Friday, January 9, 2009

2012: Astronomically not a problem

End-Of-The-World theories and predictions are very numerous, and many dates have already passed, so it is very difficult to take any single one of them seriously. I have a simple rule of thumb -- if religion has anything to do with the predictions -- not to worry. The Mayans made a calendar, it needed to end somewhere because the rock was only so big. It just so happened to end in 2012.

Science, however, has plenty of problems that can keep your anxiety pill bottles emptied.

The year 2012 is only a partial passing from one point in the plane of the Galactic orbit to another. The Sun is so large that it already has passed those points, and the Earth will only share in that passing in 2012. But there is no particular problem that could be identified with that point. No gravity wells, asteroid clouds or hordes of alien space ships. There might be some problems with the orbits of asteroids or comets that we don't know about, but the Mayans probably didn't know about them either.

Right here on Earth, though, there are plenty of problem areas, i.e. the various volcanoes and supervolcanoes that could happen -- the Yellowstone caldera for example. It blows every 600,000 years or so, and is overdue. The Mt. Ranier volcano would be bad enough for people in Washington and Oregon, etc., even though it would be hundreds of times less bad than Yellowstone. Both of these sites are having little spits and groans. Neither can be predicted within any 1 year accuracy, that is for sure, and certainly not to coincide with December 21, 2012 or any other date. If Yellowstone went off, however, there could be Mass extinctions world wide.

There are also undersea landslides and earthquakes that can cause massive tidal waves, which periodically screw up life along many shores. The Pacific Coast from Canada to Northern California is periodically inundated with such waves, as are the South Asian islands such as Indonesia. Low lying areas are the most exposed, of course, but sometimes the waves are so big that even large hills are overwhelmed. Not usually world changing, but certainly bad news for local folks.

The Sun is strangely quiet. This means that less solar wind is blowing, so more cosmic rays are reaching us, although most of them are absorbed in the upper atmosphere. The Sun usually has these 11 year cycles of sunspots, but there are almost no spots lately, long overdue. What this means for us I don't know -- weather might be effected by electrical energy from collisions of cosmic rays, etc. I'm not sure what to think of it.

The Earth periodically passes through thicker gas clouds in parts of the Galactic arm where our Sun orbits in. When this happens there are perturbations of the Oort cloud, which can cause comets to rain down into our orbit. This seems to be the 26 million year extinction cycle, and this effect won't occur again for millions of years, but when it does -- Mass extinctions.

Every few thousand years there is a supernova somewhere in the Galaxy. If it is close enough to us it can emit so much UV and gamma radiation that our atmosphere would be stripped away, cooked and result in bad news on the surface of Earth -- Mass extinctions. Unpredictable.

Bacteria -- and other microorganisms. There are often Red Tides in our shores. We can even go down to the shore at night and watch the glow of those particular microbes that emit light when disturbed by the waves. They tend to kill every single bottom and filter feeder in the ocean, which can spiral into a great die off of fish, seals and whales. This happens on a local scale every 10-20 years. It can happen on a global scale, too, but unknown how often. Sort of a Biblical "sea turns to blood" type of thing.

Our own populations and economic problems can mushroom into a pandemic. We will eat everything we can catch. We will burn anything to keep warm. We can spread strange diseases around the world and have no method of curing them. We will convert the world to a desert with little clean water. But only if our population exceeds some X number. We may have exceeded X already, and we are only just beginning to have the bad effects -- die offs of life forms we depend on, pollution poisoning fresh water sources, etc. Mass extinctions could result from our own idiocy.

Nothing can be linearly predicted. Humans have a self-awareness and unpredictable behavior. We might self-correct many of our problems and avoid the effects of our populations on the planet. Certainly we would not completely die off -- when the population fell to some M minimum, then there would be enough life-support on the planet to support all the life forms we need to survive -- hopefully.

Anyway, for my grand children's sake I hope none of these things happen too soon.

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