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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

End of the world as we know it, Friday.

From Bad Astronomy, a very cool blog
By Will Collette

For reasons only they (and a flock of behavioral scientists) can explain, many people latch onto whatever happens to be the latest prediction of the date of the end of the world. 

Even bigger than Rev. Harold Camping’s repeated – and failed – predictions is the one that the centuries-old Mayan calendar forecasts the end of the world on December 21, 2012 – Friday. The prediction is assumed, because according to the proponents of this apocalyptic theory, that’s the last date on the Mayan calendar.

Note that Mayan calendars were carved onto huge blocks of rock. They were made to last and covered very long periods of time, unlike the paper calendars and datebooks many of us use to mark time. The end of our modern calendars generally means you need to make a trip to Staples to buy a new datebook filler, but the apocalyptics believe the end of the Mayan calendar means the end of time. 

Or maybe it's just the time to get another rock.

This prediction has been thoroughly discredited, but because it has caused so much alarm among our amazingly large population of gullible people, 

NASA actually went to the trouble of creating a website that debunks the so-called Mayan apocalypse since so many of the proposed scenarios for the end of the world involve astronomical phenomena. 

Even the Vatican has weighed in to say the end of the world is not near.

I've loaded up NASA’s FAQ section at the end of this article. They also produced a video – also at the end of this article – for viewing on Saturday. 

If we live.

But even though a heavenly rain of death and destruction is not coming down on us on Friday, that doesn’t mean we haven’t come close.

Images of Asteroid Toutatis from the Chinese space probe that
made a close approach
For example, on December 11 and 12, we had two (relatively) close encounters with some serious rocks. The big one was a peanut-shaped asteroid named 4179 Toutatis. At 2.7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, it would cause some very serious damage. But the closest it came was 4.3 million miles away. 

Although Toutatis is categorized as a “potentially hazardous object (PHO),” scientists do not forecast it posing a threat to the Earth for at least six centuries, absent some future event that changes its course.

Because of its size and repeated observations over time, we know a lot about this object.

On December 11th, an unpredicted visitor made a much closer pass to Earth, coming within 140,000 miles. The object, dubbed 2012 XE54, is a lot smaller than Toutatis, estimated at between 72 and 160 feet wide.
A theoretical hit from XE54 could produce a crater around 1500 feet wide, compared to perhaps 25 miles wide for Toutatis (not to mention devastation that would affect the entire planet). But neither one hit us and neither are “world killers.”

Presuming we survive December 21st, we will have an even closer brush with death on February 15 courtesy of asteroid 2012 DA14. This 130 kiloton rock is expected to pass at around 21,000 miles from Earth.

The spoil-sports at NASA predict the odds of 2012 DA14 hitting the Earth between now and 2020 is virtually zero. But hey, “virtually” is not “exactly”!

Here’s that promised section from NASA’s “It’s not the end of the world” website.

(from NASA and staff)

Despite doomsday theories, Internet rumors and Hollywood plot lines, the world will not end on Dec. 21, 2012, NASA scientists have said.

Tales of the apocalypse in 2012 abound — ranging from a mysterious planet that will smash into Earth, to a huge, catastrophic solar storm — but researchers who have examined the science behind the various doomsday theories say there is nothing to fear.

Here is a NASA-provided list of frequently asked questions about 2012 theories and the end of the world:

Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.

Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.
What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?

The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012. Then these two fables were linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Does the Mayan calendar end in December 2012?

Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then — just as your calendar begins again on January 1 — another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

Could phenomena occur where planets align in a way that impacts Earth?
There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades, Earth will not cross the galactic plane in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.

Is there a planet or brown dwarf called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris that is approaching the Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction?

Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.

What is the polar shift theory? Is it true that the Earth's crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours?

A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-shift to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly, with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn't cause any harm to life on Earth. A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, anyway.

Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?

The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs. All this work is done openly with the discoveries posted every day on the NASA NEO Program Office website, so you can see for yourself that nothing is predicted to hit in 2012.

How do NASA scientists feel about doomsday claims?

For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.

Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?

Solar activity has a regular cycle, with peaks approximately every 11 years. Near these activity peaks, solar flares can cause some interruption of satellite communications, although engineers are learning how to build electronics that are protected against most solar storms. But there is no special risk associated with 2012. The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 timeframe and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.

Here's NASA's video...