Day One

Today is 13.0.0.0.1, so happy 13th baktun, everybody!  I hope all of you had a great time last night ringing in the new Mayan era.

Now that we’ve reached the other side of the big scary conglomeration of 12s, I am hoping that things settle down, though I don’t hold out much hope.  Just from a preliminary click through the interwebs, I have noticed that the Nibiru folks are still frothing at the mouth insisting that the super-secret (and super invisible, apparently) planet is still out there and still poses a grave and existential threat to us here on planet Earth.  Either it has “changed direction” at the last minute and will “swing around” to hit us just after the new year.

And in other apocalypse news, Ronald Weinland has the next scheduled end of the world event date: 19 May 2013.  Only 148 days to go!

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My own opportunity to play “Ask Me About 2012”

I got one of those rather heartbreaking emails that seem to be going around, were people (kids mostly) ask whether it is really true that the world is going to come to an end next Friday.  While some people like to troll the people who ask those questions, I think it’s worth taking them seriously.  I can only hope that these answers can get out there and even if they can’t keep up with the lies racing around, they can at least give people the kind of answers that can lead them to think more clearly about the claims so many liars and hoaxers are putting out.

So I thought I would reprint my answer here in it’s entirety and allow people to link or forward or whatever as they desire…

Hi, Caren, thanks for emailing me with your question.

I know that it seems like a real thing that the world will end on the 21st, because there are a lot of people out there trying to make money by scaring people, but it’s just not going to happen.  The thing you should pay attention to is that all of the “evidence” that people have for saying the world is going to come to an end is either made up (sometimes by some people who are kinda crazy) or it is based on real facts that are misunderstood or misinterpreted.

First, a lot of people focus on the date of 21 December because that was the end of what was called the Mayan long count calendar.  But the people who made that calendar didn’t think the world was going to end on that day, only that it would be like the 31st of December on our calendar, and the day after would just be January 1st of the new count.  The Maya called this count a baktun, and this coming new one starting on the 22nd will be the 13th.  The “end” of the calendar that is happening next Friday has already happened 12 times before, so there is no reason (none at all) to believe that anything is going to happen.

Even the Maya didn’t think that the world would end with the end of the 12th baktun, and in several murals they referred to events which would happen long after 21 December 2012.  See this article for some proof that the Maya were looking to dates beyond next Friday.

Some people are saying that there is a planet out there which will hit the earth like in the movie Melancholia, while others say it’s just an asteroid like the one that hit in the movie Deep Impact.  Neither is true.  NASA has been watching and counting all the objects that are in the sky around us for years and they know where all those objects are and they can use computers to find out where they will be at any moment in the future.  If there were a planet, or even an asteroid which was going to be a danger to us on the 21st, it would be the brightest thing in the sky right now and you could go out and look up and see it without a telescope even during the day.  There is nothing out there, and the pictures and videos that people have been posting are hoaxes.  You can see this with your own eyes just by going outside and looking up.

Some of the people who say that the planet or asteroid mentioned above is being hidden somehow – they say it is “behind the sun” (though if it were going to hit us when “they” say it would now be between us and the sun) or they say it is “below the earth” (there is no such place, as anything we couldn’t see in our hemisphere would still be visible to people in South America or Africa or Antarctica).  People also say that the 100,000 or more astronomers on earth have seen this mysterious planet or asteroid and are lying about it, or that NASA has told them that they aren’t allowed to reveal the “secret” of this object.  But as I said above, if there really were such an object, everyday folks would be able to see it, because it would be so big and so close that there would be no way to hide it.  If it were really there, people you could trust would see it: people on the real news (not just somebody who has a free website) and at universities all over the world, and average people would be able to see it even without telescopes.  No one can see anything because there is nothing out there to see.

Finally, lots of people are saying that the world will end like on the movie 2012 because of some weird, sorta scientific sounding thing.  But if you look into every one of these claims, you can see that in lots of cases, the things they are saying are even somewhat true, and they don’t matter at all.

Some people are concerned that the earth and the sun are going to line up with the center of the galaxy or a far off black hole or something like that.  And that is actually true, but we “line up” with other parts of the galaxy all the time and nothing happens, because these things are so far away that there is no way the effects of their gravity or any other force they could possibly exert can reach us.  The moon, for example, is pretty big and pretty close to us, but the best it can do is pull the oceans just enough to make tides.  The center of the galaxy and the black holes in the universe are much, MUCH farther away and we simply can’t feel any effects from that far away.

Lots of folks have been talking about something bad happening when the magnetic poles of the earth switch places, or because the geological poles would move.  Both of these things are happening, right now, and have been going on for the entire history of the planet.  The magnetic and physical poles of the Earth are moving all the time; 99% of us never even notice because we don’t have to make measurements or give directions that are precise enough to worry about it.  Over thousands of years the magnetic poles have sometimes shifted completely, but there is no evidence anywhere that this is going to happen in the near future or that, if it did, it would affect us beyond causing some difficulties for our orbital satellites and some electrical equipment.  It certainly wouldn’t be enough to drop Los Angeles into the Pacific ocean (no matter how much we may sometimes want it to!).

NASA’s Beyond 2012 site and it has a lot of good information for you to get more answers.   There is also a scientist at NASA who has been answering questions for a year or so now, and he has lots of in-depth answers there for you, too.   Finally, there is a really great site that keeps track of all the lies and hoaxes people are making up about 2012 and gives explanations of why you shouldn’t believe them.

The key fact to keep in mind is that a lot of people are trying to make money by telling lies and making people afraid so that they can get a lot of clicks on their websites, which make it possible for them to charge lots of money from their advertisers.  Some of these liars and hoaxers will even have a book or a video or something to sell you so that they can get some money from you, too!  Whenever you see some really scary claim that they make, don’t just go to Google, go directly to a site where there are experts who have spent a long time studying the science behind the claims and where you can get answers you can trust.

Next Friday, 21 December 2012 will be just like any other day, except that it will also be like New Year’s Eve for the Maya.  So instead of being afraid, you should be happy that this year you will have two opportunities to have a party and celebrate getting a new calendar.

Won’t someone please think of the children?!

Every time I think that the contemporary media can’t possibly get any worse, I am presented with yet another facepalm-inducing example of ‘journalists’ pretending that they are interested in providing information and clarity while what they really want are clicks, lots of clicks, and the ad dollars they bring.

This past week brought NASA’s Google+ hangout with prominent scientists and educators to explain (and debunk) the many common apocalyptic predictions floating about the more fetid and dank corners of the internet.  It was an informative and at times, even entertaining hour of content, and I’m happy they did it if just a bit dismayed that they needed to.  I suppose the only real tragedy is that those who really needed to see it were probably watching Mayan Apocalypse: 2012 or Armageddon instead.

The news media were thus presented with an opportunity to do a bit of public service by reporting on NASA’s effort to inform the public about threats to Earth both bogus and completely real, clear and present.  I’d like to say they rose to the challenge, but alas, no.  Nothing in the major media, at least not here in the U.S., and meanwhile elsewhere in the world the hangout, and NASA’s message more generally has been reported with winking skepticism at best and crass opportunistic fearmongering masquerading at worst.

Lowest of the low, unsurprisingly, is The Daily Mail (whose editors never met a potential threat they didn’t want to light their hair on fire and run wild with)

NASA warns Mayan apocalypse stories pose threat to frightened children and suicidal teenagers

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration warns that 2012 Mayan apocalypse rumors pose a real-life threat to frightened children and depressive teenagers
  • Some say they can’t eat, or are too worried to sleep, while others say that they are suicidal, according to NASA astrobiologist David Morrison
  • The apocalypse rumors began with claims that Nibiru, a rogue planet discovered by the Sumerians, will crash into Earth on December 21, killing everyone

Lest you think that this headline with its subheads reflects a real desire to alleviate the fears of children and teens everywhere, take notice that the lede is immediately followed by a dramatic piece of photographic art depicting space debris hurtling toward the east coast of the United States.  They did correctly report David Morrison’s assertion that those who stir up such fears are “evil,” though they then ran Dr Morrison’s picture right alongside that of Zecharia Sitchin who, according to crack reporting by The Mail’s Damian Ghigliotty, predicted the impending arrival of a mysterious murdering planet called Nibiru based on “Sumerian documents” which he had found and translated for the benefit of the world.  The article goes on cribbing from the Wikipedia article on Sitchin to note his death in 2010, while somehow forgetting to mention that Sitchin is generally regarded (by those who rely on experts from this planet, at least) to be a crackpot hoaxer who mistranslated much of what he says he found, ignored anything which didn’t fit with the fantasy he wanted to produce, and made up still more in order to paper over the massive gaps in his understanding.

Ghigliotty didn’t mention Nancy Lieder, presumably because she doesn’t have her own Wikipedia entry, and because his exhaustive research process didn’t include reading the actual text of the entry for Nibiru, instead of just scanning the subheads.  It couldn’t be because of the alien thing, the Daily Mail has no trouble at all reporting on aliens.

Our intrepid reporter was so focused on the welfare of those poor, credulous children and on his intensive search for information relevant to the threat that he didn’t spend much time on figuring out what those little red wavy lines were below the page of text.  What text he managed to squeeze in around the Wikimedia photographs is studded with gems like this:

“The rumors began with claims that Nibiru, a rogue planet discovered by the Sumerians, will crash into Earth on December 21, killing everyone, according to NASA’s website.”

Is it just me, or does this borderline-inarticulate text give the distinct impression (whether by design or simple lazy refusal to edit) that it is in fact NASA’s website which predicts that Nibiru will “crash into the Earth on December 21, killing everyone”?
P.S.  Hey, Damian?  That there’s an Aztec calendar stone you got yourself a picture of.  The Mayan ones weren’t quite so, you know, round.

NASA lunchtime apocalypse roundup

The most poignant thing about today’s Google+ NASA Beyond 2012 hangout, on the host of doomsday predictions which circle around the upcoming winter solstice, is the palpable sense of frustration they all seem to share at the need to revisit (yet again) all of the discredited and debunked theories about the supposed end of the world when there are so many important new discoveries and new insights about our world and the cosmos to discuss.  They all seem so exasperated about the need, once again, to trot out all the same old empty nonsense and show once more how very empty and nonsensical it is.

And they can’t have been very comforted by how those same theories were once again simply reiterated in the questions, and later in the comment section for the archived video, along with increasingly deranged assertions of NASA’s perpetration of massive coverups (like paying the world’s astronomers to lie about the approach of planet X, and continuing to deny our long term interaction with beings from outer space).

The most profound moment of the whole production, for me, comes at when the moderator asked the panel to consider, from the perspective of their own field, what kind of threats face the Earth in 2012 or in the near future.  Don Yeoman spoke about near earth asteroid approaches, while Paul Hertz highlighted the fundamentally non-spectacular nature of 2012 and 2013 from a cosmological perspective.  And then Andrew Fraknoi, significantly (as professor of astronomy at Foothill College) the only full time educator on the panel, hit the ball out of the park.

“So, if I can give you a slightly whimsical answer, but I think a relatively important one, I think one of the greatest threats to Earth in 2012 is the low level of science education and public knowledge, and I think this entire discussion and the fears that have been generated illustrates how much more NASA, the scientific community, and those of us in science education still need to do.  It’s really sad that so many people are worried and writing to David Morrison.  It’s really sad that our schools have not taught skeptical thinking, and not helped students to distinguish between the reality and the fantasy of what’s going on in these areas.  So I think if people are concerned about cosmic threats, part of that is a threat to our understanding of science that comes from insufficient science education, and I hope we can all redouble our efforts to help students understand the world better.”

Elegantly and beautifully stated.  It is in our nature as finite creatures to be concerned with the idea of endings, more so as we grow older and get a clearer sense our own end approaching, and it can be dramatic and exciting to envision the end of all things, but we need to be realistic about the catastrophes that actually face us, and the damage our own often thoughtless behavior can bring about.  Every minute that NASA must spend discussing imaginary planets is time taken away from spreading the word about discoveries on real planets like our own little blue marble, or our closest neighbor, or others very very far away.