The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs according to which cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on 21 December 2012. This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5125-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, but various crackpots around the world accept it as a fact. 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, an interaction between Earth and the black hole at the centre of the galaxy (no idea what drugs these people use), or Earth's collision with an object such as an asteroid, or a planet called "Nibiru" (so called 12th planet - fans Zacharia Sitchin will know this by heart - I used to read his books as kid too).
So what really happens on 21st December this year? Several films and documentaries have promoted the idea that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that doomsday is less than two months away, on December 21, 2012. Well, it going to be Friday and I assume it is going to be yet another "Friday finally" day. No one knows for sure what kind of weather to expect, but rest assured that no end of world will strike either.
Above you see a date inscription for the Mayan Long Count. It is calendar. Nothing else. Just like our year will finish on 31st December 2012, their cycle will end on 21st December 2012. What happens then? Next cycle stars. Simple as that. I suspect that day, due to numerous crackpots around the globe, it will be a bit more dangerous to be outside for simple psychological reason - same which explains why people are more likely to get heart (or heart others) on Friday 13th if they really believe it. Even Mayas are no so crazy to believe it so it does not come as surprise when last week Guatemala's Mayan people accused the government and tour groups perpetuating the myth that their calendar foresees the imminent end of the world for monetary gain. I believe NASA did rather good movie about it and you can see it below:
So, is there a end? Most likely yes, but there is no way for us to predict a moment. And question of course is what kind of end. End of human race? End of planet Earth? End of Universe? Let's start with last one. 1998 really messed us up, theoretically. Until then, we knew the Universe had to slow down - well, theoretically. But then the Hubble showed us truly distant supernovae and we got the uncomfortable reality that the Universe was actually expanding more slowly in the past than it is now. That meant gravity has not been slowing Universal expansion, it has been accelerating. What could cause that? No one knew but theorists were on the case and all of the explanations became a blanket dark energy hypothesis. It also meant we don't even know what we don't know. Dark energy (unknown) became 70% of existence, dark matter (unknown) another 25% and what we know as matter is about 5%. The Big Rip is one hypothetical possibility for our Cosmic Doomsday, proposed by a group at the the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Dark energy has given them the means to end the Universe the same way a Hot Big Bang and inflation began it. According to their calculations, Big Rip happens 16.7 billion years since Big Bang. Plenty of time to ignore it.
End of Earth will happen more soon for sure, but in terms of life span generations anything soon. We might get hit by some bigger rock in space, but rights now odds are small for anything like that for next few decades. We may start global war or natural cycle of Earth climate change may mess up with us and our technology at such pace we can't cope with it. Extinctions have happened throughout the years before so there is nothing unnatural about it. Most extinctions have occurred naturally, prior to **** sapiens walking on Earth: it is estimated that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. Mass extinctions are relatively rare events; however, isolated extinctions are quite common. Only recently have extinctions been recorded and scientists have become alarmed at the high rates of recent extinctions. Most species that become extinct are never scientifically documented. Some scientists estimate that up to half of presently existing species may become extinct by 2100. It is difficult to estimate the trajectory that biodiversity might have taken without human impact but scientists at the University of Bristol estimate that biodiversity might increase exponentially without human influence. Most popular extinct group of animals is most likely dinosaurs.
There have been at least five mass extinctions in the history of life on earth, and four in the last 3.5 billion years in which many species have disappeared in a relatively short period of geological time. The massive eruptive event is considered to be one likely cause of the "Great Dying" about 252 million years ago, which is estimated to have killed 90% of species existing at the time (about 95 percent of marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial life). There is also evidence to suggest this event was preceded by another mass extinction known as Olson's Extinction. The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event occurred 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period and is best known for having wiped out non-avian dinosaurs, among many other species.
Scientists have uncovered a lot about Earth's greatest extinction event that took place 252 million years ago when rapid climate change wiped out nearly all marine species and a majority of those on land. Through the analysis of various types of dating techniques on well-preserved sedimentary sections from South China to Tibet, researchers determined that the mass extinction peaked about 252.28 million years ago and lasted less than 200000 years, with most of the extinction lasting about 20000 years Although the cause of this event is a mystery, it has been speculated that the eruption of a large swath of volcanic rock in Russia called the Siberian Traps was a trigger for the extinction. Based on their findings, the team estimated that between 6300 and 7800 gigatonnes of sulfur, between 3400 and 8700 gigatonnes of chlorine, and between 7100 and 13700 gigatonnes of fluorine were released from magma in the Siberian Traps during the end of the Permian period. Now, we have discovered a new culprit likely involved in the annihilation: an influx of mercury into the eco-system. No one had ever looked to see if mercury was a potential culprit. This was a time of the greatest volcanic activity in Earth's history and we know today that the largest source of mercury comes from volcanic eruptions. Researchers estimate that the mercury released then could have been up to 30 times greater than today's volcanic activity, making the event truly catastrophic. During the late Permian, the natural buffering system in the ocean became overloaded with mercury contributing to the loss of 95 per cent of life in the sea.
During the late Pleistocene, 40000 to 10000 years ago, North America lost over 50 percent of its large mammal species. These species include mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, among many others. In total, 35 different genera (groups of species) disappeared, all of different habitat preferences and feeding habits. What event or factor could cause such a mass extinction? The many hypotheses that have been developed over the years include: abrupt change in climate, the result of comet impact, human overkill and disease. Some researchers believe that it may be a combination of these factors, one of them, or none.
The survivors of the mass extinction, or the world they inherited, is so different from what went before that the rate of evolution is permanently changed. At least one paper, done by Dr Zhong-Qiang Chen (China University of Geosciences in Wuhan) and Professor Michael Benton (University of Bristol), claims that recovery from the "Great Dying" lasted some 10 million years. There were apparently two reasons for the delay, the sheer intensity of the crisis, and continuing grim conditions on Earth after the first wave of extinction. We often see mass extinctions as entirely negative but in this most devastating case, life did recover, after many millions of years, and new groups emerged. The event had re-set evolution and one could argue that we might not be here without it as we find our self at the end of chain at the moment.
Here is the funny video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson:
At least one aspect of the 2012, end-of-the-world hype is, for some people, all too real: the fear. And the message from educated people is clear - fear not.
Credits: Hank Campbell, Wikipedia, University of Calgary, Carnegie Institution, University of Chicago, University of Bristol, George Washington University