You're going to hear a lot this year about how, at some point in 2012, the world is going to end. That we will all, in some way or another, wound up gone, destroyed, burned, eaten, smashed to pulp or, if we're really lucky, a combination of the lot.
We'll be fine, of course, but they're going to say it anyway. Here's why.
The first time most people will have come across this prophecy is courtesy of 2009 movie 2012, a film in which the planet is torn asunder and only John Cusack and giant space boats survive. It's complete rubbish, of course, but the theory underpinning the movie is a very real one, based on the fact that in December 2012 (December 21, to be exact) an entire cycle of the Mayan calendar, one which has run for around 5000 years, comes to an end.
The calendar, actually known as the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar (it wasn't just the Mayans using it), doesn't work like ours. So there's no January 2011, then January 2012, and so on and so on. It ran in enormous cycles, called b'ak'tuns, and this December we reach the end of the thirteenth b'ak'tun recorded on the calendar, which also coincides with the end of a larger "world age", which can last for around 5000 years.
While for most Mesoamericans this simply meant the end of an age, and maybe even cause for celebration (similar to the "millennium madness" in 2000), others with a more pessimistic view on life have constructed something else out of the phenomenon. In recent years various spiritualists, crackpot astrologists and other well-wishers of apocalypse have latched onto the date and foreseen that it means the end of the world, supported by little but fantastical theories of planetary alignments and phantom planets.
Basing their predictions on doomsday writings from Columbus and poorly-translated and agenda-riddled works from 19th century European scholars, there are now numerous possible theories as to how and why the world will end in 2012, when this Mayan calendar rolls over and kills us all.
The most popular of these include the appearance and subsequent collision with Earth of a planet called Nibiru, the spontaneous reversal of Earth's magnetic field (which was expanded upon in the movie 2012) and our alignment with a black hole in the centre of our galaxy somehow managing to destroy us all.
Those theories are, in order, implausible, optimistic (such reversals can take thousands of years to take place) and out of date (we passed that alignment over a decade ago). Mayan scholars also want no part of them, pointing out that in actual Mayan history and records - not those cooked up by Westerners centuries after the fact - there's no mention of an apocalypse coinciding with the end of the calendar cycle whatsoever.
Still, believers (and the media) aren't going to let science get in the way of a good story, so you can bet as December rolls around you'll see more than a few nutjobs on your local TV news buying tinned food and batteries.S
Unless you're mad or extremely gullible, leave them be. What you may find more interesting than doomsday preparations, though, are the number of popular works of media that join the Mayans in predicting the end of the world, in one way or another, during 2012.
TV show The X Files , for example, is faithful to the Mayan calendar theories, in that one of the key storylines running throughout the series, that of government conspiracies and aliens, comes to a head in December 2012 with the alien colonization of Earth.
Also closely aligned with the Mesoamerican calendar are two gaming properties. Shadowrun, the popular role-playing game franchise, (which has in turn been adapted several times into a video game), is based on the end of the Mayan age and beginning of another - on December 21, 2012 - marking the return to Earth of magic forces, an event that makes Shadowrun one of the most compelling and unique properties going around.
Blockbuster video game series Assassin's Creed does something similar. All four major games in the series have been set in some way or another in 2012, with the player controlling an Assassin in the historic order's fight against the Knights Templar. It's suggested that the series' story ends on December 21, 2012, with gamers having to race to stop the end of the world.
So if you're up into the wee hours on December 20 this year and want something more enjoyable (and poignant!) to do than watch crazies prepare for the end of the world, there are plenty of good movies, TV shows and games around to keep you entertained.