As December 21, 2012, creeps ever so near, many people around the world are concerned about the possible end of the world. Why? Because that is the date that the ancient Mayan calendar ends, and many have interpreted that to mean that the world would end on that date. A papal astronomer, however, recently gave his assurances that the world will not end on Dec. 21, 2012.
Jesuit Father Jose Funes, head of the Vatican Observatory, wrote in the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, that the universe will eventually come to a "cold and dark" demise, but it will be billions of years from now. He also said that Christians know that God is always with his creation and welcomes everyone to eternal life.
The paper published the priest-astronomer's article on December 12 with the headline "The end that won't come -- at least for now."
Funes said that claims that the end of the Mayan "Long Count" calendar on Dec. 21 marks the end of the world were "irrational". He notes that science offers a number of more probable scenarios than pseudo-prophecies do.
For example. discoveries suggest that the univerise, which is believed to be 14 billion years old, is in constant expansion. If the "inflation" model is correct and is based on solid findings, Funes says that the universe will "rip apart" billions of years from now.
He also said that the mysterious dark energy that drives the expansion might also produce strange effects, such as "the universe could have not one end but rather 'multiends', that is some of its parts will come to an end at different moments."
Father Funes' piece was followed with a longer piece penned by Piero Benvenuti, an Italian astronomer and former head European scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope project.
Benvenuti says that sciences have "very precise data on the evolution of the cosmos, particularly until what point a planet like Earth can sustain biological and intelligent life." He said that the world's end is linked to the evolution of the sun, which formed 5 billion years ago and will keep the Earth warm for another 3.5 billion years.
The scientist explains that as the gas that fuels the sun begins to be depleted, the sun will slowly turn into a "red giant", which means it will expand more than 250 times its present diameter. That means that the planets closest to the sun, possibly even including Earth, will be "swallowed up" by the growing star.
Setting up a colony on another planet won't even help much in the long run as the sun's next dying phase as a hot, dense "white dwarf" wil make the entire solar system uninhabitable.
Benvenuti said more immediate world-ending disasters could come from "Near Earth Objects", which are chunks of ice or rock, some more than a mile wide, hurtling close to Earth's orbit.
Despite their shared belief that the end of the world is inevitable at some point, both Father Funes and Benvenuti underlined Christ's hopeful message. Benvenuti wrote:
"It would be a good opportunity, during the season of Advent, that an alternative message of reassuring wisdom come from the churches' pulpits [to counteract the] improbable predictions and other militant prophesies" [that have been flooding the media.]"
Father Funes said that human history has meaning as the world "was a gift of the God-with-us." He added:
"The Word of God reminds us that we are heading toward a fundamentally good future, despite the crises of every kind in which we are immersed. That's because we are assured that, in Christ, there is a future for humanity and for the universe."