Cape Town - The world is not going to end in 2012 and people should not panic because of fears of a major planet or asteroid hitting the earth, an astronomer has said.

"No, that's the short answer," Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell told News24 when asked about end of the world prophecies.

Burnell was part of the team that discovered pulsars when she was a postgraduate student in 1967. Her thesis supervisor, Antony Hewish, shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Martin Ryle for the discovery.

She was responding to conspiracy theories that suggest the Maya calendar predicts the end of the world through cataclysm in 2012 as well as a book written by Zecharia Sitchin and others suggesting that aliens visited Earth in ancient times and that their planet might be on a collision course.

"Yes, they talk about the ancient Sumerians having had contact with extra terrestrial beings on a planet called Nibiru. Now, if it has such a long orbital period you can work out an awful lot. An orbit of 3 600 years [as described by Sitchin in The 12th Planet] means it's a long, thin orbit.

"That would be very difficult for ancient people to detect against the star background, because it would appear that the planet is moving backward and forward. There's some suspicion of trouble there," Burnell said.


She said that if the planet was on a collision course with Earth in 2012, it would already be very close and easily visible to astronomers.

"If it’s going to collide with the earth, it should be close - near the orbit of Jupiter or Saturn - so we'd see it by now. There is a possibility it could be a star, but then it would be so bright, we'd see it - even during the day," she said.

Some have suggested that a huge body might be on a collision course, but not on the same plane that the planets usually orbit, but Burnell rejected this, saying that modern astronomy was capable of detecting bodies that might destroy Earth.

"The ancients were very impressive for when they were around, but we have infinitely better equipment. They, though, had a much better view of the night sky because there wasn't any pollution," she said.

Some writers have suggested that ancient people didn't actually see distant stars but were given the information from extra terrestrial travellers who came to Earth and modified DNA to produce modern humans.


They cite legends from the Dogon tribe in West Africa which purport to identify the white dwarf Sirius B, the legends surrounding Quetzalcoatl, the Mesoamerican deity whose name means "feathered serpent", as well as the construction of the Egyptian pyramids to reflect stellar patterns.

"Genetic data will answer that one soon. The main snag is the huge time it takes to travel enormous distances, but if they [extra terrestrials] could tunnel through time and space, we'd see that with our instruments," Burnell said.

She also answered the question of why the Maya calendar ends in 2012.

"They just ran out of space. If they were still around, they'd be doing the next cycle of their calendar."

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