Until the world ends

Is the world going to end? Apparently not. (Zachary Schiller/YH Staff)

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, a small group of individuals summitted Science Hill, despite light rain and sub-60-degree weather, seeking an answer to one of the most pressing questions of our time: will the world end on Dec. 21, 2012? According to popular belief (and a less popular John Cusak movie) the ancient Maya predicted this date would mark the end of the world. With the hope that the impending apocalypse would render studying for my biology midterm pointless, I found myself in the Leitner Family Observatory to hear Dr. Michael Faison, director of the observatory and lecturer of astronomy, give a talk titled “Mayan Astronomy and the End of the World.”

Despite the headlines on my Yahoo homepage (among other similarly well-respected news sources), the world will probably not be coming to an end this December, Dr. Faison assured the event’s attendees. He went on to point out that the answer to headlines ending in question marks is almost always no. In fact, the Maya never made any predictions as to when the world will end. The only significance of this date to the Maya is that it falls exactly 1,300,000 days—or 13 Baktuns, a Mayan unit of time — after day zero in the Mayan Long Count calendar. If anything, this would be a particularly good day in the mind of an ancient Mayan, as the number 13 was considered sacred. A recently excavated Mayan calendar includes dates far beyond Dec. 21, 2012.

Since the world probably won’t end in December, what are you to do with the rest of your potentially long life? If you want to spend it learning about our galaxy, cultural astronomy, and astrobiology (yes, that’s aliens), you can check out the Leitner Family Observatory, open to the public on Tuesday nights for talks, planetarium shows, and star observation.

Then again, Dr. Faison did add that there is a one in 1,000,000 chance that an earth-destroying asteroid will hit Earth on Dec. 21. So just in case, I recommend forgoing all midterm studying, and focusing on more appropriate last-three-months-to-live activities.

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