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Wayne State College Has the Cure for Your Doomsday Blues

Published: 9-9-2012 5:00 pm

Doomsday. The Apocalypse. The End of the World. Are you ready? Wayne State College can help you prepare with one of several events highlighting human culture's tendency to obsess over the end of all things as we know them.

The Fred G. Dale Planetarium began its 2012 fall season of public shows Sept. 7 with "Tales of the Mayan Skies," the story of how the ancient Maya interwove astronomy and culture to create a stable society that spanned 2,000 years. The show will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 5 and Nov. 2 and at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21, Oct. 19 and Nov. 16.

The darker side of Mayan astronomy, at least according to the prophets of doom, will be explored at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 5 and Nov. 2 and at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21, Oct. 19 and Nov. 16. "2012: The End of the World? NOT!" sorts out the science from the hype as it explores some of the many rumors surrounding the coming 2012 winter solstice and the dire predictions of the end of the world.

The Mayan civilization began about 500 BCE and flourished until the Spanish arrived in 1500 CE.   The Egyptians and Sumerians are credited with being the first "astronomers" with their civilizations going back to 3500 BCE.

“The Mayans were very good record-keepers and initially their astronomy was accurate, but as time went on, errors began to accumulate and their astronomical predictions do not really match up with the current sky,” said Todd Young, WSC associate professor of physics and director of the Dale Planetarium. “The main error was that they never really compensated for 1/4 day extra that the Earth takes to go around the Sun (our current calendar system compensates with a leap day every four years). “

“Their 'astronomy' was more of an 'astrology' and it was very much tied to their world view,” Young continued. “They used the sky above to tell them when to plant and harvest crops, when the seasons were going to change, when to have certain ceremonies, when to get married, when to have kids, and even when to have a haircut!”

Nonetheless, speculation about the Mayan calendar drives apocalyptic beliefs for many people. A simple Google search about their calendar yields more than 300,000 hits, with many of them tied to countdowns to the end of the world. There's even an “App for that” available via iTunes.

“One of the Mayan calendars is called the 'long count' calendar and it has a cycle of 5,125.25 years, which comes to the end of its cycle on Dec. 21, 2012,” Young said. “Some people are using this as another excuse to believe the end of the world is upon us. An ancient Mayan text regarding the long count calendar was initially mistranslated as stating the end of cycle would bring doom; later, more accurate translations noted the text actually says the end of the cycle is a time to celebrate and start anew.  But I guess the initial incorrect translation got stuck in people's heads and has continued to spread.”

Science aside, should we sell our stocks and party until December?

“DO NOT sell your stocks, but you are welcome to party,” Young said. “Nothing will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, except the beginning of winter.  The end of the long count calendar will be just another day to take down the old calendar and put up a new one."

Popular writers and scientists alike have long been fascinated by the prospect of alien invaders crushing planet Earth. One of the more famous of these stories, War of the Worlds, will be presented at 7 p.m. Oct. 27-30 in the Black Box Theater.

The play has been adapted by Todd Olson and is based on the original by H. G. Wells, which plays on humans' fears about the fragility of civilization. The work is licensed exclusively by Summerwind Productions.

Plans are being made to air the Oct. 30 performance live on KWSC-FM 91.9 The Cat to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the original radio broadcast narrated by Orson Welles. The original broadcast set off a series of public panics, largely attributed to the news bulletin format used by Welles and actors with the Mercury Theatre group.

The Wayne State College planetarium includes:
-- a high-definition projection system putting 3 million pixels on the 30-foot dome;
-- Astronomy software with a database of 500 million stars that can move backward and forward through time +/- 100,000 years. The system allows an audience to look at space from any location in the solar system; allows the audience viewers to fly through space; and has an extensive educational library of astronomical images and movies for kindergarten through college class use.
-- a learning environment with a surround-sound system.

Please visit for a detailed schedule, more information about these public shows, and how to book a private group showing. The suggested donation for all shows is $5 for adults and $3 for kids. All donations are appreciated.

For more information, please contact Dr. Todd Young, planetarium director, 402-375-7471.




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