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The End of the World is coming

The End of the World is coming on December 21, 2012 according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar. Enough people are concerned about this doomsday prediction that they are taking special precautions. In Michigan, Matt Wandrie, superintendent for Lapeer Community Schools, closed 30 Michigan schools two days early for the Christmas holidays. There were numerous rumors circulating about potential threats of violence against students following the recent shootings that killed 20 children in Connecticut. According to Wandrie, the ancient predictions of apocalypse were a secondary concern, but the rumblings about violent threats against schoolchildren were more serious.

Rational people should know that time does not stop just because your clock stops. Calendars are just clocks that measure time in days instead of minutes. So, reaching the last day of the calendar does not mean that the world will end. It just means that you need to flip the page of the calendar to start measuring a new era.

Calendar adjustments have been made throughout the ages. Pope Gregory XIII introduced the calendar that we now use on February 24, 1582. The Gregorian calendar corrected an error in the Julian calendar that preceded it. The Julian calendar considered the year to consist of 365.25 days, when in fact it is about 11 minutes shorter. This discrepancy, although small, caused the seasons to drift by about three days every 400 years. At the time of Gregory's reform, the vernal equinox that marks springtime was already 10 days earlier than in Roman times. The new calendar skipped 10 days to get the seasons in agreement with earlier times. This was equivalent to setting the hands of a clock forward for a clock that had been running too slowly. Superstitious people believed that this change of the calendar would cut their lives short by 10 days.

The end of the world has been predicted and described many times. The Biblical story of Noah's Ark tells how the world survived when God decided to destroy the world because of mankind's evil deeds. But the world did not end. The real end of the world will come in about 5000 million years when the Earth is engulfed by our Sun after it runs out of hydrogen and changes into a red giant star. We will not be around to see that. Before then, a supervolcanic eruption or a collision with a large asteroid would be two natural events that could wipe out mankind, but we cannot predict when that might happen. In the meantime, we will be lucky if we are able to survive the next thousand years without becoming extinct from our own pollution and our weapons.

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