Wrong Count: How the Mayans and all calendar systems are inaccurate


*note—This is another older piece from before this site was revamped

The Mayans never said the world would end tomorrow nor does their calendar even end tomorrow.

It feels silly to even address this, as though I’m giving some long-winded pedantic haranguing on why one plus one does not, in fact, equal asparagus, but obviously calendars are arbitrary systems of measurement that humans created in an attempt to organize the Earth, Moon or Sun’s astronomical cycles into a usable system of reference.

Sure, the 12th Mayan baktun cycle in their “long count” calendar ends tomorrow, but then the 13th baktun begins immediately after that. Calendar systems are mathematical cycles and do not end. They do, however, become inaccurate over time—if they ever were accurate at all.

And the Mayan calendar was wildly inaccurate (they were amazing astronomers in many respects, no doubt, but their system for calculating years was totally busted). They thought a year lasted only 360 days, and didn’t account for a leap year, to name a few problems.

But even the Gregorian calendar system we and most Western cultures use is not entirely accurate either. By approximately the year 3200, our calendar system will be behind by about one day and require a readjustment.

All calendar systems will perpetually become inaccurate due to numerous factors, such as the precession of the equinoxes (sometimes called nutation or axial precession, a slow, cyclical change in the orientation of the Earth’s axis of rotation caused by gravitational forces of the Sun and Moon that causes Earth’s rotation to wobble and spin like a toy top tracing a cone that makes a complete cycle approximately every 26,000 years), tidal acceleration (the effect of tidal forces between a planet and an orbiting satellite that in our situation is causing the Moon to slowly pull away from the Earth and the Earth’s rotation to slow down, making our days gradually longer and forcing us to add leap seconds at irregular intervals), and general perturbations from other planets that wreak havoc when attempting to accurately measure orbiting bodies in our solar system… all of which causes the time of a full Earth rotation around the Sun to vary ever so slightly with each passing.

Without constant readjustments to calendar systems, the seasons would begin drift in relation to how a calendar measures a tropical year (the time it takes the Earth to make a full rotation around the Sun), and, after several millennia, Christmas would start occurring in the spring.

Absolutely nothing will happen tomorrow except the solstice at around 6:12 a.m (EST), which for the Northern hemisphere signifies the point of the shortest day and longest night of the year, as the axial tilt of the Earth’s rotation begins to face away from the Sun, and the days start to become longer again until the next solstice in June.

The universe is plenty beautiful, fun, fascinating, and baffling without clogging our minds with such nonsense about the End Times. So, please enjoy tomorrow as just another day in our journey around the Sun.


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