inFact with Brian Dunning inFact with Brian Dunning


The 2012 Apocalypse

Some people say a global catastrophe will kill millions in 2012.

Share Tweet

What exactly is supposed to cause this planetary destruction in 2012, and where did we get this prediction?

The exact date of December 21, 2012 comes from the ancient Mayan "Long Count" calendar, which repeats every about 395 years, a period of time called a baktun. The Mayans themselves have a celebration whenever their calendar rolled over, much like we do every New Year's Eve. Today's Mayans don't expect anything different at the end of this baktun. To them it's just another big party.

But for no apparent reason, New Agers have been trying to match the Mayan New Year with some hypothetical global catastrophe. Some astrologers have actually changed the beginning of the Age of Aquarius from the year 2600, (which is when it's actually supposed to begin according to the official constellations) to 2012.

An old Internet hoax has even been recycled, which predicted that a mythical "Planet X" was going to crash into the Earth in 2003. Change the date to 2012, and people are buying it now just as much as they did 10 years ago. If you do a Google search, you'll find that there are still FAR more listings for "Planet X 2003" than for "Planet X 2012". Try it right now, it's amusing.

The Planet X legend got its start with this ancient Sumerian carving that has been erroneously interpreted to depict a solar system with ten planets. Why these ancient craftsmen should be presumed to have planetary knowledge superior to that of modern astronomy is not convincingly argued.

If you respect ancient cultures, read their real history. You'll find they actually do have a lot to offer.

One thing that is going to happen in 2012 is that our sun will reverse its magnetic poles. It actually does this every 11 years; always has, always will. This is the 11-year sunspot cycle, caused by the churning convection currents inside the sun. It's never destroyed the Earth yet, and there's no reason to think it could now.

But don't feel bad for the 2012 myth. In James Randi's Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, he lists 44 distinct end of the world predictions that all came and went unfulfilled. So rest easy; 2012 is merely #45 on this list, and you can be sure there will be a 46 and 47. But 48 is really going to kill us all.

— Brian Dunning

Share Tweet


References & Further Reading

Abanes, R. End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998.

Copernicus, N. On The Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2002. 141.

NASA. "Why the World Didn't End." Beyond 2012. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 22 Dec. 2012. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <‎>

Plait, P. "The Planet X Saga: The Scientific Arguments in a Nutshell." Bad Astronomy. Discover Magazine, 28 Sep. 2008. Web. 6 Dec. 2009. <>

Randi, J. Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997. 257-268.

Rice, P. Maya Calendar Origins: Monuments, Mythistory, and the Materialization of Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. 30-48.


Let us email you
about new and upcoming episodes:

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.