There is quite a bit of chatter, even a movie made, about December 2012, when on the solstice, the 21st, the "long count" of the Mayan calendar comes to an end.
I will not go into too much detail about what exactly the "long count" is or how it works. I will send you to a link on wikipedia that describes the Mayan calendar and the long count. The thing that stands out to me is a quote from Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, who stated that "We have no record or knowledge that [the Maya] would think the world would come to an end" in 2012. Actually, the opposite may have occurred at the end of the "whole cycle." It may have been a huge New Year's celebration, a la New Year's Eve 1999.
There are a lot of theories around the Internet which use the end of this calendar cycle to predict the end of the world. They mention the fact that the "end" of the calendar is on the winter solstice, and that the Sun on this solstice is "aligned" with the plane of the galaxy. Seems like a strange coincidence, the end of the long count calendar, a winter solstice and an strange alignment.
Let's talk about this strange alignment. We know that exactly where the Sun is in the sky relative to more distant stars (and the Milky Way) changes very slowly due to the "precession of the equinoxes". Here is a definition of that term thanks to wikipedia. Thus, where the Sun is on each solstice changes (ever so slightly as we will see below) every year in comparison to other stars.
The Sun's position does not change much though. The position of the Sun on winter solstice moves 360 degrees in 26,000 years. That means that it moves 360/26,000 = 0.01 degrees a year. Defining an exact degree measurement for the plane of the Milky Way is tough, but it's at least 10-20 degrees wide across much of the sky, meaning that the solstice can be described as being "in the plane of the Milky Way" for 700-1,400 years at a time. Does anything strange happen during these solstices?
To put it another way, the winter solstice of say 2005 is less than 0.1 degrees away from where it will be in 2012, a distance smaller than the size of the Sun itself (which is about 0.5 degrees in diameter). In any case, the Sun crosses the plane of the galaxy twice every year as we orbit around it, with no ill effect on Earth at all. Will such a small distance affect things in such a great way?
Basically, this strange alignment that people point to is not really that strange after all, and there should be no ill effects felt here on Earth. Maybe it is a bit strange that it is on the solstice, but since nothing happens with this alignment any other time of the year, why should anything strange happen just because it is on the solstice? Why would it be exactly lined up this year cause disaster if last year it was only different by 0.01 of a degree?
However, that does not keep conspiracy theorists around the world from theorizing things are going to go haywire. I am not an expert on why they think this or their beliefs. Maybe you are or know someone who has an opinion on this subject? I would love to host an open discussion on this subject. You can state your opinion or lead people to join in or begin this conversation by clicking here.
You can leave your comments, as well as be part of a community where discussions on any astronomy subject are taking place. We are now over 2,450 likes. Tell your friends about this site and blog, and have them weigh in on some exciting issues. We encourage open discussion and will never criticize any idea, and no negative conversation will be allowed.
My experts will keep you up to date on any astronomy-related subject. Please feel free to share your opinions!
And please keep the astronomy pictures coming! They have been simply amazing! Please keep it up. Ask questions, comments, share anything! http://www.accuweather.com