I imagine you do remember December 21, 2012.
Who doesn’t? Well, of course, it was the day Winter officially started in the Northern Hemisphere. It also was the day Summer started in the Southern Hemisphere!
For many, many people, it was a dreaded day all over the world. Yes. Now you remember! The so-called Mayan predicted end of the world... I won’t start again on one of the biggest hoaxes we lived through last year.
It could have been very funny but so many people were so afraid and so sure that the end of the world had come that it was pitiful.
I know it was getting on my nerves a lot because this is all you heard or read about for quite a long time... and not only in France nor Belgium.
My sister lives in Southern France and she called me early December... It must be said in her defense that people were trying to hide in a village not very far from where she lives, a place that was supposed to be protected from all evil. Well, stranger things have happened in France, you know!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that she really believed that the end of the world was getting close. But I have to admit that I cringed when she asked me this question.
“Your son is an astronomer. He’s working for NASA. Was he told something specific about December 21?”
One long sigh.
“I guess he wouldn’t be able to say anything to anyone, would he?”
Well, my dear sister, how wrong you were!
Because actually, my son, Jean-Christophe aka Swee’Pea had said quite a few things about the ‘2012’ scare. And where? On TV! Wow.
Now you are hooked, aren’t you?
I was when I heard the quite hilarious story as told by my beloved and only son, the
Swee’Pea’s job with NASA involved going to Chile where he’d spend a few nights at La Silla Observatory from time to time, analyzing directly data from far-away galaxies. Hard to work all night long... I know! But if you think that he was observing them from space telescopes below starry skies, you are wrong. His observing and analyzing were done on computers down below in windowless rooms!
Every time he’d go to Chile, he’d spend a couple of days traveling around though. Tit for tat!
Swee’Pea loves T-shirts. He buys them all over the world... (Being an astronomer can be fun too.)
Which brings me back to 2012 and to the end of the world. Did you think I had forgotten all about December 21?
You see, it was a beautiful sunny day in California. Early October I think it was... but so sunny outside that he went to work wearing a T-shirt. Not just any kind of T-shirt though. A T-shirt he had bought a few months before in Chile. A kind of worn-out T-shirt still sporting a Chilean flag.
There he was, going to work when a beautiful young woman came up to him...
“You are Chilean, aren’t you?” His Spanish was good enough to understand this kind of question... but he then switched rapidly to English and told the girl about being French and working at La Silla from time to time, et cætera, et cætera...
Well, the beautiful girl was a TV reporter from Chile, hoping to find a genuine Chilean astronomer on campus, ready to expound the scientific issues concerning the so-called Mayan calendar and the end of the world!
Swee’Pea knew quite a few genuine Chilean astrophysicists, all of them living and working in Chile though. He gave their names and whereabouts to the girl who was overjoyed, of course! Imagine, being able to get in touch with Chilean astronomers, just like that - by meeting a nice French guy at Caltech!
You’d think that she could have done some research beforehand. But anyway she had a meeting planned with a very important NASA astronomer at Caltech, a few minutes later... (Someone who would be wearing a suit and a tie by the way!)
I imagine she did not want to be rude and dismissive after getting so much help so she asked our son a few questions about the ‘end of the world’ which he answered very gracefully. Have I mentioned that the reporter was very pretty? I think I did.
Swee’Pea enjoyed being asked questions and being filmed of course... but he forgot all about it very quickly. He did not even mentioned it when we skyped a couple of days later!
In December, his friend Alessandro (whom he’s known for a very long time - ever since they both were working on their PhD in Paris) went to Chile to get some data on another project. Alessandro is an Italian astronomer working for NASA too. (I think. Well, I know he’s Italian, that’s for sure.)
One morning, Alessandro comes up quite early from the depths of the Observatory. It’s breakfast time. He’s very, very tired and longs to go to bed but the TV is on and the show is about Chilean astrophysicists he knows very well. And guess what they are talking about?
And all of a sudden, there he is! Swee’Pea! Swee’Pea's on TV...
And Swee’Pea's talking about a possible danger astronomers are well aware of: asteroids in the remote future.
And Swee’Pea's explaining that what’s going on about the Mayan calendar is nothing else but an urban legend and that people get a kick out of being scared... It probably keeps them from thinking about more serious and very authentic problems.
Well, Alessandro is truly flabbergasted. Swee’Pea never mentioned to him nor to his other friends in Pasadena meeting the Chilean TV crew on campus, not once. You see, he never thought he’d make it in the documentary when some very distinguished Chilean astronomers were supposed to be interviewed.
And what about the French touch (wearing a Chilean T-shirt), Swee’Pea?
By then our son had flown back to France, getting ready and waiting for his work permit to come through for his next assignment.
We were together when he heard the news from Alessandro who also sent the link to the program! We did have a lot of fun watching it on my computer... Very interesting by the way. I downloaded it... This, my friends, will be a classic!
And this is how I was able to tell my sister all about my son who never was an astrologer and therefore could not predict the end of the world... My son, the astronomer, was able to express a few scientific ideas about a very real urban legend.
In January 2013, humans are still alive for better or for worse depending on which part of the world they live in but the end of the world never happened after all.
One of these days, another story will spread and another one and another one because this is what people love to feed on - urban legends.
I do not care. My son is an astronomer, thank you.
*Good Luck, and Good Night*