Tag Archives: end of the world

We’ll Survive 2012 Apocalypse, So Will Doomsday Fears

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Humanity will survive the supposed December 2012 apocalypse, but, unfortunately, so will irrational doomsday fears, scientists say.

Doomsayers around the world are gearing up for armageddon on Dec. 21, based on predictions supposedly made by the Mayans more than 1,000 years ago. Even after the sun rises Dec. 22, however, many folks will be only momentarily reassured, quickly latching onto another scenario purported to bring about the apocalypse within their lifetime.

The persistence of these worries stems from a variety of factors, researchers say. The deluge of misinformation on the Internet, poorly developed or underutilized critical thinking skills and plain old human nature all contribute, convincing many people to fear the worst despite the lack of compelling evidence (and the poor track record of such dire predictions over the years).

“There have been end-of-the-world predictions every few years throughout history, really,” said astronomer David Morrison, head of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “We had two or three last year.”

Morrison spoke at the SETICon 2 conference in Santa Clara, Calif., on June 23 during a panel discussion called “Cosmophobia: Doomsday 2012 and Other Fiction Science.” [Don’t Panic: 2012 Doomsday Fears Debunked]

Flood of Misinformation

Though Morrison and other scientists work hard to tamp down fears of Comet Elenin, the mythical planet Nibiru and other supposed agents of impending doom, their voices of reason have a hard time being heard these days.

“We are completely drowned out by the doomsayers on the Internet,” Morrison said. “It’s very hard for the truth to even get a hearing.”

It’s especially hard to reach young people, most of whom seem unable to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, he added.

“At the best, they will just count numbers,” Morrison said. “‘Well, there are 83 websites that say the world will end in 2012, and one that says it won’t. So it must be true.'”

Not all of the misinformation is coming from altruistic folks who just want to get the worried word out, said fellow panelist Andrew Fraknoi, chair of the astronomy department at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif. Some of it is probably pumped out by people trying to make a buck.

“Today, it seems like money is much more important than truth, that anything goes,” Fraknoi said. “Fear-mongering has become a large and profitable industry.”

Data from the publishing world appear to back him up: A search for “Doomsday 2012” books on Amazon.com returns nearly 200 titles.

It’s Human Nature

But not all of the blame can be laid at the Internet’s feet. Doomsday fears have cropped up repeatedly throughout history, and in most cases they weren’t sustained by YouTube videos and “Nibiru” Google searches. [Oops! 11 Failed Doomsday Predictions]

The Millerites, for example, believed that Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1843 or 1844, and that the world as we know it would be destroyed in the process. Another group called the Seekers thought a huge flood would ravage our planet on Dec. 21, 1954. The Seekers’ leader, a Chicago woman named Dorothy Martin, claimed to have gotten this information from aliens living on the planet Clarion.

We shouldn’t be too surprised whenever such cults grab the headlines, said Leonard Mlodinow, a Caltech physicist and author of such books as “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randonmness Rules Our Lives” and “The Grand Design” (which he wrote with Stephen Hawking).

“I think it’s a very natural human phenomenon,” Mlodninow said. “People who we consider very rational believe such things all the time.”

He cited today’s major religions, saying that they would have seemed just as odd and irrational as the doomsday cults if we’d encountered them back in the early days, before they became so well established.

“I don’t consider those people particularly weird,” Mlodinow said of modern doomsayers. “I just think that they’re early adopters, you might call them.”

There’s likely some ego-boosting pyschology involved as well, said panelist Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.

“To some extent, it’s a very empowering thought — that you know something very important that those nerdy, pointy-headed, tweed-jacketed academics down at the local university won’t acknowledge,” Shostak said. “I think you have to look for the answers there.”

Is Education the Answer?

Whatever their causes, doomsday fears are quite prevalent in the United States and abroad.

For example, a poll commisioned by the news agency Reuters earlier this year found that 15% of people worldwide — or roughy 1 billion folks — believe the apocalypse will come during their lifetime. In the United States, the figure is 22%.

Such worries aren’t just interesting sociological or psychological phenomena, Morrison said. They can have tragic consequences for believers.

“At least once a week, I get a question from a young person — usually 11, 12 years old — who says they are contemplating suicide before the end of the world,” Morrison said. “I know of several cases at least of reported suicides, of people who are obsessed with the end of the world in 2012.”

The best way to combat irrational doomsday worries — especially among the young — is education, Fraknoi said. We need to teach better critical thinking skills and instill a love of discovery that will inspire kids to seek out the truth — and make them less likely to be gulled by fanciful rumors.

“Ask yourself the question, ‘Why should I believe a word of this?'” Fraknoi said. “If you know how to answer, ‘Why should I believe a word of this?’ then you’re much closer to scientific truth.”

Artist’s conception of the rogue planet Nibiru, or Planet X courtesy of gilderm, sxc.hu

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/06/science-of-doomsday-fears/

9 Terrifyingly Awesome Facts About Asteroids

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asteroid

Phil Plait, also known as the “Bad Astronomer,” is a Discover columnist known for making really complicated space stuff (Black holes! White dwarves! Spacetime!) not only totally understandable, but completely fascinating.

Plait made a stop in Portland, Ore. on tour with his latest book, Death from the Skies, to speak at Science Pub, a monthly summit of beer and geeks hosted by Portland’s excellent science museum, OMSI.

Plait’s talk was packed to the gills with both avid Bad Astronomy fans and science-minded folks curious about an astronomer’s take on the end of the world. Here are our favorite asteroid factoids.

1. Objects From Space Hit the Earth… A lot

We see mini-asteroids (meteoroids) crossing paths with Earth quite often, but most of time they fall to the earth as no bigger than a grain of sand or burn up altogether. “It seems like these things are whizzing past us all the time,” Plait says. “That’s because they are.”

2. Asteroids Kind of Look Like Potatoes… Or Dog Bones

According to Phil Plait, it’s a common fact that asteroids often look a lot like potatoes. But Kleopatra, one of Plait’s favorites, is as big as a state and shaped like a dog bone. Kleopatra is actually so big that it has a couple of moons orbiting it as it tumbles through space.

3. Asteroids Can Have Mountains Taller Than Mount Everest

The asteroid known as Vesta boasts a mountain that puts even Everest to shame. And Vesta isn’t the biggest asteroid around, either — that honor goes to Ceres, a dwarf planet that’s 590 miles in diameter.

4. The biggest Asteroid Was Discovered in 1801

We’ve known about Ceres since 1801, when Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi came across the massive body of rock and ice while looking for a star. He initially believed it to be a comet, but now we know Ceres to be much more on par with the size of a small planet.

5. Hollywood Usually Gets it Wrong

Plait thinks Armegeddon is up there with the least scientifically accurate movies ever cooked up in Hollywood. In Armageddon, an asteroid headed toward Earth is blown up into two halves. Among the inaccuracies, Plait noted that there’s no asteroid as big as Texas and if there was we’d know about it for well more than 18 days before it was set to impact Earth.

But not all movies go quite so wrong. Plait does like Deep Impact, another film about an asteroid hitting Earth from the same year. Plait thinks the depiction of the asteroid’s impact and its ensuing wildfires and tsunamis is actually “fairly accurate.” That’s terrifying.

6. Even Tiny Asteroids Are Dangerous

The main reason asteroids are dangerous is because they’re hurtling through space so fast. Asteroids fall to Earth at 50 times the speed of a rifle bullet. An asteroid’s impact could well exceed 50 megatons, the impact of the Soviet Union’s AN602 hydrogen bomb and the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated on Earth. You can even play around with an asteroid impact calculator if you’re curious about just how devastating an Earth impact could be.

7. A Group of Scientists Is Taking the End of the World Very, Very Seriously

The B612 foundation is a privately funded organization on a mission to create a “comprehensive, dynamic map” of the inner solar system. The map will identify the current location of asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth and provide data on just how close to Earth they might pass in the future. Worried? You probably should be. You can always donate to the B612 foundation — it might help you sleep at night.

8. Scientists Are Monitoring an Asteroid Headed for Earth in 2029

An asteroid called Apophis is set to pass near the Earth in 2029. Initial calculations gave Apophis a 2.7% chance of striking our planet. Now we know that Apophis’s odds are much, much smaller. But the asteroid could still pass through a half mile-wide area called a “keyhole,” which would change its orbit and up its chances of impacting the Earth on April 13, 2036.

9. How to Fend Off an Asteroid: Whack it, Don’t Blow it up

It sounds like science fiction, but according to Plait, “The idea is now that if you see one of these things coming, you send a probe at it and you smack it.” Even a tiny shift in an asteroid’s velocity and path can make a huge difference if it’s impacted when far enough away in space.

Another option would be harder to pull off: “You could land a rocket on it and push it, but it would be almost impossible to physically land on it, especially for asteroids like Kleopatra that are tumbling.” That asteroid, the one shaped like a dog bone, has an irregular orbit that would make a landing hard to stick.

Learn anything surprising? We certainly did!

This article originally published at Tecca
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/17/facts-about-asteroids/

This Terrifying Simulator Demonstrates How YOU Could Cause The End Of The World

Zombie apocalypses might be the stuff of horror films, but theyve got nothing on smallpox pandemics.

The Collapse is a web-based simulator that details the journey of you patient zero infected with smallpox. After putting in your address, you have to find your way around thelocal area on amap, attempting to survivewhile trying to minimize the amount of people you infect.

The game prompts you to make decisions, such as which hospital to go to when you start to feel unwell. With each move, you follow a story and get fedsome pretty interestingif not utterly terrifyingfacts about pandemics and smallpox. Throughout the game, youre givena running update on how quickly the virus is spreading.

According to Ubisoft, the whole simulator uses Open Street Map, NASA open source data, and IATA Flight routes,along with data from the World Health Organization.

The game has been released as a promotion for the new Ubisoft third-person shooter game The Division, where players are immersed in a virus-ridden apocalyptic New York. The gameis available on March 8.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/start-global-pandemic-terrifying-simulator

3 Cosmic Events That Will Spark Doomsday Rumors

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Take a deep breath; Dec 21, 2012 is behind us. The Mayan calendar end-of-world debacle is over: zip, zilch, gone!

The silliness, anxiety and paranoia leading up to the predicted end of times was so bad that on Dec. 21st — the appointed doomsday — a worried citizen left a message on my office phone that accused me of skipping town to escape Armageddon.

If history is any example, the next cosmic doomsday prediction is always right around the corner. The Mayan blowout was just the latest in many centuries of bad calls by prognosticators who have the audacity to think they can divine the End of Everything.

So, to be a little preemptive, let’s look at just three cosmic events that might start another pop culture panic. Thankfully these aren’t born out of mythology, psychics and misinterpreted archeoastronomy. They are real events that will inevitably be embellished by the imaginations of modern day soothsayers.

The Comet of the Century

Last September, the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) near Kislovodsk, Russia, discovered comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). Though its closest approach to Earth is a year away, the celestial visitor is already billed as the “comet of the century.” That’s because it may be a first-time visitor to the solar system that will warm and then erupt with a lot of outgassing from pristine ices.

On Nov. 28, 2013, the comet will skim above the sun’s surface at a distance slightly greater than the separation of the Earth and moon. Not doubt there will be pseudoscience predictions of the comet wreaking havoc by raising tides on the sun. The exact opposite will be the case. The sun’s tidal pull could tear apart the comet into small pieces, as has been the case for previous sungrazer-class comets.

Comet ISON is due to pass within 37 million miles of Earth in January 2014. You can expect to see all types of outrageous claims that the object’s feeble gravity will yank on Earth to trigger volcanoes and earthquakes.

Comet ISON has been compared with the Great Comet of 1680 (in above illustration) which, according to contemporary accounts, caused New Yorkers to be “overcome with terror at a sight in the heavens such as has seldom greeted human eyes.” A day of fasting and humiliation was set-aside in order that “the wrath of God might be assuaged.”

Likewise, soothsayers will quickly note that the comet will be at it brightest one month before Christmas 2013. “This comet, if it lives up to its billing, certainly could point to the glorious soon coming of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven!” predicts one religious website.

The fact that the comet is anticipated to get as bright as the moon will only fuel religious and mystical speculation about its timing and significance as an omen. Chill out folks, it’s just another 4-billion-year-old primeval chunk of ice from the solar system’s deep freeze, the Oort cloud.

Asteroid Apophis

NASA keeps cataloging more Earth-threatening asteroids every year. But the asteroid Apophis, named after the Egyptian spirit of evil and destruction, is legendary because it will be a record-breaker.

On April, Friday the 13th of 2029 Apophis will skim below the orbits of communication satellites and briefly be a naked-eye object scooting over the mid-Atlantic ocean.

Earth’s gravity will deflect the comet’s trajectory. The worst-case scenario is that the chances of it striking Earth on its return on April 13, 2036 will increase to 1 in 5,500.

Apophis is the length of over three football fields. It packs enough kinetic energy to wipe out 10 million people with the power of 100,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. Even in this worst-case scenario, a direct hit would not obliterate all life on the planet. But it certainly would not be a good day for the human race.

People will get very squeamish over the possibility of Apophisgeddon despite the best low-probability collision estimate from astronomers. Parallels no doubt will be drawn to Biblical prophecy. This is especially true because the potentially destructive path of the asteroid crosses Middle East. South America and the west coast of Africa are also along the ground track.

Congress might even debate if steps should be taken to deflect the asteroid. But given that so many legislators are tone-deaf to global warming, don’t expect any preemptive actions to be funded.

Planetary Grand Alignment

Like clockwork so-called planetary grand alignments have taken place in 1962, 1982 and 2000. This does not mean that the planets line up like pearls on a string. But they sort of gang up on one side of the sun within an angle of roughly 10 to 30 degrees — so the definition is a but mushy.

The uneventful year 1128 A.D. saw one of the tightest planetary alignments. The 1982 doomsday best-seller The Jupiter Effect spelled out an improbable chain of events that would be triggered by the planets’ tug-of-war with the sun: Tides raised on the sun’s surface would increase sunspot activity, build up the solar wind that would effect Earth’s weather, and subsequently, Earth’s spin rate, which would then trigger earthquakes.

No geological disasters happened in 1982 short of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake that killed 1,500 people in Dhamar, northern Yemen. In fact the celestial alignment allowed for NASA to pull off the Voyager 2 “grand tour” of the four outer gas giant planets from 1979 to 1989.

Jupiter contains more mass than all the other planets combined, and yet it is still less than 1% of the sun’s mass. Therefore Jupiter’s influence on the sun is inconsequential.

Alien astronomers could measure Jupiter’s gravitational tug as an insignificant 270 mile-per-hour cyclic change in the sun’s radial velocity over the planet’s 12-year orbital period. Only if Jupiter was moved so close to the sun that its orbital period was measured in days, would some serious tidal effects be seen. This is observed with so-called “hot Jupiters,” the exoplanet WASP-18 being the most extreme case.

Running an ephemeris forward in time, with the ease of throttling H.G. Wells’ time machine, the next closest thing to a grand alignment comes in 2163 (shown above). Unless we have bombed ourselves back to pre-Columbian society by then, people in 2163 will be too science savvy to give this any thought. They will be bemused by historical accounts of the feared Jupiter Effect by their science-illiterate ancestors.

What’s ironic is that any casual surfing of the Internet shows that a lot of people are preoccupied with doom and gloom based on mythology, psychics and patently flaky ideas. The real Earth-threats, such as global warming, seem to be too easily shrugged off as lacking solid scientific evidence. Go figure.

Images courtesy of NASA; Russell Schweickart / B612 Foundation

This article originally published at Discovery News
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/01/07/cosmic-events-doomsday/

10 Ways the World Could End That Don’t Involve Zombies

The world is ending. Happy Monday!

AllTime10 has cataloged 10 of the scariest ways all life on Earth could end for good. Some are far-fetched, such as the reversing of Earth’s magnetic poles, while some disasters are imminent if we don’t act soon, such as the pollution scenario.

The scariest part about these 10 apocalyptic scenarios is that they only scrape the surface in the ways the world could end. But who cares? The world will totally end in a zombie apocalypse. Duh.