(This myth does nothing but scare children and promote a movie)
The myth that the world will end in December 2012 started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is heading toward Earth. Zecharia Sitchin, who writes fiction about the ancient Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer, claimed in several books (e.g., The Twelfth Planet, The Stairway to Heaven, The End of Days) that he has found and translated Sumerian documents that identify a planet — Nibiru — orbiting the Sun every 3,600 years. Sitchin’s Sumerian fables include stories of astronauts visiting Earth from an alien civilization called the Anunnaki.
After these books appeared, Nancy Lieder, a self-declared psychic, wrote on her web site ZetaTalk that the inhabitants of a fictional planet orbiting the nearby star Zeta Reticuli warned her that Earth was in danger from Nibiru. The prediction said the collision of Nibiru and Earth would occur in May 2003.
When nothing happened in that month, claimants moved the doomsday date forward to December 2012. Only recently have people linked these two fables to the end of the Mayan long-count at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.
Nibiru is a name in Babylonian astrology sometimes associated with the god Marduk. Scholars of ancient Mesopotamia refute Sitchin’s claims that Nibiru is a planet and that the Sumerians knew about it. Sumer was a great civilization, but they left few astronomical records. They had no understanding that the planets orbited the Sun. That idea first developed in ancient Greece two millennia after the end of Sumer.
Some people claim NASA found Nibiru in 1983 using the Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS), which carried out a 10-month sky survey. IRAS cataloged 350,000 infrared sources, and initially many of these sources were unidentified. Astronomers have followed up all of these observations with more powerful instruments both on the ground and in space. The rumor about a 10th planet erupted in 1984 after a scientific paper appeared in Astrophysical Journal Letters titled “Unidentified point sources in the IRAS minisurvey.” In 1987, scientists published the identification of these mystery objects as distant galaxies. No IRAS source has ever turned out to be a planet. To an astronomer, persistent claims about a planet that is nearby but invisible are just plain silly.
Lacking facts, some collision supporters claim our government is keeping the details secret. Uh huh. If Nibiru were real, thousands of astronomers around the globe would be tracking it right now.
With all we know about this myth, why is there so much excitement then? Who is promoting such claims? The simple answer seems to be Columbia Pictures. As I write this, publicity for Columbia’s new film 2012, to be released in November 2009, is everywhere. The film’s trailer shows a tidal wave breaking over the Himalayas, with the following words: “How would the governments of our planet prepare 6 billion people for the end of the world? [long pause] They wouldn’t. [long pause] Find out the Truth. Google search 2012.”