Date: January 15, 2011

Title: 2012: The End of the World?


Podcaster: CMU Astronomy Class

Organization: Carnegie Mellon University –

Description: We would like to study the source of the Mayan legend to examine whether there is any truth to peoples’ belief that the world will end on 2012. The 2012 phenomenon gets its origin from the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar used by the Maya civilization. December 2012 marks the ending of the current cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar. Therefore, some people believe that this date represents the end of the world. In the form of a lively conversation between friends, we will discuss the reasoning behind seven of the most popular doomsday theories about 2012 and disprove them.

Lucas Schilling:
I grew up on a specialty fruits farm and winery and have been working in sales as a manager there for many years. I started my own fig tree business in 2000 and I grow, propagate and sell fig trees. On the farm, I was always fortunate to stargaze, because it has always been very dark.

Oliver Lam:
I live on an island-city with one of the highest pollution ratings in the world, where most of the sky is blocked by skyscrapers, if not covered by smog. Even when out at sea or visiting the city outskirts, the pollution is so bad I rarely see anything besides planes and the moon in the night sky. The maximum number of stars I’ve seen in a night where I’m from is three. This is quite fitting, because everyone who lives there is so busy they have no time to literally have their head in the clouds.

Steven Yang:
When I was seven my dad gave me a telescope as a birthday present, but I didn’t know how to use it. I just found it a few years ago in a storage box and was able to use it to look at the moon. I saw the July 2009 total solar eclipse in Shanghai, it was quite the experience.

Katherine Cuti:
When I was little, I couldn’t pronounce the word rhinoceros. I don’t drink soda. I’ve seen all the episodes of Stargate SG1 and the only thing I’ve ever won from a raffle was a telescope from the Boston Museum of Science planetarium.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by — no one. We still need sponsors for many days in 2011, so please consider sponsoring a day or two. Just click on the “Donate” button on the lower left side of this webpage, or contact us at


Hello my name is Lucas Schilling.
I’m Oliver Lam.
I’m Steve Yang
and I’m Katherine Cuti
and we’re from Carnegie Mellon University and we’re going to talk today a little bit about 2012, and if the world is going to end.

1: Oh Zoinks! I just watched 2012 the movie, we’re all going to DIE!!!!! There’s still so much I haven’t done . . . I hope the government is building an ark to save us all. Otherwise how are we going to survive 2012?

2: Ahahah! I’m going to have to call Tom-Foolery on that one!

1: It’s true! I just looked it up on the internet, the internet NEVER lies!

2: Ahahah! I’m going to have to call Horse feathers on that one!!

1: Look, it says here that there are seven ways we’re going to die on December 21, 2012!

2: Says who?

1: Says this article, “Seven Reasons Why the Worlds Can End in 2012”

2: What could the first reason possibly be?

1: The Mayan Calendar predicts it! The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar ends on December 21, 2010 and according to this guy named John Major Jenkins, the Mayans ended their calendar on that specific day because it coincides with galactic alignment.

2: Galactic alignment? Sounds like you’ve been watching too much of the SyFy channel lately. What baloney!

1: No really, listen to this! The ecliptic is the path the sun travels across the sky as seen from Earth and There are also 12 constellations, you might know them as the zodiac, that over the course of the year line up with the ecliptic. That means that as the year progresses, the Sun passes through each constellation at some point. Also, every 72 years the Sun’s path recedes counterclockwise by 1 degree, that’s called precession. Basically what this all means is that every 2,160 years the constellation of the winter solstice changes. The constellation of the winter solstice for the past thousand years or so has been Sagittarius, which is the constellation of the zodiac that intersects the galactic equator. Jenkins also says that the Mayans believed that the Great Rift, a band of dark dust clouds in the Milky Way, held special spiritual significance. On December 21, 2012, the ecliptic will intersect with the Great Rift and the world will end!

2: Sounds like a bunch of Codswallop to me! First of all, the galactic equator is a completely arbitrary line and can never be known for sure because it’s impossible to know where the Milky Way begins or ends. Second of all, the end of the Mayan calendar doesn’t mean that there are no more days; it just means that the calendar begins again like ours does after December 31st. Finally if the Mayans were so good at predicting things, did they just conveniently forget to do anything about the fall of their culture or being conquered by the Spanish? Did they? What poppycock!

1: That’s . . . a good point. But wait, there’s more!

2: Alrighty then, what else do you got?

1: Well, the second reason is that the Sun is going to have a really big sun storm, and the radiation will literally bombard the Earth and kill us all! Scientists have shown that Sun’s energy output is cyclical, and currently output is on the rise, when it hits the peak we’ll all burn up!

2: What a bunch of shenanigans. If the Sun’s energy output goes through cycles, then we would have burned up a long, long ago, unless one period of the cycle spans over a long amount of time. In that case, the relative change from year to year would be minimal. It’s currently the end of 2010, do you really think that, given the marginal temperature rise over past years, that the Sun will increase a significant amount of energy in two years? I don’t think so.

1: That’s true too . . . but! The Bible says that Armageddon is going to occur in 2012. The I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, and Hindu scriptures also say this!

2: CLAPTRAP! “Armageddon” as stated by the Bible, is actually a place, it’s not even a time.

1: Oh uh, but the other books!

2: Bah Humbug. Doesn’t everyone and their mom come up with an apocalypse theory? Nostradamus predicted that a giant space objects would collide in 2000 and destroy the Earth. As far as my memory goes, I don’t recall ever getting hit by a space rock in the past 15 years. Next.

1: Well, maybe it’s not going to be something out of control, but WE’RE going to destroy ourselves in 2012! The first important experiment to be performed in the Large Hadron Collider is scheduled for 2012. The experiment is meant to collide particles in an attempt to find out how our universe was created! Possible side effects include the creation of mini black holes! The Earth is going to be crushed by these!

2: Balderdash! Black holes only have as much strength as their mass, so if scientists are colliding particles, these black holes will have the same gravitational pull as the mass of a particle, which is like, it’s like practically nothing.

1: Oh . . . okay. Here’s something that has to be true. Every 750,000 years or so the Earth switches polarity, so that the geographic pole lines up with the magnetic pole. Right now we’re 30,000 years overdue for a switch. When this occurs, the magnetic field that shields us from the Sun’s radiation will no longer protect us and we’ll get fried! That has to be right. It’s happened before!

2: Ha! Bull butter! Again, if this were to happen it would not happen in an instant, it would probably happen over the course of many, many years. If we were actually in the midst of a pole shift, we would have noticed it from our compasses getting wonky. Also, the last magnetic pole switch occurred when our ancestors, homo-erectus, walked the earth, and as far as archaeologists have found, there was no mass extinction around this time. Also, just because we’re 30,000 years overdue doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in the next two years, it could happen in another 30,000 years for all we know. Statistically, this is simply an outlier, although there are models to predict these occurrences, it’s like, it’s very rare that they predict them perfectly.

1: Alright, there are only two reasons left but they are super convincing. I heard there was going to be a super volcano, a volcano bigger than any ever seen before that was going to explode from underneath Yellowstone destroying the atmosphere. People won’t be able to breathe and all the animals will drown in dust and ash. Geological experts are beginning to get nervous sweats. This volcano has a pattern of rising and erupting every 650,000 years or so, and we are many years overdue for this explosion. In addition to breathing troubles, the ash will block the sun and the Earth will plunge into a frozen winter that could last up to 15,000 years.

2: Rubbish I say! Scientists are not sure that such a volcano exists under Yellowstone, and certainly cannot predict that it will be in 2012. It could be thousands of years before a major eruption is seen near Yellowstone, and the explosion may be very small. One might say a hiccup.

1: Ok then, what is your answer for the mathematical proof that says the world is overdue for a catastrophic event very soon. Statisticians have been working with physicists at Berkeley University, and they predict with 99% confidence that the Earth is due for a catastrophe. They say the best chance of one happening is in 2012.

2. Yeah, but you know those silly children at Berkeley are full of hogwash. If those numbers had come from Carnegie Mellon I might think differently. I suppose that we could be in for a catastrophe, but there’s no real way of predicting that one will happen in any given year. It is very unclear what a catastrophe is. I would argue that wars are catastrophes and we have had plenty of those recently. Furthermore, there is no way to calculate how long it is between major events on Earth. They always happen by random chance. Just saying one’s going to happen in 2012 is just ridiculous.

1: So you’re saying 2012 isn’t going to happen?

2: I’m saying there’s definitely going to be a year 2012, but the world won’t be ending just yet. Just treat it like any other year. The only thing that’s ending is the 2012 season of Dancing with the Stars.

1: Aw man! That was my favorite show. Well, thanks for clearing that up for me, but why do you have to be so condescending?

2: Sorry, but myths like this just GRIND MY GEARS!

3: Well, now we know . . . and you do, too!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the Astrosphere New Media Association. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at Until tomorrow…goodbye.