The end of the world is coming


Thanks to a big op/ed review in the Wall Street Journal, a segment last weekend on NPR’s Weekend Edition and other kind reviews like the one in this newspaper, my new book Earth-Shattering is getting some nice attention. While much of the book explores historical cataclysms that have befallen our planet and our solar system, the final section looks at our future.

Actual global cataclysms have been thankfully rare. But widespread fears about supposed upcoming Armageddons make the rounds every decade or so. We don’t have to think back too far to remember the End of Days that was supposed to unfold thanks to the Mayan calendar.  Hollywood didn’t want to miss out on that one, so they created the movie 2012, starring John Cusack. Its special effects were fabulous.

Before that, there was a lesser-known Armageddon scare that was popular in places like Woodstock, caused by the planets lining up on May 5, 2000. Going back a bit further, we probably all recall the Y2K Menace, when airliners were supposed to fall out of the sky thanks to faulty computer code. And before that we had the fears associated with incoming comet Hale Bopp, which resulted in the tragic Heaven’s Gate mass suicide of 39 people in 1997. They thought a spaceship was arriving right behind the comet. And, earlier, the 1982 “Jupiter Effect” when a planet alignment would supposedly make California drop into the sea.


A clear pattern becomes apparent: First, a major upcoming astronomical event gains public awareness. Then someone writes a book, article or (these days) a blog post claiming that the impending sky-event was prophesied by Nostradamus, Bible verses or an early civilization specifically to foretell the end of the world. The combination of the actual celestial event and the purported ancient prophecy is what does the trick, and fear sweeps the world – especially in New Age circles and places like our beloved Woodstock.

In Earth-Shattering, a late chapter explores likely future celestial events that will produce end-of-the-world fever. We don’t have long to wait.

I believe the first will happen next year: on December 21, 2020. That’s when the sky will produce its most dramatic planet conjunction of our lives. Jupiter will meet Saturn so closely that the two will combine into a single brilliant “star” (at least for those who missed their last eye exam). That this happens right on the day of the Solstice will, like the Mayan Solstice affair of 2012, generate a lot of attention. It will actually be an amazing sight through backyard telescopes just after sunset on December 21. The two worlds will hover together in the same telescope field!

The next Armageddon scare after that, I predict, will be the 2027 “Darkness over the Holy Land.” Get this: The longest total solar eclipse for the remainder of the century will happen right over the Pyramids on August 2. If that doesn’t bring out the prophecies and the crazies, nothing will.

The next Armageddon – and you can take this one to the bank – will be an amazingly close call from an asteroid in 2029. On Friday, April 13 (yes, Friday the 13th!), the asteroid Apophis will just barely miss us. It will come as close as our own orbiting TV satellites: near enough to glide visibly across the sky, as seen by the naked eye. Just spectacular. But in the days and weeks leading up to it, the paranoid among us will believe that an Earth-shattering collision will indeed happen, but is being kept secret by the government.

That’s enough for now, my friends. Buy the book.

Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at Check out Bob’s new podcast, Astounding Universe, co-hosted by Pulse of the Planet’s Jim Metzner.