In a recent YouTube video, one of the agency’s top scientists debunks various doomsday theories linked to the supposed end of the Mayan calendar. While some expect planetary collisions, massive solar storms or magnetic pole shifts that literally could turn Earth upside down, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sees Dec. 21 as “just another day.”
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since the beginning of recorded time, there have been literally hundreds of thousands of predictions for the end of the world, and we’re still here,” said Don Yeomans, a scientist at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a research facility at the California Institute of Technology.
There is no evidence, Mr. Yeomans said, that solar flares will scorch our planet. He also poured cold water on the notion that a rare planetary alignment could send Earth into a tailspin, saying no such events will occur this year.
Other end-of-days scenarios call for a rapid switch of the planet’s magnetic poles, which does happen every 500,000 years or so but isn’t scheduled for 2012. Even if it were, Mr. Yeomans said, it would be a very gradual change that would have no worse effect than requiring people to buy new compasses.
Conspiracy theorists also fear a mysterious giant planet called Niburu, which, the story goes, will come dangerously close to Earth and wreak havoc. The galactic troublemaker, some say, has been kept under wraps by astronomers in order to avoid mass panic.
NASA has called that idea no more than “an Internet hoax.”
“Can you imagine thousands of astronomers who observe the skies on a nightly basis keeping the same secret from the public?” Mr. Yeomans asked.
Furthermore, he pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, the Mayan calendar does not actually end on Dec. 21, 2012, as has been widely reported by First World news outlets, but instead enters a new phase.
“It’s just the end of a cycle … just like on Dec. 31, our calendar comes to an end and a new calendar begins,” he said.
The video, which amassed more than 89,000 hits in just the past five days, is NASA’s latest attempt to address conspiracies head-on.
Last September, the agency took aim at the widely panned movie “Apollo 18,” which purported to use “found footage” of a top-secret 1972 lunar mission that ended in failure as American astronauts were killed by shape-shifting aliens.
Before its release, a NASA spokesman assured the public it was “not a documentary” and was based on no real event.
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Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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