Friday, November 6, 2009

The end is nigh!...or not.

Okay, I’m confused.

Find an online discussion group, chances are pretty good that you’re going to find someone touting one end-of-the-world scenario or another. According to one, it’s Planet X, the other it’s some “grand alignment” of the Sun, Earth and galactic core, other’s still it’s this government or other with their Illuminati, Masons, Lizard Space Aliens vaccination, death camps, injected mind-control device, invasion of the body snatchers…take your pick! There’s so many scenarios, you’re almost faced with an embarrassment of riches for ways in which to shout “The End is Nigh!!!!” They even clash and contradict…”It’s the Illuminati,” “No, it’s the space aliens,” “Pole shift!” “No, they do,” “Yes, they don’t.”

And as the calendar shuffles through the 20-aughts, a veritable doomsday “religion” is growing out of the belief that 2012 is the year that it all comes to a crashing end. A smaller group contends it’s a shift in “consciousness,” the details of which are, of course, a tad sketchy. But the ones getting the most traction are the big “We’re all going to Die!!” scenarios. Nice to have something to look forward to, isn’t it?

Want someone to blame it on? How about the Mayans?

Bit of background: Centuries ago, a large Central American civilization developed as civilizations do, growing, coming to prominence and then dying out for a variety of sociological factors. The Maya were a people who were superb astronomers, mathematicians and obsessed with time-keeping. They developed a calendar that relied on several cycles of the passage of time, culminating in the “long count” calendar. The latest cycle expected to end in what, by our calendar, corresponds to 2012.

For years, this has spawned a minor cottage industry of doomsayers who are convinced any one of these scenarios is going to mean the end of everything. Books have been written and a quick scan through the Internet will find no shortage of sites with some whacky predictions. So let’s take a look at these

One of my favourites is “Planet X.” This is the idea that an unseen companion to the sun – a “brown dwarf” by many accounts - is on its way to the inner solar system and will cause all manner of disruption to Earth’s orbit and the alignment of the poles. The problem with that is, there’s absolutely NO evidence for such a companion.

Of course, there are those that argue that the “government” is hiding the truth. Of course, this ignores a considerable amount of actual astronomy. Particularly laughable is the idea that an object the diameter of Jupiter and with a mass eight times or greater could “hide” in the outer solar system. And let’s not forget the thousands of amateur telescopes pointing with access to the night sky.

Then there’s the “grand alignment” of the sun with the galaxy’s core. On Dec. 21, 2012, the sun is supposed to miraculously align with the center of the galaxy, resulting in some strange channel of “energy” opening up, etc., etc.

Okay, some basic information: Core of the galaxy (RA refers to "right ascension" in hours, minutes and seconds, Dec refers to "declination" in degrees, minutes and seconds)
RA 17h45m40.04s, Dec -29deg 00' 28.1" Sun's position on Dec. 21, 2009 will be RA 17 h, 59m 44 s, Dec -23deg 26' 28". On Dec. 21, 2012, the sun’s position will be RA 18h 0m 57s, Dec. -23 deg 26' 22"

So the sun's position will be more than one hour of arc further east from the relative position of the centre of the galaxy's position in the sky in RA, and less than 6 seconds of arc further north in declination. In the meantime, the sun doesn't come closer than 6 degrees of the known galactic centre's relative position. Again, remembering that we are 26,000 light years away from the galaxy's true centre...thankfully. By comparison, Jupiter is the largest planet in the sky and subtends just 45 arc seconds across the sky while the moon covers half a degree.

Most mysterious of all is the “pole shift.” Some how, either Earth’s magnetic field is supposed to spontaneously flip over night or the Earth itself is expected to flip end-over-end, either through magnetic flux from the sun or gravity of said Planet X. Magnetic flips of polarity do occur but they take time and, of course, life has continued onward throughout the eons as it has. So strike that one. In the meantime, nothing has ever actually “flipped” so how it’s supposed to happen now is beyond comprehension.

Of course, one might find such stuff little more than entertaining diversion and, for most of us, they’d be right. What worries me is the small groups, like those who upon learning of a “Saturn-like object following” Comet Hale-Bopp (it was actually a star distorted by the photographic process) decided the mothership had arrived to take their souls and they committed suicide.

The general interest in such doomsday scenarios also speaks to a more fundamental flaw in humanity…the obsession with our own demise. We seem obsessed with death, an obsession that plays out in any number of disturbing and destructive ways.

Me, I prefer to look to the future. Like, Jan. 1, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. We needs another conspiracy theory (with great theme music)...