We are less than one month away from the winter solstice when the days get shortest and the sun is slowest in the sky. Doom, I say. DOOM. Well, not from the solstice; civilization has had thousands of those, yet no catastrophes connected to them.
But we are lead to think there is one this time because of beliefs about the Maya calendar. This is the whole 2012 apocalypse belief, and it’s one that isn’t well-founded in either archaeology or science. To show the problems with the latter, let’s look at all the proposals I can find about how the world will be destroyed on December 21, 2012.
Galactic Alignment: On the date of doom the Earth, Sun, and the plane of the Milky Way will align. How will such an alignment cause changes on Earth? Some go for the whole mind-enhancing idea, others think of disaster because of gravity. Never mind the mechanism for the moment, let’s first consider the alignment. It is the case that on that day the Sun will be close the intercept between the galactic plane and the path the sun follows, the ecliptic. But it’s not a perfect alignment by any means. In fact, there was a much better alignment back in 1998. The change in the quality of the alignment is do to the precession of the equinoxes, the slow wobble of the Earth much like a top, so the position of the Sun from year to year slowly drifts. It also means that the alignment with the Earth/Sun/Galactic Plane is getting worse every year since 1998. There wasn’t a catastrophe in 1998 (I was there), so 2012 can be no worse.
Black Hole Alignment: To top the galactic alignment, some point to the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way called Sagittarius A*. At over 4 million times the mass of the Sun, it is a colossal object. Could it’s gravity be super-powerful in an alignment on Dec 21 of this year? Again, let’s check to see if there is an alignment. If you look at the coordinates of Sagittarius A*, you see it has a declination of about -29 degrees. This angle is measured from the celestial equator, the Earth’s equator projected out into space. The Sun, on the other hand, moves about relative to the celestial equator because of the angle of the Earth’s axis to the plane the Earth revolves about the Sun. Now, the Sun varies in declination between +/- 25 degrees. That means the Sun never gets down to -29 degrees, thus there is never an alignment between the Sun, Earth, and the black hole, including on Dec 21. Moreover, the gravity of the black hole is nonexistent in force here, 30,000 lightyears away. A normal person 10 meters away from you has 100,000 times more gravitational force on you than Sagittarius A*. I don’t worry about my neighbor’s gravity, so I don’t worry about Sagittarius A*’s either.
Planet Nibiru: The alleged planet beyond the orbit of Pluto, Nibiru was proposed by, not an astronomer, but an independent researcher Zechariah Sitchin and his untenable translations of Sumerian and other Akkadian records from antiquity. Nibiru in these records is not a planet but the condition of a planet as seen from Earth. But Sitchin didn’t propose Nibiru would pop around in 2012, but at a much later date. It was others that pushed the encounter with Planet X to this year. So, we have to rely on Sitchin’s conjectures which are demonstrably wrong (see here), and we have to change his dates around to fit the Maya connection. But could there be a planet on its way now, nonetheless? Considering a large object heading toward Earth would have been noticeable to astronomers years ago, let alone for an object a month away, this is highly unlikely. Some have claimed to have seen Nibiru, but these are transients such a comets or fakes. A planet within a month’s travel-time to Earth would be obviously visible to even naked-eye observers, brighter than any planet in the sky.
Pole Flips: We actually know from rocks over millions of years of geological history that the intensity and direction of the Earth’s magnetic field changes. Over time, there are complete geomagnetic reversals. And so, plenty of folks claim that in 2012 there will be a pole shift. However, geomagnetic reversals take thousands of years, not a day or days. So proponents also claim that the reversal will happen due to a large solar flare. But how would a solar flare change the position of the poles? There isn’t a plausible mechanism since a reversal will have to affect the core of the Earth, something a cloud of particles will not do. Moreover, the maximum of solar flare activity will not be this year but next based on sunspot maxima/minima.
Supernova: With all the local events in the solar system voided, some look beyond the Sun to other stars such as Betelgeuse. This is a red supergiant that will likely explode in the future. When that happens is uncertain, and it would be anywhere from tomorrow to a million years from now. But even if Betelgeuse exploded it is 643 lightyears away. We would only worry about stars within 25 lightyears. An exploding Betelgeuse would be amazingly bright in the night sky, closer that Supernova 1054 which was bright enough to read by at night. An amazing sight, but not threatening to us.
Alien Invasion: Perhaps Dec 21 is when the ETs come and take over the world (of course!), but we don’t have any good reason to think this will happen. After all, we cannot even determine that there are intelligent species out in the galaxy, let alone do they come and visit Earth on particular dates. Basically, these claims have to be linked with Ancient Astronaut ideas and claim the Maya were in contact with these folks who were out of this world. But since that idea is pretty much bunk, there is just no good reason to think ET will visit this year or the next, or any particular year at all supposing they are even out there.
So, those are the most popular theories out there, though it’s not all the ways the universe could be out to get us (for that, I recommend Phil Plait’s Death from the Skies). But why even care about what the Maya said in their calendar? Why suppose they have such knowledge? Actually, not only did the Maya not have special knowledge, they didn’t claim the end corresponded with the end of a turn of their calendar; the end of the 12th baktun isn’t the end of their calendar no more than the end of the year 1904 was the end of the Gregorian calendar. Moreover, there is some evidence that the baktun periods are part of an even larger calendar that goes for trillions of years into the future. In addition, there is not certainty about the correlation between the Maya calendar and our Gregorian calendar. So any of the alleged correlations/alignments/etc. cannot rest on the Maya at all.
So, if you are worried about the 2012 phenomena, you don’t need to be, at least not from the universe. Perhaps it will cause some people to do unwise things, but I plan to just enjoy myself on that day and the holidays around then.