Mayan calendar reaches end, world still here

A still from one of NASA's YouTube videos that attempt to ease people's fears about the end of the world.

(CBS News) It's Dec. 21, the last day of the Mayan calendar. Since this writing, the world hasn't ended.

However, some people will keep worrying until they wake up safe and sound tomorrow morning.

All this year, doomsayers have been saying, in effect, that poet T.S. Eliot had it backwards: the world will not end with a whimper, but with a bang. Images akin to those portrayed in the big-budget film "2012" are what some people have been saying today will look like, that the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21 means mass destruction on a global scale. But scientists remain unconvinced.

Donald Yeomans, manager of the NASA Near Object Program, said, "The earth is not coming to an end. There is no evidence whatsoever for that."

In fact, NASA has taken a lead role in debunking the Mayan myth, posting several YouTube videos in an attempt to soothe a shaken populace. In one of those videos a narrator says, "No known asteroids or comets were on a collision course with Earth. Neither is a rogue planet coming to destroy us."

NASA also has a website, intended to put people's mind at ease. Some 5 million people have logged on to read reassuring words like: "The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than four billion years."

Experts say the public's fears may be unwarranted, but they're understandable.

David Ropeik, a risk perception consultant, said, "It is a reflection of the human tendency to be unsettled by uncertainty. And these are certainly unsettled times, making the uncertainty even greater."

Outside Moscow, some people aren't taking any chances. They'll be riding out today in a Cold War-era bunker, about 185 feet underground. The price: the equivalent of $1,000 per person. Come tomorrow morning, we'll know if it was worth the rubles to avoid the rubble.

But no matter what, doomsday clock-watchers will gather everywhere from the Mayan ruins -- where it all began -- to Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles which is staying open until midnight tonight to handle the crowds. And it won't take a rocket scientist to prove the world hasn't ended.

Yeomans said, "If you like, you can just look down on Dec. 22 and see that the Earth is still here."

Some Mayan experts say the calendar doesn't mark an ending, but a new beginning. That sounds familiar in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury where they once heralded the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, where peace and love would rule over the world. That didn't happen, either.

For John Blackstone's full report, watch the video above.

So is this all much ado about nothing? Best-selling author Michio Kaku, a physics professor at the City University of New York, said on "CBS This Morning," "All week I've been telling people, 'Don't quit your day job. For God's sake, pay your rent and do your laundry.' The thing is Mayans never made this prophesy. This was hijacked. Hijacked by a doomsday machine that every 10 years, sells books, does TV specials propagating these things. Remember Y2K? Every 10 years. ... This a cash cow unfortunately."

Kaku said the sky would be on fire if the so-called prophesy were correct. He said, "We should be colliding with a black hole or the 10th planet out there. But, hey, it's raining and snowing. The sky is not on fire."

Kaku said there are possibilities, such as a meteor or comet impact, that could end the world like what happened 65 million years ago when an object about six miles across slammed into Mexico. He said, "However, even though that event killed the dinosaurs, we see no evidence of any meteor or comet out there in outer space at the present time."

For Kaku's full "CTM" interview, watch the video below.


However, Kaku said, the planet is facing a real problem: climate change. "This Mayan prophesy thing is a detour," he said. "There some real problems facing the planet Earth. As you pointed out, this year could go down as one of the hottest years ever record going back more than a century. This decade could go down as the hottest decade ever recorded. So there's some real problems facing the Earth, but this is a detour, distracts from what we have to face.

"We think there's still time (on climate change). If we were to rein in greenhouse gases, we think there's still time. However, realize that the North Pole, the North Pole could be gone by mid-century, and our children will tell us Santa Claus is a myth because they know that Santa Claus is not real because there's no North Pole. So that's the legacy we're going to be leaving our children, with glaciers receding, the North Pole thinning every year."