(I've taken the unusual step of posting this article both here and on my other blog because I believe this is a developing scam that is going to bilk a lot of people in the coming years, and that sort of thing really annoys me.)
According to many, the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. This is when the Mayan calendar comes to an end. Personally, I always thought the Mayan Calendar came to an end at that point because the Mayans weren't planning on going to anyone's birthday party or attending any business meetings hundreds of years after the collapse of their society, but I could be wrong. And many New Age-y types have decided that this is when civilization is going to collapse, because that's when Nibiru comes back.
"Nibiru comes back?" The miniskirt making a comeback, sure. But what the hell is "Nibiru"?
According to Zecharia Sitchin, who claims to be an expert in Ancient Sumerian studies (but got his degree in Economic History), Nibiru is a giant planet, the size of Jupiter or larger, on an eccentric orbit that brings it into the inner Solar System about once every 3600 years or so. His decoding of ancient Sumerian and Mayan texts apparently confirm this. The story is that Nibiru will be returning soon... making its closest approach to Earth on December 21, 2012.
Those ancient Sumerians and Mayans... they couldn't hold their empires together, but apparently they were waaaay better astronomers than we are.
I'm not fluent in Mayan or Sumerian, so I have no place Sitchin's archaeology. But others have, and there is a fairly exhaustive rundown of Sitchin's errors here. But astronomy and astrophysics? Those are subjects I do know. And I can tell you with great confidence that THERE ARE NO GIANT RAMPAGING PLANETS OUT THERE COMING TO EAT YOU. Honest.
Consider this: everything with mass in the universe has a gravitational field. The greater the mass, the stronger the field. That's why apples fall to Earth, and why the Earth doesn't fall towards apples. The Earth orbits the Sun. If the Earth were travelling faster, it would achieve "escape velocity": the speed needed to fly away from the Sun and off into the Cosmos. If the earth were to slow down, it would fall into the Sun. Every planet in the solar system has a gravitational effect on every other planet, though (relative to the huge mass of the Sun) the pull that, say, Neptune has on Venus is pretty weak.
Put another way: when you were born, the mass of the obstetrician had slightly more influence on you than the planet Mars did... but slightly less than that of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.
If two bodies of sufficient mass pass close enough to each other, they will have an effect on each others orbits around the Sun. Many asteroids have had their orbits affected by the occasional(relatively) close brush with Jupiter: picking up speed and moving out into more distant, less circular orbits around the Sun as a result.
Even though Niburu has such a long orbit, given the age of the Solar System (about 4.5 billion years), it would have passed by Earth (and all the other planets) about one and a quarter million times in the life of the Solar System. And yet despite all these close brushes with a giant planet, Mercury through Neptune remain in relatively stable, circular orbits. The odds of that being the case with a Niburu whipping through the neighborhood that many times is comparable to the odds of making your first break in a game of pool by throwing a bowling ball onto the table... and having all the pool balls drift elegantly back into their original triangular configuration. Try it sometime... with someone else's pool table, ideally.
Furthermore... you'd think that with something that big in our own Solar System, there would be some kind of observational clues... after all, we found Pluto, and it's a tiny, insignificant little thing compared to Uranus and Neptune. Uranus, in turn, is much smaller than Nibiru allegedly is; and Uranus was discovered in the 1700s. As far as observational data for Nibiru: there was a misidentified sighting of a distant galaxy by the IRAS satellite in 1984 that has gotten a lot of coverage as being "Nibiru," and the occasional misidentified sun dog.
The primary reason all of this bothers me... other than it being a sign of how damned bad public education really is these days... is that there seem to be a lot of people out there exploiting the fear of Nibiru Doom for profit.
Like these people. Or these people. Or this guy. But most of all: THIS guy.
And regardless of which religious tradition one follows, or which ancient texts on bases one's beliefs on... most faiths agree that hoodwinking the gullible for profit is a bad thing. And I agree.
So: no need to panic. The only threat to the world in 2012... or now... is human nature itself.
Okay, in light of that... maybe you can panic a little.