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Party like it’s Dec. 20, 2012: what does the Mayan calendar really say about the end of days?

A sky caiman vomits water on one of the last pages of the 12th-century Dresden Codex, also known as the
A sky caiman vomits water on one of the last pages of the 12th-century Dresden Codex, also known as the "Codex Dresdensis", one of four historic Mayan manuscripts that still exist in the world and that together suggest modern civilization will come to an end on December 21, at the Saxon State Library on November 8, 2012 in Dresden, Germany. The documents enumerate the Mayan calendar, which will complete its 13th cycle on December 21, 2012 and many people across the globe are interpreting the calendar to mean impending global devastation and the birth of a new order are near.
Joern Haufe/Getty Images

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In Mumbai, Tokyo and Sydney it's already Dec. 21!  Technically this version of end-of-world prophecies is scheduled to coincide with the Winter solstice — still 16 hours away (Friday 3:12 a.m. PST). Mayan elders from Mexico, Belize and Guatemala have been dispatched to present a slightly contrary view of doomsday. "A better world is possible! ... as we enter the age of the fifth sun," is how one elder put it.

Academics say it's merely the end of one cosmological cycle, and more importantly, the beginning of another. NASA also takes the sunnier view. In their "Why the World Won't End" FAQ sheet they explain the origins of the latest paranoia: "The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth.

This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012."These (slightly scarier) forecasts that the world will in fact continue hasn't reached some in China where 93 people were detained this week for spreading rumors of apocalypse.

Why did this prediction catch on across the planet -- even cutting across religious differences? On a serious note, what harm is caused by doomsday cries? Will you celebrate to mark the date?



Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and Executive Director of the Skeptics Society

Lisa T. McElroy, Professor of Law,  Drexel University, and freelance travel writer, speaking with us from the Cayo region in the rainforest of Belize