Fearful ‘end of world’ calls, emails flood NASA as Dec. 21 nears

Tom Schmid, Griffith Observatory lecturer, narrates the planetarium show "Time's Up," which explores the 2012 Mayan doomsday myth and the nature of time at the Griffith Observatory. The observatory will stay open till one minute past midnight on Dec. 21.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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If there’s one government agency really looking forward to Dec. 22, it’s NASA.

The space agency said it has been flooded with calls and emails from people asking about the purported end of the world — which, as the doomsday myth goes, is apparently set to take place Friday, Dec. 21.

The myth might have originated with the Maya calendar, but in the age of the Internet and social media, it proliferated online, raising questions and concerns among hundreds of people around the world who have turned to NASA for answers.

Dwayne Brown, an agency spokesman, said NASA typically receives about 90 calls or emails per week containing questions from people. In recent weeks, he said, that number has skyrocketed — from 200 to 300 people are contacting NASA per day to ask about the end of the world.


“Who’s the first agency you would call?” he said. “You’re going to call NASA.”

The questions range from myth (Will a rogue planet crash into Earth? Is the sun going to explode? Will there be three days of darkness?) to the macabre (Brown said some people have “embraced it so much” they want to hurt themselves). So, he said, NASA decided to do “everything in our power” to set the facts straight.

That effort included interviews with scientists posted online and a Web page that Brown said has drawn more than 4.6 million views.

It also involved a video titled “Why the World Didn’t End Yesterday.” Though the title of the video implies a Dec. 22 release date, Brown said NASA posted the four-minute clip last week to help spread its message.

The website addresses several scenarios — the possibility of planetary alignments, total blackouts, polar shifts and “a planet or brown dwarf called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris that is approaching the Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction” — but comes to the same conclusion.

In short, NASA says, “the world will not end in 2012.”

“Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012,” the website says.

The Griffith Observatory will also be trying to debunk doomsday predictions. It announced plans to stay open late Friday evening — until one minute past midnight — to “demonstrate that claims regarding the Maya calendar, planetary alignments, rogue planets, galactic beams, and other related phenomena have no basis in fact.”


A few years ago, NASA suspected that it might have to create such a campaign when the idea of the world ending began “festering,” Brown said. The apocalyptic action movie “2012,” released in 2009, didn’t help, he said.

“We kind of look ahead — we’re a look-ahead agency — and we said, ‘You know what? People are going to probably want to come to us’ ” for answers, Brown explained. “We’re doing all that we can do to let the world know that as far as NASA and science goes, Dec. 21 will be another day.”

As for Saturday, when the questions — not the world — end: “I wish it was tomorrow.”