The world is ending! Thirty-three schools in Michigan are closing "in part because the Mayan calendar predicts the world will end on Friday." The New York Post is trying to help a model have sex. And yet for some reason, you're at work, instead of your bunker/place of worship/celestial energy node. But that's because you knew that Gawker would help explain to you why the world isn't ending tomorrow, and why everyone else thinks it is.
What is happening tomorrow?
Depending on whom you ask, either: the apocalypse will begin, humanity will ascend to a higher plane of consciousness, a planet will collide with earth, some combination of those three things, or nothing.
Tomorrow — December 21, 2012 — corresponds to the seemingly-auspicious date of 188.8.131.52.0 in the ancient Mayan long-count calendar. According to some people, this marks the "end" of the Mayan calendar, or, at the very least, of a calendar cycle, and the start of a new one.
So? Like... get a new calendar.
The last time the long-count calendar hit 184.108.40.206.0 — in some renditions of Mayan mythology — was the day of the creation of the world of humans. For 13 bak'tun (the longest time division in the calendar, around 394 years), gods had been trying, and failing, to create people, creating three successive "worlds" (animals, mud and wood); finally, at the end of the 13th bak'tun — 220.127.116.11.0 — they succeeded in creating the world we live in now, and the calendar was restarted. Some people, people who you probably should not trust, hold that the end of the 13th bak'tun of this cycle means the end of this, the fourth world — either literally or in some cosmic-vibrational-frequency way.
You don't think the world will end tomorrow, then.
Honey, even the Mayans didn't (and don't!) think the world will end tomorrow. Meso-Americans had stopped using the long count calendar well before the Spanish arrived on the continent, and most contemporary Mayanist scholars think that ancient Mayans would've greeted the arrival of the 14th bak'tun by just adding it to the calendar, not restarting the cycle. (The date would've heralded, at best, a big New Bak'tun's Eve party.) Some think that bak'tuns would've been grouped in 20s, not in 13s. And it definitely wasn't regarded as the date of a coming apocalypse: archaeologists have found Mayan inscriptions referencing dates hundreds of years from now.
So how did it become such a big deal, then?
In 1975, the novelist Frank Waters wrote a book called Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness (described by Wikipedia as "a discussion of Mesoamerican culture strongly colored by Waters' beliefs in astrology, prophecy, and the lost continent of Atlantis"). Waters, who'd written similar books about the Hopi, played up the coming of 18.104.22.168.0 — then incorrectly pegged to the Gregorian date of December 24, 2011 — as the dawning of a "sixth world of consciousness."
Waters' fellow New Age authors and vibe-ers, who never met a vague and probably incorrect statement about ancient Amerindian belief they couldn't spin a book out of, were quick to sign on. Over the next three decades, José Argüelles, Terrence McKenna, John Major Jenkins, Daniel Pinchbeck and others built a cottage industry around the idea that 2012 represented the start of a new age of consciousness and vibrational energy and turquoise jewelry, or whatever.
What do these guys think is going to happen tomorrow?
The real New Age pros are all too practiced to make any really specific predictions about what's in store for all of us. But it's not really an apocalypse: most of them think that what's coming is, in the words of McKenna, "a potential transformative event." Arguelles claims that the date marks the end of the earth's passage through a "galactic synchronization beam," at which point we're all synchronized to the galactic iPod and will be, no joke, "plugged into the Earth's electromagnetic battery." Jenkins thinks that the Milky Way and the sun will align in a certain way, leading to a kind of spiritual awaking across the planet.
And this is... a good thing?
Generally speaking, yes, the New Age crew is pretty hyped on the mass consciousness-awakening that's about to take place. There are exceptions, though — notably Graham Hancock, whose book Fingerprints of the Gods argues that the date prophesies a natural disaster, most likely (according to Hancock) the same kind of tectonic shift that capsized and hid the lost continent of Atlantis.
So this is where the whole 2012 apocalypse deal comes from.
Much of it, yeah: Hancock's book was the inspiration for the 2009 disaster movie 2012, and the internet as a whole seems to have been much more inspired by Hancock's predictions of cataclysm than by Jenkins' prediction of New Levels of Global Chillage, even if they don't buy Hancock's plate tectonics idea.
What do the apocalyptic types think will happen?
Some of them, like the New Agers, think that we're looking at a semi-mystical galactic alignment — but one that, instead of making us trip balls, will destroy the earth by lining us up with Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way; or that will cause a global extinction event by pulling us through a comet cloud. Others think that the magnetic poles will switch, or we'll see an increase in solar storms. Scientists, by the way — real, actual, people who have spent decades studying the planet and outer space as part of a collective effort to further the knowledge of mankind — don't think any of these things will happen.
And then there's, uh, the planet Nibiru.
Yes. The secret hidden planet that will either collide with us, or if nothing else pass very close by so the aliens that first gave the earth culture can say hi.
Back in the 1990s, a woman named Nancy Lieder had a website on which she claimed to be relaying messages from aliens ("grays," to be specific) from the Zeta Reticuli system. The aliens, through her, announced that in 2003 an object would pass close by the earth, wreak havoc on its gravitational and magnetic fields, and kill most people. This object was called "Planet X."
Obviously, uh, that didn't happen. (It was a "white lie," the Zetas wrote, through Nancy). Lieder's Planet X concept was later sort of casually merged with Nibiru, which is, naturally, the home planet of the aliens that came to earth as Egyptian, Babylonian and Mayan gods, according to ancient aliens guy Zecharia Sitchin; combined, the Nibiru/Planet X concept was then folded into the December 2012 thing by various YouTube scholars and message board thinkers.
It is not, according to astronomers, physicists, or people with eyes who have looked at the night sky, real.
So if the world's not ending tomorrow, when will it end?
If we can slow global warming enough, we'll get another Ice Age in about 50,000 years.
By 500,000 years from now we'll most likely have been hit by a meteor with a diameter of 1 kilometer or more.
Within a million years we're likely to see a supervolcanic eruption of about 113 million cubic feet of magma.
In 100 million years we will probably have been hit by a meteorite the size of that which triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs.
By 800 million years from now the carbon cycle will have been disrupted, lowering carbon dioxide levels to a point at which multicellular life is no longer sustainable.
In a billion years the oceans will have evaporated.
And in 7.9 billion years the sun will expand to 256 times its current size and likely destroy the earth.