Doomsday prophets wrong; Earth, its people still around
By Mike Wereschagin
Published: Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, 12:56 a.m.
The world will come to an end.
It just won't be on Friday — despite what you might have heard about rogue celestial bodies, pandemics or ancient Mesoamerican calendars.
The Mayan prophecy of a Dec. 21, 2012, apocalypse? Never happened. Nibiru, the rogue planet that's streaking through the solar system on a collision course with Earth? Doesn't exist. A virus that will turn the human race into flesh-eating zombies? Well, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta didn't return calls for comment, but that's probably not true, either.
A major earthquake could wipe out much of the West Coast, but that's no different from any other Friday, said Olivier de Montmollin, an archeologist with the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Anthropology who studies the Mayans.
“If it were to happen this month, that'd be a pretty amazing coincidence,” de Montmollin said.
The Mayans organized time into 400-year cycles and linked 13 of those together to define the present age, a 5,200-year-long stretch that ended Friday, the winter solstice.
But Western interpretation, informed by apocalyptic visions such as those in the Christian Book of Revelation, added a flavor of finality that has fueled Internet rumors and end-of-days parties at bars around western Pennsylvania.
As 12/21/2012 drew nearer, an increasing number of calls and emails – some from people who appear genuinely worried – crossed NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown's desk.
A Web page the space agency developed for its scientists to debunk the 2012 rumors had 1.7 million visitors in November, more than the pages for the Hubble space telescope and the Mars rover Curiosity.
The site's second debunked rumor is of an impending collision between Earth and Nibiru, or Planet X, as the fictional celestial body is sometimes called. For those who don't believe NASA's denials and think it's headed this way, Brown offers a simple fact check: look upward.
“If a planet that big was coming at us, you could stand outside and see it,” much like the moon, Brown said. “There's no way you can hide a planet coming at you. It's physically impossible.”
Even those who spend spare time preparing for disasters — a group known as “preppers” — say they expect to wake up on Dec. 22.
“I don't think anything's going to happen on the 21st that didn't happen on the 20th,” said Josh Wander, a firearms instructor and Israel Defense Forces veteran who lives in Squirrel Hill and maintains the site JewishPreppers.com.
An upside of the misplaced concern might be the attention it draws to disaster preparedness, said Robert Griswold, owner of Ready Made Resources, an online seller of disaster preparedness gear.
“The world's not going to end. But we might get a hurricane. We might get an earthquake,” Griswold said.
The end is near?
Actually, the world is going to end.
Scientists put Earth's expiration date about 4 billion years away. But a host of Pittsburgh bars aren't waiting.
The Smiling Moose in the South Side, for example, plans a “Last Day on Earth Fest” — two days before it plans to serve $5 pitchers of beer for the Steelers game.
So where will de Montmollin be when this Mayan cycle, or b'ak'tun, ends?
“I'm going to be visiting my son in Chile. So if things get wiped out up here in North America for some reason, I should be OK.”
Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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