The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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November 15, 2012

Students hear astronomer discount end-of-world theories as nonsense

It’s safe to say that the hype surrounding the Mayan calendar predicting that the world will end Dec. 21 is seen at Missouri Southern State University as, well, a bunch of bunk.

Why?

It’s real simple, said Sam Claussen, a retired theater faculty member at Southern. “The Mayans never predicted such a thing,” he said.

He and Conrad Gubera, professor of sociology, are co-teaching a class about the Mayan civilization this semester. They hope to debunk certain theories concerning the Mayan calendar and the world ending four days before Christmas.

“It bothers me a little bit that all the cool stuff about the Mayans is being upstaged by the world-ending talk,” Claussen said. “Maybe on Jan. 1, all the people will start looking at the fascinating things the Mayans (accomplished).”

Claussen’s brother, Mark Claussen, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory near Socorro, N.M., was the guest speaker for the class session on Thursday. He spent a majority of the class period demonstrating just how gifted — and accurate — the Mayan scientists were when it came to astronomical observations and predictions. That list ranges from a full understanding of the moon phases to recognizing the third motion of Earth, the slight wobble called precession, which takes a period of 26,000 years to complete.

He then introduced the most popular “doomsday scenarios” that some believe could happen late next month, and verbally tore each one apart.

The first concerns the so-called “Nibiru cataclysm,” in which a rogue planet will smash into Earth on Dec. 21.

“If there was a rogue planet out there, one that’s even the size of a small planet, we would see it,” Mark Claussen said. “And we would’ve seen it now for at least 50 years.”

He said there are groups all around the world monitoring the skies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and recording objects out in space as small as a few meters across.

“So a planet-sized chunk of rock can’t stay hidden,” he said. “It couldn’t have escaped our attention.”

The same goes with another popular theory — the sudden “flipping” of the planet’s magnetic poles. Some believe this will happen in a matter of seconds on Dec. 21, throwing the world as we know into chaos of biblical proportions.

Sam Claussen said there is evidence of poles flipping in the past, but “it’s very gradual,” spanning “10,000 years. So it doesn’t happen in one day.”

The same goes with solar flares, which some people believe could spew from the sun and strike the Earth on Dec. 21, wiping out the electrical and communication grid.

Past solar flares have wreaked minor havoc, Mark Claussen said, but they ebb and flow over an 11-year cycle. The sun is just now entering an upswing in activity.

“Sure,” he said, “it could happen, but not on Dec. 21.”

The final doomsday theory — the “galactic alignment” — sounds almost like vintage science fiction. Its creators theorize that the sun will cross the path of the Great Rift, which is a dark road or slash running down the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s actually not a rift but a cloud of dust and gas obscuring the stars behind it. The theory holds that when the sun crosses this rift, it will temporarily blot out a “4 million solar mass black hole,” causing untold havoc on Earth.

Nonsense, the Claussen brothers say.

The significance of the Dec. 21, 2012, date, Mark Claussen said, is simply the ending of the 20th cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar. That’s it.

“Think of it like an odometer in your car turning to zero,” Sam Claussen said. “When that happens, does the car explode or quit running? Of course not.”

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