world ending natural disasters.  The prediction was that on Dec 21, 2012 the Earth would experience several huge volcanoes going off all at once!  Hurricanes would sweep the coast lines!  Earthquakes would bring major cities to the ground!  Tornadoes! Lightning! Tsunamis!  Snow storms! Ahhhhh!!!!!  Whoa, wait a minute.  So, in theory, if all this happens when the planets line up, shouldn't we have already seen this happen once or twice already?  After all, the planets have been aligned in the past and from what we can recall, there are no records in recent or even in previous times where THAT much chaos has happened all at once.  Plus the planets ARE NOT lining up this year at all, they're all over the place! Hmm….okay, so that one's not as likely.  So, what else could they dream up?  

The Earth's magnetic poles?

Some people started to tout the change in the magnetic poles which would shift the Earth (literally) UPSIDE DOWN!  It seems the only thing that's upside down about this prediction is the science involved.  The Earth does shift its magnetic poles from time to time, but much like anything that's worth doing, it takes a while.  You can't just flip a light switch and turn the world upside down, yet.  Our planet takes thousands of years to shift its magnetic poles and it is very much so a part of the natural process of being our planet.  To switch poles in the course of one day?  That may be a little out of the question based on what we have learned from billions of years of geologic records and all the very smart educated experts around the world.  Okay, so that one's a little out of the realm of possibility.  What else could possibly be left? 

Here comes the Sun!

Ah, yes, the sun!  The sun is a great way to end the world.  The heat of the sun is what gives us life, but if it were to somehow vastly grow or send a massive sun flair our way, it could become a very bad day on Earth.  So, this became the next runner up for the big catastrophic event that would end the world on Dec 21, 2012.  Okay, so sure, lets talk about the sun.  Now, billions of years from now, the sun will grow in size vastly as it becomes a red giant, right before it collapses into a little white dwarf and spend the rest of its time in retirement, but for now the sun is going to be chillin' (or heating…depending on how you look at it) and carrying on business as usual.  So, the fear behind the earth ending sun-show can be put to rest as well.  What else could they possible come up with that could cause legitimate alarm?

How…about…the….ENTIRE UNIVERSE!!!

There's something to be said about coming up with the most creative end of the world prediction.  In the past people have used piddly little things like comets, asteroids, planets, sun flairs, and what have you.  This Dec 21 cut off has yielded a pretty fantastic and imaginative theory.  According to some, on Dec 21st, THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE WILL LINE UP!!  Now, before we get into the science behind why this prediction is just plain wrong, lets give props to the amazing imagination that allowed this theory to happen in the first place.  Imagine every star, black hole, comet, asteroid, random hydrogen particle, new forming stars, old dying ones, all escaped light….EVERYTHING!! Everything in a nice neat line.  An O.C.D. person's dream come true!  However, things are moving in specific trajectories that will make this alignment 100% IMPOSSIBLE.  However, again if the entire universe were to line up, the events happening on Earth would have little to no impact based on gravitational pulls. The gravity of the sun and the moon (though much smaller than the sun's gravity) have the most impact on what happens here on Earth.  Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and even it has no urgent gravitational impact on our major natural processes.  The universe lining up would make for one amazing photo opt, but life on Earth would more likely than not continue.

There's one other major thing that needs to be mentioned here.  We've spent some time looking into all the sciences behind these bad-predictions, but we've saved the best for last.  Let's discuss the mystical and magical powers of calendars.  First of all, a calendar is simply a way to organize our days.  Various cultures all over the world in many different time periods have created their own calendars.  The Mayans were one of them.  We, currently, are another group of individuals that use our own calendars.  There is a calendar somewhere in your life.  Perhaps hanging at your office, in your class room, or maybe in your home.  Regardless of where the calendar is hanging, there's a really good chance that it has a 'last day' on it.  Go to your calendar, look for the last day.  Does that mean the world is going to end?  No, it means its time for a new calendar.  The Mayans made some wonderful observations about the cosmos and noted them down using the technology and resources they had available to them.  There have been many times that we've learned more about our place in the natural world based on research and understanding.  Thousands of years ago when the Mayans were making the calendars they were unaware of computer algorithms.  Those didn't exist then.  Currently we can map out what day of the week Dec 21 will fall on in the year 2015, 2080, 3500, or even 999,999 if we wanted to.  When the Mayans were working on the calendar they had limited resources and at some point the physical organization of days had to end, because physical resources are limited.  The concept of time is an infinite…not easily applicable to paper and pencil.  So, this calendar had to have a 'last day' NOT because of the end of the world, but because you can't physically write down all the days from now till, well, infinity.  So, the last day on the Mayan calendar is very similar to the last day on your calendar.  It's just not indicative of the end of all life as we know it.  

So, there's no need to fear and panic.  For now, the phrase "It's the end of the world as we know it..." will just be part of a pop song by REM.  No need to go crazy and start giving away personal possessions. Well, except for maybe some outdated calendars. 

It's The End Of The World...Again
Produced by Prabir Mehta
Animation by Caroline Miller

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