Tag Archives: Alice Enevoldsen

Debunking 2012’s doomsday

Alice Enevoldsen says the notion that the world is going to end this December has become something of a “kitchen sink” of hoaxes. Fully seven different doomsday scenarios are being put forward as causes of our imminent demise.

Alice Enevoldsen

Predictions that the world is coming to an end in December represent a kitchen sink of hoaxes, according to Alice Enevoldsen, author of Alice's Astro Info and an educator at the Pacific Science Center. Enevoldsen debunked the doomsayers at this week's meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“It’s really cool how wrong they are,” Enevoldsen, planetarium specialist for the Pacific Science Center and author of Alice’s Astro Info, said during a talk this week at a meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. It was difficult to detect any signs of panic among the society membership, and there was much levity in the discussion. Enevoldsen said that while she’s not concerned about the destruction of Earth, the hoax is not entirely a laughing matter.

“The thing about the 2012 hoax is that it is hurting people. There are children writing to scientists saying ‘I’m scared that I’m not going to grow up.’ That just gives me the shivers,” she said. “There are children threatening to kill themselves. This is not OK with me.”

“That’s one of the reasons I use the word hoax. Anybody who supports this non-science stuff about how the world is going to end in 2012 is supporting children threatening to kill themselves.”

Much of the talk about impending doom is fueled by a strange mashup of three stories: the fictional planet Nibiru (and its ancient astronauts) cooked up by novelist Zecharia Sitchin, predictions by “psychic” Nancy Lieder that a “Planet X” would slam into Earth, and the 2009 disaster film 2012. Enevoldsen expressed dismay that people can be swayed by movies, pointed out Lieder’s original prediction was that “X” would smack us in 2003, and noted that astronomers have found no evidence of anything large with the remotest chance of colliding with us.

“You guys all know if there’s a planet that’s close enough to hit Earth at the end of this year we would be able to see it by now,” she told the society gathering.

Another misconception that is driving talk that the end of the world is nigh is that the Mayan calendar “ends” on Dec. 21 because the Maya somehow knew that was the last day.

“Today’s Maya all think we’re insane talking about how they think the world’s going to end,” Enevoldsen said. She explained that while we use month, day, and year to describe any date, the Maya “long count” uses five numbers to do so. A kin is a day, a uinal is about 20 days, a tun is about a year, a katun is roughly 20 years, and a baktun is about 400 years. By coincidence, they all re-set in December.

“It just rolls over. It’s like an odometer,” Enevoldsen said. “It’s not ending, we’re rolling over to the next count.” She said it is something like our turn of the century.

“If I were using the Mayan long count I would be pretty excited on Dec. 20 of this year because it means I get to change over all the numbers on my calendar,” she said. “This is a cool thing, but it’s kind of meaningless.”

Several other apocalyptic notions are included in the kitchen sink, some of them with at least a grain of truth.

  • The Earth’s magnetic poles will shift, causing earthquakes and leaving us exposed to radiation. Enevoldsen said we’re sort of due for a shift, but there’s no reason to believe it will happen this year. It’s happened before and we’re still here.
  • The Earth’s rotational poles will shift. Enevoldsen said it would take a collision with a massive object to make that happen. There’s nothing on the radar that is on a collision course.
  • Solar maximum will arrive and the Sun will zap us with cosmic rays. 2012 does promise to be an active year for sunspots and such, but scientists think the true maximum won’t get here until 2013. This is a roughly 11-year cycle that hasn’t wiped us out yet.
  • The planets will align, causing lots of disruption. Enevoldsen pointed out that this simply isn’t true.
  • We’ll be lined up with the galactic plane and the center of the galaxy, causing lots of disruption. Enevoldsen said there are some half a dozen definitions of the galactic plane, and there’s no reason to believe that our periodic passes through it mean anything. And we’re aligned with the center of the galaxy every year around the winter solstice.

Enevoldsen suggested not simply dismissing people who have concern about 2012, but instead validating their interest in the subject. But, she said it’s important to share the facts in order to quash the hoax, and suggest astronomical activities to share, such as this year’s solar eclipse or the transit of Venus. She added that professional help might be in order for those truly gripped by fear that the world is doomed.

The 2012 hoax has received enough attention that many mainstream media have taken on the task of providing more information. Enevoldsen suggested the website 2012hoax.org as a great source about the topic. She’s also written her own paper, published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and aimed at educators, that explains many of these concepts in greater detail.

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Top Mars scientist to give talk at UW

There are several interesting talks on the Seattle Astronomy calendar for the next week.

Curiosity!

CuriosityOne of the scientific leaders of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission will give a talk in Seattle next week. Dr. Pamela Conrad of the Planetary Environments Lab, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will speak on “Assessing the Habitability of Mars: Exploring Gale Crater with the Curiosity Rover.”

Curiosity is on its way to Mars, scheduled to land in Gale Crater on Aug. 5. Conrad will explain how the rover will go about determining if Mars is or ever has been capable of supporting life.

The free talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23 in room 210 of Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus. The talk is sponsored by the UW Astrobiology Program and Astronomy Department.

The Right Stuff

Robots in Space
This Sunday the senior curator  in the Division of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum will give a talk at the Museum of Flight about “The Right Stuff Revisited: Project Mercury 50 Years On.” Roger Launius, former chief historian for NASA, will look back at the Project Mercury space program and the individuals who carried it out, and discuss what it means today on the eve of the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s first U.S. orbital flight.

Launius, co-author of Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel, is a compelling speaker who gave a couple of talks here in 2010.

The talk begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19 at the museum. Free with admission.

Doom!

Worried about the world ending this December? Alice Enevoldsen says you shouldn’t be. The author of Alice’s Astro Info and planetarium whiz at the Pacific Science Center will discuss “The 2012 Hoax: The Kitchen Sink” at tonight’s meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society. The kitchen sink of apocalyptic indicators includes the planet Nibiru, the rollover of the Maya Long Count, a long-expected and non-conjunction of planets, some sunspots, and a lack of reversal in the Earth’s magnetic field, and the continued alignment of the Earth, Sun, and galactic center. Enevoldsen will debunk the doomsayers.

SAS meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15 in room A-102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building at the University of Washington in Seattle. It’s free and open to the public.

Keep on top of space and astronomy related events in the area by following the Seattle Astronomy calendar.

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