The end is nigh

February 1, 2012


Forget all the doomsday predictions before now. The rumour mill’s going haywire about 2012.

Twitchy folks say that, according to the ancient Mayans, the apocalypse will hit on December 21. You see, their calendar is finally running out, after 5 125 years.   Could they have had good reason to stop counting the days? Or is it all this doom and gloom just mass hysteria? We asked Dr Bruno Letarte, Research Fellow at the South African Astronomical Observatory.

How much credence do you give to the ancient Mayans' astronomy and their complex system of calendars? How were they able to chart the movement of celestial bodies so accurately?

The Mayans, while not the only civilization to have displayed such skills, greatly valued scientific knowledge and a lot of their rituals involved celestial bodies like the Sun and Moon.  Understanding how things move “up there” was an important part of their culture.  So, there was the need for precise calendars and understanding of things like eclipses.  Also, living in ancient times, there were few distractions (like TV) and not much light pollution, so it was easy to observe a high-quality night sky.  It's much harder for modern time city dwellers like us.

That being said, the ability to make a calendar doesn't mean you can predict the future.  The Mayans weren't able to predict (or prevent) the demise of their own civilization, so that gives us a good idea of how bad they were at making doomsday predictions!

Has your team at Sutherland – or associates around the world – as yet observed anything …out of the ordinary happening in space near or far?


One theory is that the end of the world will occur due to a massive solar flare (a la 2012, the movie). What are the chances of this?

No chance whatsoever. Whether it's the Rapture (we had one or two such predictions, at least, in 2011) or the Mayan calendar, these doomsday scenarios are just a boon for the entertainment industry, religious fanatics and conspiracy theorists.  There are no science-based facts involved here.  When the end of the world doesn't happen in 2012, instead of coming to the conclusion that doomsday is just a fairy tale, these people will find another date.

Follow the Official 2012 Countdown.


* Hmmm. We wonder. Some two weeks back, the largest solar storm for seven years was expected to send a shower of radioactive solar particles racing towards Earth at almost 1 400 miles a second, according to NASA. The flare, caused by a huge eruption on the sun's surface on Sunday, was expected to affect GPS systems and other communications when it reached the Earth's magnetic field on Tuesday.” (24 January 2012)

See the sun in action: 

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