Update as of 11/2012: I am available to speak to your group on this topic in the greater Seattle area. E-mail me if you’re interested: alicesastroinfo [at] gmail [dot] com.
The 2012 Hoax – The Kitchen Sink
What do the non-existant planet Nibiru, the rollover of the Maya Long Count, a long-expected and non-conjunction of planets, some sunspots, and a lack of reversal in the Earth’s magnetic field, and the continued alignment of the Earth, Sun, and galactic center have in common? They all got picked up and sensationalized as part of a 2012 apocalypse story. This “hoax” rolls pretty much every apocalypse story into one.
Actions – (or “how to talk to your friends about 2012”)
- Validate – Your friends are intelligent people: treat them as such. Validate their interest in the topic and any correct facts first.
- Quash – This “hoax” is causing too much panic, so you need to quash it as soon as possible, without being mean. Share facts from reliable sources and avoid getting stuck in arguments that go nowhere.
- Suggest – Find some common ground. Suggest something real and related that you can enjoy together.
The Maya Calendar*  “End” = FALSE
The 13th Maya baktun does roll over on December 21, 2012 – this is often referred to as “the end of the Maya Long Count.” As with many cultures’ calendars, the Maya calendar uses different periods of time than the calendar stuck to your fridge right now. They use 5 numbers to represent a given date, called the Long Count. A baktun = 20 katun, a katun = 20 tun, 1 tun = 18 uinal, 1 uinal = 1 kin (which is one day). Americans usually use only three numbers: year, month, and day. Both cultures have designations for larger periods of time also, we just don’t track them as closely. For instance the Maya have a calabtun which is over 3 million years, and we have millenniums – 1000 years each. Just like your car odometer, when one of the dials reaches “9” the next numeral to show up in its place is “0”, when the baktun counter of the Long Count reaches “12” it rolls over to “0.”
It is just like flipping a calendar, or when the odometer on your beater car finally rolls so high that it reads 000000. We were all very excited when we got to turn over all the numbers in our calendar on New Year’s 2000 – so I’d be just as excited about 12/21/2012 if I used the Maya calendar in my daily life.
Nibiru = FALSE
Nibiru is the name given to a non-existent planet supposedly discovered by the ancient Sumerians (2200 B.C.E. and 1600 B.C.E.). This was entirely made up by Zecharia Sitchin in several fictional novels that he has written since 1970 about ancient Mesopotamian culture. Nancy Lieder, a “psychic,” built upon these stories, saying the Earth was in danger from Nibiru in May 2003. Nothing happened in May 2003 so the “end” of the Mayan calendar was rolled into the hoax, giving the date December 21, 2012 as the “real” date of the disaster.
Polar Shift = FALSE
In the geologic record there is strong evidence that the Earth’s geomagnetic field reverses polarity every several hundred thousand years with no regularity. There is nothing to suggest this poses a threat to life on Earth, and scientists can’t predict when the next one will happen even to the nearest 100,000 years, let alone to the nearest decade.
“Polar Shift” refers to something different though – it refers to a physical change in the tilt of the Earth. This may have happened to Uranus in the past, and generally requires being slammed into by something very massive. There is nothing that massive on a collision course with Earth within your lifetime.
Planetary Alignment = FALSE
The planets will not be aligned on 12/12/2012. Here are their positions:
If you look at this other view of the same picture, they look aligned, but bear in mind that line is the ecliptic – the line through the plane of our solar system. All planets are always “aligned” along this line: every moment of every day of every year. That is the definition of the ecliptic.
Solar Maximum = TRUEISH
The solar activity cycle lasts about 11 years, and the last maximum of activity was in 2001, which would imply a maximum in 2012. It’s pretty neat, get a trained astronomer to help you carefully observe sunspots (always use approved filters to observe the Sun, never look directly at it!). The minimum of activity we’re in right now is a little odd, so some solar scientists are predicting the max won’t actually occur until 2013. The most major flares don’t tend to happen until just after the maximum though.
Galactic Alignment = TRUEISH
The Sun, the Earth and the plane of the galaxy will be aligned on December 21, 2012. Of course, they’re aligned around about every winter solstice – it depends how you define the plane of the galaxy. You see the galaxy has thickness, and we’re in the middle of that thickness, and will be for several million more years. Seems aligned to me.
Astronomical Society of the Pacific 
Universe Today 
Sky and Telescope 1 
Sky and Telescope 2 
Sky and Telescope 3 
Related Alice’s Astro Info 
Maya Calendar 
Maya Long Count Cheat Sheet
1 kin = = 1 day
1 uinal = 20 kin = 20 days
1 tun = 18 uinal = 360 days
1 katun = 20 tun = 7200 days (about 20 years)
1 baktun = 20 katun = 144000 days (about 400 years)
1 may = 13 katun = 1872000 days (about 5000 years)
1 may = 13 katun = 93600 days (about 255 years)
20 may = 13 baktun = 260 katun = 1872000 days (about 5000 years)
13 baktun (or 20 may) is when the Long Count rolls over
1 pictun = 20 baktun = 2880000 days (about 8000 years)
1 calabtun = 20 pictun = 57600000 days (about 150000 years)
1 kinchiltun = 20 calabtun = 1152000000 days (about 3 million years)
1 alautun = 20 kinchiltuns = 23 040 000 000 days (about 63 million years)
(Full disclosure: I recalculated the numbers in red and changed what is written in the source material, because the math was off due to a typo.)
~ A l i c e !