[WATCH VIDEO: Beyond 2012: Google+ Hangout with NASA]
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
NASA took time out of its busy schedule this past week to ease the minds of many who believe the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. Following misinterpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar, doomsday seekers have been busy preparing for a front-row seat for the end of all things. However, the US space agency said Mayan apocalypse rumors are just that: rumors.
Growing fears of the apocalypse have led to frightened children everywhere and teens becoming suicidal, among others, trying to make sense of the supposed end of the world. But while the 21st of December can be associated with a number of events, it does not have anything to do with the world meeting its maker.
Not only is NASA trying to help soothe doomsday fears, but Mayan scholars are also playing their part, telling the world that ancient Maya had never seen this day as apocalyptic. The 21st of December is most notably associated with the Winter Solstice, an annual occurrence. Yet, this year, the date also marks the end of the 13th b´ak´tun calendar cycle.
According to ancient-mythology.com, the b´ak´tun calendar cycle is based on Mayan myth that their gods (Quetzalcoatl and Tepeu) wanted to create a people that would both resemble and praise them. However their attempts were less than fruitful, and on the end of the last 13th b´ak´tun (equivalent to 144,000 days) all creation ended and the gods began anew. The last 13th b´ak´tun ended on August 11, 3114 BCE, officially starting the next cycle, which is now set to end on December 21, 2012 AD.
However, Mayans have never seen this date as an end of all creation, only the completion of a cycle. And thus, the Mayans have never associated the end of the b´ak´tun with the end of the world.
“We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” charged Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop, according to PhysOrg.
The doomsday myths have ballooned out of control partially due to Hollywood. Several movies and documentaries have promoted the idea that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world on 12-21-12. And to further complicate the matter, some governments and groups are heeding the prophecies just in case.
The Culture Ministry is hosting an event in Guatemala City just in case the world does end. And in other places, tour groups are promoting doomsday-themed getaways and retreats.
Gomez has urged the Tourism Institute to rethink their doomsday celebrations, which he is criticizing as a “show” disrespecting the Mayan culture and its beliefs, which have nothing to do with the end of the world.
Oxlaljuj Ajpop released a statement saying that the Maya time cycle simply “means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature.”
The alliance is holding events it considers sacred in five cities to mark the event and Gomez said the Culture Ministry would be wise to throw its support behind their real celebrations.
It´s safe to say that apocalyptic rumors such as the 2012 doomsday prophecies spread more readily due to the Internet age. While the Internet can be a great resource tool and a good platform for spreading word of developing news, it has also shown that it is a bane for technology as it makes for a grand stage for rumors that often become so virulent, that they affect the lives of millions of people who turn these falsehoods into twisted reality. This starts a snowball that can grow out of control, as has occurred with the 2012 doomsday prophecies.
At NASA, the agency is taking a strong stance to debunk the persistent online stories of doom. One such end of the world rumor is the tale of a fictional dwarf planet that is supposedly on a crash course with Earth. According to the myth, the rogue planet Niburu, supposedly discovered thousands of years ago by the Sumerians, will crash into our planet sometime next month. There are also variations on this myth, with some calling for dwarf planet Eris to come hurtling toward us with apocalyptic vengeance. The myth has also been inaccurately tied to the end of the Mayan calendar.
And along with the end of the Mayan calendar doomsday predictions, several other doomsday rumors are easily picked apart with minimal scrutiny, according to NASA.
“Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, Dec. 21, 2012 won’t be the end of the world as we know it. However, it will be another winter solstice,” NASA associates wrote in a Google+ post.
NASA has launched a new site called Beyond 2012, dedicated to debunking pseudo-science. The site maintains there is no Niburu (or Planet X, according to some doomsdayers) and there is no worry of Eris coming even remotely close to our planet as it is floating around in the outer solar system about 4 billion miles away. And even if any of these celestial bodies were to come crashing into Earth in the next few weeks or so, they would be easily visible with the naked eye by now.
Other popular doomsday fears countered by NASA on the Beyond 2012 site are the prophecies that there will be an imminent reversal in the Earth´s rotation, giant solar storms that will disrupt and destroy the entire planet, and a disastrous rare alignment of the planets.
The Beyond 2012 social site links to a video of a recent Google+ hangout where a panel of science experts take on a series of 2012 doomsday claims and explain why there aren´t any truths to them.
Among the panelists in the Google+ hangout video is NASA´s own David Morrison, an astrobiologist at Ames Research Center.
At the beginning of the discussion, Morrison said that while 2012 doomsday theories were “a joke to many people” and while there was no real threat to Earth or its citizens, it was nevertheless “appropriate for NASA to answer questions” about such doomsday prophecies, if only to soothe the fears and potentially prevent some from harming themselves.
“There is no true issue here,” said Morrison during the Google+ Hangout event. “This is just a manufactured fantasy.”
Unfortunately, added Morrison, this fantasy ends up having real-life consequences. As one of NASA´s most prominent 2012 doomsday myth speakers, Morrison said he receives numerous emails and letters from people who are worried about the coming apocalypse; most of these letters are from the younger generation. Some of the more notable letters come from people who say they cannot eat, are too worried to sleep, and some who even go as far as to admit they are having thoughts of suicide, he said.
Although these people should have nothing to fear, they have been led to believe the world is in fact coming to an end, and it is wreaking havoc on their well-being.
“I think it’s evil for people to propagate rumors on the Internet to frighten children,” Morrison said.
While NASA is most concerned with how the young are handling these frightening rumors, Morrison said that not every 2012 apocalypse believer thinks the world will end on December 21. Some expect a day of universal peace and spiritual transformation. Yet, even these prophetic beliefs are based on ancient myth rather than cold hard facts.
Ultimately, we should be more concerned about real-world problems that will shape the future of society, such as global warming and climate change, said Andrew Fraknoi, an astronomer at Foothill College in California.
Mitzi Adams, a heliophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, agreed.
“The greatest threat to Earth in 2012, at the end of this year and in the future, is just from the human race itself,” Adams said.
Along with the Google+ Hangout video, NASA released a series of answers to the most popular questions revolving around the 2012 doomsday scenarios. You can find the full list of questions and answers at NASA.gov.