Once again, the world doesn't end

If you're reading this, the world didn't end.

The focus of the latest end-of-the-world talk was the conclusion of the ancient Mayan calendar, which by most accounts wrapped up on Friday Dec. 21. Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, however, suggested that historical calculations to synchronize the Mayan and Western calendars might have been a bit off and the calendar cycle might actually have ended Sunday.

In any event, time didn't run out when the calendar did.

Experts on the Mayan culture long dismissed the notion that the end of the long-cycle calendar, after 5,125 years, was some kind of warning of Earth's impending doom. Instead it was the turn of another calendar, albeit a very long one, just as in a week everyone will toss the 2012 version for 2013.

The Maya were amazing astronomers, their ability to observe celestial movements and then predict the repetition of those cycles far into the future was impressive to the point of being mysterious. Their astronomers, for example, so carefully recorded the movements of Venus they determined that its year (relative to Earth) was 584 days long, matching the 583.92 days that modern science has determined.

But there is no evidence that they tried to determine the time of the world's end.

Happening in seeming every era, and with increased frequency, this end-of-world stuff is a bit of a conceit. Some in each generation become convinced that of all those who have lived and left this Earth, they will be the ones present for the end. Soothsayers point to signs and wonders, which when measured against the stretch of time usually turn out to be routine stuff.

Scientists tell us if a collision with an object from space threatens mass extinction humans will see it coming and won't need to read any tea leaves. Whether earthlings will be able to do anything about it is another question.

Even spiritual books warn of not wasting our efforts trying to figure out when the end times arrive.

"Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only," states the Gospel of Matthew.

And according to the Quran, "God is the Knower of the future; He does not permit anyone to unveil such knowledge."

Scientifically speaking, when the Sun goes, life on Earth will pass with it, but that calendar is not running out anytime soon. In 4 billion to 5 billion years the Sun, its fuel nearing exhaustion, will expand toward Earth as it enters its "red giant" phase, boiling away our planet's water and atmosphere. Talk about global warming!

In the meantime, there are plenty of more immediate problems to deal with.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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