2012 - Big Bang or Big Business
It's a date that has caused controversy for decades. December 21, 2012. Some feel it will be the end of days, the apocalypse, doomsday. Others are capitalizing on the clamor and keeping the media hype alive for business purposes. Now upon us, the 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of various beliefs according to which cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012. This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the ancient Mayan calendar. Various astronomical alignments, numerological formulas, and scientific theories have been proposed pertaining to this date seeking to validate it.
December 21, 2012 marks the conclusion of a b'ak'tun, a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Although the Long Count was most likely invented by the Olmec tribe, it has become closely associated with the Maya civilization. Unlike the 52-year Calendar Round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20: 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k'atun, and 20 k'atuns (144,000 days or roughly 394 years) made up a b'ak'tun. There is a strong tradition of "world ages" in Mayan literature, but the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open to interpretation. According to the Popol Vuh, a compilation of the creation accounts of the K'iche' Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the gods first creating three failed worlds, followed by a successful fourth world in which humanity was placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b'ak'tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. The Long Count's "zero date" was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BC. This means that the fourth world will also have reached the end of its 13th b'ak'tun, or Mayan date 22.214.171.124.0, on December 21, 2012. In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that "the completion of a Great Period of 13 b'ak'tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya". In 1966, Michael D. Coe wrote in The Maya that "there is a suggestion ... that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b'ak'tun]. Thus ... our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion." However, scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea of such cataclysmic events occurring in 2012. Professional Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the extant classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Maya history and culture.
A New Age interpretation of this transition is that this date marks the start of time in which Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Some believe that a galactic alignment will take place on the 2012 Winter Solstice, providing us with a view that will not be seen again in any of our lifetimes. Only seen every 26,000 years, the Sun supposedly will conjunct the intersection of the Milky Way in the ecliptic, giving us view of the Sacred Tree as called by the Maya, giving us view of the Tree of Life. Adherents to the idea, allege that the Maya based their calendar on observations of the Great Rift or Dark Rift, a band of dark dust clouds in the Milky Way, which, according to some scholars, the Maya called the Xibalba be or "Black Road." which occurs on every Winter Solstice. Proponents believe that in 2012 the sun will align precisely with the galactic equator at the winter solstice. Other s also believe in the galactic alignment theory but not out of religion. They feel this window will unleash a change in the earth's magnetic field causing a pole shift. In this scenario the Earth's crust and mantle will suddenly shift, spinning around it's liquid-iron outer core like an orange's peel spinning around its fleshy fruit. As a result breakaway oceans and continents would dump cities into the sea, thrust palm trees to the poles, and spawn earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and other disasters. Scientists dismiss such drastic scenarios, but some researchers have speculated that a subtler shift could occur. For example, if the distribution of mass on or inside the planet changed radically, due to, say, the melting of ice caps. Scientists feel the magnetic evidence in rocks confirm that continents have undergone such drastic rearrangement, but the process took millions of years, slow enough that humanity wouldn't have felt the motion. Additionally, NASA scientists state that 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. There will be no galactic alignment in 2012 that will out of the ordinary.
Other theorists feel our own sun will do us in 2012. The belief is that an eruption of powerful solar flares will scorch our planet. They cite the solar storm of 1859, also known as the Solar Superstorm, or the Carrington Event which was the most powerful solar storm ever recorded. It caused the failure of telegraph systems all over Europe and North America. Auroras were seen all over the world, most notably over the Caribbean. These lights over the Rocky Mountains were so bright, the glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. However, a solar flare or storm large enough to scorch Earth has never been proven, and no evidence has been found in Earth's history. 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 destroy life on our planet.
Another theory has a mysterious planet called Planet X, or Nibiru, on a collision course with Earth. A direct hit would obliterate Earth, it's said. Even a near miss, some fear, could shower Earth with deadly asteroid impacts hurled our way by the planet's gravitational wake. Firstly, 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. And secondly, once again, NASA scientists state that if there were a planet, asteroid or star, that was going to be in the inner solar system this year, astronomers would have been studying it for the past decade and it would be visible to the naked eye by now-it is simply not there.
Countless books, movies, documentaries and websites purport numerous other theories from famine and floods to numerology to super volcanoes to alien invasion. This sensationalism is feeding the frenzy to a wary and sometimes frightened public. The year 2012 has become a business profiting from the fear of the public. The NASA public outreach website "Ask an Astrobiologist" has received over 5000 questions from the public on the subject since 2007, some asking whether they should kill themselves, their children or their pets. Many contemporary fictional references to the year 2012 refer to December 21 as the day of a cataclysmic event, including the bestselling book of 2009, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol.
The 2009 disaster film 2012 was inspired by the phenomenon, and advance promotion prior to its release included a stealth marketing campaign in which TV spots and websites from the fictional "Institute for Human Continuity" called on people to prepare for the end of the world. As these promotions did not mention the film itself, many viewers believed them to be real and contacted astronomers in panic. Although the campaign was heavily criticized, the film became one of the most successful of its year, grossing nearly $770 million worldwide.
Lars von Trier's 2011 film Melancholia features a plot in which a planet emerges from behind the Sun onto a collision course with Earth. Announcing his company's purchase of the film, the head of Magnolia Pictures said in a press release, "As the 2012 apocalypse is upon us, it is time to prepare for a cinematic last supper." The phenomenon has also inspired several pop music hits. As early as 1997, "A Certain Shade of Green" by Incubus referred to the mystical belief that a shift in perception would arrive that year. More recent hits include "2012 (It Ain't the End)" in 2010 performed by Jay Sean and "Till the World Ends" in 2011 performed by Britney Spears. In 2011, the Mexico tourism board stated its intentions to use the year 2012, without its apocalyptic connotations, as a means to revive Mexico's tourism industry, which had suffered as the country gained a reputation for drug wars and kidnapping. The initiative hopes to draw on the mystical appeal of the Mayan ruins. On December 21, 2011, the Mayan town of Tapachula in Chiapas activated an eight-foot digital clock counting down the days until b'ak'tun 13, while in Izapa, a nearby archaeological site, Mayan priests burned incense and prayed.
Although reported by mainstream media, none of these theories have been accepted by mainstream scholarship. Our world is changing, however, not at the pace purported and certainly not within the next eleven months. Evolution will continue at its own pace. The way it has for millennia.