The Maya were right about 2012 (possibly?)
For a long time now, I have figured that the major possibilities for a scientific prediction from the ancient Maya (or their predecessors) was either a massive solar storm (via noticing patterns in low-latitude auroras) or the return of a long-period comet.
Following a 2012-recap interview over the weekend, I found myself double-checking comet discoveries of recent times, looking for a match I may have missed. I think I have found a possibility. There’s no way of proving that this is what the Long Count calendar was all about, but it is perhaps the best scientific educated guess.
The Kreutz Sungrazers Listeni/ˈkrɔɪts/ are a family of sungrazing comets, characterized by orbits taking them extremely close to the Sun at perihelion. They are believed to be fragments of one large comet that broke up several centuries ago…
The three most impressive have been the Great Comet of 1843, the Great Comet of 1882 and Comet Ikeya–Seki. Another notable Kreutz Sungrazer was the Eclipse Comet of 1882…
Tracing back the orbits of Ikeya–Seki and the Great Comet of 1882, Marsden found that at their previous perihelion passage, the difference between their orbital elements was of the same order of magnitude as the difference between the elements of the fragments of Ikeya–Seki after it broke up. This meant it was realistic to presume that they were two parts of the same comet which had broken up one orbit ago. By far the best candidate for the progenitor comet was that seen in 1106 (Great Comet of 1106): Ikeya–Seki’s derived orbital period gave a previous perihelion almost exactly at the right time, and while the Great Comet of 1882’s derived orbit implied a previous perihelion a few decades later, it would only require a small error in the orbital elements to bring it into agreement.
X/1106 C1, also known as the Great Comet of 1106, was a Great Comet that appeared on February 2, 1106, and was observed across the world from the beginning of February through to mid-March. It was recorded by astronomers in Wales, England, Japan, Korea, China and Europe. It was observed to split in two, and may have formed the Great Comet of 1882, Comet Ikeya–Seki and SOHO-620.
The best astronomers have determined is that the Great Comet of 1106 split up (being so close to the Sun at perihelion means that brightness goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to fall apart from its ice melting) and its descendants returned in 1843 and 1882. I’m guessing that the most accurate return (relative to that of a comet that stayed intact) would be the earliest return – the Great Comet of 1843.
That gives us an orbital period of 737 years. That equals seven returns of 737 years for a total of 5159 years. The Long Count calendar was 5125 years long. That’s a difference of less than 5 years per return – the sort of accuracy that only modern-day astronomers can achieve given the difficulty of calculating the effects of the numerous, simultaneous effects of the gravitational forces within our solar system.
For: The brightness of the comet would most likely diminish with time if it was shedding material. That means that back in 3114 BC it could have been an awesome sight worthy of fear and the creation of a countdown calendar.
Against: Even though modern science cannot reverse engineer the previous orbits, people expect a 2012 solution to be accurate, and matching the precise day that they were told the world would end.
Not only is it the most likely reason for the existence of the Long Count calendar (while we lack any other clues), it is also a really good combo of awe and benign. I like it. It’s not a great fit, and I’m not especially convinced, but it is the best I have found to date.
This is blog post #1001. Quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality but at least someone is still trying to solve this ancient enigma…