I can’t believe I’m writing about 2012…

But I am.  When I initially decided to start this blog I never would have thought that 2012 would be a potential topic, but after hearing it brought up once again I decided that I needed to.  Why?  Because some people feel quite strongly on the subject one way or the other.  Because it is a great example of people knowing “just enough to be dangerous”.  And because I’ve noticed that many people that will strongly say that they know 2012 won’t happen often can say why not.  It is very easy to have this knee-jerk reaction to something like doomsday scenarios just because of the frequency with which they come around.  But we should not dismiss something without considering it first.  If you can’t defend your stance on a topic you probably shouldn’t state it so strongly.

Just to make sure that we are all on the same page first, when I say 2012 I don’t mean the year.  I do think that the year 2012 will come just as expected.  What I also think is that the year 2012 will pass without life altering (or ending) events for all of humankind.  Many people have adopted the doomsday scenario that tells us that the world ends on December 21, 2012.  How they know this will vary depending on who you ask but popular reasons include that the Mayan calendar ends, Planet X or Nibiru will approach the inner solar system, or something of that sort.  First off the Mayan calendar does not end.  It is the end of the “Long Count” and nothing in Mayan texts indicates that this is a bad thing.  Imagine a friend called you in a fit because they realize that the calendar ended after December 31 so astronomers must have figured out that the world would end there and didn’t make the calendar anymore.  I hope you would instruct them to go buy a 2011 calendar.  That is essentially the argument being made here.  Or better yet, its Y2K for the Mayan calendar; we survived that just fine too.

As for Planet X, there is no evidence for such a thing.  Further if was set for a collision course with the Earth in 2012, it would already be close enough that we could see it.  We see nothing.

For the major claims over how the world for end, I’m following a list constructed on Robert Bast’s site Survive2012.  For off I want to say that Robert Bast makes a few quite rational statements before proceeding.  For instance he notes that there is no scientific evidence that anything will happen in 2012.  Most sites don’t mention this.  Admitting this really means that he is arguing not from a science standpoint but his own opinion.  I respect people’s right to their own beliefs and opinion.  I am not criticizing his site or his beliefs.  His site just happens to have a good collection of the mechanisms cited for the end of the world in 2012 and seems to sum up the ideas put forward by those that believe the game is over in 2012.

The rest of this post will follow as a list of the possible “Earth enders” on his site and my response to those possibilities.

1. Asteroid/Meteor/Comet

This is one of the most reasonable claims made by people.  It is true that one of these objects could strike the Earth and with relatively little warning.  We are striving to find all hazardous near-Earth objects but we’re just not there.  But we have found nearly all, if not all, possible extinction level asteroids.  None of them are hitting the Earth in 2012.  I will promise that tons of space debris will hit the Earth in 2012 (“tons” is used as a general term here and is not meant to be an indication of mass or weight).  We will have spectacular meteor showers just as we do every year.  Some will probably make it the ground, but we have no reason to expect even a minor impact.

2. A coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun.

A coronal mass ejection is essentially when the Sun throws a bunch of energetic particles our way.  This has got to be the least technical description of a CME ever but I’m trying to be somewhat brief; there is a lot of ground to cover here!  This is another one of the sure it could happen situations.  Phil Plait did an excellent job of discussing asteroids, CMEs, and various other astronomical doomsday events in his book “Death from the Skies”.  He does a much more thorough job of discussing these items there and I recommend you check it out.  The main point is that the Sun is indeed entering a maximum.  It does this every 11 years.  Let’s face it,  we depend on a nuclear reactor with a mass of the order of 10 to the 30 kilograms for all life!  The Sun is huge, it is powerful, and sometimes it is angry!  But what it is doing right now is no different than what it has been doing for the whole of human history.  Could it act up?  Sure but again there is no evidence that it will.  Final note.  A coronal mass ejection is not enough to destroy life on Earth.  They happen all the time.  They cause auroras for one.  But it needs to be wickedly powerful AND aimed at the Earth.  Most CMEs head off in a direction away from the Earth and never trouble us.

3. Magnetic Pole Shift.

A few issues with this one.  First I have a personal dislike of the term “long overdue” for this sort of phenomena.  When someone says that an earthquake, or asteroid impact, or whatever is overdue they aren’t understanding something.  This things are never due!  They happen.  Then centuries later humans start looking at the geologic history and they see how many times it happened over that time and take an average.  Then they say that this event happens on average once every 400,000 years.  This doesn’t mean that one happens every 400,00 years!  We might go a billion years before it happens.  We might go 2 years.  Look for the word “average”.  It’s important.  He also hits the main point when he says “Scientists suggest a geomagnetic reversal takes thousands of years and does no harm.”  But then he says they are wrong and that is could happen overnight.  No reference, no evidence for that claim.  If he has evidence that the science community is wrong about that, I need to see that evidence before I simply accept it.

4.  Explosion of the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

First I have an issue with the word explosion, but thats a holdover from my undergraduate research advisor.  Even if we overlook the word explosion, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is not active.  In an active galactic nuclei (AGN) the central black hole is actively feeding on surrounding gas and dust and produces 2 amazingly powerful jets of radiation and charged particles that are some of the most powerful phenomena in the universe.  Our galaxy is not doing this.  It is not about to start doing this.  An event is needed to trigger AGN activity.  Our future collision with the Andromeda Galaxy might do it but nothing for 2012.  I’m also assuming that he is talking about AGN activity when he says explode but I might be wrong since he next discusses gamma ray bursts.  GRB’s can be caused by the merger of 2 black holes (or neutron stars), or when an exceptionally massive star collapses to form a black hole but I know of no evidence for black holes randomly emitting a GRB.  He links to another site to try and link the 2004 tsunami with a GRB.  This site argues that a superluminal (faster than light) gravity wave caused the tsunami.  Two reasons this is horribly wrong.  One the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit of the universe.  Nothing travels faster even though some things APPEAR to.  This second site did link to a paper by Eugene Podkletnov to explain this but going to the link provided a paper that seemed to not be related to GRBs, gravitational radiation, or superluminal motion at all.  Second even if a gravitational wave from this GRB reached us they are tiny.  Gravitational waves are so small that they have eluded our best efforts to detect them yet.  Numerous facilities exist that are searching for gravitational waves including LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) which came online in 2002.  Plenty early enough to see a gravitational wave strong enough to cause a tsunami in 2004.

5. Religious Apocalypse.

As I said before I respect peoples right to believe in what they want.  This is also not a scientific topic so I have no point to comment on.  If you believe that a religious doomsday is coming in 2012 there is nothing I could do here to change your mind.

6.  Alien Invasion.

As Robert Bast says “No evidence, plenty of believers”.  I simply say no evidence!  He remarks that there have been a number of 2012 or Mayan crop circles recently which could be warnings from the aliens.  First why would invaders be warning us?  Its like the Greeks telling the Trojans “Don’t look in the horse!”  Second, crop circles have been demonstrated to be manmade.  The people that started it came out and showed us how they do it!  People still do it.  People model art after culture in many cases.  People.

7. Gamma Ray Bursts.

I feel like we’ve been here already!  I don’t feel that GRBs should be in their own category since they were discussed in the black hole in the galactic center exploding but here it is anyways.  I repeat everything I said before, and add that even if a nearby GRB occurred the chances of it being aimed (they create twin jets similar to an AGN) at us are very small.  And there is no evidence for one even existing nearby.

8. Crustal Displacement.

Here Bast discusses a shift in the physical tilt of the Earth.  This is impossible without something else providing an incredible force to the Earth itself.  Maybe being smacked with another planet sized object (see point 1).  This is simple Newton’s Laws stuff.  An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force.  Where is the outside force needed to move the entire Earth?  He claims evidence for this but again provides no link or way to review that evidence.

9. Cosmic Rays.

I’ll admit, I have no idea where he is going with this one.  Yes there are cosmic rays flying through space all the time.  Anybody who has ever done CCD imaging has seen cosmic rays in their images.  If one decides to collide with your DNA just right it can be bad, sure.  But these are nothing new.  They have always been here, always been flying straight through you and me and everybody.  I’m not sure why he believes they could end the world on December 21, 2012.

10. Flu Pandemic.

Another potential crisis in human history.  This, like asteroids, has been called a case of not if but when (a point Bast himself makes).  But again why 2012?  There is no evidence that a pandemic will occur.  Sure, it could.  But again statistics are on our side.  It is far less likely to happen than it is to not happen.  I also state here that I am not medically trained or even particularly knowledgable in biology.  For all flu, pandemic, and health information listen to your doctor and sources like the World Health Organization, not blogs.

11.  Nuclear Way/WW3/Biological Warfare.

Again why 2012?  Yes tensions are high in the world but why think that we are going to start a world ending war in 2012?  Here is what has happened with this list and others like it.  People have become so invested in the 2012 phenomenon that they are looking for any reason why the world MIGHT end without ever coming back and questioning themselves on “why do I think it is going to end in the first place?”  There a hundreds of ways the world might end but no reason to think that they are happening in 2012.  But I continue….

12.  Supervolcanoes

I agree with him that this are real.  And they are a threat.  They also fall into the same category as asteroids, CME’s and many other things we have discussed.  Also not likely to destroy all life.

13. Rise of the Machines.

Ok hmm…. Let me just say that I think we are more than 2 years from self replicating, globally networked, angry artificial intelligence.  And that we seem to moving further and further from reality.

14. Global Warming

Oh!  Welcome back to reality.  Ok a real issue.  Though I agree with Bast.  Unlikely to wipe us out by 2012.

15. Time Travel Error.

Crap!  Reality has left again.  I cannot summarize what he says.  Only copy it whole sale.  “someone from the future ventures into our past and causes a conflict in the time-space continuum… if it causes us harm in 2012, maybe someone managed to zip back in time and warn the ancients of it?”  I have no idea what kind of end this entails but if you travel back in time and mess things up, why in the world would you run and tell the ancients about it!?  “Hi, I’m a time traveller and I just wanted to know if you could stop making that calendar right there.  Yeah just stop it there.  See I messed up a little bit ago, or will in a long time…whatever.  The point is people need a warning so I wanted to see if we could make it nice and cryptic.  Yeah thats good.”  I hope when this guy got back to the future and told people what he did they flogged him good.

16. Nanotechnology

This is another situation where he doesn’t really explain how he expects this to destroy the world.  Nanotechnology is one of our most promising areas for numerous future endeavors in many fields.  Healthcare not least of all.  He seems to emphasize self-replicating so maybe an overabundance of nanotechs that just go crazy?

17. Supernova

Just as Bast says, there are no nearby stars expected to go supernova in the near (human terms here) future.  Then he says “But how many supernovas have they observed?”  I answer, (using the counts from the last 3 years) about 400 a year.  The Milky Way galaxy produces an average of one supernova about every 50 years.  We’re good on this one.

18. Gene Modification

Again not a fully fleshed out argument here.  He seems to imply that we could be receiving genetic modifications in our vaccines.  These things are well regulated for good reasons (though I think his idea might be stretching it anyways), unless the argument is one of a giant medical field wide conspiracy in which case there are more issues then I can discuss now.

19. Nuclear Accident

Not really a world ender.  We have gotten better at this also.  Yeah I feel like there is more to say but in the context of 2012 I can’t come up with something.

20. Ice Age

His reference for this point in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow”.  No joke.  By all means watch it.  I particularly like people running down the hall to get away from the coming cold (brought menacingly to life by tendrils of ice forming on the walls) to be saved by huddling around a tiny fireplace.  This is not a reference and I have no comment to make.

21. Solar System Falls Apart

Yeah, you read that right.  Did you read it twice?  I know I did.  He does reference a site, that in turn references a Nature article that I don’t have access to.  The gist of this article is that simulations were done to show that Mercury’s orbit could eventually perturb Mars enough to remove it from its orbit.  There are many points I’d like to address but without seeing the real Nature article I’m hesitant to do so.  But here is what I will say.  What purpose was this simulation for?  The article mentions that they “nudged” Mercury’s orbit.  In what way?  As in altering what it’s orbit normally is?  Also the linked site doesn’t seem to have the best grip on the science.  They state that the problem is Mercury’s orbit is a “slightly elongated ellipse”.  Well an ellipse is just an oval…the only non-elongated ellipse is a circle.  No planet has a truly circular orbit.  Nothing is special about Mercury in that respect.  I assume they are trying to refer to the precession of Mercury’s orbit, where the ellipse is essentially swinging around the Sun.  This motion used to be a major issue in astronomy but was explained using General Relativity in the early 1900’s.  Further this prediction is for roughly 5 billion years in the future.  Not a concern for 2012.  Not a concern for ever.  See the Sun is using up it’s fuel.  In right about 5 billion years the Sun will run out of hydrogen, contract it’s core, expand it’s envelope, and become a red giant.  It will swallow Mercury, Venus, and possibly the Earth in doing so.  I’m not worried about Mars when that happens.

22. Large Hadron Collider

Whew!  The last one!  Listen to me.  If the LHC creates miniature black holes, they will not swallow the Earth.  He states, correctly, that CERN scientists said that there was no chance of such a black hole destroying the Earth.  He then links to a real peer-reviewed study that says the growth of black holes to catastrophic sizes does not seem possible.  He is hung up on the word seem.  The point here is that making an abject statement of certainty in a scientific paper is just not done.  Science admits that it is capable of mistakes.  To say that something is 100% true is just not done.  He is hanging this argument on semantics.

A few additional points I want to make here.  Almost none of the topics addressed by Bast and most other 2012 proponents is capable of destroying all life on Earth.  You would need a combination.  You would need several of these things to happen at once.  Now they have predicted a day.  A very particular DAY that this will happen.  What are the chances that a previously stable star will go supernova, while an asteroid strikes the Earth, while flu pandemic kills everybody, while a time traveler says “Oh crap, better go warn the ancients”?  Add that to the point that this was supposed to happen in 2003 and didn’t so it was moved to 2012.  Other arguments I’ve heard that are not on Bast’s list include planetary alignments and that the solar system is passing into the plane of the disk of the galaxy.  Bast seems to have done enough research to throw these out because they are totally wrong.  No special alignment.  The solar system is passing out of the disk (not that it matters).

Also if you look at Bast’s “Possibilities” page (linked earlier in the article) he has three numbers for each topic.  One for each of three categories “Possibility this century”, “Possibility for 2012”, and “Could the ancients predict it”.  I have no idea what the numbers mean.  At first I thought number of possibilities, such as number of asteroids that could strike, but this just doesn’t make sense for many of the topics.  He discusses some probabilities at the bottom of the page which I’m assuming refer to these numbers but I’m not sure how.  Does a 6 mean 60%?  If this is true then he predicts a 100% for machines overthrowing humans this century, and a 70% chance that ancients predicted an alien invasion.  And I have no clue what the sum is at all.  Obviously the sum of the numbers but what does it mean?

I ask you all to forgive me to not going back through and proofreading this at the moment.  It took longer than I expect and I need to go install my new shower head!  My shower is a pitiful thing so I’m trying to bring some new life to it!  Maybe I’ll edit it tomorrow afternoon…either way enjoy my grammatical mistakes!  See you all in 2013!  (And before.)

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