What’s the worst possible thing that could happen in 2012? It just depends who’s boat your sitting on. For Doomsayers, 2012 is The Apocolypse, The End of Days – much like Harold Camping’s Rapture, May 21, 2011 and October 21, 2011 – For those of us still sat here asking wtf are you dribbling on about?
That überpopular Princeton wiz Michio Kaku – you’ll know who he is when you see the video – dispells a bundle of crackpot prophetic theories via his Big Think session.
The 2012 doomsday prophecies are many and varied, principally comprising of a range of eschatological beliefs according to which cataclysmic events will occur on December 21, 2012. This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, and the crackpots swear by it!
Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae have been proposed as pertaining to this date, though none have been accepted by mainstream scholars, most likely due to the fact that since man began to look up and count at the same time he’s been predicting some form of galactic doom ::::
According to Skeptic.com; 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. Then Nancy Lieder, a self-declared psychic who claims she is channeling aliens, wrote on her website Zetatalk that the inhabitants of a fictional planet around the star Zeta Reticuli warned her that the Earth was in danger from Planet X or Nibiru. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was recalculated (a standard procedure for doomsdayers) and moved forward to December 2012. Only recently have these two fables been linked to the end of the Mayan long-count at the winter solstice in 2012—hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.
Okay, enough with the hocus pocus, 2012 does have some serious – though possibly dubious – predictions ahead, Michio Kaku took to bigthink.com to address the doomsday prophecies for this year. He discredits any ideas that suggest there will be comet impacts or planet alignments. He does, however, say that a solar flare would cause unimaginable chaos to the world today. We get solar flares every few years and they never cause much harm. What Kaku warns against is something similar to the Carrington Event.
The Carrington Event was a famous solar flare that occurred on September 1, 1859. Richard Carrington, one of England’s foremost astronomers, noticed an enormous group of sunspots. As NASA explains, just before dawn of the next day, skies all over planet Earth turned red, green and purple in a massive aurora that could even be seen in tropical environments. Telegraph systems went completely haywire. Telegraph operators were shocked and paper in telegraph offices was set on fire. The telegraph systems were disconnected and the solar flare itself began operating the lines.
This all comes back to the idea that a solar flare on the scale of the Carrington Event could happen in 2012. What would that mean for us? Kaku explains that a solar flare of that magnitude would knock out most of our satellites, telecommunication systems and even the Internet. Thankfully, it appears that such a solar flare happening again within our lifetime is unlikely. Whenever the sun ejects solar flares after flipping its magnetic poles every 11 years, the Earth dodges most of the energy due to its small size.
The chance for another Carrington Event is still possible, NASA is currently petitioning for money to upgrade current systems to withstand massive solar flares, with the space budget halved over the last 2 years, it’s unlikely they’ll see a penny!?
Michio Kaku (加来 道雄 Kaku Michio, born January 24, 1947) is an American theoretical physicist, the Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics in the City College of New York of City University of New York, the co-founder of string field theory, and a “communicator” and “popularizer” of science. He has written several books about physics and related topics; he has made frequent appearances on radio, television, and film; and he writes extensive online blogs and articles.
Kaku was born in San Jose, California to Japanese immigrant parents. His grandfather came to the United States to take part in the clean-up operation after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. His father was born in California but was educated in Japan and spoke little English. Both his parents were put in the Tule Lake War Relocation Center, where they met and where his two brothers were born.
At Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, Kaku assembled an atom smasher in his parent’s garage for a science fair project. At the National Science Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he attracted the attention of physicist Edward Teller, who took Kaku as a protégé, awarding him the Hertz Engineering Scholarship. Kaku graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1968 and was first in his physics class. He attended the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley and received a Ph.D. in 1972, and in 1972 he held a lectureship at Princeton University.
During the Vietnam War, Kaku completed his U.S. Army basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia and his advanced individual training at Fort Lewis, Washington. However, the Vietnam War ended before he was deployed as an infantryman.
Kaku became a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and New York University. He currently holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics at the City College of New York.
Kaku has had over 70 articles published in physics journals such as Physical Review, covering topics such as superstring theory, supergravity, supersymmetry, and hadronic physics. In 1974, along with Prof.Keiji Kikkawa of Osaka University, he authored the first papers describing string theory in a field form.
Kaku is the author of several textbooks on string theory and quantum field theory.
Kaku is most widely known as a popularizer of science. He has written books and appeared on many television programs as well as film. He also hosts a weekly radio program.
- Hyperspace (1994)
- Beyond Einstein (with Jennifer Thompson) (1995)
- Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century (1998)
- Einstein’s Cosmos (2004)
- Parallel Worlds (2004)
- Physics of the Impossible (2008)
- Physics of the Future (2011)
In The Media
Kaku is the host of the weekly, one-hour radio program Explorations, produced by the Pacifica Foundation’s WBAI in New York. “Explorations” is syndicated to community and independent radio stations and makes previous broadcasts available on the program’s website. Kaku defines the show as dealing with the general topics of science, war, peace, and the environment.
In April 2006, Kaku began broadcasting Science Fantastic on 90 commercial radio stations, the only nationally syndicated science program on commercial radio in the United States. It is syndicated by Talk Radio Network and now reaches 130 radio stations and America’s Talk on XM. The program is formatted as a live listener call-in show, focusing on “futurology,” which he defines as the future of science. Featured guests include Nobel laureates and top researchers on the topics of string theory, time travel, black holes, gene therapy, aging, space travel, artificial intelligence, and SETI. When Kaku is busy filming for television, Science Fantastic goes on hiatus, sometimes for several months. Kaku is also a frequent guest on many programs, where he is outspoken in all areas and issues he considers of importance, such as the program “Coast to Coast AM,” where on 30 November 2007, he reaffirmed his belief that there is a 100% probability of extraterrestrial life in the universe.
Kaku has appeared on The Opie and Anthony Show a number of times, discussing popular fiction such as Back to The Future, Lost, and the theories behind time-travel that these and other fictional entertainment focus on.
Television & Film
Kaku has appeared in many forms of media and on many programs and networks, including Good Morning America, The Screen Savers, Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, Nightline, 20/20, Naked Science, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, Al Jazeera English, Fox News Channel, The History Channel, Conan, The Science Channel, The Discovery Channel, TLC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The Colbert Report, The Art Bell Show and its successor, Coast To Coast AM, BBC World News America, The Opie & Anthony Show, The Covino & Rich Show, Head Rush, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Real Time with Bill Maher.
- We Are the Guinea Pigs (1980)
- Borders (1989)
- Synthetic Pleasures (1995)
- Einstein Revealed (1996)
- Future Fantastic (1996)
- Stephen Hawking’s Universe (1997)
- Bioperfection: Building a New Human Race (1998)
- Exodus Earth (1999)
- Me & Isaac Newton (1999)
- Space: The Final Junkyard (1999)
- Big Questions (2001)
- Parallel Universes (2001)
- Horizon: “Time travel” (2003)
- Robo sapiens (2003)
- Brilliant Minds: Secret Of The Cosmos (2003)
- Nova: “The Elegant Universe” (2003)
- Hawking (2004)
- The Screen Savers (2004)
- Unscrewed with Martin Sargent (2004)
- Alien Planet (2005)
- ABC News “UFOs: Seeing Is Believing” (2005)
- HARDtalk Extra (2005)
- Last Days on Earth (2005)
- Obsessed & Scientific (2005)
- Horizon: “Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony” (2005)
- Prophets of Science Fiction (2006)
- Time (2006)
- 2057 (2007)
- The Universe (2007)
- Futurecar (2007)
- Attack of the Show! (2007)
- Visions of the Future (2008)
- Horizon: “The President’s Guide to Science” (2008)
- Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe (2008)
- Horizon: “Who’s Afraid of a Big Black Hole” (2009–2010)
- Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible (2009–2010)
- Horizon: “What Happened Before the Big Bang?” (2010)
- GameTrailers TV With Geoff Keighley: “The Science of Games” (2010)
- How the Universe Works (2010)
- Through the Wormhole (2011)
- Horizon: “What Happened Before the Big Bang?” (2011)
In 1999, Kaku was one of the scientists profiled in the feature-length film Me and Isaac Newton, directed by Michael Apted. It played theatrically in the United States, was later broadcast on national TV, and won several film awards.
In 2005, Kaku appeared in the short documentary Obsessed & Scientific. The film is about the possibility of time travel and the people who dream about it. It screened at the Montreal World Film Festival and a feature film expansion is in development talks. Kaku also appeared in the ABC documentary UFOs: Seeing Is Believing, in which he suggested that while he believes it is extremely unlikely that extraterrestrials have ever actually visited Earth, we must keep our minds open to the possible existence of civilizations a million years ahead of us in technology, where entirely new avenues of physics open up. He also discussed the future of interstellar exploration and alien life in the Discovery Channel special Alien Planet as one of the multiple speakers who co-hosted the show, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity on The History Channel.
In February 2006, Kaku appeared as presenter in the BBC-TV four-part documentary Time which seeks to explore the mysterious nature of time. Part one of the series concerns personal time, and how we perceive and measure the passing of time. The second in the series deal with cheating time, exploring possibilities of extending the lifespan of organisms. The geological time covered in part three explores the ages of the earth and the sun. Part four covers the topics of cosmological time, the beginning of time and the events that occurred at the instant of the big bang.
On January 28, 2007, Kaku hosted the Discovery Channel series 2057. This three-hour program discussed how medicine, the city, and energy could change over the next 50 years.
In 2008, Kaku hosted the three-hour BBC-TV documentary Visions of the Future, on the future of computers, medicine, and quantum physics, and he appeared in several episodes of the History Channel’s Universe series.
On December 1, 2009, he began hosting a 12-episode weekly TV series for the Science Channel at 10 pm, called Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible, based on his best-selling book. Each 30-minute episode discusses the scientific basis behind imaginative schemes, such as time travel, parallel universes, warp drive, star ships, light sabers, force fields, teleportation, invisibility, death stars, and even superpowers and flying saucers. Each episode includes interviews with the world’s top scientists working on prototypes of these technologies, interviews with science fiction fans, clips from science fiction movies, and special effects and computer graphics. Although these inventions are impossible today, the series discusses when these technologies might become feasible in the future.
In 2010, he began to appear in a series on the website Gametrailers.com called Science of Games, discussing the scientific aspects of various popular video games such as Mass Effect 2 and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
Kaku is popular in mainstream media because of his knowledge and his accessible approach to presenting complex subjects in science. While his technical writings are confined to theoretical physics, his public speaking and media appearances cover a broad range of topics, from the Kardashev scale to more esoteric subjects such as wormholes and time travel. In January 2007, Kaku visited Oman. While there, he talked at length to select members of that country’s decision makers. In an interview with local media, Dr Kaku elaborated on his vision of mankind’s future. Kaku considers climate change and terrorism as serious threats in man’s evolution from a Type 0 civilization to Type 1.
He is pictured in Symphony of Science’s newest song (as of September 6, 2011), ‘The Quantum World.’
On October 11, 2010, Michio Kaku appeared in the BBC program “What Happened Before the Big Bang” (along with Laura Mersini-Houghton, Andrei Linde, Roger Penrose, Lee Smolin, Neil Turok, and other notable cosmologists and physicists), where he propounded his theory of the universe created out of nothing.
Social Policy Advocacy
Kaku has publicly stated his concerns over matters including the anthropogenic cause of global warming, nuclear armament, nuclear power and the general misuse of science. He was critical of the Cassini–Huygens space probe because of the 72 pounds (33 kg) of plutonium contained in the craft for use by its radioisotope thermoelectric generator. Conscious of the possibility of casualties if the probe’s fuel were dispersed into the environment during a malfunction and crash as the probe was making a ‘sling-shot’ maneuver around earth, Kaku publicly criticized NASA’s risk assessment. He has also spoken on the dangers of space junk and called for more and better monitoring. Kaku is generally a vigorous supporter of the exploration of outer space, believing that the ultimate destiny of the human race may lie in extrasolar planets; but he is critical of some of the cost-ineffective missions and methods of NASA.
Kaku credits his anti-nuclear war position to programs he heard on the Pacifica Radio network, during his student years in California. It was during this period that he made the decision to turn away from a career developing the next generation of nuclear weapons in association with Edward Teller and focused on research, teaching, writing and media. Kaku joined with others such as Helen Caldicott, Jonathan Schell, Peace Action and was instrumental in building a global anti-nuclear weapons movement that arose in the 1980s, during the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
Kaku was a board member of Peace Action and on the board of radio station WBAI-FM in New York City where he originated his long running program, Explorations, that focused on the issues of science, war, peace and the environment.
His remark from an interview in support of SETI, “We could be in the middle of an intergalactic conversation…and we wouldn’t even know.”, is used in the third Symphony of Science installment “Our Place in the Cosmos”.
The solar storm of 1859, also known as the Solar Superstorm, or the Carrington Event, which occurred during solar cycle 10, was the most powerful solar storm in recorded history, and the largest flare, observed by Richard Christopher Carrington, became known as the Carrington Super Flare.
From August 28, 1859, until September 2, numerous sunspots and solar flares were observed on the sun. Just before noon on September 1, the British astronomer Richard Carrington observed the largest flare, which caused a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) to travel directly toward Earth, taking 18 hours. This is remarkable because such a journey normally takes three to four days. It moved so quickly because an earlier CME had cleared the way.
Carrington Super Flare
On 1 September 1859, Carrington and Richard Hodgson, another English amateur astronomer, independently made the first observations of a solar flare. Because of a simultaneous “crochet” observed in the Kew Observatory magnetometer record by Balfour Stewart and a geomagnetic storm observed the following day, Carrington suspected a solar-terrestrial connection. World wide reports on the effects of the geomagnetic storm of 1859 were compiled and published by Elias Loomis which support the observations of Carrington and Balfour Stewart.
On September 1–2, 1859, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, most notably over the Caribbean; also noteworthy were those over the Rocky Mountains that were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. People who happened to be awake in the northeastern US could read a newspaper by the aurora’s light.
Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases even shocking telegraph operators. Telegraph pylons threw sparks and telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire. Some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.
On September 3, 1859, the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser reported, “Those who happened to be out late on Thursday night had an opportunity of witnessing another magnificent display of the auroral lights. The phenomenon was very similar to the display on Sunday night, though at times the light was, if possible, more brilliant, and the prismatic hues more varied and gorgeous. The light appeared to cover the whole firmament, apparently like a luminous cloud, through which the stars of the larger magnitude indistinctly shone. The light was greater than that of the moon at its full, but had an indescribable softness and delicacy that seemed to envelop everything upon which it rested. Between 12 and 1 o’clock, when the display was at its full brilliancy, the quiet streets of the city resting under this strange light, presented a beautiful as well as singular appearance.”
Geomagnetic Storm and Auroras
The geomagnetic storm causing this event was itself the result of a coronal mass ejection on March 9, 1989. Three and a half days later, at 2:44 am EST on March 13, 1989, a severe geomagnetic storm struck Earth. The storm began on Earth with extremely intense auroras at the poles. The aurora could be seen as far south as Texas. As this occurred during the Cold War, many worried that a nuclear first-strike might be in progress. Others considered the intense auroras to be associated with the Space Shuttle mission STS-29, which had been launched on March 13 at 9:57:00 AM. The burst caused short-wave radio interference, including the disruption of radio signals from Radio Free Europe into Russia. It was initially believed that the signals had been jammed by the Soviet government.
As midnight came and went, invisible electromagnetic forces were staging their own pitched battle in a vast arena bounded by the sky above and the rocky subterranean reaches of the Earth. A river of charged particles and electrons in the ionosphere flowed from west to east, inducing powerful electrical currents in the ground that surged into many natural nooks and crannies.
Some satellites in polar orbits lost control for several hours. GOES weather satellite communications were interrupted causing weather images to be lost. NASA’s TDRS-1 communication satellite recorded over 250 anomalies caused by the increased particles flowing into its sensitive electronics. The Space Shuttle Discovery was having its own problems. A sensor on one of the tanks supplying hydrogen to a fuel cell was showing unusually high pressure readings on March 13. The problem went away after the solar storm subsided.
The variations in the earth’s magnetic field also tripped circuit breakers on Hydro-Québec’s power grid. The utility’s very long transmission lines and the fact that most of Quebec sits on a large rock shield prevented current flowing through the earth, finding a less resistant path along the 735 kV power lines.
The James Bay network went offline in less than 90 seconds, giving Quebec its second massive blackout in 11 months. The power failure lasted 9 hours and forced the company to implement various mitigation strategies, including raising the trip level, installing series compensation on ultra high voltage lines and upgrading various monitoring and operational procedures. Other utilities in North America, the UK, Northern Europe and elsewhere implemented programs to reduce the risks associated withgeomagnetically induced currents.
In August 1989, another storm caused a halt of all trading on Toronto’s stock market. Since 1995, geomagnetic storms and solar flares have been monitored from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency.
Ice cores contain thin nitrate-rich layers that can be used to reconstruct a history of past events before reliable observations. These show evidence that events of this magnitude—as measured by high-energy proton radiation, not geomagnetic effect—occur approximately once per 500 years, with events at least one-fifth as large occurring several times per century. Less severe storms have occurred in 1921 and 1960, when widespread radio disruption was reported.
A geomagnetic storm of this sort today would cause billions of dollars of damage to satellites, power grids and radio communications, and could cause electrical blackouts on a massive scale that might not be repaired for weeks.
A solar flare is a sudden brightening observed over the Sun surface or the solar limb, which is interpreted as a large energy release of up to 6 × 1025 joules of energy (about a sixth of the total energy output of the Sun each second). The flare ejects clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms through the corona into space. These clouds typically reach Earth a day or two after the event. The term is also used to refer to similar phenomena in other stars, where the term stellar flare applies.
Solar flares affect all layers of the solar atmosphere (photosphere, chromosphere, and corona), when the medium plasma is heated to tens of millions of kelvins and electrons, protons, and heavier ions are accelerated to near the speed of light. They produce radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum at all wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays, although most of the energy goes to frequencies outside the visual range and for this reason the majority of the flares are not visible to the naked eye and must be observed with special instruments. Flares occur in active regions around sunspots, where intense magnetic fields penetrate the photosphere to link the corona to the solar interior. Flares are powered by the sudden (timescales of minutes to tens of minutes) release of magnetic energy stored in the corona. The same energy releases may produce coronal mass ejections (CME), although the relation between CMEs and flares is still not well established.
X-rays and UV radiation emitted by solar flares can affect Earth’s ionosphere and disrupt long-range radio communications. Direct radio emission at decimetric wavelengths may disturb operation of radars and other devices operating at these frequencies.
Solar flares were first observed on the Sun by Richard Christopher Carrington and independently by Richard Hodgson in 1859 as localized visible brightenings of small areas within a sunspot group. Stellar flares have also been observed on a variety of other stars.
The frequency of occurrence of solar flares varies, from several per day when the Sun is particularly “active” to less than one every week when the Sun is “quiet”, following the 11-year cycle (the solar cycle). Large flares are less frequent than smaller ones.
Flares occur when accelerated charged particles, mainly electrons, interact with the plasma medium. Scientific research has shown that the phenomenon of magnetic reconnection is responsible for the acceleration of the charged particles. On the Sun, magnetic reconnection may happen on solar arcades – a series of closely occurring loops of magnetic lines of force. These lines of force quickly reconnect into a low arcade of loops leaving a helix of magnetic field unconnected to the rest of the arcade. The sudden release of energy in this reconnection is in the origin of the particle acceleration. The unconnected magnetic helical field and the material that it contains may violently expand outwards forming a coronal mass ejection. This also explains why solar flares typically erupt from what are known as the active regions on the Sun where magnetic fields are much stronger on an average.
Although there is a general agreement on the flares’ causes, the details are still not well known. It is not clear how the magnetic energy is transformed into the particle kinetic energy, nor it is known how the particles are accelerated to energies as high as 10 MeV (Mega Electronvolt) and beyond. There are also some inconsistencies regarding the total number of accelerated particles, which sometimes seems to be greater than the total number in the coronal loop. We are unable to forecast flares, even to this day.
Solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M or X according to the peak flux (in watts per square meter, W/m2) of 100 to 800 picometer X-rays near Earth, as measured on the GOES spacecraft.
|Classification||Peak Flux Range at 100-800 picometer|
|B||10-7 – 10-6|
|C||10-6 – 10-5|
|M||10-5 – 10-4|
Each class has a peak flux ten times greater than the preceding one. Within a class there is a linear scale from 1 to 9 (multiplicative factor), so an X2 flare (2 x 10−4 W/m2) is twice as powerful as an X1 flare (10−4 W/m2), and is four times more powerful than an M5 flare (5 x 10−5 W/m2). The more powerful M and X class flares are often associated with a variety of effects on the near-Earth space environment. This extended logarithmic classification is necessary because the total energies of flares range over many orders of magnitude, following a uniform distribution with flare frequency roughly proportional to the inverse of the total energy. Stellar flares and earthquakes show similar power-law distributions.
Another flare classification is based on Hα spectral observations. The scheme uses both the intensity and emitting surface. The classification in intensity is qualitative, referring the flares as: (f)aint, (n)ormal or (b)rilliant. The emitting surface is measured in terms of millionths of the hemisphere and is described below (The total hemisphere area AH = 6.2 × 1012 km2.)
|[millionths of hemisphere]|
|1||100 – 250|
|2||250 – 600|
|3||600 – 1200|
A flare then is classified taking S or a number that represents its size and a letter that represents its peak intensity, v.g.: Sn is a normal subflare.
Solar flares strongly influence the local space weather in the vicinity of the Earth. They can produce streams of highly energetic particles in the solar wind, known as a solar proton event, or “coronal mass ejection” (CME). These particles can impact the Earth’s magnetosphere (see main article at geomagnetic storm), and present radiation hazards to spacecraft, astronauts and cosmonauts.
Massive solar flares are sometimes associated with Coronal Mass Ejections which can trigger geomagnetic storms that have been known to knock out electric power for extended periods of time.
The soft X-ray flux of X class flares increases the ionization of the upper atmosphere, which can interfere with short-wave radio communication and can heat the outer atmosphere and thus increase the drag on low orbiting satellites, leading to orbital decay. Energetic particles in the magnetosphere contribute to the aurora borealis and aurora australis. Energy in the form of hard x-rays can be damaging to spacecraft electronics and are generally the result of large plasma ejection in the upper chromosphere.
The radiation risks posed by coronal mass ejections are a major concern in discussions of a manned mission to Mars, the moon, or other planets. Energetic protons can pass through the human body, causing biochemical damage, and hence present a hazard to astronauts during interplanetary travel. Some kind of physical or magnetic shielding would be required to protect the astronauts. Most proton storms take two or more hours from the time of visual detection to reach Earth’s orbit. A solar flare on January 20, 2005 released the highest concentration of protons ever directly measured, taking only 15 minutes after observation to reach Earth, indicating a velocity of approximately one-third light speed, giving astronauts as little as 15 minutes to reach shelter.
Flares produce radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, although with different intensity. They are not very intense at white light, but they can be very bright at particular atomic lines. They normally producebremsstrahlung in X-Rays and synchrotron radiation in radio.
Optical Observations. Richard Carrington observed for the first time a flare on 1 September 1859 projecting the image produced by an optical telescope, without filters. It was an extraordinarily intense white light flare. Since flares produce copious amounts of radiation at Hα, adding a narrow ( ≈1 Å) passband filter centered at this wavelength to the optical telescope, allows the observation of not very bright flares with small telescopes. For years Hα was the main, if not the only, source of information about solar flares. Other passband filters are also used.
Radio Observations. During World War II, on 25 and 26 February 1942, British radar operators observed radiation that Stanley Hey interpreted as solar emission. Their discovery did not go to public until the end of the conflict. The same year Southword also observed the Sun in radio, but as with Hey, his observations were only known after 1945. In 1943 Grote Reber was the first to report radioastronomical observations of the Sun at 160 MHz. The fast development of Radioastronomy revealed new peculiarities of the solar activity like storms and bursts related with the flares. Today ground based radiotelescopes observe the Sun from ~100 MHz up to 400 GHz.
Space Telescopes. Since the beginning of the Space exploration, satellites bring to space telescopes that work at wavelengths below the UV, which are completely absorbed by the atmosphere, and where flares may be very bright. Since the 1970s, the GOES series of satellites observe the Sun at Soft X-Rays, and their observations became the standard measure of flares, relegating in some sense, the Hα classification.Hard X-Rays were observed by many different instruments, being today the most important the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI). Nonetheless, UV observations are today the stars of the solar imaging with their incredible fine details that reveal the complexity of the Solar Corona. Spacecraft may bring also radio detectors at very very long wavelengths (as long as a few km) that cannot propagate through the Ionosphere.
Coronal Mass Ejection
A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a massive burst of solar wind, other light isotope plasma, and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space.
Coronal mass ejections are often associated with other forms of solar activity, most notably solar flares, but a causal relationship has not been established. Most ejections originate from active regions on Sun’s surface, such as groupings of sunspots associated with frequent flares. Near solar maxima the Sun produces about three CMEs every day, whereas near solar minima there is about one CME every five days.
Coronal mass ejections release huge quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space above the sun’s surface, either near the corona (sometimes called a solar prominence) or farther into the planet system or beyond (interplanetary CME). The ejected material is a plasma consisting primarily of electrons and protons, but may contain small quantities of heavier elements such as helium, oxygen, and even iron. It is associated with enormous changes and disturbances in the coronal magnetic field.
Coronal mass ejections are usually observed with a white-light coronagraph.
Recent scientific research has shown that the phenomenon of magnetic reconnection is responsible for CME and solar flares. Magnetic reconnection is the name given to the rearrangement of magnetic field lines when two oppositely directed magnetic fields are brought together. This rearrangement is accompanied with a sudden release of energy stored in the original oppositely directed fields.
On the sun, magnetic reconnection may happen on solar arcades—a series of closely occurring loops of magnetic lines of force. These lines of force quickly reconnect into a low arcade of loops, leaving a helix of magnetic field unconnected to the rest of the arcade. The sudden release of energy in this reconnection causes the solar flare. The unconnected magnetic helical field and the material that it contains may violently expand outwards forming a CME.
This also explains why CMEs and solar flares typically erupt from what are known as the active regions on the sun where magnetic fields are much stronger on average.
When the ejection is directed towards the Earth and reaches it as an interplanetary CME (ICME), the shock wave of the traveling mass of Solar Energetic Particles causes a geomagnetic storm that may disrupt the Earth’s magnetosphere, compressing it on the day side and extending the night-side magnetic tail. When the magnetosphere reconnects on the nightside, it releases power on the order of terawatt scale, which is directed back toward the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
This process can cause particularly strong aurorae in large regions around Earth’s magnetic poles. These are also known as the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in the northern hemisphere, and the Southern Lights (aurora australis) in the southern hemisphere. Coronal mass ejections, along with solar flares of other origin, can disrupt radio transmissions and cause damage to satellites and electrical transmission linefacilities, resulting in potentially massive and long-lasting power outages.
Humans in space or at high altitudes, for example, in airplanes, risk exposure to intense radiation. Short-term damage may include skin irritation with potential increased risk of developing skin cancer, but it’s likely that any affected individuals would recover from any such exposure.
A typical coronal mass ejection may have any or all of three distinctive features: a cavity of low electron density, a dense core (the prominence, which appears as a bright region on coronagraph images embedded in this cavity), and a bright leading edge.
Most ejections originate from active regions on the surface, such as groupings of sunspots associated with frequent flares. These regions have closed magnetic field lines, in which the magnetic field strength is large enough to contain the plasma. These field lines must be broken or weakened for the ejection to escape from the sun. However, CMEs may also be initiated in quiet surface regions, although in many cases the quiet region was recently active. During solar minimum, CMEs form primarily in the coronal streamer belt near the solar magnetic equator. During solar maximum, they originate from active regions whose latitudinal distribution is more homogeneous.
Coronal mass ejections reach velocities between 20km/s to 3200km/s with an average speed of 489km/s, based on SOHO/LASCO measurements between 1996 and 2003. The average mass is 1.6×1012kg. The values are only lower limits, because coronagraph measurements provide only two-dimensional data analysis. The frequency of ejections depends on the phase of the solar cycle: from about one every fifth day near the solar minimum to 3.5 per day near the solar maximum. These values are also lower limits because ejections propagating away from Earth (backside CMEs) can usually not be detected by coronagraphs.
Current knowledge of coronal mass ejection kinematics indicates that the ejection starts with an initial pre-acceleration phase characterized by a slow rising motion, followed by a period of rapid acceleration away from the Sun until a near-constant velocity is reached. Some balloon CMEs, usually the slowest ones, lack this three-stage evolution, instead accelerating slowly and continuously throughout their flight. Even for CMEs with a well-defined acceleration stage, the pre-acceleration stage is often absent, or perhaps unobservable.
The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs according to which cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012. This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae have been proposed as pertaining to this date, though none have been accepted by mainstream scholarship.
A New Age interpretation of this transition is that this date marks the start of time in which Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios suggested for the end of the world include the arrival of the next solar maximum, or Earth’s collision with ablack hole, passing asteroid or a planet called “Nibiru”.
Scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea of such cataclysmic events occurring in 2012. Professional Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the extant classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar “ends” in 2012 misrepresents Maya history and culture. Astronomers and other scientists have rejected the proposed events as pseudoscience, stating that they are contradicted by simple astronomical observations.
December 2012 marks the conclusion of a b’ak’tun—a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Although the Long Count was most likely invented by the Olmec, it has become closely associated with the Maya civilization, whose classic period lasted from 250 to 900 AD. The writing system of the classic Maya has been substantially deciphered, meaning that a corpus of their written and inscribed material has survived from before the European conquest.
Unlike the 52-year Calendar Round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20: 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k’atun, and 20 k’atuns (144,000 days or roughly 394 years) made up a b’ak’tun. Thus, the Mayan date of 22.214.171.124.15 represents 8 b’ak’tuns, 3 k’atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days.
There is a strong tradition of “world ages” in Mayan literature, but the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open to interpretation. According to the Popol Vuh, a compilation of the creation accounts of the K’iche’ Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the gods first creating three failed worlds, followed by a successful fourth world in which humanity was placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b’ak’tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. The Long Count’s “zero date” was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. This means that the fourth world will also have reached the end of its 13th b’ak’tun, or Mayan date 126.96.36.199.0, on December 21, 2012. In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that “the completion of a Great Period of 13 b’ak’tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya”. In 1966, Michael D. Coe wrote in The Maya that “there is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b’ak’tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”
Coe’s interpretation was repeated by other scholars through the early 1990s. In contrast, later researchers said that, while the end of the 13th b’ak’tun would perhaps be a cause for celebration, it did not mark the end of the calendar. “There is nothing in the Maya or Aztec or ancient Mesoamerican prophecy to suggest that they prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012,” said Mayanist scholar Mark Van Stone. “The notion of a “Great Cycle” coming to an end is completely a modern invention.” In 1990, Mayanist scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel argued that the Maya “did not conceive this to be the end of creation, as many have suggested.” Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated that “We have no record or knowledge that [the Maya] would think the world would come to an end” in 2012. “For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle,” said Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. The 2012 phenomenon, she said, is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.” “There will be another cycle,” said E. Wyllys Andrews V, director of the Tulane University Middle American Research Institute. “We know the Maya thought there was one before this, and that implies they were comfortable with the idea of another one after this.”
Several prominent individuals representing Maya of Guatemala decried the suggestion that the world ends on b’ak’tun 13. Ricardo Cajas, president of the Colectivo de Organizaciones Indígenas de Guatemala, said the date did not represent an end of humanity or fulfillment of the catastrophic prophecies found in the Maya Chilam Balam, but that the new cycle “supposes changes in human consciousness.” Martín Sacalxot of Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman, PDH) said that end of the calendar has nothing to do with the end of the world or the year 2012.
The European association of the Maya with eschatology dates back to the time of Christopher Columbus, who was compiling a work called Libro de las profecias during the voyage in 1502 when he first heard about the “Maia” on Guanaja, an island off the north coast of Honduras. Influenced by the writings of Bishop Pierre d’Ailly, Columbus believed that his discovery of “most distant” lands (and, by extension, the Maya themselves) was prophesied and would bring about the Apocalypse. End-times fears were widespread during the early years of the Spanish Conquest as the result of popular astrological predictions in Europe of a second Great Flood for the year 1524.
In the early 1900s, German scholar Ernst Förstemann interpreted the last page of the Dresden Codex as a representation of the end of the world in a cataclysmic flood. He made reference to “destruction of the world”, “apocalypse”, and “the end of the world”, though he made no reference to the 13th baktun or 2012 and it was not clear that he was referring to a future event. His ideas were repeated by archaeologist Sylvanus Morley, who directly paraphrased Förstemann and added his own embellishments, writing, “Finally, on the last page of the manuscript, is depicted the Destruction of the World…Here, indeed, is portrayed with a graphic touch the final all-engulfing cataclysm” in the form of a Great Flood. These comments were later repeated in Morley’s book The Ancient Maya, the first edition of which was published in 1946.
Mayan References to b’ak’tun 13
It is not certain what significance the classic Maya give to the 13th b’ak’tun. Most classic Maya inscriptions are strictly historical and do not make any prophetic declarations. One item in the Mayan classical corpus, however, does mention the end of the 13th b’ak’tun: Tortuguero Monument 6.
The Tortuguero site, which lies in southernmost Tabasco, Mexico, dates from the 7th century AD and consists of a series of inscriptions mostly in honor of the contemporary ruler Bahlam Ajaw. One inscription, known as Tortuguero Monument 6, is the only inscription known to refer to b’ak’tun 13. It has been partially defaced; Sven Gronemeyer and Barbara MacLeod have given this translation:
Very little is known about the god Bolon Yokte’. According to an article by Mayanists Markus Eberl and Christian Prager in British Anthropological Reports, his name is composed of the elements “nine”, ‘OK-te’ (the meaning of which is unknown), and “god”. Confusion in classical period inscriptions suggests that the name was already ancient and unfamiliar to contemporary scribes. He also appears in inscriptions from Palenque, Usumacinta, and La Mar as a god of war, conflict, and the underworld. In one stele he is portrayed with a rope tied around his neck, and in another with an incense bag, together signifying a sacrifice to end a cycle of years.
Based on observations of modern Mayan rituals, Gronemeyer and MacLeod claim that the stele refers to a celebration in which a person portraying Bolon Yokte’ K’uh was wrapped in ceremonial garments and paraded around the site. They note that the association of Bolon Yokte’ K’uh with b’ak’tun 13 appears to be so important on this inscription that it supersedes more typical celebrations, such as “erection of stelae, scattering of incense” and so forth. They furthermore assert that this event was indeed planned for 2012, and not the 7th century. However, Mayanist scholar Stephen Houston contests this view, arguing that future dates on Mayan inscriptions were simply meant to draw parallels with contemporary events, and that the words on the stela describe a contemporary rather than a future scene.
Dates Beyond b’ak’tun 13
Mayan inscriptions occasionally mention predicted future events or commemorations that would occur on dates far beyond the completion of the 13th b’ak’tun. Most of these are in the form of “distance dates”: Long Count dates given together with an additional number, known as a Distance Number, which when added together make a future date. On the west panel at the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque, a section of text projects forward to the 80th 52-year Calendar Round from the coronation of the ruler K’inich Janaab’ Pakal. Pakal’s accession occurred on 188.8.131.52.8, equivalent to 27 July 615 AD in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. The inscription begins with Pakal’s birthdate of 184.108.40.206.0 (March 24, 603 AD Gregorian) and then adds the Distance Number 10.11.10.5.8 to it, arriving at a date of October 21, 4772 AD, more than 4,000 years after Pakal’s time.
Another example is Stele 1 at Coba, which gives a date of 220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.0.0.0.0, or twenty units above the b’ak’tun, placing it either 4.134105 × 1028 (41 octillion) years in the future, or an equal distance in the past. This date is 3 quintillion times the age of the universe as determined by cosmologists.
New Age Beliefs
Many assertions about the year 2012 form part of a non-codified collection of New Age beliefs about ancient Maya wisdom and spirituality. Archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni says that while the idea of “balancing the cosmos” was prominent in ancient Maya literature, the 2012 phenomenon does not draw from those traditions. Instead, it is bound up with American concepts such as the New Age movement,millenarianism, and the belief in secret knowledge from distant times and places. Established themes found in 2012 literature include “suspicion towards mainstream Western culture”, the idea of spiritual evolution, and the possibility of leading the world into the New Age by individual example or by a group’s joined consciousness. The general intent of this literature is not to warn of impending doom but “to foster counter-cultural sympathies and eventually socio-political and ‘spiritual’ activism”. Aveni, who has studied New Age and SETI communities, describes 2012 narratives as the product of a “disconnected” society: “Unable to find spiritual answers to life’s big questions within ourselves, we turn outward to imagined entities that lie far off in space or time—entities that just might be in possession of superior knowledge”.
In 1975, the ending of b’ak’tun 13 became the subject of speculation by several New Age authors, who asserted it would correspond with a global “transformation of consciousness”. In Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, Frank Waterstied Coe’s original date of December 24, 2011, to astrology and the prophecies of the Hopi, while both José Argüelles (in The Transformative Vision) and Terence McKenna (in The Invisible Landscape) discussed the significance of the year 2012, and makes reference to Dec. 21, 2012.
In 1983, with the publication of Robert J. Sharer’s revised table of date correlations in the 4th edition of Morley’s The Ancient Maya, that each became convinced that December 21, 2012, had significant meaning. By 1987, the year in which he organized the Harmonic Convergence event, Arguelles was using the date December 21, 2012 in The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology. He claimed that on August 13, 3113 BC the Earth began a passage through a “galactic synchronization beam” that emanated from the center of our galaxy, that it would pass through this beam during a period of 5200 tuns (Maya cycles of 360 days each), and that this beam would result in “total synchronization” and “galactic entrainment” of individuals “plugged into the Earth’s electromagnetic battery” by 184.108.40.206.0 (Dec. 21, 2012). He believed that the Maya aligned their calendar to correspond to this phenomenon. Anthony Aveni has dismissed all of these ideas.
There is no significant astronomical event tied to the Long Count’s start date. However, its supposed end date has been tied to astronomical phenomena by esoteric, fringe, and New Age literature that places great significance on astrology. Chief among these is the concept of the “galactic alignment”.
In the Solar System, the planets and the Sun lie roughly within the same flat plane, known as the plane of the ecliptic. From our perspective on Earth, the ecliptic is the path taken by the Sun across the sky over the course of the year. The twelve constellationsthat line the ecliptic are known as the zodiac and, annually, the Sun passes through all of them in turn. Additionally, over time, the Sun’s annual cycle appears to recede very slowly backward by one degree every 72 years, or by one constellation every 2,160 years. This backward movement, called “precession”, is due to a slight wobble in the Earth’s axis as it spins, and can be compared to the way a spinning top wobbles as it slows down. Over the course of 25,800 years, a period often called a Great Year, the Sun completes a full, 360-degree backward circuit through the zodiac. In Western astrological traditions, precession is measured from the March equinox, or the point at which the Sun is exactly halfway between its lowest and highest points in the sky. Presently, the Sun’s March equinox position is in the constellation Pisces and is moving back into Aquarius. This signals the end of one astrological age (the Age of Pisces) and the beginning of another (the Age of Aquarius).
Similarly, the Sun’s December solstice position (in the northern hemisphere, the lowest point on its annual path; in the southern hemisphere, the highest) is currently in the constellation of Sagittarius, one of two constellations in which the zodiac intersects with the Milky Way. Every year, on the December solstice, the Sun and the Milky Way, from the surface of the Earth, appear to come into alignment, and every year, precession causes a slight shift in the Sun’s position in the Milky Way. Given that the Milky Way is between 10° and 20° wide, it takes between 700 and 1400 years for the Sun’s December solstice position to precess through it. It is currently about halfway through the Milky Way, crossing the galactic equator. In 2012, the Sun’s December solstice will fall on December 21.
Mystical speculations about the precession of the equinoxes and the Sun’s proximity to the center of the Milky Way appeared in Hamlet’s Mill (1969) by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Deschend. These were quoted and expanded upon by Terence and Dennis McKenna in The Invisible Landscape (1975). The significance of a future “galactic alignment” was noted in 1991 by astrologer Raymond Mardyks, who asserted that the winter solstice would align with the galactic plane in 1998/1999, writing that an event that “only occurs once each 26,000 year cycle and would be most definitely of utmost significance to the top flight ancient astrologers.” Astrologer Bruce Scofield notes, “The Milky Way crossing of the winter solstice is something that has been neglected by Western astrologers, with a few exceptions. Charles Jayne made a very early reference to it, and in the 1970s Rob Hand mentioned it in his talks on precession but didn’t elaborate on it. Ray Mardyks later made a point of it, and after that John [Major] Jenkins, myself, and Daniel Giamario began to talk about it.”
Adherents to the idea, following a theory first proposed by Munro Edmonson, allege that the Maya based their calendar on observations of the Great Rift or Dark Rift, a band of dark dust clouds in the Milky Way, which, according to some scholars, the Maya called the Xibalba be or “Black Road.” John Major Jenkins claims that the Maya were aware of where the ecliptic intersected the Black Road and gave this position in the sky a special significance in their cosmology. According to Jenkins, precession will align the Sun precisely with the galactic equator at the 2012 winter solstice. Jenkins claimed that the classical Maya anticipated this conjunction and celebrated it as the harbinger of a profound spiritual transition for mankind. New Age proponents of the galactic alignment hypothesis argue that, just as astrology uses the positions of stars and planets to make claims of future events, the Mayans plotted their calendars with the objective of preparing for significant world events. Jenkins attributes the insights of ancient Maya shamans about the galactic center to their use of psilocybin mushrooms, psychoactive toads, and other psychedelics. Jenkins also associates the Xibalba be with a “world tree”, drawing on studies of contemporary (not ancient) Maya cosmology.
Astronomers such as David Morrison argue that the galactic equator is an entirely arbitrary line and can never be precisely drawn, because it is impossible to determine the Milky Way’s exact boundaries, which vary depending on clarity of view. Jenkins claims he drew his conclusions about the location of the galactic equator from observations taken at above 11,000 feet (3,400 m), an altitude that gives a clearer image of the Milky Way than Mayans had access to. Furthermore, since the Sun is half a degree wide, it requires 36 years for it to precess across any single point. Jenkins himself notes that even given this determined location for the line of the galactic equator, its most precise convergence with the center of the Sun already occurred in 1998, and so asserts that, rather than 2012, the galactic alignment instead focuses on a multi-year period centred on 1998.
There is no clear evidence that the classic Maya were aware of precession. Some Maya scholars, such as Barbara MacLeod, Michael Grofe, Eva Hunt, Gordon Brotherston, and Anthony Aveni, have suggested that some Mayan holy dates were timed to precessional cycles, but scholarly opinion on the subject remains divided. There is also little evidence, archaeological or historical, that the Maya placed any importance on solstices or equinoxes. It is possible that only the early Mesoamericans observed solstices, but this is also a disputed issue among Mayanists. There is also no evidence that the classic Maya attached any importance to the Milky Way; there is no glyph in their writing system to represent it, and no astronomical or chronological table tied to it.
Timewave Zero and the I Ching
“Timewave zero” is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of “novelty”, defined as increase over time in the universe’s interconnectedness, or organized complexity. According toTerence McKenna, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously. He conceived this idea over several years in the early to mid-1970s while using psilocybin mushrooms and DMT.
McKenna expressed “novelty” in a computer program which purportedly produces a waveform known as “timewave zero” or the “timewave”. Based on McKenna’s interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the graph appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity’s biological and sociocultural evolution. He believed that the events of any given time are recursively related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date of November 2012. When he later discovered this date’s proximity to the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Maya calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates matched.
The 1975 first edition of The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (but no specific day during the year) only twice. In the 1993 second edition, McKenna employed Sharer’s date of December 21, 2012 throughout.
In India, the guru Kalki Bhagavan has promoted 2012 as a “deadline” for human enlightenment since at least 1998. Over 15 million people consider Bhagavan to be the incarnation of the god Vishnu and believe that 2012 marks the end of the Kali Yuga, or degenerate age.
In 2006, author Daniel Pinchbeck popularized New Age concepts about this date in his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, linking b’ak’tun 13 to beliefs in crop circles, alien abduction, and personal revelations based on the use of hallucinogenic drugs and mediumship. Pinchbeck claims to discern a “growing realization that materialism and the rational, empirical worldview that comes with it has reached its expiration date … [w]e’re on the verge of transitioning to a dispensation of consciousness that’s more intuitive, mystical and shamanic.”
Beginning in 2000, the small French village of Bugarach, population 189, began receiving visits from “esoterics”—mystic believers who have concluded that the local mountain, Pic de Bugarach, is the ideal location to weather the transformative events of 2012. In 2011, the local mayor, Jean-Pierre Delord, began voicing fears to the international press that the small town would be overwhelmed by an influx of thousands of visitors in 2012, even suggesting he may call in the army.
A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 that has spread in various media describes the end of the world or of human civilization on that date. This view has been promulgated by many hoax pages on the Internet, particularly on YouTube. The History Channel has aired a handful of special series on doomsday that include analysis of 2012 theories, such as Decoding the Past (2005–2007), 2012, End of Days(2006), Last Days on Earth (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008). The Discovery Channel also aired 2012 Apocalypse in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms,magnetic pole reversal, earthquakes, supervolcanoes, and other drastic natural events may occur in 2012. Author Graham Hancock, in his book Fingerprints of the Gods, interpreted Coe’s remarks in Breaking the Maya Code as evidence for the prophecy of a global cataclysm.
Some people have interpreted the galactic alignment apocalyptically, claiming that when it occurs, it will somehow create a combined gravitational effect between the Sun and the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy (known as Sagittarius A*), thus creating havoc on Earth. Apart from the fact noted above that the “galactic alignment” already happened in 1998, the Sun’s apparent path through the zodiac as seen from Earth does not take it near the true galactic center, but rather several degrees above it. Even if this were not the case, Sagittarius A* is 30,000 light years from Earth, and would have to be more than 6 million times closer to cause any gravitational disruption to Earth’s Solar System. This reading of the alignment was included on the History Channel documentary, Decoding the Past. However, John Major Jenkins has complained that a science fiction writer co-authored the documentary, and he went on to characterize it as “45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism”.
Some believers in a 2012 doomsday have used the term “galactic alignment” to describe a very different phenomenon proposed by some scientists to explain a pattern in mass extinctions supposedly observed in the fossil record. According to this hypothesis, mass extinctions are not random, but recur every 26 million years. To account for this, it suggests that vertical oscillations made by the Sun on its 250-million-year orbit of the galactic center cause it to regularly pass through the galactic plane. When the Sun’s orbit takes it outside the galactic plane which bisects the galactic disc, the influence of the galactic tide is weaker. However, when re-entering the galactic disc—as it does every 20–25 million years—it comes under the influence of the far stronger “disc tides”, which, according to mathematical models, increase the flux of Oort cloud comets into the inner Solar System by a factor of 4, thus leading to a massive increase in the likelihood of a devastating comet impact. However, this “alignment” takes place over tens of millions of years, and could never be timed to an exact date. Evidence shows that the Sun passed through the plane bisecting the galactic disc only three million years ago and is now moving farther above it.
A third suggested alignment is some sort of planetary conjunction occurring on December 21, 2012; however, there will be no conjunction on that date. Multi-planet alignments did occur in both 2000 and 2010, each with no ill result for the Earth. Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System; larger than all other planets combined. When Jupiter is near opposition, the Earth experiences less than 1% the gravitational force it feels daily from the Moon.
Another idea tied to 2012 involves a geomagnetic reversal (often incorrectly referred to as a pole shift by proponents), possibly triggered by a massive solar flare, that would release an energy equal to 100 billion atomic bombs. This belief is supposedly supported by observations that the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, which could precede a reversal of the north and south magnetic poles.
Critics, however, claim that geomagnetic reversals take up to 7,000 years to complete, and do not start on any particular date. Furthermore, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now predicts that the solar maximum will peak in May 2013, not 2012, and that it will be fairly weak, with a below-average number of sunspots. In any case, there is no scientific evidence linking a solar maximum to a geomagnetic reversal, which is driven by forces entirely within the Earth. Instead, a solar maximum would be mostly notable for its effects on satellite and cellular phone communications. David Morrison attributes the rise of the solar storm idea to physicist and science popularizer Michio Kaku, who claimed in an interview with Fox News that a solar peak in 2012 could be disastrous for orbiting satellites.
Some proponents of doomsday in 2012 claim that a planet called Planet X, or Nibiru, will collide with or pass by Earth in that year. This idea, which has appeared in various forms since 1995, initially predicted Doomsday in May, 2003, but proponents later abandoned that date after it passed without incident. The idea originated from claims of channeling of alien beings and has been widely ridiculed. Astronomers have calculated that such an object so close to Earth would be visible to anyone looking up at the night sky.
Other speculations regarding doomsday in 2012 have included predictions by the Web Bot project, a computer program that purports to predict the future using Internet chatter. However, commentators have rejected the programmers’ claims to have successfully predicted natural disasters, which web chatter could never predict, as opposed to human-caused disasters like stock market crashes.
Also, the 2012 date has been loosely tied to the long-running concept of the Photon Belt, which predicts a form of interaction between Earth and Alcyone, the largest star of the Pleiades cluster. Critics have argued that photons cannot form belts, that the Pleiades, located more than 400 light years away, could have no effect on Earth, and that the Solar System, rather than getting closer to the Pleiades, is in fact moving farther away from them.
Some media outlets have tied the fact that the red supergiant star Betelgeuse will undergo a supernova at some point in the future to the 2012 phenomenon. However, while Betelgeuse is certainly in the final stages of its life, and will die as a supernova, there is no way to predict the timing of the event to within 100,000 years. To be a threat to Earth, a supernova would need to be as close as 25 light years to the Solar System. Betelgeuse is roughly 600 light years away, and so its supernova will not affect Earth. In December 2011, NASA’s Francis Reddy issued a press release debunking the possibility of a supernova occurring in 2012.
Another claim involves alien invasion. In December 2010, an article, first published in examiner.com and later referenced in the English-language edition of Pravda claimed, citing a Second Digitized Sky Surveyphotograph as evidence, that SETI had detected three large spacecraft due to arrive at Earth in 2012. Astronomer and debunker Phil Plait noted that by using the small-angle formula, one could determine that if the object in the photo was as large as claimed, it would have had to be closer to Earth than the Moon, which would mean it would already have arrived. In January 2011, Seth Shostak, chief astronomer of SETI, issued a press release debunking the claims.
Influences In Pop Culture
The phenomenon has produced hundreds of books, as well as hundreds of thousands of websites. “Ask an Astrobiologist”, a NASA public outreach website, has received over 5000 questions from the public on the subject since 2007, some asking whether they should kill themselves, their children or their pets. Many contemporary fictional references to the year 2012 refer to December 21 as the day of a cataclysmic event, including the bestselling book of 2009, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.
The 2009 disaster film 2012 was inspired by the phenomenon, and advance promotion prior to its release included a stealth marketing campaign in which TV spots and websites from the fictional “Institute for Human Continuity” called on people to prepare for the end of the world. As these promotions did not mention the film itself, many viewers believed them to be real and contacted astronomers in panic. Although the campaign was heavily criticized, the film became one of the most successful of its year, grossing nearly $770 million worldwide.
Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia features a plot in which a planet emerges from behind the Sun onto a collision course with Earth. Announcing his company’s purchase of the film, the head of Magnolia Pictures said in a press release, “As the 2012 apocalypse is upon us, it is time to prepare for a cinematic last supper.”
The phenomenon has also inspired several pop music hits. As early as 1997, “A Certain Shade of Green” by Incubus referred to the mystical belief that a shift in perception would arrive that year (“Are you gonna stand around till 2012 A.D.? / What are you waiting for, a certain shade of green?”). More recent hits include “2012 (It Ain’t the End)” (2010) performed by Jay Sean and “Till the World Ends” (2011) performed by Britney Spears.
In 2011, the Mexico tourism board stated its intentions to use the year 2012, without its apocalyptic connotations, as a means to revive Mexico’s tourism industry, which had suffered as the country gained a reputation for drug wars and kidnapping. The initiative hopes to draw on the mystical appeal of the Mayan ruins. On December 21, 2011, the Mayan town of Tapachula in Chiapas activated an eight-foot digital clock counting down the days until b’ak’tun 13, while in Izapa, a nearby archaeological site, Mayan priests burned incense and prayed.
The 2011 end times prediction made by American Christian radio host Harold Camping stated that the Rapture and Judgment Day would take place on May 21, 2011, and that the end of the world would take place five months later on October 21, 2011. The Rapture, in a specific tradition of premillennial theology, is the taking up into heaven of God’s elect people. Camping, then president of the Family Radio Christian network, claimed the Bible as his source and said May 21 would be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment “beyond the shadow of a doubt”. Camping suggested that it would occur at 6 p.m. local time, with the rapture sweeping the globe time zone by time zone, while some of his supporters claimed that around 200 million people (approximately 3% of the world’s population) would be ‘raptured’. Camping had previously claimed that the Rapture would occur in September 1994.
The vast majority of Christian groups, including most Protestant and Catholic believers, did not accept Camping’s predictions; some explicitly rejected them, citing Bible passages including those stating “about that day or hour no one knows”. An interview with a group of church leaders noted that all of them had scheduled church services as usual for Sunday, May 22.
Following the failure of the prediction, media attention shifted to the response from Camping and his followers. On May 23, Camping stated that May 21 had been a “spiritual” day of judgment, and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the destruction of the universe by God. However, on October 16, Camping admitted to an interviewer that he did not know when the end would come, and October 21 passed without Camping’s predicted apocalypse.
- The rapture would occur on May 21, 2011.
- Massive earthquakes (greater in magnitude than the 2011 Japanese earthquake) would happen across the world at 6 p.m. local time.
- The end of the world would take place five months later on October 21, 2011.
Related predictions by others
- Approximately 3% of the world’s population would be called to heaven.
- Earthquakes would begin on May 21 on Kiritimati Island (Christmas Island), Kiribati at 6 p.m. LINT (0400 UTC).
- Citing Jeremiah 25:32, earthquakes would continue “as the sun advances” with New York, United States, to be affected at approximately 6 p.m. EDT (2200 UTC).
Camping’s revised prediction after May 21
- On May 23, 2011, Harold Camping stated that May 21 had been a “spiritual” Judgment Day and that the Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, together with the destruction of the world. In a web posting titled “What happened on May 21?”, Family Radio explained “Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period.”
Camping presented several numerological arguments, which he called biblical “proofs”, in favor of the May 21 end time. A civil engineer by training, Camping stated he had attempted to work out mathematically-based prophecies in the Bible for decades. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle he explained “… I was an engineer, I was very interested in the numbers. I’d wonder, ‘Why did God put this number in, or that number in?’ It was not a question of unbelief, it was a question of, ‘There must be a reason for it.'”
In 1970, Camping dated the Great Flood to 4990 BC. Using this date, taking the statement in Genesis 7:4 (“Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth”) to be a prediction of the end of the world, and combining it with 2 Peter 3:8 (“With the Lord a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as a day”), Camping concluded that the end of the world would occur in 2011, 7000 years from 4990 BC. Camping takes the 17th day of the second month mentioned in Genesis 7:11 to be May 21, and hence predicts the rapture to occur on this date.
Another argument that Camping used in favor of the May 21 date is as follows:
- The number five equals “atonement”, the number ten equals “completeness”, and the number seventeen equals “heaven”.
- The number of days (as calculated below) between April 1, 33 AD, and May 21, 2011 AD, is 722,500.
- Christ is believed by Camping to have hung on the cross on April 1, 33 AD. The time between April 1, 33 AD, and April 1, 2011, is 1,978 years.
- If 1,978 is multiplied by 365.2422 days (the number of days in a solar, as distinct from lunar, year), the result is 722,449.
- The time between April 1 and May 21 is 51 days.
- 51 added to 722,449 is 722,500.
- (5 × 10 × 17)2 or (atonement × completeness × heaven)2 also equals 722,500.
Camping said that 5 × 10 × 17 is telling us a “story from the time Christ made payment for our sins until we’re completely saved.”
Camping was not precise about the timing of the event, saying that “maybe” we can know the hour. He has suggested that “days” in the Bible refer to daylight hours particularly. Another account said the “great earthquake” which signals the start of the Rapture would “start in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone.”
In Camping’s book 1994?, self-published in 1992, he predicted that the End Times would come in September 1994 (variously reported as September 4 or September 6). When the Rapture failed to occur on the appointed day, Camping said he had made a mathematical error.