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Apocalypse Not Now

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By Sandy Siegel '72

Published Jan 1, 2012 12:00 AM


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Photo by Betsy Winchell

Mark your calendars: 12/21/12 … WORLD ENDS.

This doomsday prediction comes compliments of the Maya calendar. Dec. 21, 2012, marks the end of a Maya cycle of time, Baktun 13, and some believe it signifies the end of the world. Or at least that's the current fixation of pop culture, as the date has become the subject of late-night radio, summer movies, breezy news stories and breathless blogs.

Fortunately for all of us, the claim that the winter solstice sun will align with the center of the Milky Way, wreaking global havoc, is "just totally untrue," says Ed Krupp M.A. '68, Ph.D. '72. And he should know: He's served as director of Griffith Observatory since 1974.

And the mystery planet Nibiru that's supposedly on a collision course with Earth — which NASA is supposedly keeping hush-hush? "There's no way that you can hide this planet by this point, if it's coming," reassures Krupp.

In other words, don't toss your Christmas gift list.

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Maya calendar (iStock photo)

Fascination with a Mayan end-times scenario dates back to the 1970s, with the publication of some books on the subject. Krupp noticed an uptick in curiosity not long after the renovated Griffith Observatory reopened in November 2006.

"I was getting anecdotal information from our guide staff on the floor," he says, "that the most frequent question they were being asked was, ‘What is all this stuff about the Maya calendar in 2012?' "

To address visitors' queries, Krupp, an internationally recognized authority on prehistoric and ancient astronomy, put together a presentation for his staff. Soon, he started doing occasional interviews for small TV operations, writing articles and lecturing on the topic. For Krupp, "the Maya calendar business is just sort of a little footnote on really what's been decades of interest in ancient astronomy."

That interest indirectly stems from his days at UCLA, where his adviser, renowned astronomer and professor George Abell, nudged him into taking a part-time job as a lecturer at Griffith Observatory. After completing his doctorate, Krupp worked full time at the iconic landmark, initially as curator. He spent his first vacation checking out stone circles and other prehistoric monuments in Britain, with an eye toward developing a program for the Observatory. Since then, he has traversed the globe, visiting hundreds of ancient and prehistoric sites.

Now, Krupp is developing a new planetarium show to debut in the spring. Tentatively titled "Time's Up," it will explore the concept of time and will allude to what he dubs the "Maya calendar follies."

And does he have any predictions of his own for the New Year?

"The great thing about astronomy is that you actually can predict some things," Krupp says. "I can predict that [the doomsday story] is going to go nuts in 2012."

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