A NASA Scientist Answers the Top 20 Questions About 2012
PUBLIC CONCERN ABOUT DOOMSDAY IN December 2012 has blossomed into a major new presence on the Internet. This fear has begun to invade cable TV and Hollywood, and it is rapidly spreading internationally. The hoax originally concerned a return of the fictitious planet Nibiru in 2012, but it received a big boost when conspiracy theory websites began to link it to the end of the Mayan calendar long count at the winter solstice (December 21) of 2012. Over the past year, many unrelated groups have joined the doomsday chorus, including Nostradamus advocates, a wide variety of eschatological Christian, Native American, and spiritualist sects, and those who fear comet and asteroid impacts or violent solar storms. At the time of this writing there are more than 175 books listed on Amazon.com dealing with the 2012 doomsday. The most popular topics are the Mayan calendar and spiritual predictions that the disaster in 2012 will usher in a new age of happiness and spiritual growth. Quite a few authors are cashing in with manuals on how to survive 2012.
As this hoax spreads, many more doomsday scenarios are being suggested, mostly unrelated to Nibiru. These include a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, severe solar storms associated with the 11-year solar cycle (which may peak in 2012), a reversal of Earth’s rotation axis, a 90- degree flip of the rotation axis, bombardment by large comets or asteroids, bombardment by gamma rays, or various unspecified lethal rays coming from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy or the “dark rift” seen in a nearby galactic spiral arm. A major theme has become celestial alignments: supposedly the Sun will align with the galactic center (or maybe with the Milky Way Dark Rift) on December 21, 2012, subjecting us to mysterious and potentially deadly forces.
Unlike most pseudoscience stories, there seems to be no factual core on which the Nibiru- 2012 hoax has been constructed. This is different from, for example, the claims of aliens and a crashed UFO at Roswell, New Mexico. The alien stories are a fabrication, but the core fact is that an instrumented balloon did crash in Roswell on July 7, 1947. There is no similar factual core to Nibiru—just dubious “predictions” from psychics, or the Mayans, or Nostradamus. The rest is pure fiction.
I answer questions from the public submitted online to a NASA website, and over the past two years the Nibiru-2012 doomsday has become the dominant topic people ask about. Many are curious about things they have seen on the Internet or TV, but many are also angry about supposed government cover-ups. As one wrote “Why are you lying about Nibiru? Everyone knows it is coming.” Others are genuinely frightened that the world will end just three years from now. My frustration in answering questions piecemeal motivates this “Twenty Questions” format to organize the facts and shine a skeptical light on this accumulation of myths and hoaxes.
1. What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in December 2012?
The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. Zecharia Sitchin, who writes fiction about the ancient Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer, claimed in several books (e.g., The Twelfth Planet, published in 1976) that he has found and translated Sumerian documents that identify the planet Nibiru, orbiting the Sun every 3600 years. These Sumerian fables include stories of “ancient astronauts” visiting Earth from a civilization of aliens called the Anunnaki.
Keep Reading: Skeptic » Reading Room » 2012 and Counting.