Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Doomsday Malarky
June 24, 2009

Looks cloudy tonight, so no stargazing on Wednesday, June 24.

Also, I got this email from a friend. I thought I would pass it on to you all.

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Hi Jason,

I wonder if you’ve heard about the doomsday theories that talk about the lining up of the Earth, Sun and Galactic Center on Winter solstice? Apparently, Earth has already entered into “the photon belt” associated with the galactic alignment (?) I seem to be coming across a lot of this information, and also about the Mayan calendar ending on 12/21/12 and solar flares increasing, electromagnetic fields weakening and magnetic poles shifting and reversing. I’ve heard things like, Earth could lose its tilt and become vertical, causing oceans to shift and causing mass extinction of life as we know it, This is all FREAKING me out and I’d like to know what you think about it all and whether you’ve been following any of these discussions?

Thanks,

XXXXXXXXX

Dear XXXXXX,

There are some threads of truth in amongst the doomsday stuff you describe. But these tiny tiny threads have been distorted by ignorant people to push cult-like adoration of the end of the world.

Learn more about the reality of completely normal Solar Activity : http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/

The Sun is over 5 billion years away from its completely expected end. http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=38

People are searching for credible threats from asteroids, but the program also serves to hunt for space-based resources for future missions, and to study the origin of the Solar System. http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/

There is no such thing as a “photon belt”.

Also, the gravitational pull of your car on you as you drive is greater than the pull you fell from the Galactic Center. Easy to calculate.

The Earth’s tilt won’t “go vertical.” There is no mechanism to do that.

Please buy just these two books.

A great book by Carl Sagan about how fear makes people believe in strange things.

An excellent book debunking all crazy astronomy-related myths

Now for the color commentary…

There is so much trash on the web about the Mayans at this point, you’d think they were running for President or will soon follow Miss California on FOX. I have biases, but they are just that. The little I know about Mayans most likely far exceeds the silly gurus preaching the end of the world.

But the doomsday stuff is, and always will be, a goodly pack of lies which tries to get you to buy things or join some cult. None of it is true, and those who push it are liars or ignoramuses. If these are your friends saying this, they are neither bright, nor your friends. This kind of thing is exactly what the Taliban are like. They make “claims” and then offer no way of telling you how to back them up with actual evidence or even tell you how they got their data. Nor will such claimants ever allow their cult-like ideas to be subject to scrutiny. They will always offer up a new and more evasive explanation hoping that you will be freaked out enough to just believe them for the sake of getting done with the argument. Then they win, and they get your money.

Remember what everyone was saying about the year 2000? Nothing happened. No Rapture. No world explosion. Even the computer techs fixed all the Y2K issues well in advance.

The best armament I can suggest for you against this is to read a real book on how to think critically about the universe around you. Unplug from the intertubes and the shlock.

Buy these two books today and read them.

http://product.half.ebay.com/The-Demon-Haunted-World_W0QQtgZinfoQQprZ155591

Also

http://product.half.ebay.com/Bad-Astronomy_W0QQprZ1977971QQtgZinfo

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Furthermore, remember that reality is ALWAYS more boring than you realize. But then this boredom leads to wonder. Truly examining the real world for what it really has to offer always leads to wonderment and not terror.

If they are giving you terror, and don’t give real numbers that they actually want you to challenge and check, then they are lying.

There have been thousands of doomsday cults for thousands of years. Remember the crazies that killed themselves in the purple sneakers for Halley’s comet? I could go on and on. They are all wrong. When the day they predict passes without incident (and it always does) they just sell something else. Finally, everyone needs to be willing to just take a deep breath, and realize that cults do their best to justify themselves by using fear.

Don’t give in to fear. The universe is big and full of things to discover and be amazed at.

The reason for the Mayan thing is that stone wheels are pretty big, but it is still a stone circle. It was their Y2K problem. They ran out of stone, so the universe in their calendar cannot go further. They also had some other rather unsavory proclivities. While their knowledge of the stars was quite good, it was because they needed to understand planting cycles for their large population. Not knowing the right time of year to plant makes people starve. However, their predictions of the end of the earth are just as ludicrous as any other cult’s stories. Taken as metaphors, they are wonderful tales. Only those whose picnic baskets are short a few sandwiches believe that these events will occur as the Mayans said they would.

The reason we cling to such wild and outrageous stories is that the Myths and legends of the classic and dominant religions no longer speak to us. We no longer live as sheep or shepherds. We infrequently visit deserts. In fact, our lives feel like there are powerful and uncaring forces at work. (That is the mythos of the Maya, by the way….) So, we look for things that mirror our feelings. But just because it feels like something does not mean you should be taken over by it.

Also get this and watch them all. How to understand what happens when a civilization loses its myths.

http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Campbell-Power-Myth-III/dp/B00005MEVQ

I suggest you watch as much Star Trek as possible. At least they have hope for the future and talk about laws and hope and behaving well, without resorting to a vengeful god or demon of any kind.



About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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