2012 phenomenon

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an inscription in Mayan characters set into yellow stone
A date inscription for the Mayan Long Count

The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs according to which cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on 21 December 2012.[1][2][3][4] This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae have been proposed as pertaining to this date, though none have been accepted by mainstream scholarship.

A New Age interpretation of this transition is that this date marks the start of time in which Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era.[5] Others suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios suggested for the end of the world include the arrival of the next solar maximum, or Earth's collision with an object such as a black hole, a passing asteroid, or a planet called "Nibiru".

Scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea of such cataclysmic events occurring in 2012. Professional Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the extant classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Maya history and culture.[3][6][7] Astronomers and other scientists have rejected the proposals as pseudoscience, stating that they conflict with simple astronomical observations[8] and amount to "a distraction from more important science concerns, such as global warming and loss of biological diversity".[9]

Contents

Mesoamerican Long Count calendar

December 2012 marks the conclusion of a b'ak'tun—a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Although the Long Count was most likely invented by the Olmec,[10] it has become closely associated with the Maya civilization, whose classic period lasted from 250 to 900 AD.[11] The writing system of the classic Maya has been substantially deciphered,[12] meaning that a corpus of their written and inscribed material has survived from before the European conquest.

Unlike the 52-year Calendar Round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20: 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k'atun, and 20 k'atuns (144,000 days or roughly 394 years) made up a b'ak'tun. Thus, the Mayan date of 8.3.2.10.15 represents 8 b'ak'tuns, 3 k'atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days.[13][14]

Apocalypse

There is a strong tradition of "world ages" in Mayan literature, but the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open to interpretation.[15] According to the Popol Vuh, a compilation of the creation accounts of the K'iche' Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world.[16] The Popol Vuh describes the gods first creating three failed worlds, followed by a successful fourth world in which humanity was placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b'ak'tuns, or roughly 5,125 years.[17][Note a] The Long Count's "zero date"[Note b] was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar.[18][Note c] This means that the fourth world will also have reached the end of its 13th b'ak'tun, or Mayan date 13.0.0.0.0, on 21 December 2012.[1][Note c] In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that "the completion of a Great Period of 13 b'ak'tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya".[19] In 1966, Michael D. Coe wrote in The Maya that "there is a suggestion ... that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b'ak'tun]. Thus ... our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012][Note d] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion."[20]

an ancient manuscript page
The oldest surviving manuscript of the Popol Vuh, dated to 1701

Objections

Coe's interpretation was repeated by other scholars through the early 1990s.[21] In contrast, later researchers said that, while the end of the 13th b'ak'tun would perhaps be a cause for celebration,[3] it did not mark the end of the calendar.[22] "There is nothing in the Maya or Aztec or ancient Mesoamerican prophecy to suggest that they prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012", said Mayanist scholar Mark Van Stone. "The notion of a 'Great Cycle' coming to an end is completely a modern invention."[23] In 1990, Mayanist scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel argued that the Maya "did not conceive this to be the end of creation, as many have suggested".[24] Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated that, "We have no record or knowledge that [the Maya] would think the world would come to an end" in 2012.[3] Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, said, "For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle", and, "The 2012 phenomenon is a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in".[3] "There will be another cycle", said E. Wyllys Andrews V, director of the Tulane University Middle American Research Institute. "We know the Maya thought there was one before this, and that implies they were comfortable with the idea of another one after this."[25] Commenting on the new calendar found at Xultun, one archaeologist said "The ancient Maya predicted the world would continue – that 7,000 years from now, things would be exactly like this. We keep looking for endings. The Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change. It's an entirely different mindset."[26]

Several prominent individuals representing Maya of Guatemala decried the suggestion that the world ends on b'ak'tun 13. Ricardo Cajas, president of the Colectivo de Organizaciones Indígenas de Guatemala, said the date did not represent an end of humanity or fulfillment of the catastrophic prophecies found in the Maya Chilam Balam, but that the new cycle, "supposes changes in human consciousness". Martín Sacalxot of Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (Guatemala's Human Rights Ombudsman, PDH) said that end of the calendar has nothing to do with the end of the world or the year 2012.[27]

Prior associations

The European association of the Maya with eschatology dates back to the time of Christopher Columbus, who was compiling a work called Libro de las profecias during the voyage in 1502 when he first heard about the "Maia" on Guanaja, an island off the north coast of Honduras.[28] Influenced by the writings of Bishop Pierre d'Ailly, Columbus believed that his discovery of "most distant" lands (and, by extension, the Maya themselves) was prophesied and would bring about the Apocalypse. End-times fears were widespread during the early years of the Spanish Conquest as the result of popular astrological predictions in Europe of a second Great Flood for the year 1524.[28]

In the early 1900s, German scholar Ernst Förstemann interpreted the last page of the Dresden Codex as a representation of the end of the world in a cataclysmic flood. He made reference to the destruction of the world and an apocalypse, though he made no reference to the 13th baktun or 2012 and it was not clear that he was referring to a future event.[29] His ideas were repeated by archaeologist Sylvanus Morley,[30] who directly paraphrased Förstemann and added his own embellishments, writing, "Finally, on the last page of the manuscript, is depicted the Destruction of the World ... Here, indeed, is portrayed with a graphic touch the final all-engulfing cataclysm" in the form of a Great Flood. These comments were later repeated in Morley's book, The Ancient Maya, the first edition of which was published in 1946.[28]

Mayan references to b'ak'tun 13

It is not certain what significance the classic Maya give to the 13th b'ak'tun.[31] Most classic Maya inscriptions are strictly historical and do not make any prophetic declarations.[31] Two items in the Mayan classical corpus, however, do mention the end of the 13th b'ak'tun: Tortuguero Monument 6 and La Corona Hieroglyphic Stairway 12.

Tortuguero

The Tortuguero site, which lies in southernmost Tabasco, Mexico, dates from the 7th century AD and consists of a series of inscriptions mostly in honor of the contemporary ruler Bahlam Ajaw. One inscription, known as Tortuguero Monument 6, is the only inscription known to refer to b'ak'tun 13. It has been partially defaced; Sven Gronemeyer and Barbara MacLeod have given this translation:

tzuhtzjo:m uy-u:xlaju:n pik
chan ajaw u:x uni:w
uhto:m il[?]
ye'ni/ye:n bolon yokte'
ta chak joyaj
It will be completed the 13th b'ak'tun.
It is 4 Ajaw 3 K'ank'in
and it will happen a 'seeing'[?].
It is the display of B'olon-Yokte'
in a great "investiture".[32]
Vase illustration in which the god Bolon Yukte is seen in profile, kneeling with his head back and his mouth open. He wears an elaborate feather headdress.
The Tortuguero monument connects the end of the 13th b'ak'tun with the appearance of Bolon Yokte' K'uh, shown here on the Vase of Seven Gods.

Very little is known about the god Bolon Yokte'. According to an article by Mayanists Markus Eberl and Christian Prager in British Anthropological Reports, his name is composed of the elements "nine", 'OK-te' (the meaning of which is unknown), and "god". Confusion in classical period inscriptions suggests that the name was already ancient and unfamiliar to contemporary scribes.[33] He also appears in inscriptions from Palenque, Usumacinta, and La Mar as a god of war, conflict, and the underworld. In one stele he is portrayed with a rope tied around his neck, and in another with an incense bag, together signifying a sacrifice to end a cycle of years.[34]

Based on observations of modern Mayan rituals, Gronemeyer and MacLeod claim that the stele refers to a celebration in which a person portraying Bolon Yokte' K'uh was wrapped in ceremonial garments and paraded around the site.[35][36] They note that the association of Bolon Yokte' K'uh with b'ak'tun 13 appears to be so important on this inscription that it supersedes more typical celebrations such as "erection of stelae, scattering of incense" and so forth. Furthermore, they assert that this event was indeed planned for 2012 and not the 7th century.[37] Mayanist scholar Stephen Houston contests this view by arguing that future dates on Mayan inscriptions were simply meant to draw parallels with contemporary events, and that the words on the stela describe a contemporary rather than a future scene.[38]

La Corona

In April–May 2012, a team of archaeologists unearthed a previously unknown inscription on a stairway at the La Corona site in Guatemala. The inscription, on what is known as Hieroglyphic Stairway 12, describes the establishment of a royal court in Calakmul in 635 AD, and compares the then-recent completion of 13 k'atuns with the future completion of the 13th b'ak'tun. However, it contains no speculation or prophecy as to what the scribes believed would happen at that time.[39]

Dates beyond b'ak'tun 13

Mayan inscriptions occasionally mention predicted future events or commemorations that would occur on dates far beyond the completion of the 13th b'ak'tun. Most of these are in the form of "distance dates"; Long Count dates together with an additional number, known as a Distance Number, which when added to them makes a future date. On the west panel at the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque, a section of text projects forward to the 80th 52-year Calendar Round from the coronation of the ruler K'inich Janaab' Pakal. Pakal's accession occurred on 9.9.2.4.8, equivalent to 27 July 615 AD in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. The inscription begins with Pakal's birthdate of 9.8.9.13.0 (24 March, 603 AD Gregorian) and then adds the Distance Number 10.11.10.5.8 to it,[40] arriving at a date of 21 October 4772 AD, more than 4,000 years after Pakal's time.[23][40][41]

Another example is Stele 1 at Coba which gives a date of 13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.13.0.0.0.0, or twenty units above the b'ak'tun, placing it either 4.134105 × 1028 (41 octillion) years in the future,[24] or an equal distance in the past.[42] This date is 3 quintillion times the age of the universe as determined by cosmologists.

In 2012, researchers announced the discovery of a series of Mayan astronomical tables in Xultun, Guatemala which plot the movements of the Moon and other astronomical bodies over the course of 17 b'ak'tuns.[26][43][44]

New Age beliefs

Many assertions about the year 2012 form part of a non-codified collection of New Age beliefs about ancient Maya wisdom and spirituality.[4][45][46][47][48][49] Archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni says that while the idea of "balancing the cosmos" was prominent in ancient Maya literature, the 2012 phenomenon does not draw from those traditions. Instead, it is bound up with American concepts such as the New Age movement, millenarianism, and the belief in secret knowledge from distant times and places.[50] Established themes found in 2012 literature include "suspicion towards mainstream Western culture", the idea of spiritual evolution, and the possibility of leading the world into the New Age by individual example or by a group's joined consciousness. The general intent of this literature is not to warn of impending doom but "to foster counter-cultural sympathies and eventually socio-political and 'spiritual' activism".[2] Aveni, who has studied New Age and SETI communities, describes 2012 narratives as the product of a "disconnected" society: "Unable to find spiritual answers to life's big questions within ourselves, we turn outward to imagined entities that lie far off in space or time—entities that just might be in possession of superior knowledge".[51]

Origins

In 1975, the ending of b'ak'tun 13 became the subject of speculation by several New Age authors, who asserted it would correspond with a global "transformation of consciousness". In Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, Frank Waters tied Coe's original date of 24 December 2011,[Note d] to astrology and the prophecies of the Hopi,[52] while both José Argüelles (in The Transformative Vision)[53] and Terence McKenna (in The Invisible Landscape)[54][55] discussed the significance of the year 2012 and made reference to 21 Dec. 2012.

In 1983, with the publication of Robert J. Sharer's revised table of date correlations in the 4th edition of Morley's The Ancient Maya,[Note d] each became convinced that 21 December 2012, had significant meaning. By 1987, the year in which he organized the Harmonic Convergence event, Arguelles was using the date 21 December 2012 in The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology.[56][57] He claimed that on 13 August 3113 BC the Earth began a passage through a "galactic synchronization beam" that emanated from the center of our galaxy, that it would pass through this beam during a period of 5200 tuns (Maya cycles of 360 days each), and that this beam would result in "total synchronization" and "galactic entrainment" of individuals "plugged into the Earth's electromagnetic battery" by 13.0.0.0.0 (21 Dec. 2012). He believed that the Maya aligned their calendar to correspond to this phenomenon.[58] Anthony Aveni has dismissed all of these ideas.[59]

Galactic alignment

There is no significant astronomical event tied to the Long Count's start date.[60] However, its supposed end date has been tied to astronomical phenomena by esoteric, fringe, and New Age literature that places great significance on astrology.[45][47] Chief among these is the concept of the "galactic alignment".

Precession

In the Solar System, the planets and the Sun lie roughly within the same flat plane, known as the plane of the ecliptic. From our perspective on Earth, the ecliptic is the path taken by the Sun across the sky over the course of the year. The twelve constellations that line the ecliptic are known as the zodiac and, annually, the Sun passes through all of them in turn. Additionally, over time, the Sun's annual cycle appears to recede very slowly backward by one degree every 72 years, or by one constellation every 2,160 years. This backward movement, called "precession", is due to a slight wobble in the Earth's axis as it spins, and can be compared to the way a spinning top wobbles as it slows down.[61] Over the course of 25,800 years, a period often called a Great Year, the Sun's path completes a full, 360-degree backward rotation through the zodiac.[61] In Western astrological traditions, precession is measured from the March equinox, one of the two annual points at which the Sun is exactly halfway between its lowest and highest points in the sky. Presently, the Sun's March equinox position is in the constellation Pisces and is moving back into Aquarius. This signals the end of one astrological age (the Age of Pisces) and the beginning of another (the Age of Aquarius).[62]

Similarly, the Sun's December solstice position (in the northern hemisphere, the lowest point on its annual path; in the southern hemisphere, the highest) is currently in the constellation of Sagittarius, one of two constellations in which the zodiac intersects with the Milky Way.[63] Every year, on the December solstice, the Sun and the Milky Way, from the surface of the Earth, appear to come into alignment, and every year, precession causes a slight shift in the Sun's position in the Milky Way. Given that the Milky Way is between 10° and 20° wide, it takes between 700 and 1400 years for the Sun's December solstice position to precess through it.[64] It is currently about halfway through the Milky Way, crossing the galactic equator.[65] In 2012, the Sun's December solstice will fall on 21 December.

Mysticism

a photograph of the Milky Way, rotated 90 degrees
The Milky Way near Cygnus showing the lane of the Dark Rift, which the Maya called the Xibalba be or "Black Road"

Mystical speculations about the precession of the equinoxes and the Sun's proximity to the center of the Milky Way appeared in Hamlet's Mill (1969) by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Deschend. These were quoted and expanded upon by Terence and Dennis McKenna in The Invisible Landscape (1975). The significance of a future "galactic alignment" was noted in 1991 by astrologer Raymond Mardyks, who asserted that the winter solstice would align with the galactic plane in 1998/1999, writing that an event that "only occurs once each 26,000 year cycle and would be most definitely of utmost significance to the top flight ancient astrologers".[66] Astrologer Bruce Scofield notes, "The Milky Way crossing of the winter solstice is something that has been neglected by Western astrologers, with a few exceptions. Charles Jayne made a very early reference to it, and in the 1970s Rob Hand mentioned it in his talks on precession but didn't elaborate on it. Ray Mardyks later made a point of it, and after that John [Major] Jenkins, myself, and Daniel Giamario began to talk about it."[67]

Adherents to the idea, following a theory first proposed by Munro Edmonson,[68] allege that the Maya based their calendar on observations of the Great Rift or Dark Rift, a band of dark dust clouds in the Milky Way, which, according to some scholars, the Maya called the Xibalba be or "Black Road".[69] John Major Jenkins claims that the Maya were aware of where the ecliptic intersected the Black Road and gave this position in the sky a special significance in their cosmology.[70] According to Jenkins, precession will align the Sun precisely with the galactic equator at the 2012 winter solstice.[70] Jenkins claimed that the classical Maya anticipated this conjunction and celebrated it as the harbinger of a profound spiritual transition for mankind.[71] New Age proponents of the galactic alignment hypothesis argue that, just as astrology uses the positions of stars and planets to make claims of future events, the Maya plotted their calendars with the objective of preparing for significant world events.[72] Jenkins attributes the insights of ancient Maya shamans about the galactic center to their use of psilocybin mushrooms, psychoactive toads, and other psychedelics.[73] Jenkins also associates the Xibalba be with a "world tree", drawing on studies of contemporary (not ancient) Maya cosmology.[74]

Criticism

Astronomers such as David Morrison argue that the galactic equator is an entirely arbitrary line and can never be precisely drawn, because it is impossible to determine the Milky Way's exact boundaries, which vary depending on clarity of view. Jenkins claims he drew his conclusions about the location of the galactic equator from observations taken at above 11,000 feet (3,400 m), an altitude that gives a clearer image of the Milky Way than Maya had access to.[58] Furthermore, since the Sun is half a degree wide, its solstice position takes 36 years to precess its full width. Jenkins himself notes that even given this determined location for the line of the galactic equator, its most precise convergence with the center of the Sun already occurred in 1998, and so asserts that, rather than 2012, the galactic alignment instead focuses on a multi-year period centred on 1998.[75][76][77]

There is no clear evidence that the classic Maya were aware of precession. Some Maya scholars, such as Barbara MacLeod,[36] Michael Grofe,[78] Eva Hunt, Gordon Brotherston, and Anthony Aveni,[79] have suggested that some Mayan holy dates were timed to precessional cycles, but scholarly opinion on the subject remains divided.[23] There is also little evidence, archaeological or historical, that the Maya placed any importance on solstices or equinoxes.[23][80] It is possible that only the early Mesoamericans observed solstices,[81] but this is also a disputed issue among Mayanists.[23][80] There is also no evidence that the classic Maya attached any importance to the Milky Way; there is no glyph in their writing system to represent it, and no astronomical or chronological table tied to it.[82]

Timewave zero and the I Ching

a greyscale graph with multiple, jagged peaks and troughs and an overall descending pattern, set amidst complex virtual instrumentation
A screenshot of the "Timewave Zero" software

"Timewave zero" is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of "novelty", defined as increase over time in the universe's interconnectedness, or organized complexity.[83] According to Terence McKenna, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously. He conceived this idea over several years in the early to mid-1970s while using psilocybin mushrooms and DMT.[83]

McKenna expressed "novelty" in a computer program which purportedly produces a waveform known as "timewave zero" or the "timewave". Based on McKenna's interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching,[54] the graph appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity's biological and sociocultural evolution. He believed that the events of any given time are resonantly related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date of November 2012. When he later discovered this date's proximity to the end of the 13th b'ak'tun of the Maya calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates matched.[84]

The 1975 first edition of The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (but no specific day during the year) only twice. In the 1993 second edition, McKenna employed Sharer's date[Note d] of 21 December 2012 throughout.[2]

Other concepts

A small village in a green field stands before a low, blue mountain peak
Pic de Bugarach, Camps-sur-l'Agly, France; a target of "esoterics" who believe that some great transition will occur in 2012

In India, the guru Kalki Bhagavan has promoted 2012 as a "deadline" for human enlightenment since at least 1998.[85] Over 15 million people consider Bhagavan to be the incarnation of the god Vishnu and believe that 2012 marks the end of the Kali Yuga, or degenerate age.[86]

In 2006, author Daniel Pinchbeck popularized New Age concepts about this date in his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, linking b'ak'tun 13 to beliefs in crop circles, alien abduction, and personal revelations based on the use of hallucinogenic drugs and mediumship.[87][88] Pinchbeck claims to discern a "growing realization that materialism and the rational, empirical worldview that comes with it has reached its expiration date ... [w]e're on the verge of transitioning to a dispensation of consciousness that's more intuitive, mystical and shamanic".[5]

Beginning in 2000, the small French village of Bugarach, population 189, began receiving visits from "esoterics"—mystic believers who have concluded that the local mountain, Pic de Bugarach, is the ideal location to weather the transformative events of 2012. In 2011, the local mayor, Jean-Pierre Delord, began voicing fears to the international press that the small town would be overwhelmed by an influx of thousands of visitors in 2012, even suggesting he may call in the army.[89][90] "We've seen a huge rise in visitors", Delord told The Independent in March 2012. "Already this year more than 20,000 people have climbed right to the top, and last year we had 10,000 hikers, which was a significant rise on the previous 12 months. They think Pic de Bugarach is 'un garage à ovnis' [an alien garage]. The villagers are exasperated: the exaggerated importance of something which they see as completely removed from reality is bewildering. After 21 December, this will surely return to normal."[91]

Doomsday theories

A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 that has spread in various media describes the end of the world or of human civilization on that date. This view has been promulgated by many hoax pages on the Internet, particularly on YouTube,[92] as well as on several cable TV channels.

Other alignments

Some people have interpreted the galactic alignment apocalyptically, claiming that when it occurs, it will somehow create a combined gravitational effect between the Sun and the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy (known as Sagittarius A*), thus creating havoc on Earth.[93] Apart from the fact noted above that the "galactic alignment" already happened in 1998, the Sun's apparent path through the zodiac as seen from Earth does not take it near the true galactic center, but rather several degrees above it.[65] Even if this were not the case, Sagittarius A* is 30,000 light years from Earth, and would have to be more than 6 million times closer to cause any gravitational disruption to Earth's Solar System.[94][95] This reading of the alignment was included on the History Channel documentary, Decoding the Past. However, John Major Jenkins has complained that a science fiction writer co-authored the documentary, and he went on to characterize it as "45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism".[96]

Some believers in a 2012 doomsday have used the term "galactic alignment" to describe a very different phenomenon proposed by some scientists to explain a pattern in mass extinctions supposedly observed in the fossil record.[97] According to this hypothesis, mass extinctions are not random, but recur every 26 million years. To account for this, it suggests that vertical oscillations made by the Sun on its 250-million-year orbit of the galactic center cause it to regularly pass through the galactic plane. When the Sun's orbit takes it outside the galactic plane which bisects the galactic disc, the influence of the galactic tide is weaker. However, when re-entering the galactic disc—as it does every 20–25 million years—it comes under the influence of the far stronger "disc tides", which, according to mathematical models, increase the flux of Oort cloud comets into the inner Solar System by a factor of 4, thus leading to a massive increase in the likelihood of a devastating comet impact.[98] However, this "alignment" takes place over tens of millions of years, and could never be timed to an exact date.[99] Evidence shows that the Sun passed through the plane bisecting the galactic disc only three million years ago and is now moving farther above it.[100]

A third suggested alignment is some sort of planetary conjunction occurring on 21 December 2012; however, there will be no conjunction on that date.[9] Multi-planet alignments did occur in both 2000 and 2010, each with no ill result for the Earth.[101] Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System; larger than all other planets combined. When Jupiter is near opposition, the Earth experiences a less than 1% difference in the gravitational force it feels daily from the Moon.[102]

Geomagnetic reversal

Another idea tied to 2012 involves a geomagnetic reversal (often incorrectly referred to as a pole shift by proponents), possibly triggered by a massive solar flare, that would release an energy equal to 100 billion atomic bombs.[103] This belief is supposedly supported by observations that the Earth's magnetic field is weakening,[104] which could precede a reversal of the north and south magnetic poles.

Most scientific estimates, however, say that geomagnetic reversals take between 1,000 and 10,000 years to complete,[105] and do not start on any particular date.[106] Furthermore, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now predicts that the solar maximum will peak in May 2013, not 2012, and that it will be fairly weak, with a below-average number of sunspots.[107] In any case, there is no scientific evidence linking a solar maximum to a geomagnetic reversal, which is driven by forces entirely within the Earth.[108] Instead, a solar maximum would be mostly notable for its effects on satellite and cellular phone communications.[109] David Morrison attributes the rise of the solar storm idea to physicist and science popularizer Michio Kaku, who claimed in an interview with Fox News that a solar peak in 2012 could be disastrous for orbiting satellites.[92]

Planet X/Nibiru

Some believers in doomsday in 2012 claim that a planet called Planet X, or Nibiru, will collide with or pass by Earth in that year. This idea, which has appeared in various forms since 1995, initially predicted Doomsday in May 2003, but proponents later abandoned that date after it passed without incident.[110] The idea originated from claims of channeling of alien beings and has been widely ridiculed.[110][111] Astronomers have calculated that such an object so close to Earth would be visible to anyone looking up at the night sky.[110]

Other catastrophes

The Pleiades star cluster
The Pleiades, a star cluster whose supposed influence is sometimes tied to the 2012 phenomenon

Author Graham Hancock, in his book Fingerprints of the Gods, interpreted Coe's remarks in Breaking the Maya Code[112] as evidence for the prophecy of a global cataclysm.[113] Filmmaker Roland Emmerich would later credit the book with inspiring his 2009 disaster film 2012.[114]

Other speculations regarding doomsday in 2012 have included predictions by the Web Bot project, a computer program that purports to predict the future using Internet chatter. However, commentators have rejected the programmers' claims to have successfully predicted natural disasters, which web chatter could never predict, as opposed to human-caused disasters like stock market crashes.[115]

Also, the 2012 date has been loosely tied to the long-running concept of the Photon Belt, which predicts a form of interaction between Earth and Alcyone, the largest star of the Pleiades cluster.[116] Critics have argued that photons cannot form belts, that the Pleiades, located more than 400 light years away, could have no effect on Earth, and that the Solar System, rather than getting closer to the Pleiades, is in fact moving farther away from them.[117]

Some media outlets have tied the fact that the red supergiant star Betelgeuse will undergo a supernova at some point in the future to the 2012 phenomenon.[118] However, while Betelgeuse is certainly in the final stages of its life, and will die as a supernova, there is no way to predict the timing of the event to within 100,000 years.[119] To be a threat to Earth, a supernova would need to be as close as 25 light years to the Solar System. Betelgeuse is roughly 600 light years away, and so its supernova will not affect Earth.[120] In December 2011, NASA's Francis Reddy issued a press release debunking the possibility of a supernova occurring in 2012.[121]

Another claim involves alien invasion. In December 2010, an article, first published in examiner.com and later referenced in the English-language edition of Pravda[122] claimed, citing a Second Digitized Sky Survey photograph as evidence, that SETI had detected three large spacecraft due to arrive at Earth in 2012.[123] Astronomer and debunker Phil Plait noted that by using the small-angle formula, one could determine that if the object in the photo was as large as claimed, it would have had to be closer to Earth than the Moon, which would mean it would already have arrived.[123] In January 2011, Seth Shostak, chief astronomer of SETI, issued a press release debunking the claims.[122]

Public reaction

The phenomenon has spread widely since coming to public notice, particularly on the Internet. Hundreds of thousands of websites have been posted on the subject.[92] "Ask an Astrobiologist", a NASA public outreach website, has received over 5000 questions from the public on the subject since 2007,[116] some asking whether they should kill themselves, their children or their pets.[92] In May 2012, an Ipsos poll of 16,000 adults in 21 countries found that 8 percent had experienced fear or anxiety over the possibility of the world ending in December, 2012, while an average of 10 percent agreed with the statement "the Mayan calendar, which some say ‘ends’ in 2012, marks the end of the world", with responses as high as 20 percent in China, 13 percent in Russia, Turkey, Japan and Korea, and 12 percent in the United States.[124] At least one suicide has been directly linked to fear of a 2012 apocalypse,[125] with several more anecdotally reported.[126] A panel of scientists questioned on the topic at a Plenary Session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific contended that the Internet has played a substantial role in allowing this doomsday date to gain more traction than previous similar panics.[126]

In the United States, sales of private underground blast shelters have increased noticeably since 2009. In December 2009, Robert Vicino founded Vivos, a company that claims to offer discount shelters for the less well off. Their site features a countdown clock to December 2012.[127]

In Brazil, the Mayor of the City of São Francisco de Paula, Décio Colla, Rio Grande do Sul, has mobilized the population to prepare for the end of the world by stocking up on food and supplies.[128][129] In the city of Corguinho, in the Mato Grosso do Sul, a colony is being built for survivors of the tragedy.[130] In Alto Paraíso de Goiás, the hotels also make specific reservations for prophetic dates.[131]

Cultural influence

The 2012 phenomenon has been discussed or referenced in several media. Several TV documentaries, as well as many contemporary fictional references to the year 2012 refer to 21 December as the day of a cataclysmic event.

The History Channel has aired a handful of special series on doomsday that include analysis of 2012 theories, such as Decoding the Past (2005–2007), 2012, End of Days (2006), Last Days on Earth (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008).[132] The Discovery Channel also aired 2012 Apocalypse in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms, magnetic pole reversal, earthquakes, supervolcanoes, and other drastic natural events may occur in 2012.[133] In 2012 the National Geographic Channel launched a show called Doomsday Preppers, a documentary series about people preparing for various cataclysms, including the 2012 doomsday.[134]

Hundreds of books have been published on the topic.[92] The bestselling book of 2009,[135] Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, featured a coded mock email number (2456282.5) that decodes, according to The Washington Post, as "December 21, 2012".[136]

The 2009 disaster film 2012 was inspired by the phenomenon, and advance promotion prior to its release included a stealth marketing campaign in which TV spots and websites from the fictional "Institute for Human Continuity" called on people to prepare for the end of the world. As these promotions did not mention the film itself, many viewers believed them to be real and contacted astronomers in panic.[137][138] Although the campaign was heavily criticized,[92] the film became one of the most successful of its year, grossing nearly $770 million worldwide.[139]

Lars von Trier's 2011 film Melancholia features a plot in which a planet emerges from behind the Sun onto a collision course with Earth.[140] Announcing his company's purchase of the film, the head of Magnolia Pictures said in a press release, "As the 2012 apocalypse is upon us, it is time to prepare for a cinematic last supper".[141]

The phenomenon has also inspired several pop music hits. As early as 1997, "A Certain Shade of Green" by Incubus referred to the mystical belief that a shift in perception would arrive in 2012 ("Are you gonna stand around till 2012 A.D.? / What are you waiting for, a certain shade of green?"). More recent hits include "2012 (It Ain't the End)" (2010) performed by Jay Sean and "Till the World Ends" (2011) performed by Britney Spears.

In February 2012, American automotive company GM aired an advertisement during the annual Super Bowl football game in which a group of friends drive Chevrolet Silverados through the ruins of human civilisation following the 2012 apocalypse. (When the whereabouts of one of their friends is queried, it is revealed that he died because he drove a Ford.)[142]

In 2011, the Mexico tourism board stated its intentions to use the year 2012, without its apocalyptic connotations, as a means to revive Mexico's tourism industry, which had suffered as the country gained a reputation for drug wars and kidnapping. The initiative hopes to draw on the mystical appeal of the Maya ruins.[143] On 21 December 2011, the Maya town of Tapachula in Chiapas activated an eight-foot digital clock counting down the days until the end of b'ak'tun 13, while in Izapa, a nearby archaeological site, Maya priests burned incense and prayed.[144]

See also

Notes

Citations

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References

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