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lunes, 9 de noviembre de 2009
2012 Doomsday Myths Debunked
MYTH: Space Phenomena Will Send Continents Spinning
November 6, 2009--The end of the world is near--December 21, 2012, to be exact--according to theories based on a purported ancient Maya prediction and fanned by the marketing machine behind the soon-to-be-released 2012 movie.
In some 2012 doomsday prophecies, the Earth becomes a deathtrap as it undergoes a "pole shift," courtesy of an asteroid impact (illustrated above), a rare alignment with the center of the Milky Way, and/or massive solar radiation destabilizing the inner Earth by heating it.
The planet's crust and mantle will suddenly shift, spinning around Earth's liquid-iron outer core and sending cities crashing into the sea.
Princeton University geologist Adam Maloof has extensively studied pole shifts, and tackles this 2012 myth in 2012: Countdown to Armageddon, a National Geographic Channel documentary airing Sunday, November 8.
Maloof says magnetic evidence in rocks confirms that continents have undergone such drastic rearrangement, but the process took millions of years--slow enough that humanity wouldn't have felt the motion .
MYTH: Planet X Is on a Collision Course With Earth
This 2002 Hubble Space Telescope picture of the star V838 Monocerotis and surrounding dust clouds has been said to contain evidence of a phantom world--alternately called Planet X and Nibiru--that is on course to collide with Earth in 2012.
But, said NASA astrobiologist David Morrison, "there is no object out there. That's probably the most straightforward thing to say."
The origins of this theory actually predate widespread interest in 2012. Popularized in part by a woman who claims to receive messages from extraterrestrials, the Nibiru doomsday was originally predicted for 2003.
"If there were a planet or a brown dwarf or whatever that was going to be in the inner solar system three years from now," Morrison said, "astronomers would have been studying it for the past decade and it would be visible to the naked eye by now."
MYTH: Galactic Alignment Spells Doom
Some sky-watchers believe 2012 will close with a "galactic alignment," which will occur for the first time in 26,000 years.
In this scenario, the path of the sun in the sky would appear to cross through what, from Earth, looks to be the midpoint of our galaxy, the Milky Way. In good viewing conditions the Milky Way appears as a cloudy stripe across the night sky, as in the above, undated photo taken on Easter Island.
Some fear that the lineup will somehow expose Earth to powerful unknown galactic forces that will hasten its doom--perhaps through a "pole shift" (see first picture) or the stirring of the supermassive black hole at our galaxy's heart.
But, NASA's Morrison said, "there is no 'galactic alignment' in 2012," he said, "or at least nothing out of the ordinary."
A type of "alignment" occurs during every winter solstice, when the sun, as seen from Earth, appears in the sky near what looks to be the midpoint of the Milky Way.
Horoscope writers may be excited by alignments, Morrison said. But "the reality is that alignments are of no interest to science. They mean nothing." They create no changes in gravitational pull, solar radiation, planetary orbits, or anything else that would impact life on Earth.
MYTH: Maya Predicted End of the World in 2012
Don't ask Apolinario Chile Pixtun if the end of the world is coming in 2012. The Maya Indian elder, shown in Guatemala in October 2009, is "fed up with this stuff," he told the Associated Press.
Some archaeologists would agree. The Maya calendar, they say, doesn't end in 2012, as some have said, and the ancients never viewed that year as the time of the end of the world.
But December 21, 2012, (give or take a day) was nonetheless momentous to the Maya.
"It's the time when the largest grand cycle in the Mayan calendar--1,872,000 days or 5,125.37 years--overturns and a new cycle begins," said Anthony Aveni, an archaeoastronomer at Colgate University in New York State.
During the empire's heyday, the Maya invented the Long Count--a lengthy circular calendar that "transplanted the roots of Maya culture all the way back to creation itself," Aveni said.
During the 2012 winter solstice, time runs out on the current era of the Long Count calendar, which began on what the Maya saw as the dawn of the last creation period: August 11, 3114 B.C. The Maya wrote that date, which preceded their civilization by thousands of years, as Day Zero, or 184.108.40.206.0.
In December 2012 the lengthy era ends and the complicated, cyclical calendar will roll over again to Day Zero, beginning another enormous cycle.
"The idea is that time gets renewed, that the world gets renewed all over again--often after a period of stress--the same way we renew time on New Year's Day or even on Monday morning," said Aveni, author of The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012.
MYTH: Solar Storms to Savage Earth
In 2012, it's rumored, the sun (shown with plasma arching over its surface in a 2000 space-telescope image) will produce lethal eruptions of solar flares, turning up the heat on Earthlings.
Solar activity waxes and wanes according to approximately 11-year cycles. Big flares can indeed damage communications and other Earthly systems, but scientists have no indications the sun, at least in the short term, will unleash storms strong enough to fry the planet.
"As it turns out, the sun isn't on schedule anyway," NASA astronomer Morrison said. "We expect that this cycle probably won't peak in 2012 but a year or two later."
MYTH: Maya Had Clear Predictions for 2012
If the Maya didn't expect the end of time in 2012, what exactly did they predict for that year?
Many scholars who've pored over the scattered evidence on Maya monuments say the empire didn't leave a clear record predicting that anything specific would happen in 2012.
The Maya did pass down a graphic--though undated--end-of-the-world scenario, described on the final page of a circa-1100 text known as the Dresden Codex . It describes a world destroyed by flood, a scenario imagined in many cultures and probably experienced, on a less apocalyptic scale, by ancient peoples (more on the Dresden Codex).
The codex scenario is meant to be read not literally but as a lesson about human behavior, said Anthony Aveni, the archaeoastronomer.
He likens the long cycles Maya calendar to our own New Year period, when the closing of an era is accompanied by frenetic activities and stress, followed by a rebirth period, when many people take stock and resolve to begin living better.
"It's not about a fixed prediction about what's going to happen."
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