Don Yeomans is a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is the manager of the Near-Earth Object Program, whose safety-first mission is to “coordinate NASA-sponsored efforts to detect, track and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that could approach the Earth.”
In this three-minute video, Yeomans easily—and scientifically—debunks a host of rumors that pinpoint December 21, 2012, as the “end of the world.”
The rumors Yeomans debunks are:
- “end of the Mayan calendar” (start-0:30)
- collision with Niburu, a near-Earth object (0:30-1:19)
- atmospheric fallout from solar storms (1:19-1:50)
- tidal effects of planetary alignments (1:50-2:25)
- shifting magnetic poles (2:25-3:09)
Finally, Yeomans reminds us that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” (3:09-3:30)
Have students watch the video, and discuss general or specific “doomsday” rumors. These are all scenarios that purport to have a basis in science and history. These rumors can be researched using the scientific method. Note that Yeomans does not address any faith-based “end times” predictions.
- Ask students what information they’ve heard about any of the “doomsday” scenarios Yeomans addresses in the video.
- What have they heard?
- Where, or from whom, did they get that information? Do they think these sources are reliable? Why or why not?
- Do students trust what Yeomans, a NASA scientist, says in the video? Why or why not?
- There is an entire branch of study, eschatology, that focuses on the “end of the world.” Ask students why they think people are so fascinated by doomsday or end-of-the-world scenarios.
- Do students think there is a simple, widespread lack of scientific understanding?
- Having a definite date for doomsday can eliminate a lot of responsibility and fears about the future. Some psychologists say that predicting the end of the world is a response to people feeling they have little control over their lives. Ask students what pressures could contribute to people feeling so helpless. Personal choices? Illness? Environmental fears? Economic or political injustice?
- Some people mock those who predict a date for the end of the world. Do students think it is funny to laugh or make fun of something so serious? Why?
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry 2012 phenomenon Noun
set of varied beliefs that predict a catastrophic event occuring on December 21, 2012.
disaster or sudden, violent change.
doomsday adjective, noun
date on which a disaster or the end of the world is predicted to take place.
study of the final destiny of humanity, death, and the afterlife.
geomagnetic pole Noun
point marking the tilted north and south axes of Earth's magnetic field, about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) from the geographic poles.
people and culture native to southeastern Mexico and Central America.
near-Earth object Noun
solar system object (usually an asteroid or meteor) whose orbit brings it within 1.3 AU (about 121 million miles) to Earth.
scientific method Noun
method of research in which a question is asked, data are gathered, a hypothesis is made, and the hypothesis is tested.
solar storm Noun
sudden change in the Earth's magnetosphere, caused by the solar wind interacting with the Earth's magnetic field. Also called a geomagnetic storm.
tidal force Noun
gravitational pull exerted by one object, such as the sun or moon, that raises tides on another object, such as the Earth.