Front Range Community College Blog

Popular 2012 Apocalypse Theories


As most people have heard, the end of the world is upon us, mere days away at this point. According to several popular lines of thought, only the “doomsday preppers” and those invited to ride it out in the secret government bunkers are going to survive the coming apocalypse.

Other ends of the world failed to impress.

However, the more skeptical among us might remember several other ends of the world (2009, 2000, 1999, 1997, etc.) that really failed to impress. So, is there anything to this latest iteration of humanity’s ancient fascination with the end of the world? Should you start planning for the end?

Nobody can decide on cause of the end.

The biggest problem with this latest version of the apocalypse is that nobody can decide on exactly what the cause of the end is going to be. Here are some 2012 apocalypse fan-favorites found on YouTube and other popular sites:

The Belief: The Mayan calendar ends.

The Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012, and Mayan prophecy states the world ends with it.

The Reality: The Mayan calendar does not end on Dec 21. A 394-year-long cycle, called a b’ak’tun, does end on that date, but it is simply followed by the next b’ak’tun, much like the 20th century is followed by the 21st century on our own calendar.

There is also very little evidence at all that the Mayans had any end of the world prophecy, let alone one that ends on Dec 21, 2012. In fact, evidence shows that the Mayans saw the end of a b’ak’tun as an excuse for a having a great party, more than anything else.

The Belief: A large, planet-sized object is on a collision course with Earth.

This object, variously called Nibiru, Nemesis, Hercolubus, Planet X, Comet Elenin, Sedna, or Eris, will either severely damage or destroy the earth.

The Reality: There is absolutely no large object anywhere close to Earth that could possibly affect it. If there were, you could easily go out tonight and see it for yourself. If it were close enough that it were only a few days away from hitting us, it would compete with the moon in brightness. Comet Elenin, Sedna, and Eris are actual solar system objects, although none of them are anywhere near Earth, and not they are visible except in powerful telescopes. Nibiru, Nemesis, Planet X, and Hercolubus are all fictional.

The Belief: Earth will be destroyed by gravitational forces.

Earth is going to align with the center of the galaxy or with other planets in the solar system, and the gravitational interaction with damage or destroy Earth.

The Reality: There is absolutely no large-scale planetary alignment in 2012. In fact, the planets are currently about as scattered as they ever get. A line connecting Earth and the sun will loosely align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy, but that happens every year at this time.

The Belief: The Earth will flip.

The magnetic pole or the rotational spin pole of Earth will soon flip, devastating the surface of the planet.

The Reality: The magnetic field of Earth does wax and wane in strength, and it does flip its polarity, but this takes place over thousands of years. It cannot occur over a few days or weeks. Currently, there is nothing unusual happening with Earth’s magnetic field. It is simply not possible for Earth’s rotational spin axis to suddenly change. That has never happened and it never will. The laws of physics preclude it.

The Belief: Powerful solar storms or solar flares will destroy Earth.

The Reality: Solar storms are real and they can happen anytime. Particularly powerful ones can damage the satellite network or the terrestrial power grid. However, Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protects everything else. We are moving toward Solar Max, the maximum period of solar magnetic activity (currently predicted for May 2013). However, this Solar Max is far more quiet and less active than most of the other solar maxes we have seen.

Global catastrophes are rare.

The simple fact of the matter is that Earth is and has been a safe and nurturing environment for life for over 3.5 billion years. If it were as dangerous as some people would like to believe, we would not be here to ruminate upon that danger. Localized bad things do happen, but global catastrophes are exceedingly rare.

You may find all of this entertaining, but keep in mind there are some people truly frightened by this, to the point of contemplating suicide. This is particularly a problem among the most vulnerable of us, especially young children. Please help spread the word that Dec. 22 will come, just like all of the days that came before.

Day Zero Celebration.

As for me, I will be in the homeland of the Mayans on Dec. 21. Given a choice of spending Doomsday with people who just want to throw a party (the people of the Yucatan call it the Day Zero Celebration) and people who want to hunker in a bunker, eating canned SPAM, which would you choose?

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Mike Smith is the lead instructor for astronomy, geology, and meteorology at the Front Range Community College campus in Fort Collins. He operates the campus observatories, Sunlight Peak on campus and Stargazer at Observatory Village. He has master's degrees in earth sciences and adult education.

4 Responses to “Popular 2012 Apocalypse Theories”

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December 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm, Rebecca Maldonado said:

Great article! It’s a craze how serious some people seem to be taking this situation! I watched a couple episodes of Doomsday Prepers as well as Jesse Venturas Conspiracy Theory, some of it is outrageous! I’ll be taking Astronomy 101 with you this Spring, can’t wait to meet you! Have a great time in Mexico not eating spam ☻

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December 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm, Carmen said:

Mike, Great article. Looks like we both are on the same thought wave regarding the Maya calendar information out there. Have a great time on your trip to your Maya world location.

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December 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm, Mark said:

Is there a public viewing schedule for the sunlight peak observatory. Couple of local scientists very interested in star gazing are inquiring.

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December 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm, John Feeley said:

Sorry, public viewing will resume in the spring semester. We’ll post to this blog when an event is planned.