Well, the 2009 calendar came to an end last Friday, but the world didn't. Why is that remarkable? Because evidently the ancient Mayan calender is coming to an end in Dec. 2012, and there is a movie, a few thousand websites and a few hundred books out there that are trying to make a case that the end of the Mayan calendar on the winter equinox means the end of the world in 2012.
Or, at least, the end of the world as we know it. The topic has been the most popular on NASA's questions from the public website for the past two years.
So, it seems that a calendar ending has a considerable consequence, at least in the minds of some folks. Of course, all calendars end - as did the year 2009 last week on the Gregorian calendar, the one now universally accepted, and it ended without any sort of "end of the world as we know it" event. Just like every other year.
There are also Hebrew, Chinese, Indian and Islamic calendars, among others. In fact, the Mayans had a couple of dozen different calendars. The one in question is called the "long calendar," measuring a period of over 5,000 years. What happened when all the other Mayan calendars ran out?
Nothing. But a lucrative cottage industry has developed around people saying "something" is going to happen on Dec. 21, 2012 that will be the "end of the world as we know it," perhaps the end of life on Earth, or perhaps just universal enlightenment.
I refer to predictions like these about the Mayan calendar as quantum leap "logic," something very common among secular and religious prophets. They start out with what seems logical reasoning, and then, at some point in the process, they take a quantum leap to a totally unrelated point.
In this case it goes like this: the Mayans were really into calendars, astrology and predictions. All true. They have one calendar that ends on Dec. 21, 2012. Also true. Therefore - and here is the quantum leap in logic - even though they didn't say so, the Mayans must have been indicating that something Earth-shaking will happen when that calendar ends.
Predictions like this are nothing new. Jewish and Christian believers, spurred on by the fact that several books of the Bible claim to be prophetic, have been making prophetic claims for centuries.
In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a time in the last few thousand years when someone wasn't proclaiming that the signs predicting that the "day of the Lord," or the return of Christ, or Armageddon, had all been fulfilled and the end of the world as we know it was coming any day now.
In the 20th Century, religious and New Age groups by the score named dates in nearly every decade, right up to the very last day of the century, as the time of the Second Coming or the Battle of Armageddon or the Rapture or the Age of Peace and Enlightenment.
There has been one thing all of these predictions have in common - they have all been wrong.
So, I'm going out on a real limb here and making a prophecy of my own. What's going to happen on Dec. 21, 2012? I'll tell you.
Nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not the end of the world as we know it.