How The Mayan Calendar Works: Why The World Won’t End On Friday

By Amir Khan on December 19, 2012 12:14 PM EST

Mayan Temple
The Mayan Calendar does not end on December 21, and it does not predict the end of the world. (Photo: Reuters)

The Mayan Apocalypse. December 21, 2012. The end of the world. We've been hearing about the Mayan Apocalypse for years now, but to anyone who understands how the Mayan calendar works, it's clear that the Mayans never predicted the end of the world, and they certainly didn't predict that any type of catastrophic event would occur on December 21, 2012.

How the Mayan calendar works may seem daunting at first, but it's really quite simple. The Mayans used three different calendars. The first, the Tzolk'in, lasted 260 days and then started over again, much like our 365 day calendar, and was used to schedule religious ceremonies. The second, the Haab', lasted 365 day, but did not take into account the extra quarter-day our modern calendar does.

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The third calendar, and the most important to understand, is the Long-Count Calendar. The Long-Count Calendar, which ends on (or about) December 21, is the one that has stirred up all of the doomsday fears, but understanding how this Mayan Calendar works should put all of that fear to rest.

The Long Count Calendar conveys long periods of time, denoted by five numbers separated by four periods, such as 13.0.0.0.0. The right most number counts single days, up to 19 before resetting. So the Long Count Mayan Calendar would go from 13.0.0.0.0 to 13.0.0.0.1, all the way up to 13.0.0.0.19, before rolling over to 13.0.0.1.0, much like a car odometer.

The second position, the Tun, counts up to 17 before resetting, meaning each Tun on the Long Count Mayan Calendar is 18 sets of 20 days, or, 360 days -- approximately one year. The Tuns roll into k'atuns. Which count up to 20 again before rolling over into the final number, the b'ak'tun.

"Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012," NASA said in an online FAQ debunking the Mayan Apocalypse. "This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar."

December 21, 2012, the day long feared as the Mayan Apocalypse, marks the end of the b'ak'tun, a cycle of 144,000 days, which means that December 21 will once again be 13.0.0.0.0 -- not the end of the world.

"You'll get up in the morning and go forward, and the Maya cycles will have clicked over another day," Walter Witschey, an archaeologist and Maya expert at Longwood University in Virginia, told Yahoo! News.

However, many people still worry about the Mayan Apocalypse on December 21, 2012, fearing a galactic alignment, a pole shift or a bevy of natural disasters. However, NASA has dismissed those worries as unfounded.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," NASA said in a statement. "Since the beginning of recorded time, there have been literally hundreds of thousands of predictions for the end of the world and we're still here."

Read More:

Apocalypse 2012: Why The World Will End On December 21

Mayan Apocalypse Myths; 5 Events To Watch For

Mayan Apocalypse Myths: 93 Arrested In China Over December 21, 2012 Doomsday Leaflets

Mayan Apocalypse Myths: December 21, 2012 Doomsday Debunked; Why We Want To Believe The World Will End [VIDEO]

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