Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The news media has publicized that 2012 is the end of the Mayan calendar, and that all the planets will be aligned. Is there any truth to this?

share|improve this question
By reflex I thought this should be closed, but the tints of voodoo don't taint the underlying, very answerable question regarding planetary alignment; with consideration, I also think it is a valuable example that the community can approach and address these questions (where they are fundamentally legitimate and not venturing into the pseudo-scientific) pragmatically and tolerantly. Not least, should I need to mention, is the responsibility to provide the science! –  Grant Thomas Nov 8 '11 at 22:37
Since this subject has been extremely mixed up with a lot of misinformation and fearmongerin which doesn't seem to be going out before we arrive at 2013, you may find it worthwhile to consult this site: 2012hoax.org You would do well to approach claims from mainstream media with a (very large) grain of salt. –  jbatista Nov 8 '11 at 23:14
There is a reason why the Maya aren't around anymore... –  Benjamin Horowitz Jun 5 '12 at 3:20
@BenjaminHorowitz :Some of them are still around in Yucatan, but they never predicted the end of the world. I heard on the (French) radio a mayanist explaining that the very concept of "end of the world" is antinomic with Mayan religion, which is based on a cyclic idea of the time. –  Frédéric Grosshans Jun 5 '12 at 9:45

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The answer is absolutely not. There is nothing interesting/important/rare/weird/abnormal/whatever astronomically happening in December 2012. I have written at length on this topic and a year ago summarized my posts on the subject. In those, I've covered the vast majority of 2012 doomsday or whatever claims. Besides that, though, 2012 is likely not the start of the next baktun in the Mayan long count calendar.

With that stated, one astronomical event that is rare that is occurring in June of 2012 is a Venus transit of the sun. This happens in pairs of 8 years separation with gaps of 121.5 and 105.5 years between those pairs. The last transit was in 2004, the next in 2012, the one after that in 2117.

share|improve this answer
And I just posted a small correction (not relevant to the current point) on your blog post. –  Keith Thompson Nov 3 '11 at 4:17
Not that a transit of Venus means anything at all in the apocalyptic sense. The last pair of transits (or was it the pair before that?) enabled some interesting science to be done for the first time, but there's not much that another transit can reveal to modern astronomy. –  Andrew Nov 3 '11 at 12:47
Thank you for the clarification. Did I get a -1 because I didn't read your blog post before asking the question? –  Michael Blaustein Nov 3 '11 at 14:31
I didn't down-vote your question. –  Stuart Robbins Nov 3 '11 at 16:21
Can't edit my comment, so I'll just add -- people on this site will usually vote down a question/statement on pseudoscience topics, so that was probably why it was downvoted. I've actually only downvoted one person's post before, I think because it was completely illegible. –  Stuart Robbins Nov 3 '11 at 21:22

I have thought for many years that the current transit of Venus, mentioned above, is the reason why the Mayan calendar "ends" this year. On the multi-decade or multi-century scale, this time is singled out by the equinoctial precession having placed the solstice sun in proximity to the center of the Milky Way bulge, and the precise year is singled out by the second transit of Venus. This refines John Major Jenkins' idea that this is the year in which the solstice sun comes closest to the "galactic center", as seen from earth. That's not true and the exact center doesn't stand out to the naked eye anyway, but the general precessional trend and the timing of the transits were both accessible to Mayan observers.

share|improve this answer
There is no historical evidence to suggest the Mayans knew anything about the transit of Venus (it is a very rare event that is difficult to see by the naked eye). Also the skills required to calculate the intervals of Venus's transit were, in all likelihood, well beyond the ability of Mayan astrometers. –  Benjamin Horowitz Jun 5 '12 at 3:23
Calculations were widespread (see: Xultun) and the best records were destroyed (see: Diego de Landa). All they had to do was figure out the motions of Sun and Venus on the celestial sphere, extrapolate, and take note of when the paths coincide. –  Mitchell Porter Jun 5 '12 at 4:46

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.