It’s (not) the end of the world as we know it, part 2

What will not happen on December 21, 2012. Credit: Don Davis/NASA

What will not happen on December 21, 2012. Credit: Don Davis/NASA

In my last post, I explained how the end of the Mayan calendar is not a harbinger of the end of the world. However, you’ve probably seen stories about other predictions, even scientific predictions, that say something very bad will happen on December 21. Luckily, none of these are true either. Here’s a sampling of them to explain why.

A rogue planet called Nibiru or Planet X will collide with Earth or pass close enough to cause disastrous effects. No such planet. Nibiru is a purported “12th planet” supposedly known to the ancient Sumerians, but there are a wide variety of theories about it, and few proponents seem to agree about just what it is. Proponents will sometimes trot out data or images from NASA that supposedly show Nibiru, but these data always turn out to be badly misinterpreted or outright fake. But the most compelling reason that this “theory” is impossible is that if “Nibiru” was going to come anywhere near Earth on December 21, it would have been visible to the naked eye for months, maybe years. Everyone would have been able to see it. Yet no serious astronomer, professional or amateur, claims to have seen it.

The Sun will align with the black hole at the center of the galaxy, causing gravitational mayhem. Nope, the Sun actually aligns with the galactic center on December 19. What’s more, the Sun aligns with the galactic center every year, at a slightly different time, and it was most closely aligned on the winter solstice of December 21 in 1998. Besides, while the black hole at the center of the galaxy may be 4 million times as massive as the Sun, it’s also 2 billion times farther away, so its gravity is insignificant no matter what alignment it’s in.

Earth’s rotation will change dramatically, causing extreme climate change. If you believe this, you probably saw the movie. It turns out that the energy needed to knock Earth off its rotation axis is about equal to the energy it receives from the Sun in a million years or so. There’s basically no way to change Earth’s tilt that fast without, well, crashing into Nibiru (see above).

Earth’s magnetic field will weaken and flip over, causing untold chaos. This actually happens every few hundred thousand years (minus the untold chaos), but its a slow process, taking 1,000 years or more to complete. There’s some evidence that a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field it beginning, but it certainly won’t happen overnight.

A Solar superstorm will fry our electrical grid, throwing civilization back into the dark ages. Okay, I admit that this one could potentially happen. We are approaching the Sun’s period of maximum activity over its 11-year cycle. A very large coronal mass ejection (not a Solar flare, as is often reported) could, indeed, bring down the entire North American power grid, and our infrastructure is not well insulated against it. The good news it that the odds of this happening in any given solar cycle are about 1 in 50, and the odds of it happening on a particular day, even during the active period, are about 1 in 20,000 at most. So there’s nothing special about December 21 from a Solar storm viewpoint.

It’s a conspiracy! Many proponents of 2012 doomsday theories claim that scientists have known for years that whatever disaster is about to happen is coming, but they (or the government) covered it up. Since I’m a scientist myself, I’m obviously in on it…

But the truth is that trying to control scientists is like herding cats. This is especially true between institutions and even more so between countries. Scientists also have more than their fair share of independent-minded people who don’t like the government telling them what to do. It only takes one credible whistle-blower to bring down the whole house of cards. And that’s not even addressing the actual motive for the cover-up or whether you could get the governments of dozens of scientifically-advanced countries, many of which don’t particularly like each other, to also go along with the conspiracy.

The bottom line is that no well-supported scientific theory says that this December 21 will be anything other than a normal day–okay, a normal winter solstice. So take it easy, have a happy holiday season, and rest assured that we’ll all be safe from these conspiracy theories come December 22…at least until the next predictions of impending doom come out of the woodwork.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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