The science behind the end of the world

When it comes to matters of the end of the world, Dr. Enrique A. Gomez, Assistant Professor of Physics at Western Carolina University, applies some scientific truth to a few popular myths, taken from an article posted by National Geographic on Jan 3, 2012.

Myth: The planet and humans will fry due to lethal eruptions of solar flares.

“There is a grain of truth that’s with all myths and that is that the sun goes through an 11 year cycle,” said Dr. Gomez.

The sun goes through periods of time when it is extremely active and not so active. Every 11 years, the number of sun spots on the sun increases. What is a sun spot, you may ask? It is a region located on the sun that is slightly cooler than the rest of the sun, as well as being associated with magnetic fields.

The reason this myth is believed to be true is because in the year 2012, there is expected to be a solar maximum, meaning the maximum number of sun spots. It looked as though this solar maximum was going to “tremendous,” said Dr. Gomez. However, figuring out when the sun will reach its maximum number of sun spots is extremely difficult to predict.

“There is no prediction scientifically that says for certain that that was true, and certainly the Mayas did not actually have a prediction associated with the sun at all,” said Dr. Gomez.

Myth: Earth’s alignment will be exposed to unknown galactic forces through something like pole shift or by stirring the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Our solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is made up of over 100 billion stars.

“From our perspective, we see the Milky Way as a band of diffused light, which is really the collected light of those 100 billion stars along with a lot of dust and things like that,” said Dr. Gomez. “At the center of our galaxy we have a two million solar mass black hole. A black hole is an object that is so dense and so tight, not even light can escape from it.”

Dr. Gomez says that we are 28,000 light years away from the center of the Milky Way and that Earth’s alignment will not be the cause of our doom. The only shift that could happen would be the North and South Poles switching, but this would not flip the Earth and it would not be abrupt enough for anyone to notice.

Myth: Planet X will crash into Earth

“The other name for this is Nibiru for I believe is a Babylonian word,” said Dr. Gomez.

Dr. Gomez assures that there has been no discovery of a new planet to date. Some say this planet cannot be seen because it is opposite of the sun; however, if this myth were true, this unknown planet would pull on all of the other planets within our solar system.

“There is nothing that is massive that is coming are way,” assures Dr. Gomez.

Myth: An asteroid will cause a pole shift and heat the inside of the Earth, destabilizing it. This is said to cause the planet’s crust and mantle to shift and spin Earth’s “liquid- iron outer core; ultimately “sending cities crashing into the sea.”

“Oh, wow!,” said Dr. Gomez. “An asteroid, by virtue of its size, it is not enough to alter anything significantly at the core of the Earth. There’s not going to be any sudden tilting or shifts at the Earth’s core.”

In order to get to the core of the Earth, there has to be a great, great deal of force. There is nothing with that much force headed our way.

“I cannot imagine a circumstance where an asteroid of any given size would cause the plates to actually get out of position and upturn,” said Dr. Gomez

When asked if he believes the world will end in 2012, Dr. Gomez replied with humor.

“I am looking forward to 2013 for the reason that I get to stop answering questions like this. I’ve been answering questions like this since 2003 when I gave my first public lecture on the punitive end of the world in 2012.”


Related links:

Beyond 2012: Why the world won’t end — News from NASA

Jamie North assisted in the reporting.