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Kingā??s prof debunks ways for Earth to die


February 19. 2013 11:04PM
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King's College associate physics professor Kristi Concannon laughs off all the doomsday chatter. Not because the world won't end, it will; just not today.


The one certain thing is that the sun is going to die in four and a half billion years, she said. Which means the Dec. 21 prediction is off by a factor of 10 to the 20th.


With a Ph.D. in astronomy, Concannon concedes she's no expert in Mayan culture. She only knows what all the other experts have been saying.


Mayans used calendars the way we do, with months and years. They had a short-count calendar and a long-count calendar. Their long-count calendar ending would be equivalent to our end of the year, Concannon said. It's no different than Dec. 31 for us.


Her doctorate does make her confident the various space-based end-of-world scenarios won't happen:



A super alignment of planets. This usually involves aligning of Earth, sun and the center of the galaxy, which Concannon said happens regularly with no effect. The gravitational pull of the center of the galaxy is miniscule here, Concannon said. Your desk has a greater pull.



A giant solar flare. Again, a common occurrence with little impact. It's just an eruption of charged particles and they get trapped by the Earth's atmosphere, Concannon said. It might knock out power grids, but it's not a threat to anything but convenience.



A supernova. This one has gamma rays from an exploding star stripping away the Earth's atmosphere, which could happen, but there are no nearby stars set to supernova.



A planet collision with Earth. If a planet was about to hit us, Concannon said, it would be visible to the naked eye by now.



An asteroid collision. That's definitely the most probable unexpected end to the planet, Concannon said. There are so many asteroids of so many sizes it's hard to see them all before they near the Earth. In fact, there was one earlier this week that went half-way between the Earth and moon, and we only knew about it two days in advance.


But had that one hit, it was so small it would have burned up in the atmosphere, or at most caused a forest fire. On the outside chance it hit a city, it would have caused serious problems, but not sparked Armageddon.


There really are not a whole lot of things you need to be worried about, Concannon said. Her students apparently weren't – they didn't blow off exams in anticipation of doomsday.


All my students wanted to pass, so they did take their finals.




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