On Thursday I was humming REM's "It's the End of the World" song to myself as I looked forward to Friday's predicted Doomsday. Even though the world itself didn't end (otherwise you wouldn't be reading this column), it's fun to think about the fascinating theories about how the world would actually end. One does have to admit that 2012 was setting itself up for "doomsday" in a way with the drought, Hurricane Sandy, various climate changes, wildfires and the like.
But how would the world end when it happens? The imagination runs wild. Plague of locusts? A crack running down the middle of North America? All of the Earth's oceans freezing up? (Just a few of the random things that just ran through my head).
Ugh, if the world did end on Friday I would've been thinking - but I have so much to do yet. Just a few things on the list include taking a trip to Australia (well anywhere outside the continental U.S. would do), waiting to read the final book in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" series, seeing U2 in concert (any musician in concert at this rate), and going to see "The Hobbit." And oh yeah, season 3 of "Downton Abbey" starts next month in the U.S., so the world can't possibly end just yet.
In searching for "end of the world" theories, I decided to visit the NASA website, which has a feature "Beyond 2012: Why the World Won't End." The article states that Friday was just another winter solstice (plus the days will start getting longer!). NASA scientists answered questions on many topics from the end of the world to the Mayan Calendar to a meteor strike. Here's a few of the things they answered.
Question: Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.
Answer: The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.
Question: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?
Answer: The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 - hence the predicted doomsday date of Dec. 21, 2012.
Question: Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?
Answer: The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs.
Question: Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?
Answer: Solar activity has a regular cycle, with peaks approximately every 11 years. Near these activity peaks, solar flares can cause some interruption of satellite communications, although engineers are learning how to build electronics that are protected against most solar storms. But there is no special risk associated with 2012. The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.
So to me, this has been an interesting look at "end of the world theories" as answered by scientists. But one has to be intrigued by those "Doomsday Prepper" types building their bunkers and making sure they have an ample supply of food and water. I couldn't imagine life in a bunker, let alone have the time, means or energy to construct one.
So the predictions will continue, but one will probably never really know when "the end of the world" will happen.