LOS ANGELES, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- A NASA scientist has condemned the doomsday film "2012" and launched a web site, "Ask an Astrobiologist," to quell the fears it is raising.
The film, now showing in the U.S., is the latest and most high-profile public airing of an ancient Mayan prediction that a world cataclysm will occur on the winter solstice in 2012. There have been many books and TV shows on the theory but "2012" has had a much greater impact, creating widespread public fear that the prediction may be correct.
Dr. David Morrison, a senior scientist at NASA's Astrobiology Institute, has become so concerned that he decided not to remain silent.
"Two years ago, I got a question a week about it," said Morrison.
"Now I'm getting a dozen a day. Two teenagers said they didn't want to see the end of the world, so they were thinking of ending their lives," he added.
Morrison attributed the general fear to the fact that several items have become conflated into one mega-myth. One is the persistent Internet rumor that a planet called Nibiru, or Planet X, is going to crash into the Earth.
Then there is the fact that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, suggesting that the Mayans knew something we don't. Finally, end-of-the-worlders have seized upon the publicity about the 2012 date to push their claims the end of the world is near.
Morrison said Nibiru was a name in Babylonian astrology sometimes associated with the god Marduk. The claims that Nibiru was a planet and was known to the Sumerians were just imagination.
He said IRAS, the NASA Infrared Astronomy Satellite, which carried out a sky survey for 10 months in 1983, discovered many infrared sources, but none of them was Nibiru or Planet X or any other object in the outer solar system.
He said, if signs of a new object in space turned out to be not real, or not a planet, then it was not heard about again. If it was real, it would not be called Planet X. Therefore, the so-called Planet X did not exist.
Morrison said the great majority of the many photos and videos on the internet purporting to be of Nibiru were of some feature near the Sun, apparently supporting the claim that Nibiru had been hiding behind the Sun for the past several years. These were actually false images of the Sun caused by internal reflections in the lens, often called lens flare.
He said people could identify them easily by the fact that they appeared diametrically opposite the real solar image, as if reflected across the center of the image. This was especially obvious in videos, where, as the camera moved, the false image danced about always exactly opposite the real image. Similar lens flare was a source of many UFO photos taken at night with strong light sources such as streetlights in the frame.
Morrison also dismissed claims the government knew about Nibiru but kept it a secret to avoid panic. He said there were many objectives of government, but they did not include keeping the population at ease.
He said social scientists had pointed out that many of the concepts of public panic were the product of Hollywood, while in the real world people had a good record of helping each other in time of danger.
"I think everyone also recognizes that keeping bad news secret usually backfires, making the issue even worse when the facts finally come out. And in the case of Nibiru, these facts would come out very soon indeed," he added.
He said, even if it wanted to, the government could not keep Nibiru a secret. If it were real, it would be tracked by thousands of astronomers, amateurs as well as professionals. These astronomers were spread all over the world.
On why the Mayan calendar says the world will end in 2012, Morrison said calendars existed to keep track of the passage of time, not predict the future.
He said ancient calendars were interesting to historians, but they could not match the ability people had today to keep track of time, or the precision of the calendars currently in use.
"The main point, however, is that calendars, whether contemporary or ancient, can not predict the future of our planet or warn of things to happen on a specific date such as 2012," said Morrison.
"I note that my desk calendar ends much sooner, on Dec. 31, 2009, but I do not interpret this as a prediction of Armageddon. It is just the beginning of a new year," he said.
Answering a question from a school boy that all his school friends were telling him that all were going to die in the year 2012 due to a meteor hitting Earth, Morrison said his friends were wrong.
He said the Earth had always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits were very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
But today, NASA astronomers were carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit, said Morrison.
"We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs," Morrison stressed.