The end of the world as we know it

Nathan Smith

     It is the hottest doomsday theory to date.  The idea is one that has swept across many different nations, striking fear into the minds of many and causing giggles amongst others.  The question that is on almost everyone’s mind: Will the world end December 21, 2012?

     Keep in mind that there have been countless doomsday predictions in the past, and obviously they’ve all been incorrect.  One of the most recent doomsdays that failed to deliver was Nostradamus’s interpreted prediction that the world would end in 1999.  And let’s not forget the famous Y2K scare, which promised us computer crashes and nuclear missile crises to no avail.  But perhaps the Mayans have correctly predicted the end of the world.

     For those of you who don’t know, the Mayans were a civilization of people that lived in Central America over 4,000 years ago.  These people were the ones to spawn the first astronomical calculations, including a network of patterns that could predict eclipses and when Venus would pass over the night sky.  However, it is the Mayan calendar that has become the seed of much of the current doomsday fright.

     In actuality, the calendar does not state the end of time will occur, rather the end of the current cycle of human civilization.  The Maya believed that there had been several catastrophic events that had occurred at the end of each of these previous cycles, each cutting down the world population and forcing them to rebuild.

      The problem with all these theories is that to predict the future of these events, you require precognition– basically the ability to know the future.  However, precognition is impossible for us humans; unless we are assisted by some outside force that could provide the necessary information that we would need to know to make an accurate prediction of the future.

     When you guess something that is about to happen, what do you base it on?  You look at the evidence that is given, and you make an educated guess about what will occur from the variables.  But, to be able to know the future, you must know several crucial things like: (1) where every atom and subatomic particle in the local area is, (2) if they will interact with one another, (3) how they will interact with one another and (4) how this will affect the outside world.  When one tries to imagine the inconceivable amount of data that would go into precognition, their mind reels.

       But there is the possibility of repetition. Just like how the Mayans predicted the Venus cycles, they could have predicted a recurring, planet-damaging event from previous events that had caused it, bypassing the need to know the certain future.  But my question is, how could the ancestors tell their posterity about these world-ending events if they had already occurred, thus ending the world?

     There are four prominent derivatives of the 2012 doomsday theories.  The first two versions have some scientific backup, while the other two are completely discreditable with the right amount of research into their origins.

     The first is the Nemesis hypothesis. In 1984, two paleontologists, David Raup and Jack Spekoski, published a paper claiming that they had discovered a pattern in mass extinctions that have occurred on Earth over the past millions of years, but they could not identify the cause.  However, Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at University of California, Berkeley, claims that he has found the cause.  In our galaxy, most stars are not alone, they either have one or more orbiting companion stars around them, meaning that our galaxy is composed mostly of multi-star systems.  Muller has suggested that our Sun is orbited afar by a very dim, very small red dwarf star, about 1 to 1.5 light years away, that makes one complete elliptical orbit around our star every few billion years.  When this star comes close enough in its long-lasting orbit around the Sun to the pockets of rock that lie at the outer edge of our star system, it takes these rocks and hurls them into the inside of our system, passing the gas giants – which act as Earth’s comet-catchers, keeping us safe from many possible impacts – and sending them straight to areas around Earth.  This has earned the star the fitting name of Nemesis.  However, Nemesis has not yet been found.

     The next theory pertains to our own star.  Our Sun has a cycle it experiences several times throughout its lifespan where it becomes more and more violent, releasing deadly energy and then settling down, becoming more relaxed.  The running theory is that since we’re at the near-climax of this stellar cycle, a massive solar flare could peel off from the Sun and fry Earth to an irradiated crisp.  This is incorrect.  While this may have made an interesting ending to the movie Knowing, it does not carry much scientific merit.  While we are living at a point where the Sun is becoming more violent in its output, these outputs are unable to harm our planet in a way that would render it uninhabitable, not with our type of star. Solar flares are basically bolts of energy and magnetism that break off from the Sun with enough force to travel far into the star system.  While flares can impact Earth, they cannot likely cause an apocalypse.  The worst case scenario for this type of situation is that our orbiting satellites would be disabled by the flare, disabling international communications, including access to the world stock market.  Cell phones, televisions and many other communications would be inoperable.  But this would only last for about two months, since all that would need to be done to fix this is replace the damaged equipment.  This is severe, but not nearly as severe as an apocalyptic solar storm ripping our atmosphere from our planet’s gravity.

     Then there is the most famous of the 2012 doomsday theories, and my personal favorite: the planet Nibiru. This theory is originated from the Babylonian poem Enuma Elish, which talks about a far off celestial body which comes within visual range of Earth.  In reality, the object the poem refers to is Jupiter.  However, after being bent out of context by those who are not scholars, the poem’s meaning has been misinterpreted to predict what they called the Nibiru collision, which is just what it sounds like- that this celestial body will come into the inner-system and collide with Earth in 2010 or 2012.  This idea was first proposed by Nancy Lieder in 1995, and, at first glance, this could seem possible and the Babylonians may have predicted an impact or even just a very near miss, which would result in catastrophic gravitational affects on both bodies.  I even believed her for a bit.  Then she went on to talk about how she has a chip implanted into her brain that allows her to communicate with an extraterrestrial race of aliens called the Zeta, who have chosen her to warn mankind of its impending doom.  I’m a fan of science fiction, but come on. 

     Then there is another ridiculous theory out there; one so silly it really insights the giggle factor– which is when something is brought before a scientific community that is so illogical that it gets a few giggles.  The idea is that our Sun will align with the galactic center.  It says that in 2012, this will bring about some sort of shift in cycles on the Mayan calendar.  Ignoring the obvious lack of logical cause and effect, what most doomsday theorists neglect to mention is that this alignment happens every year. Happy winter solstice, everyone!

     Because it is impossible for us to know the future, we will never know for sure when the world will end—both science and religion admit this.  The problem with all of these theories is that they are either mistranslations of ancient texts, actual scientific concepts blown way out of context or hypotheses that edge on being discredited or just plain handwavium (which is a sci-fi term for plot devices that are impossible to explain, so we wave them away).

     Will the world end in the coming years?  Looks like we’ll just have to wait and see.