End o’ Year Thoughts
Today I got a nice jolt of pleasure when I listened to the “top 12 podcasts for 2011, year in review” on the popular 365 Days of Astronomy podcast site. The podcasts are always pretty interesting, given that they come from people who are all interested in astronomy. I’ve contributed a number of podcasts throughout the years to the effort (you can see a list here). What pleased me greatly is that the producers included a clip from one of my podcasts from March 2011. It featured an interview with Geodesium, a space artist whose work I’ve always admired greatly (and I married him, too!). So, if you have a moment, click on over to the podcast and have a listen to clips from some of the greatest ‘casts of 2011.
The Flipping of Calendar Pages
Now that we’re on the last day of the year (and in fact, folks in Sydney and Hong Kong have already flipped over to the new year), I notice with great glee that the world hasn’t ended. It IS the end of the calendar. Yes, it is. Take a look at that calendar on your wall. It ends on December 31, 2011. What’s gonna happen tomorrow when it flips over to January 1, 2012?
Actually, nothing special is going to happen, unless you count the Broncos suddenly developing a decent passing game in their matchup with Kansas City on January 1.
And, sure, it will be the first day of a new year, but that’s about it. Time moves ever on.
The Mayans Said It, so It Must Be True, Right? Right?
Why would I even make a fuss about this? There’s a well-known “prophecy” floating around out there that has to do with the end of the Mayan calendar and the end of the world. Yes, there really ARE people who think that since the Mayan calendar is supposed to end on December 21, 2012 the world will also end because, “Hey, the Mayans predicted it. They’re all downhome tribal and prescient and stuff and it says so right there on their stone calendar that the Baktun will end!”
And that, somehow mysteriously will mean the end of the world? I mean, they are attributing this idea to people whose civilization ended centuries ago and they didn’t foresee THAT happening? The descendants of the Maya (and yes, there are some left), are laughing their butts off at these “prophecies” that were apparently dreamed up in the 1970s. That is, when they’re not trying to debunk this silly myth that the end of the Baktun (one of their cycles) means more than the end of December 31 of any given year.
Seriously? I mean, I want some of whatever these conspiracy theorists and prophets are drinking over there in DelusionLand. Because, that’s the only way it’s gonna happen—in their dreams. You see, the actual date of the end of the Baktun is just the end of a cycle. In fact, the date isn’t really accurately known. It’s probably not December 21, 2012, but since it lines up with the solstice time, it probably sounded mysterious enough for whoever dreamed up this idea (apparently in the 1970s) and so the “world’s gonna end” folks grabbed it and ran with it. But, correlation is not causation. Even if the two were lined up, so what? January 1st falls on a Sunday this year, which is also the day a lot of American football games get played. Call the press! There’s a conspiracy!
I think Bizarro sums the whole thing up pretty well here.
Death by Gigantic Unseen Mysterious and Immeasurable Forces That Nobody Has Yet Detected
Well, you no sooner debunk the whole “the Mayan Calendar is ending so the world must be ending” delusion and another one pops up. How about the “there’s a death ray coming from the middle of the Milky Way and we’ll emerge from it on December 21, 2012”? Again with the coincidences on the solstice. The winter solstice doesn’t have any special powers. It’s simply the day that the Sun reaches its farthest north point in the sky during the year. Other than that, it’s a calendrical thing.
About that beam. If it’s a death ray and we’re going to emerge FROM it in December, shouldn’t we be getting harmed RIGHT NOW????
Oh. Wait. It’s got some magical powers or something.
Well, I haven’t read anything anywhere about a sighting or measuring of a beam coming from the center of the galaxy, crossing some 26,000 light-years of space. But, I’d guess that a) it has probably attenuated somewhat (gotten weaker as it travels, see Inverse Square Law), and b) if it was supposed to be harming us, it would have to be humongously strong at its source so that there’d be some power left over to fry our collective behinds after it traveled across all that space. Oh, and we’d be seeing its effects on objects (nebulae, stars, planets, etc.) that lie on the line of sight from us to the center of the Milky Way.
We don’t see any of that. And, by “we” I mean anybody who looks at the sky with a telescope or spectroscope… and that includes a LOT of amateur astronomers around the world who have good scopes and spend a LOT of time looking at the sky. If THEY all saw something, it’d be pretty tough to keep hundreds of thousands from talking about it. Just watch the news any time a comet is discovered–the images start flowing almost immediately onto Websites, Astronomy Picture of the Day, and so on. If there was a beam out there frying stuff, the effects would be obvious.
To put it bluntly, there ain’t no mysterious beam. Just the usual optical, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, radio, and gamma-ray emissions that normally stream from objects in the galaxy. Perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about.
The Return of the Nonexistent Rogue Planet
There are some other weird predictions that the Gullible Ones are tossing around out there, like a mysterious planet that conspiracy theorists claim (without any proof, of course) is on the way toward Earth. How a planet does that without getting spotted by people with telescopes is beyond me. Whoever “discovered” this one was, I suspect, using the infamous Bongscope that allows the user great insights into hitherto unseen realms of bravo sierra.
I had a run-in once online a long time ago with the person who first came up with this planet, and it was an exercise in fantasy talking to her. She’s still out there, I guess, still pimping her “Planet X is gonna getcha” theory, and the last time I looked, it had been hooked it into this whole Mayan calendar fantasy. Well, if one improbable idea isn’t enough, then let’s string together a whole bunch of them! It’s a convergence of conspiracy thinking run amok!
Relax with a Corona
And, so it goes. Real science is showing us lots of really cool and measurable and provable things in the cosmos. But, let a few wild-eyed seers publish books and Web pages based on often-erroneous or made-up calculations linking together things that aren’t really related, and suddenly—wow, it’s the end of the world! (Which, of course, various wild-eyed folks have been predicting since humans first evolved… )
In the “Real Science” department, there’s going to be a total solar eclipse in November 2012 that will sweep across parts of Oceania. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a good chance to relax and check out something we don’t get to see every day (at least not easily): the Sun’s corona. If you can’t go to the path of totality, then you will be able to watch it “in real time” on the Web. Keep an eye peeled for news about that.
Earlier in the year, on June 5, the last transit of Venus in our lifetimes will occur. This will be a chance to see Venus as it sweeps in its orbit between us and the Sun. Of course, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: whether you observe the transit or the eclipse, NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITH YOUR NAKED EYES, WITHOUT PROTECTION. IF YOU DO, YOU CAN AND WILL INJURE YOURSELF. BADLY. SO DON’T DO IT. REALLY.
That being said, there will be all kinds of information on the Web, at your local planetarium, and in the news about how to view these events safely. So, don’t miss them.
As for the December 21, 2012 madness; well, maybe I’ll head to the Mayan pyramids next December and have a few Coronas with all the other folks who are taking these “end of world” predictions for what they really are: a big joke and an excuse for a vacation in the Yucatán to enjoy some mid-winter warmth as the Sun reaches its solstice point. By that time, I’m sure we’ll all need a break.
There’s a lot of stuff on the Web about the Mayan end of the world nonsense, but if you want the best debunking of this mess of illogic, check out Dr. Edwin C. Krupp’s writings about it. He’s one of the most qualified folks I know to talk about astronomy and the Maya, and he knows whereof he speaks. And, he’s a nice guy, too; director of Griffith Observatory, one of my favorite places on the planet. (If you live in Los Angeles/SoCal, you probably know about this place and their support group, Friends of the Observatory—a great and worthy place to park some money to support astronomy and science literacy in return for a membership or a tax write-off).
So, in closing, sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdities of life. I often say that “you can’t make this sh*t up” when I see and read about things like the so-called “end of year prophecies”. But, I’ve been proven wrong. People ARE out there making this stuff up—which is going to make 2012 a very comical year. Go ahead and enjoy the conspiracy theory show as it unfolds. Just do so with your Cap of Logic and Common Sense firmly seated on your head. You’ll be “in” on the joke.
I hope that every one of you who reads my blog has a healthy, happy, and above all, sane and logical new year. Be kind to those you love and go out of your way to help somebody with something. You’ll both be better for it.
Happy New Year! Keep Looking UP (or start looking up)!