This 26 October, 2003 NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory image shows a giant magnetic loop (R) filled with glowing-hot gas blasting away from the Sun. Two Jupiter size sunspots are crossing the face of the Sun at the same time and pose threats for X-class solar flares, major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. Image Credit: AFP

Will you be living today as if it’s your last? If the ancient Mayans were right, it all comes to an end tomorrow, December 20. There is no day after. No December 21. No need to make plans for the weekend, no urgent bills that have to be paid. But is it the stuff of myths or truths, or do you blame Hollywood and the internet? But then again, they could be right ... we’ll just have to wait and see. Here are ten things to consider in the meantime:

1 Voice of reason
“This rumour should not be circulated or spread, because judgement day only comes suddenly and no one knows when it will happen, and it is one of the five things that only God has the knowledge of. There are also minor and major signs that precede the end of the world and the major ones have not happened yet. People should be wary of spreading lies and falsehood as it is a great sin. Nasa has also announced that this rumour is false.”
Shaikh Ahmad Al Haddad, Grand Mufti of Dubai

2 Blame the Sumerians
The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed towards Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

3 It’s the Mayan calendar
Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then — just as your calendar begins again on January 1 — another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

4 It’s the alignment of the stars
Sorry, there are no planetary alignments in the next few decades and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. One major alignment occurred in 1962, for example, and two others happened during 1982 and 2000. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate centre of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.

5 Watch out for Planet X
If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.

6 Shift happens... just not now
A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-switch to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly, with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. Such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth and scientists believe a magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia.

7 A meteoric rise — and fall
The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today Nasa astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. Nasa have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs.

8 It’s raining solar activity
Solar activity has a regular cycle, with peaks approximately every 11 years. Near these activity peaks, solar flares can cause some interruption of satellite communications, although engineers are learning how to build electronics that are protected against most solar storms. But there is no special risk associated with 2012. The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.

9 Blame Hollywood
Top 10 End of the World movies:
1 2012: An epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors.
2 Knowing: A teacher opens a time capsule that has been dug up at his son’s elementary school; in it are some chilling predictions — some that have already occurred and others that are about to.
3 Melancholia: Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with the Earth.
4 Terminator 2 — Judgment Day: The cyborg who once tried to kill Sarah Connor is dead, and another T-101 must now protect her teenage son, John Connor, from an even more powerful and advanced Terminator, the T-1000. 
5 Twelve Monkeys: In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.
6 Idiocracy: Private Joe Bauers is selected to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation programme. Forgotten, he awakes 500 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he’s easily the most intelligent person alive.
7 The Day After Tomorrow: Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist for NORAD, must make a daring trek across America to reach his son, trapped in the cross-hairs of a sudden international storm which plunges the planet into a new Ice Age. 
8 The Matrix: A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.
9 Independence Day: The aliens are coming and their goal is to invade and destroy. Fighting superior technology, Man’s best weapon is the will to survive.
10 Planet of the Apes: An astronaut crew crash lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved.

10 Polls apart
Gulf News asked readers this week: Do you believe the world will end on December 21, 2012?
Yes 8%   (526)
No 92% (6,023)
Total votes: 6,549


— Sources: IMDB, Nasa, Noorhan Barakat, AFP, Reuters, AP, Gulf News