London, Jan 11: With curiosity mounting as the Mayan calendar ends on December 21 this year, Nasa has come out with the reassuring promise that nothing will happen in 2012, at least no apocalypse.
Public concern is so high that NASA, the U.S. space agency, even has a section debunking the theories of impending doom on its website, reports Daily Mail.
‘Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012,' says NASA on its website in a reassuring tone.
‘Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than four billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.'
David Morrison, senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said he had been receiving about ten emails a day from worried members of the public who are ‘seriously, seriously upset'.
A young woman from Denmark wrote to him saying: ‘Mother of one daughter and another coming.
Yesterday I was considering killing myself, the baby in my stomach and my beloved two-year-old daughter before December 2012 for fear of having to experience the Earth's destruction.'
Another, a 13-year-old American, wrote: ‘I am considering suicide. I am scared to tears . . . I don't want to live any more, I deserve an explanation.'
A third wrote: ‘I am so scared. My only friend is my little dog. When should I put her to sleep so she won't suffer when the Earth is destroyed?'
Worried Americans are rushing to buy everything from £17 survival guides to £32,000-per-person places in bunkers that are marketed as being both nuclear bomb and asteroid-proof.
Robert Vicino is a Californian businessman who is building the luxury bunkers in secret locations. His website asks: ‘What if the prophecies are true? Which side of the door do you want to be on?'
He says that he has more than 5,000 Americans booking places, and is now building bunkers in Europe.
Steve Cramer, one man who has reserved his place, insists: ‘We're not crazy people: these are fearful times. My family wants to survive. You have to be prepared.'
Jason Hodge, a father-of-four who also counts himself a ‘future survivor', to use the jargon of the apocalypse industry, adds: ‘It's an investment in life.
‘I want to make sure I have a place I can take me and my family if that worst-case scenario were to happen.'
A particularly popular theory is that a rogue planet called Nibiru is lurking behind the Sun and will collide with the Earth next December, destroying it. Some believe this rogue body is Eris, a dwarf planet orbiting beyond Neptune.
The idea of a planet creeping out from behind the Sun and smashing into Earth provided the depressing backdrop to last year's Lars von Trier film Melancholia, starring Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland.
Another theory, also involving the Sun, predicts that a huge solar flare — called a ‘solar max' — will destroy the Earth.
This notion has already inspired Hollywood in the 2009 disaster blockbuster 2012, in which the flare caused catastrophic earthquakes. The film also made reference to the Mayan calendar.
Academics and scientists dismiss all of these theories as wild hysteria, of course.
But the fact is that Mayan scholars have been bickering for years over what the end of the Long Count Calendar actually signifies.
The Mayan calendar began in 3,114 BC — believed by Mayans to be when the current ‘world order' was created — and progresses in 144,000-day cycles (a little more than 394 years) known as baktuns.
The 13th (a sacred number for Mayans) baktun runs out on the 2012 winter solstice, December 21. After that date, the ‘Great Cycle' is completed and the calendar sequence simply ends.
In 1957, respected Mayan scholar and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that the completion of a ‘Great Period' of 13 baktuns would have been ‘of the utmost significance to the Maya'.
Nine years later, in 1966, Michael Coe, another prominent Mayan anthropologist and a former CIA agent, went much further and concluded there was a ‘suggestion' among the Mayans that the final day of the Great Cycle would see ‘Armageddon overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation' and ‘thus . . . our present universe would be annihilated'.
Experts had tended to agree with Coe's interpretation until about a decade ago when the academic world started to insist the Mayans had meant nothing of the sort.
The Mayans believed the end of the 13th baktun would indeed be significant, say academics now, but in a good way.
There will simply be another cycle and it will be a cause for celebration not desperation.
For the Mayans, a famously wise and advanced civilisation which was at its height between 250 and 900AD in the present-day Mexican state of Yucatan and Guatemala, have grabbed everyone's attention.
The evidence boils down to one simple fact: their 5,125-year calendar — the one used across Central America before the arrival of Europeans — runs out on December 21 this year.
The point is that the Mayans were noted for their extraordinary astronomical observations and mathematical powers.
And if they didn't think it worth taking their calendar beyond December 2012, they must have had a reason.
The agency says it has taken more than 5,000 questions from people, some asking if they should kill themselves, their families or their pets.
Archaeologists who have studied the Mayans have been downplaying the apocalypse theories, insisting that the only surviving Mayan reference to any dreadful significance attached to December 21, 2012, was contained on a single ancient stone tablet found at ruins in Tortuguero, southern Mexico, in the 1960s.
According to an inscription on the tablet, a fearsome Mayan god of war and creation may ‘descend' from the sky on the appointed day.
But then, a few weeks ago, archaeologists had to admit they had found a second piece of evidence — a 1,300-year-old carved brick fragment at a temple ruin in nearby Comalcalco.
The brick, now kept in a vault at Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, has an inscription on its face which also refers to the date.
The fact that the face of the brick was probably laid facing inward or covered with stucco — suggesting it was not meant to be seen by the Mayan population who visited the temple — has only added to the hysteria of modern doom-mongers.
Scientists insist there is no dire threat on the horizon, while Mayan experts stress that the ancient civilisation's legacy has simply been misinterpreted.