I'm planning to have an awesome holiday season this year, if only by virtue of the fact that myself and leading astrobiologist David Morrison are confident we'll be around to celebrate them.
Normally I don't seek out the professional opinion of NASA scientists to validate my Christmas and New Year's plans, but in the case of 2012 I'm playing it safe.
You've probably heard, if you've spent any time on the Internet in the past decade, that lots of people believe some sort of doomsday is in store for us around the time of the winter solstice on December 21 of this year. Often it has to do with the rumored (and discredited) end of the Mayan calendar or the fictional planet Nibiru -- allegedly discovered by the Sumerians -- crashing into Earth.
NASA's Morrison has been answering questions from the public for the past decade at the agency's "Ask an Astrobiologist" page, and he says that over the past few years, questions he receives have been overwhelmed by queries about the 2012 end-of-the-world prophecies.
"In particular I'm concerned about the young people who write to me and say that they are terribly afraid," Morrison said in response to a question during a Google+ Hangout NASA held yesterday specifically to address 2012 apocalyptic hoaxes. "They can't sleep, they can't eat, some of them say they are contemplating suicide."
So Morrison and some of his colleagues have opted to try to get the word out that there's nothing to fear. NASA scientists who study asteroids and heliophysics and even an archaeoastronomer well-versed in Mayan history participated in this week's hangout to dispel the myths.
Debunking the end of the world is fairly simple, but there are counterarguments to every debunking that range from thought-provoking to silly and go on ad infinitum. I won't get into all of that here, that's what the Internet is for, after all, but here are the basics:
If a planet was about to crash into ours, we would have been looking at it in the sky every day for quite a while now, as Morrison pointed out on NPR recently. The photos you'll find online that seem to indicate the planet Nibiru has been "hiding" behind the sun are the result of lens flare.
Oh, and no, NASA is not predicting a three-day global blackout in December, but I have been enjoying the television show based on a similar premise.
As for that Mayan calendar -- actual Mayan experts insist that the Mayans had no actual interest in predicting the end of the world, and in fact, archaeologists think they may have found a Mayan calendar that goes far beyond 2013.
Then again, if the world isn't going to end next month, then why is Hanukkah falling so early in December this year? Coincidence or conspiracy? Never mind, I'm not going there. Happy holidays to everyone this year, and I do mean all of the holidays, right on through to Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.
If you're still not convinced, watch the entire NASA Google+ Hangout below: