There will be plenty of opportunities to fret in the months and years ahead: Floods, famine and fire--a Hieronymous Bosch painting come to life--are just a few ways in which mass death and planetary destruction are predicted to come about.
For centuries, prophets and doomsayers have embarrassed themselves with erroneous end-of-time predictions. Still, for those looking forward to the end of the world, the temptation to name a specific date is hard to resist. Here is a sampling of apocalyptic theory, followed by comments from scientists about their validity.
Who is correct? Only time will tell.
Ice Demise: Richard W. Noone, author of "5/5/2000: Ice: The Ultimate Disaster" (Crown, 1997), claims that May 5 of this year is when Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be aligned with the Earth for the first time in 6,000 years. On that day, he predicts, an ice buildup at the South Pole will upset Earth's axis and send "trillions of tons" of the stuff toppling into our oceans, which will flood the planet and destroy all known forms of life.
Comment: "The only people who will be hurt by the alignment on May 5, 2000, are people who are foolish enough to spend their money on books discussing it," says UCLA physics and astronomy professor Edward L. Wright.
Handshake of Death: According to the House of Yahweh, a Christian sect, when Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, they began a seven-year tribulation that will end this Sept. 13 and bring about the end of the world.
Comment: "It's absolutely clear in the New Testament that Jesus says no one knows the time of the end, not even he. Only God knows," says Charles Kimball, professor and chairman of the department of religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. "The Bible is the absolute word of God, not in error in any way, in terms of science or history, and yet to make these kinds of [predictions] work at all, they have to use a tremendous amount of metaphorical imagery. Obviously, [Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin] are not in the Bible."
Spaced Out: The Unarius Academy of Science, a UFO-oriented group based in El Cajon, believes that at some point in 2001 (the society doesn't specify a date), a "Pleiadean star ship will land on a rising portion of Atlantis in the area of the Bermuda Triangle." Earth, the Unarians predict, will become "the final world to join an alignment of 33 planets forming an interplanetary confederation for the spiritual renaissance of humankind on Earth."
Comment: "This business of a spaceship in the Pleiades doesn't even come close to being worth discussing. It's just crazy," Wright says. "There is nothing going on in the Pleiades. It's just a cluster of young stars a few hundred light-years away."
The Time is Nigh: Many in the New Age community believe Dec. 21, 2012, will usher in a new era--one that will cause earthly materialism to end and prompt the planet's inhabitants to return to a more natural, spiritual state. The year 2012 marks the end of the 5,128-year Mayan calendar, and, many New Ageists believe, the end of time. Why the Mayan calendar? The Gregorian calendar, now used in most countries of the world, is inaccurate, they say. Based on cycles of the moon, the Mayan calendar is felt to be more in sync with nature.
Comment: Like the Gregorian calendar, the Mayan calendar "is arbitrary," says John Henderson, Mayan expert and professor of anthropology and archeology at Cornell University. "The earliest use of this calendar that we have is late in 36 BC, so they're already projecting 3,000 years back in the past to the beginning point. . . . It didn't begin at the beginning, it began in the middle. So what's clear is that they're projecting back to what they thought was the beginning of the current version of the universe."