Cosmic Queries: Mayan Apocalypse and Other Disasters

Artist's concept of a catastrophic asteroid impact with Earth. An impact with a 500-km-diameter asteroid would effectively sterilize the planet. Image Credit: NASA (Artist: Don Davis)

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About This Episode

What are the facts surrounding some of the most common doomsday predictions dominating popular culture today? Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Chuck Nice examine Cosmic Queries from our fans through the rational lens of science and history. For instance, what does the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar really predict, and more importantly, is there any justifiable scientific concern about its implications? Could a solar flare cause the end of the world? What is the likelihood of an extinction-level asteroid impact? They’ll also touch upon UFOs, black holes and white holes, surviving a new ice age, and subterranean dinosaurs. Plus, you’ll find out the real reason Pope Gregory replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian one. (Hint: it has to do with a Jewish holiday!)

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Mayan Apocalypse and Other Disasters.

In This Episode

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Episode Topics

  • Kaispell

    How about a theory of “Dominion” in where the absence of gravity or anit gravity or even an increase of gravity holds the matter in position due to a spider web type of strength amongst the masses as a stronger section of webbing and has an elastic/electrical connection throughout time and or space and has that ability to hold it’s dominion and also respond to outer stresses on it’s entirely as a an all inclusive webbing from perhaps dark matter energy..Thank you.

  • Ken

    Lets implement the world calendar.

    • Jeff

      Interesting suggestion, Ken. What holiday confluence are you trying to avoid?

  • Wonderful to find your site and radio program…the Click and Clack of the Universe! Good job and very easy to “see” what you were talking about.

    • Jeff

      Thanks, Sally. The comparison is noted… and appreciated.

  • Peter in Northern Ohio

    Very entertaining, great, fantastic, awesome!!! Keep the education coming!

  • James

    Powerful! Neil deGrasse Tyson =)

  • Rok

    Could you destroy a black hole by shoving antimatter into it?

    Context: ALPHA2 at CERN —

    • Jeff

      Rick, I don’t think that’s a question anybody can answer.

  • Shawn

    Neil, greetings from New Zealand! In this podcast, you mentioned a compilation of all of the predicted second comings of Cheesus, er I mean Jesus. Can you provide a link? Thanks mate!

  • Christina Vonthronsohnhaus

    Their are clouds circling Saturn’s Northern hemisphere Saturn is hollow. I have heard people say that the Earth is hollow too is this true.I would also like to know more about Saturn’s rotating clouds on the poles.

    • Jeff

      Christina, as Neil says in the episode, the Earth is definitely not hollow.

  • Wesley

    Thanks so much for this, Jeff, Neil, and the rest of the gang. I listen to StarTalk podcasts every day at work. The humor, the heart, and the genuine excitement for science (and there is a severe lack thereof in much of America) on this show is awesome. Also, great picks for music every episode! Carl Sagan must be smiling somewhere!

    • Jeff

      On behalf of the team, thank you, Wesley. We’re working on spreading the word about science… and all of you help whenever you tell people about us. Keep up the good work.

  • Jill Klies

    Great show Neil & Chuck! Neil, U might not know this but U just had the best funnyman ever
    on wth U tonite!! He’s one of my most FAV ever! I’m disabled &always in pain so I live for Chuck’s lauffs. I’M gonna start listening to ur show more often! I had a great time meeting one of ur buds..Giorgio was at the Hard Rock Hotel last month here in Vegas. What a great speaker! 3 1/2 hrs straight w no break or drink. wish u could have been there too!

  • Zoothulu

    Alignment with the galactic center does not happen every year. It’s true that it has been occurring since 1980 every year. but due to the earths wobble called precession the galactic alignment only happens once every 26000 years. and the true galactic alignment made its most centered rotation in 1998. So the Mayans should have ended their 12th b’ak’tun on that date. Which isn’t the end of the long count calendar it simply moves from the end of the 12th unit to the start of the 13th, like going from October 31 to November 1. Their longest unit in the little used long count system was about 63 million years, and there would presumably be 20 of those, so it won’t really end for another 1.26 billion years (roughly).I enjoy the show and will continue to listen even after the 21st.

    • Jeff

      Thanks for the clarification, Zoothulu. And we’ll keep making the show… even after the 21st, so you’ll have something to listen to!

  • Joe C

    I think Neil missed an opportunity to better dispel the Mayan doomsday theories by addressing the accuracy of the calendar itself, and how exactly the Mayans could have generated this calendar using the tools they had (to observe the sky) during the time frames needed to refine the long count. I think the doomsday lore surrounding the subject relies on the idea the Mayans “knew more than they should have” regarding celestial alignment significances, and therefore the end of a cycle somehow implies doomsday. Neil gave us a good history of the Gregorian and Julian calendar developments, but what I think would really answer the mail was not addressed– How did the Mayans generate the long count? How could one look at objects in the sky over a period of years (generations?) and arrive at the 1872000 day cycle? Which objects could have been observed and what (if any) “alignments” could actually have been witnessed by our ancestors to aid this process? Is the calendar really unremarkable in this regard? I’m left to conclude Neil thinks the Mayan calendar is not significant in any celestial way. Is that correct?

  • Avi Burstein

    Hi Dr. Tyson. First off, thanks for another wonderful show and for all the wonderful work you do.
    I need to correct you on a piece of information that you stated in the show which was incorrect. You referred to the Hebrew calendar, and you said that it, like all other calendars, began arbitrarily; in their case starting from the life of Moses. This is not true. The Hebrew calendar actually starts from the Jewish traditional account of the creation of the world (kind of like how you said, there should be a calendar starting from The Big Bang). This traditional accounting gives an age of the universe at a sprightly 5773 years old. (See for more info.)
    Thanks again for the great show, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to now brag to my friends that I got to school Neil deGrasse Tyson in something he was mistaken about!

  • Charles

    Hey Dr. T! Enjoyed the episode…but I enjoy all of them so I might be biased. I love time discussions, but no mention of Planck time? Also, the black/white hole topic is always a favorite, although the white hole = quasar thing was a little bold… I thought quasars surrounded supermassive blackholes, but hey, I’m not an astrophysicist. Also, Chuck is great. Eugene better watch out! 😛

    Keep up the good work!
    — C

    ps – gotta have a show dealing with some high order theoretical physics and cosmology (of course in bite size chunks because non-euclidean geometry and knot theory is hard!), I know you can do it! The blackholes made me think fuzzballs and that got me to string theory and then to 11d supergravity and then…..just gimme a hit of the physics, doc!

  • bia

    love your show! thoroughly interesting!!!!!!!

  • K

    Dinosaurs are around us all the time, we just call them ‘birds’.

  • marasu66

    Back in high school I saw some information about the Julian/Gregorian calendar. October 4, 1582 was the last day of the Julian Calendar, and October 15, 1582 was the first day of the Gregorian Calendar, skipping ten days, but not throughout the world. The rest of the world had to wait until 1752 or thereabouts, but they needed to skip eleven days by then.

    • Jeff

      Talk about time lag… Thanks, Marasu66.

  • rob bozzuto

    Hey great show Mr Degrasse. I love listening in when I can.
    I wanted to find out more about Einstein was onto. Time travel? I watched something that was expanding on Novas creation of the universe from the mid 80s. They referred to it as the string theory and got into quantum physics and all this crazy stuff. In the episode of Nova they claim that Einstein new nothing about the string theory, quantum physics etc but I don’t agree. Can you expand on this? Any input is appreciated.

  • Kyle Zager

    Neil! Birds are dinosaurs, Neil.
    I’m just…
    Why would you do this to us, Neil.

  • Gary

    I apologize that this comment is so late, I’ve just listened to the show. I just wanted to make a correction. You claimed Christians feared Easter coinciding with Passover and that prompted the gregorian revisions. That can’t be true or they horribly screwed up since Easter frequently falls in Passover today. The Passover/Easter split came 1200 years earlier when the Christians wanted Easter to be the same day for everyone instead of the varied traditions based on the Jewish(lunar) calendar. So the Church decreed Easter would be the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Theoretically, Easter should always be after the Equinox while Passover sometimes fell before. But because of that one day per century inaccuracy of the Julian calendar, the Equinox, hence Easter, came earlier in the year by the 16th century. And you’ve shared the rest of the story! Applying the new rules for leap years retroactively, they struck 10 days off the calendar.

  • Galen

    I hope it’s not too gauche to post something from the Bible on this SCIENCE blog, but here are Jesus’s words about his own second coming:

    “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32, also Matthew 24:26)

    See also Acts 1:7 “He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.'”

    So it’s pretty ridiculous that people who claim to be Christians have been defying his teachings for centuries by proclaiming the doomsday.

    • Jeff

      Not gauche, Galen. As you can see from reading all the comments on our shows, there is room for all perspectives here.

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