Despite popular belief, the Mayan apocalypse is not scheduled to occur at midnight on Friday, but rather is pegged for the winter solstice.
The winter solstice, also known as the December solstice, takes place when the sun reaches its southern-most declination of -23.5 degrees. At this time, areas on the Earth above 66.5 degrees north latitude (Arctic Polar Circle) will be in darkness while places below 66.5 degrees south (Antarctic Polar Circle) will have 24 hours of daylight. In 2012, this will happen at 11:12 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) or 6:12 a.m. EST.
"There is no true issue here," NASA astrobiologist David Morrison said. "This is just a manufactured fantasy."
Fears of the alleged apocalypse have apparently stemmed from misinterpretations of the Mayan calendar, which holds that the winter solstice this year will signal the end of a 400-year-cycle of creation called the 13th b'ak'tun. At that point, according to Mayan lore, a cosmic event is supposed to occur; out of this, some have concluded (a bit breathlessly) that an apocalypse will follow -- and that apocalypse will mean the end of life.
NASA said there are no asteroids, rogue planets or solar flares that could hit and threaten life on Earth in December.
NASA also released a press release entitled "Why The World Didn't End Yesterday," which was intended for publication on Dec. 22.