Students judge theories of Mayan apocalypse
A Google images search for “Mayan apocalypse,” produces pictures of brimstone and fire, colliding planets and ancient glyphs that suggest a calamity of epic proportions.
All nonsense, senior Jean Hurley-Gardner said.
Hurley-Gardner took a course in Native American archeoastronomy, the study of how people observe the sky. In this class, she said Associate Professor Victor Fisher of the Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice department, debunked many of the apocalypse rumors.
Internet communities, authors and other “official” sources have promoted the idea that when the Mayan calendar ends Dec. 21, some form of natural disaster will occur. Theories range from planets crashing into Earth, to a mass blackout that will leave the entire planet without essential resources.
“When learning archeoastronomy in general, you learn that you need obvious proof as to what something means,” Hurley-Gardner said. “There’s a whole idea that you can fit any archeological record to your own interpretation—it’s a trap that a lot of people fall into.”
2012 alumna Amanda Menke said that she believes there is a good chance the world will end in December – that way she won’t have to pay off her student loans.
“The Mayans were pretty accurate with their predictions, so I think that lends some credibility,” she said.
Menke said she has met many skeptics of her view.
“I think most everyone is skeptic, myself including, but I realize a long time ago it wasn’t worth it to be concerned with how anyone else views I live life,” she said.
Even NASA is one of those skeptics.
NASA officials developed an FAQ page addressing many of the popular theories as to how Earth will meet its end. It breaks down each speculation scientifically, disproving each one in the process. NASA representatives also participated in a live Google video chat session Nov. 28 that was meant to dispel rumors. This was a necessary measure, officials said, as they often heard feedback from parents that children and adolescents would take rumors to the point of panic. Junior Ben Seigel said many people are frightened of the possibility of death in any form, which fosters hysteria.
“For a variety of reasons, humans are terrified of death, the least of which being because they don’t understand it and they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Thus the apocalypse has gripped us in a culture of fear that we just don’t understand and don’t know how to handle.”
Junior Cierra Colón said people are simply vulnerable to these types of rumors.
“I think people are caught up in the idea because society is so paranoid and gullible as a whole,” she said.
Colón cited the Internet as the major cause of these rumors.
“The Internet overhypes the phenomenon because most people learn about this stuff through the Internet and YouTube videos,” she said.
The best method of dispelling gossip is education, Hurley-Gardner said.
NASA has publically pushed the FAQ page and video chat session because some of the theories are so easily undone.
Don Yeomans, senior researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called one theory that involved Earth and another planet colliding completely absurd.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA studies objects that may come into contact with Earth, including asteroids, comets and other space rocks.
“Planets align all the time, but the only objects that have noticeable effects are the moon, which is very close, and the sun,” he said in the video chat. “Even if the sun, moon and Jupiter were to align, the effect of Jupiter would be less than one percent. Alignments occur, they’re interesting from a pictorial point of view, but they don’t have an effect on the Earth.”
Other debunked theories on NASA’s website include a meteor strike, a solar storm and reverse rotation of the Earth.
“There’s a lot of misinterpretation, and we’re not going to get a full picture. We can’t call [the Mayans] up on the telephone. I’m pretty sure that the winter solstice is the only thing going to happen Dec. 21,” Hurley-Gardner said.