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Today marks the one-month countdown to the end of the world, at least if you believe in the Mayan calendar, Hollywood, and what you read online.
Dec. 21, 2012 is the last day of the Mayan calendar, when an ancient civilization possibly predicted the world would end, perhaps with solar storms and catastrophic tidal effects. Or maybe the Earth’s axis will suddenly shift. And if that doesn’t happen, there is still planet Niburu, roughly four times the size of the Earth, and headed straight for us.
Of course, none of this is going to happen. And you don’t have to take my word for it – NASA has poked holes in all of these theories. And if you’re still worried about the Mayans: The Telegraph says an even older Mayan calendar has been found in Guatemala. This one goes on for 6,000 years, ending hundreds of years from now.
But if these facts don’t put you at ease, perhaps this will: The fear that the world is ending is hardly new. Here are some examples from the recent past…
1. Attack by the Zeta Reticuli
In 1993, Nancy Lieder realized she could talk to our (very) distant neighbors, the Zeta Reticuli, through an implant in her brain. According to her bio found on her website, ZetaTalk, Lieder has been a contactee almost her entire life. Through hypnotic recall, Lieder realized she has a dozen hybrid children (read: human and alien babies). She is also a communicator for the Zeta Reticuli.
Lieder first predicted that in May 2003, the Zeta Reticuli would come crashing through our solar system, causing havoc on earth. When that didn’t happen, Lieder insisted she made up the prediction to “fool the establishment,” according to NJ.com.
Why it didn’t happen: Lieder isn’t the first person to insist she has contact with a planet no one has ever heard of. But organizations like NASA have powerful tools. They’d spot a planet (or its warships) coming at us early on, so an alien sneak attack is unlikely.
2. Harold Camping’s rapture
Most religions believe in the possibility of an apocalypse or rapture. Many spiritual leaders think this day will ultimately come, and some think it will be soon. Very few, however, actually pick a day and set out to warn the masses that the end is near.
Enter Harold Camping, one of the founders of the Family Radio Network of Christian stations. Camping thought he knew when the end of the world would come: May 21, 2011. Broadcasting this message on the dozens of stations that carried his message would have been bad enough, but he didn’t stop there. According to Reuters, Camping and his supporters posted 2,000 billboards across the country. One of his supporters, Robert Fitzpatrick, spent $140,000 on subway posters in New York. Volunteers started handing out pamphlets in other countries. Believers took to their RVs and headed for California to meet up with Camping.
Why it didn’t happen: It’s unlikely that anyone will pinpoint an exact day when the world will end because days aren’t exact. Courtesy of the International Date Line, there are two calendar days happening simultaneously on our planet. Traveling westbound across the IDL adds 24 hours to a day, and traveling eastbound repeats the previous day.
In other words, half the world’s today is the other half’s yesterday, making it kind of tough to pinpoint a specific day we’re all going to die.
3. Nuclear war
The Cold War advanced the idea that countries could drop nuclear bombs on each other until there was nothing left of the world.
Between 1940 and 1990, hordes of people believed in the possibility, with good reason. There was a military strategy in effect called Mutual Assured Destruction or MAD, promising that whoever struck first would get hit back without hesitation.
For many people, the mass panic faded with the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, but some still believe that having access to these weapons may still lead to the world’s untimely destruction. In 2008, Wired wrote about a study on the possible outcomes of small-scale nuclear war. According to the study, nuclear bombs would tear holes in the ozone, cooling the planet and limiting our protection from UV rays. As a result, crops could die, millions could starve, and skin cancer rates could skyrocket.
Why it won’t happen: While nuclear war is a possibility, to date only two atomic bombs have been used in wartime. Since then, more than 100 parties have signed the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, agreeing not to use them in war.
4. The return of our alien creators
There are plenty of UFO-based religions floating around. One of the largest, Raelism, was founded by Claude Vorilhon. In his book, The Message Given to me by Extraterrestrials, Vorilhon explains that the idea for his religion happened when he found a spaceship with a human-looking alien inside. The alien told him that humankind was actually created by an alien race, the Elohim.
Raelians believe that the Elohim are recording information about us right now. One day, they’ll bring people back from the dead and reward or punish them for how they acted in life. Basically, it’s the rapture with supercomputers and zombies.
Why it won’t happen: While there are plenty of theories about the creation of human life, most scientists agree that we weren’t dropped off here by aliens, nor would many find it likely that aliens will show up some day to raise the dead.
5. Gray goo
In the future, nanotechnology – tiny robots as small as an atom – might be commonplace. In theory, they could be programmed to collect materials and transform them into products, basically automatically creating things like TVs, computer chips, bicycles, or anything else without the help of human hands. Of course, to be truly efficient, these nanobots would also need to be able to self-replicate. And therein lies the problem.
Some scientists predict that these nanobots could go overboard, replicate until they outnumber us, and then start sucking up all our natural resources. They’ve dubbed these future leeches “gray goo.” According to The New York Times, a former M.I.T. researcher, Eric Drexler, predicted a grisly outcome for the world if this gray goo ever took over.
Gray goo is what would happen if one of the auto-assemblers went haywire and the self-replication never stopped. According to Drexler’s calculations, in just 10 hours an unchecked self-replicating auto-assembler would spawn 68 billion offspring; in less than two days the auto-assemblers would outweigh the earth.
Why it won’t happen: There are dozens of theories about robots outsmarting their creators and overtaking the world, but it isn’t likely. After all, who would be smart enough to build something that advanced, but dumb enough to forget the safety switch? If we do ever start using nanobots, we’ll probably have safety precautions in place.
6. Asteroids hitting the Earth
Basically since we’ve known asteroids existed, someone has been convinced there was one headed straight for us, destined to blow our planet to bits.
For example, in 2004, scientists found Apophis, a 390-meter-wide asteroid. According to The Guardian, NASA predicted that if Apophis collided with Earth, the energy released would be 1,000 times greater than the nuclear blast over Hiroshima, Japan, in WW2 and that everyone on the planet would feel the effects. Astronomers thought that Apophis had a 1 in 37 chance of colliding with Earth in 2029.
Then they changed their minds. Now most scientists agree that Apophis will pass by us in 2029. Some say, however, it could still come back in 2036. If that happens, the collision could be devastating.
Why it won’t happen: Asteroids do exist and do collide with things in space. But the odds of being large enough to collide with Earth and destroy it aren’t good. Take Apophis, for example – in order to make a direct hit in 2036, the asteroid would have to pass through at a very specific spot. The Guardian says the odds of that happening are about 1 in 5,500.
7. Pole shift
Some people believe that 2012 will be the year when the Earth’s magnetic poles will suddenly and drastically reverse. It is known as a pole shift, and when it happens entire continents could move suddenly or even sink into the ocean. But it doesn’t end there.
While we’re all spinning and sinking, there will also be epic natural disasters. Tsunamis in the ocean, massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, you name it. The combination of continental shifts on the earth’s core and widespread natural disasters will lead to the end of life as we know it.
Why it won’t happen: According to Yale Scientific, a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles is a natural phenomenon that occurs about every 250,000 years. And while there is evidence of a 10 percent decline in the Earth’s magnetic field since the 19th century, there is no scientific evidence that a sudden pole shift will occur, or that it would even harm people if it did.
8. The modern Ice Age
In 1997, Richard Noone published a book entitled 5/5/2000 Ice: The Ultimate Disaster. In the book, Noone predicted the earth was headed for a second ice age, speculating the polar ice caps would start getting bigger. At the same time, all of the planets would fall into alignment, which would somehow make the ice shift from north to south, starting another ice age.
Noone’s book covers a lot of ground – everything from the Egyptian Pyramids to the Knights Templar. He was convinced that practically every conspiracy theory on record was linked to May 5, 2000, when ice would spell the end of the world for us.
Of course, May 5, 2000 came and went without massive polar ice caps or the resurrection of the Knights Templar. I’m pretty sure the pyramids didn’t do anything special that day either.
Why it didn’t happen: Most scientists agree that the Earth is actually heating up, not cooling. It is more likely that the North and South Poles will slowly start to melt, rather than suddenly become disastrously large. Of all the environmental concerns we could have, a rapid ice age that has something to do with planetary alignment and the Egyptian pyramids isn’t one of them.
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