December 21, 2012

In case you haven't heard, there's a piece of hysteria going around (pumped up by movie marketing) that the world will end on December 21, 2012, supposedly based on astronomy and an ancient Mayan prediction.

Tony Flanders
Did the Mayans really think this? Is the astronomy for real? Do we actually have anything to worry about? The answers, not surprisingly, are "no," "no," and "of course not."

To make a long story short, December 21, 2012, really is a big flip-the-page date in the ancient Mayans' calendar. But there's no evidence that they believed the world would end then, and a fair amount of evidence to the contrary. Not that it would matter if they did. As for the planetary and galactic lineups that latter-day doom-mongers have tried to associate with that date, they're flat-out wrong.

But you probably have friends and family who are getting nervous that America will crack apart into cookie crumbs, tsunamis will sweep over the Himalayas, Earth's poles will flip, and a secret invisible planet will smack us down like a bowling pin. And they will be turning to you, the astronomy person, to ask about it.

We have the stuff you need to tell them. Noted archaeoastronomer E. C. Krupp explains all the details, and the history of this mania, in the cover story of the November 2009 issue of Sky & Telescope, now available at a newsstand near you. You probably won't find it in your supermarket, but it should be on the magazine rack in any good bookstore. And if it's sold out, you can always subscribe!

Incidentally, in that same issue, S&T editor-in-chief Robert Naeye describes some cosmic catastrophes that actually could happen — and explains why they're not likely to strike in the next millennium or two. Humanity has more pressing things to worry about.

P.S. A tidbit from Krupp's article: Boston University has a Center for Millennial Studies, and its director, historian Richard Landes, points out that throughout history, failed end-of-the-world movements have numbered in the "hundreds of thousands at least." There's never a shortage of people eager for everything to go kaput. Or at least to spin hoaxes about it.

29 thoughts on “December 21, 2012

  1. 2012hoax

    Thank you for publishing this excellent article on 2012. I wanted to commend S&T for taking this stance against the hysteria that has been dogging amateur astronomers worldwide for the past few years.

    It is not enough to assume that people will simply see through the 2012 nonsense, we must make every effort to inform them. Kudos for helping equip the people involved in astronomy outreach with the tools to debunk this myth.

    For the past year I have been involved with a wiki that seeks to detail every claim made about 2012 and debunk it. Other amateurs/professionals or just interested parties are welcome to contribute. The site is 2012hoax.org.

    Thanks.

  2. PoshNinja

    As 2012hoax stated, I would like to thank you for posting this article. This scam has gone way too far and it’s gotten to the point where some people are talking about suicide, becoming dangerously depressed, children are becoming frightened and depressed by this 2012 farce that the media spews every two seconds on the television. So simply for standing up to these people, thank you. I just hope that we aren’t too late to help these people who are scared.

  3. p krause

    This article is short on facts. There are over a dozen books on the 2012 Mayan prophecies. The basis for real concern is the Mayan’s use of numbers to encode predictions regarding solar flare ups. See 2012 by Patrick Geryl or the writhing of Maurice M Cotterell( Supergods etc). It’s great to dismiss things out of hand but this was NOT covered in this article or disputed. Further research needs to be done by your magazine and contributors.

  4. Christine P.

    Congrats to S&T for countering the 2012 nonsense. The challenge is like a frustrating game of whack-a-mole: debunk one myth and three more spring up, each more outlandish than the last.

    @P Krause – Patrick Geryl wrote the book “How to Survive 2012″ which in my opinion makes him just another scaremonger trying to make money by terrifying his readers. Besides, considering that the sun is in its longest solar minimum since the early 20th century, it’s pretty clear we won’t have to worry about monster flares or solar storms in a short three years! Perhaps you’d rather start warning us about pole shifts and “galactic alignments.” ;-)

  5. John.St

    An offer you cannot possibly turn down if you are honest.

    p krause

    I offer to pay you US$ 10,000.00 (ten thousand US dollars) per month starting November 1, in the year 2009 (gregorian calendar) and until December 31, in the year 2012 (gregorian calendar).

    Commencing January 1, in the year 2013 (gregorian calendar) you and your heir shall be bound to pay me and all and any of my heirs 100,000.00 Euro (one hundred thousand Euro) per month as long as the Earth exists.

    Deal?

    I extend this offer to any and all who believe the Earth to cease to exist on December 21, 2009 (gregorian calendar).

  6. Mike

    It seems ST is a very politically motivated magazine. Kinda glad I dont buy it anymore. I dont buy any of the end of world theories. Kinda reminds me of the Christians who told us Jesus would land and take hif throne at the White House on Januanry 1st 2000. Lot of my friends in 1999 started reading the Bible like the first issue of Playboy. But although I dont believe in the ‘end times’. The fact that the Maya were hundreds of times more aware of Astronomy than any person, or almost every person living today should be considered. These people, who most Americans would call ‘hunter/gatherers’ knew about the precession of the equinoxes which most astronomers I have met say is a myth. Its funny how two page articles are written just to call people like John Major Jenkins idiots when ST itself does not say anything scientific other than, the Mayans liked astronomy. What makes me more iritated is that dopey Krupp goes along with the idea that we only have 8 planets now. Its sad my children are going to grow up being taught political astronomy in schools and I will have to show them what its really about and what ancient civilizations have known for thousands of years.

  7. John Major Jenkins

    I am the originator of the theory that connects the so-called “galactic alignment” with astronomy in era-2012 and with evidence found in Maya traditions. I am not, and never have been, a doomsday advocate. I have been studying Maya cosmology and the 2012 topic for 25 years. This brief piece contains no real content. For example, no astronomical definition of the galactic alignment that it so wanly dismisses. Of course, it would be necessary for a halfway decent journalist to pierce through the b.s. of the Googlesphere to find my 2002 book TITLED Galactic Alignment or my decade-old “What is the Galactic Alignment?” webpage by Googling “galactic alignment.” That would be really hard, though. Especially when debunkers have a pre-ordained misguided desire to not engage the actual facts of Maya astronomy and instead just endlessly criticize the fallacious doomsday-2012 association. By the way, that monster began with scholar Michael Coe’s 1966 book The Maya. Get the facts: the2012story.com. Is the marketplace having a carnival with 2012? Sure. Is there real information in Maya tradition about 2012? Yes. Is the galactic alignment a fact of astronomy? Yes. Look into it and try not to be sidelined by the glittery distractions or debunkers wielding specious generalized judgments — ie., have a discerning rational attitude to sorting out the wheat from the chaff. In fact, why doesn’t Sky and Telescope invite me to write an article on the factual basis of the galactic alignment? I await your reply.

  8. BruceF

    I find it very disappointing to see a magazine like S & T coming up with such a thin and poorly put together article. The 2012 phenomon is so large that it must be worth writing a decent, inteligent fact filled piece about. This is just a vague ‘it’s all rubbish, take my word for it’ piece.

    Firstly why not be honest and state that there are two vastly different 2012 centred subjects.

    1. A cataclysmic doomsday perpetuated largely by idiots, frauds, snake oil salesman and the ignorant (with few exception).

    2. A point in the near future associated with certain very interesting astronomical occurrence and ancient calendar systems, about which many folks hold the view certain changes will manifest largely for the benefit of humanity and biosphere.

    Whilst it is awfully convenient for lazy uber-sceptic writers to lump all of these people into one ‘2012 idiots’ group, it is also counter productive.

    Why not tackle the subject with details and facts?
    Why not engage with 2012 writers who do not promote a doomsday?

    It is clear that several of the best known 2012 writers do not promote a doomsday manifesto. In fact they do far more to help the many mislead and misguided scared net surfers than sites like this do. People like John M. Jenkins, Geoff Stray, Daniel Pinchbeck and several other of note are being far more helpful in countering doomsday theories than the uber-sceptic mob prattling about ‘Y2K’ and other cop out responses.

    Bruce
    2012Rising.com

  9. Jorge

    Sky & Telescope speaking about this superstition? In frontpage?

    I am sorry, but this magazine has become so sensationalist to me that I have lost all my interest in purchasing it, even in reading it.

    Where is real astronomy?

    Regards,
    JORGE

  10. Malcolm

    Just let them be. If they wanna go kill themselves by all means. Just make sure they dun kill you… with laughter.

    Come to think of it, helps us get rid of the nutters won’t it? Natural selection at work.

  11. Robert Hunter

    Astounding how many nut cases read S&T.

    BTW, the Mayans were “hunter/gatherers” to about the same extent we are today. They had a highly complex urban civilization. But, their knowledge of astronomy, albeit quite advanced for a civilization still stuck in the neolithic, was considerably less than late-Renaissance Europe.

  12. chris

    ok , explain this ,,,how come crop formations are made and they have ancient mayan symbols in them? i know most will say they are “man made” to me this is proof that the mayans really had something to do with alien travel or aliens

  13. jack o'neill

    Quoi qu’il arrive ce jour la même si plusieurs site comme la NASA dit qu’il ne ce passera rien.
    personne ne peux affirmé avec certitude qu’il n’aura rien et même si il savaient qu’il aurais quelle que chose de prévue il ne dirais rien afin de ne pas crée un vent de panique mondiale.
    Imaginé une personne sachant que sa vie touche à la fin il réconfortera ces proche et leur dira qu’il na pas à s’inquiète car le médecin ma dit que je m’en sortirais et donc les proche son rassuré mai on aurons toujours une certitude de peur que sa arrive.
    Donc comment faire confiance quand on dit qu’il n’y aura rien est vraiment vrais ou ces simplement afin d’apaiser nos crainte et peur ?

    de toute façons si la fin du monde arrivera ce jour la personne au monde ne peux et ne pourra combattre ce problème la.

    Donc pour ma par je continue a vivre ma vie comme si rien n’étais et si sa arrive tenpie j’aurais profité de ma courte vie.
    Et si rien n’arrive je continuerais comme d’habitude et je ne me serais pas inquiétée.

    Mai cela ne veux pas dire que ce jour la j’aurais peur je saie que j’engoiserais a mort mai bon on verra ce jour la enfin j’espère en tout cas qu’il n’y aura rien.

  14. Marc Dubbeldam

    So MAYBE the Maya knew about precession (Jenkins himself notes that there is no concrete evidence that they did!) and the fact that the position of the winter solstice moves towards Xibalba Be, so what? Scholarly opinion is divided on whether Mayan holy dates were timed to precessional cycles. There is also little evidence, archaeological or historical, that the Maya placed any importance on solstices or equinoxes. In addition, Mayan inscriptions record predictions of events to occur after the end of the 13th Baktun, so if the Maya didn’t place any significance on this date why should we? As Mike correctly observes, the end (or start) of any cycle in any calendar is purely arbitrary and has no physical significance. This event occurs every 26,000 years and has done so for quite some time without any detrimental effect to our planet.

  15. Marc Dubbeldam

    However, Mike’s suggestion that Mayan astronomy was far superior to its modern equivalent is (to say the least) debatable. If they did truly know about precession that could be considered a remarkable triumph for their observational and mathematical skills! However, there are no insights in Mayan astronomy that significantly surpass those of say the Ancient Greeks.

    Also, the claim that modern astronomy is politicised is unsubstantiated and appears to be motivated only by the fact that Pluto has been relegated to the status of minor planet. The truth is that science is a highly democratic enterprise: if you believe that a claim is wrong you can endeavour to gather evidence (through observation or theory) to support a counter claim. However, some “evidence” is plainly incorrect or has been obtained through non-scientific methods (not necessarily fraudulently) and will consequently be refuted by the scientific community. Some will acquiesce, however others will start crying foul about “conspiracies” and form little cults with likeminded people – not dissimilar to those guys who believed the world was going to end on 1 January 2000.

  16. Marc Dubbeldam

    So MAYBE the Maya knew about precession (Jenkins himself notes that there is no concrete evidence that they did!) and the fact that the position of the winter solstice moves towards Xibalba Be, so what? Scholarly opinion is divided on whether Mayan holy dates were timed to precessional cycles. There is also little evidence, archaeological or historical, that the Maya placed any importance on solstices or equinoxes. In addition, Mayan inscriptions record predictions of events to occur after the end of the 13th Baktun, so if the Maya didn’t place any significance on this date why should we? As Mike correctly observes, the end (or start) of any cycle in any calendar is purely arbitrary and has no physical significance. This event occurs every 26,000 years and has done so for quite some time without any detrimental effect to our planet.

    However, Mike’s suggestion that Mayan astronomy was far superior to its modern equivalent is (to say the least) debatable. If they did truly know about precession that could be considered a remarkable triumph for their observational and mathematical skills! However, there are no insights in Mayan astronomy that significantly surpass those of say the Ancient Greeks.

  17. Marc Dubbeldam

    However, Mike’s suggestion that Mayan astronomy was far superior to its modern equivalent is (to say the least) debatable. If they did truly know about precession that could be considered a remarkable triumph for their observational and mathematical skills! However, there are no insights in Mayan astronomy that significantly surpass those of say the Ancient Greeks.

    Also, the claim that modern astronomy is politicised is unsubstantiated and appears to be motivated only by the fact that Pluto has been relegated to the status of minor planet. The truth is that science is a highly democratic enterprise: if you believe that a claim is wrong you can endeavour to gather evidence (through observation or theory) to support a counter claim. However, some “evidence” is plainly incorrect or has been obtained through non-scientific methods (not necessarily fraudulently) and will consequently be refuted by the scientific community. Some will acquiesce, however others will start crying foul about “conspiracies” and form little cults with likeminded people – not dissimilar to those guys who believed the world was going to end on 1 January 2000.

  18. David Quest

    What will be the time of the galatic alinement between the earth, sun and the galatic equator on Dec 21, 2012? Just incase the world ends, timing is every think.

  19. Enrico the Great

    2012 believers, if ypu brlirvr thr world will end in 2012
    PLEASE SEND ME YPUR MONEY!!!!!
    All of it! I’ll use it in 2013 to travel the world. do some space torism and hook up with my favorite biini model for some fun in Ria de Janeiro!

  20. SHANE

    EVERYONE HERE IS WRONG
    THE END WILL BE OCTOBER 21, 2011
    CHRIST WILL COME MAY 21ST 2011(DAY OF JUDGEMENT)
    THEN THE EARTH WILL BR DESTROYED OCTOBER 21ST 2011.
    CHECK OUT FAMILY RADIO.COM HAROLD CAMPING
    FOR FURTHER INFO…..THIS IS DEF GOING TO HAPPEN

  21. Vash

    Well, it is funny that a race of ‘primitive’ people managed to conduct more accurate astronomy than today’s technology, using stone pyramids to tell the time/day/year/season. Same with the Egyptians, how they managed to angle their pyramids in a certain way to match the constellations. If you look at the images of their "gods", even greek, roman, and Norse and their description of how they look, or travel, or where they live, in today’s mind set, you would think it would be Extra Terrestrials. I know it sounds silly, but think about all the mythologies, I think that maybe, just maybe, 2012 is when they return. Possibly to view our progress as a species.

  22. Vash

    People assume that it is the end, because it is on the last symbol in the line. But think about it, if they meant it to be the end, don’t you think they would have made it a line rather than a circle? it would just start over! Plus, it is a calender, what happens when our year ends? we just start it again! maybe perhaps the Mayan calender is more of a "Galactic" calender, since our calenders only deal with earth years.

Comments are closed.