Q: Will the world end in 2012?
A: You've probably noticed some recent hullabaloo surrounding the purported date for the end of the world – 21 December 2012.
Roland Emmerich made the big-budget disaster movie 2012 about it, bearing the legend "We were warned". It had John Cusack in it and everything. Is this reason enough to be concerned?
Well, let's examine what the doomsayers are bleating on about before we start building arks.
If you're Confused.com about why people think the world is going to end, or indeed about whether it actually will, read on.
The root of much of the speculation is down to an alleged prophecy made by the Maya.
The Mayan civilization was established around 4,000 years ago in what is now Mexico and central America, and pockets of Maya still exist to this day.
What we're chiefly interested in here is their Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. This calendar began on a date which corresponds with 11 August, 3,114 BC, according to some scholars. According to the Maya, this is when the world of human beings began.
Two gods – the Creators – attempted to create people in their image, but made out of mud.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, this enterprise was short-lived. Mud is better known for being crumbly than robust, so the hapless Creators had to go back to the drawing board.
On the advice of some of their other deific pals, they build the next batch of people out of wood.
However, the wooden folk had no souls, and soon forsook the gods who created them. Peeved by this, the gods destroyed the wooden people with rain.
For the next attempt, the gods created man out of corn. And – wouldn't you know – this proved to be a great success. The corn people have flourished on Earth ever since.
Anyway, another deity was enlisted to create the calendar beginning at man's creation.
The calendar is a non-repeating sequence of 5,125 years, or 13 b'ak'tun (just over 394 solar years each).
And this calendar ends on - *gulp* - 21 December 2012!
Scholars debate whether the end of the calendar means the end of the world, a period of transition, or simply the beginning of a new cycle. Others are combining this date with an impending planetary alignment that will somehow throw the Earth out of whack, just like the previous alignments failed to do in 1962, 1982 and 2000.
The planet Nibiru's approaching – be sure to duck
Another theory is that a planet-sized object (possibly a planet) called Nibiru will collide with the Earth - or at least pass so close that the poles will shift, and we'll all die.
The Sumerians believed there to be an additional planet in the solar system and this was documented by a chap called Zecharia Sitchin. However, Sitchin made no claims that Nibiru was headed for us anytime soon.
The predicted calamity is the brainchild of one Nancy Lieder, who lives in Wisconsin, USA.
And how does she know this is going to happen? Creatures from another planet inform her, via an implant in her brain.
These prophetic aliens have cried wolf once before, in May 2003.
In advance of the original cataclysmic date, Lieder implored listeners of a Los Angeles radio station to put down their pets before the supposed event, claiming she had already done so herself.
The world didn't end. But Lieder fans claim that Nibiru is still en route, and the date of the cataclysm just so happens to coincide with the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar.
So, is the world going to end on 21 December?
As much as I'd like to say that everyone should quit their jobs today, and make the most of our last month on Earth by going naked crazy bananas, it's with some regret that I have to conclude that the world is not about to end.
In the unlikely event that I'm wrong, and the world does end, you may find your life insurance provider refuses to pay out due to Act Of God. Assuming they get back to you, of course.
To quote Tom Lehrer, "No-one will have the endurance/to collect on his insurance/Lloyd's of London will be loaded when they go".
Would you like to see some famous eschatological predictions in infographic form? Of course you would. Check out these famous prophecies about the end of the world.
Do you have any issues you’re Confused.com about? Send your questions to email@example.com, and we’ll see if we can answer them for you!