Tuesday night's Science Cafe in Hays was certainly stimulating. For starters, the scheduled presenter (Dr. Paul Adams) was tasked elsewhere by his boss so the presentation was given by a local astronomy buff recruited for the task. The substitute presenter, Megan Adams*, is a gifted public speaker who kept us on our toes with her no-holds-barred approach to debunking ridiculous ideas and with her wry quips. Paul joined the Cafe via Skype video from Topeka.
Megan began by explaining four of the common prophecies regarding 2012:
1. The Mayan calender ends on December 21, 2012.
2. Earth is destined to collide with the undiscovered planet Nibiru.
3. Various alignments of the planets, the galactic plane, the solar system's plane, and the spin of the earth will wreak havoc on the earth's spin and/or magnetic field.
4. The solar cycle will be at a maximum, producing gigantic solar flares which will wipe out life on Earth.
Each of these was shown to be in conflict with scientific evidence; some examples are given at the National Geographic website. In short:
1. Mayan calendars were notoriously inconsistent. And think about it - when your 5-year calendar ends with December 31, does it mean civilization will come to a screeching halt? Of course not - you just go get a new calendar!
2. There is no such thing as "planet Nibiru." Period.
3. Those alignments have happened lots of times during the 5-billion-year history of the earth. If such an alignment was capable of destroying Earth, we'd have clues by now.
4. Although 2012 will be the peak of a solar maximum, there is no data to suggest this maximum will be any more catastrophic than any other solar maximum - which happens every 11 years.
The Fort Hays State University Leader had an excellent summary of the evening on its front page, and the Hays Daily News ran a blurb as well.
During the discussion after the presentation, one of the 50-some attendees presented a prophecy I hadn't encountered: the Lakota Sioux White Buffalo prophecy. As she told it, the birth of a white buffalo is supposed to signify the return of a Sioux deity, and of course all signs point to it happening in 2012. This idea was promoted along with the slowing of the earth's spin which is being hidden by the scientists from the general public, and is the reason time seems to pass so much more quickly as we get older.
Neither contention was presented with any scientific support.
One nugget of wisdom that this speaker did note was that as people, we need to be treating each other much more nicely. (Of course, my own thought was, "why should we only treat each other well if we think doom is imminent?" But I digress.)
It should be noted that
She said even the end of the world could not keep her from celebrating.
"If the world ends on the 21st, I'll hang on and survive and still celebrate on the 22nd."
(*in interests of full disclosure, yes, I am proud to be Megan's mother!)