Michel de Nostredame, also known as Nostradamus, was a 16th-century physician who also had a penchant for writing. He penned a series of prophecies, focusing primarily on wars, disasters and destruction. Using metaphors and mystery, Nostradamus wrote these prophecies as quatrains, or four-line verses. His followers say he predicted the rise of Hitler, the Apollo moon landing and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. His critics say his writings are nothing more than ancient horoscopes, written to tell of events that undoubtedly will occur again and again. To find out more about Nostradamus and his prophecies, read our article on How Nostradamus Works.
The Long Count to the End
Those who believe that the world will end in 2012 claim that there are many signs that foreshadow the event. One occurrence they point to is the predicted alignment of the winter solstice point with the centerline of the galaxy on Dec. 21. However, astronomers dispute this assertion, insisting that such an alignment cannot actually be calculated accurately and may even be impossible.
Those who believe in the impending apocalypse also point to political upheaval and natural disasters as signs that the end is near. Around 2007, when the 2012 movement first gained traction, speculators pointed to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Today those events undoubtedly include the 2011 earthquake in Japan and the political unrest in the Middle East [sources: Krupp, Brouwer].
Theories about how the world will end are as varied as the supposed signs that foretell of the apocalypse. Some speculators claim that a mysterious planet known as Nibiru, Planet X or Eris, or a large meteor, will collide with Earth in 2012. But astronomers contend that if a celestial body were on a crash course with Earth, they would have already noticed it. Another popular theory is that the Earth's magnetic poles will reverse, causing the planet's rotation to reverse as well. Astronomers also dispute this notion. While the magnetic poles do reverse every 400,000 years or so, this event does not affect the Earth's rotation and will not harm life on Earth. Most scholars see such theories as an example of extremists using misinformation and nonsense to cash in on the fears of others or tailor an apocalyptic event to fit their pre-existing beliefs [sources: NASA, Tulane University].
Despite the cries of doomsayers, the Mayans themselves don't expect that the world will end. In fact, they believe it's a time of great celebration and luck when the planet lasts through a full Great Cycle. Think of it this way: To the Mayans, a Great Cycle is just a really long year. For them, worrying about Dec, 21, 2012, would be like us worrying every Dec. 31.
So what will happen on Dec. 21, 2012? It's likely that the day will pass with no major events at all, with the exception of the extraordinary press it will probably garner. We'll just have to wait and see what happens -- and hope we're still here to update this article on Dec. 22, 2012.