I penned this post earlier in the year, but seeing as the 21st is looming, I thought I’d re-post it…
Ok, so this isn’t strictly a post about earth sciences (unless you believe that the world will self combust in a fit of natural disasters) but this story was just too interesting to pass up.
Reuters recently conducted a poll of 16 000 people in 21 countries, and found that 1 in 10 of Australians believe that the world will end on the 21st December 2012. I thought that statistic was absolutely ridiculous, until I saw the results of the same poll conducted by the Canberra Times, which similarly shows about 10% of polled readers believe the world will end this year.
I’m guessing that some of these people (in both polls) will have answered sarcastically, however, this still leaves a significant number of people who wont be doing Christmas shopping this year.
The notion of the world ending on the 21st December 2012 came about from the belief that the Mayan calendar ended on this date. Some people take this to mean that the world will end dramatically at this time either through massive volcanic eruptions caused by the alignment of certain planetary bodies, or through the reversal of the north and south poles to unknown destructive consequences, or that a large meteorite type thing will collide with the Earth from space (see Adi’s post for an explanation of why that wont happen) (these are just a few explanations I found in my searches, but there are many more).
I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert on the Mayans, but in my brief investigation I found that yes, the Mayan calendar does end on the 21st December 2012, BUT, it only ends one phase of time, much like we celebrate each new year on the 31st December.
I found a post by Dr Karl which explains the calendar really well.
“The Mayans had many calendars, because they saw ‘time’ as a meshing of sacred or spiritual cycles. So while our Gregorian calendar organises days for social, administrative and commercial purposes, the Mayan calendars added a religious element. For example, each day had a patron spirit, and so could be good for travel, but bad for business.
One of their several calendars was called the Long Count. It was set up around 355 BCE, and had as its chosen starting date 0.0.0.0.0, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BCE. And on 21 December 2012, the Mayan Long Count calendar will read 188.8.131.52.0.
Now here’s how it works. Our numbering system is based on 10. But the Mayans had a counting system based on 20, so most of the ‘slots’ in their calendar had 20 potential numbers (0 to 19). The calendar read a little like the odometer in your car’s speedo (which run from 0 to 9). The extreme right slot (of five slots) would count through the days, and when it got to 19 days (0.0.0.0.19) would reset to zero, and the next slot across to the left would increase by one (to 0.0.0.1.0).
So 0.0.0.0.1 was one day, and 0.0.0.1.0 was 20 days. Then 0.0.1.0.0 was about one year, 0.1.0.0.0 was about 20 years and with 184.108.40.206.0, you’ve clocked up about 400 years. And on 21 December 2012, the Mayan Long Count calendar will read 220.127.116.11.0.
By the way, the time between 0.0.0.0.0 and 18.104.22.168.0 is about 5126 years. Now some Mayan archaeo-astronomers reckon that the calendar should reset back to zero and start again. But others disagree and say it should continue to 20, and then reset again.
We don’t have enough information to know who is correct – but if it does go up to 20, then this completely destroys the End of Days Conspiracy Theory, as far as the year 2012 is concerned.”
So there you go. December 21st will come and go, just like December 22nd will. So now there’s no excuse for not buying me a Christmas present!