WCU astrophysicist to deliver Nov. 11 lecture ‘What Is It About 2012?’

A Western Carolina University astrophysicist will deliver a lecture titled “What Is It About 2012? The Maya Calendar, Astronomy and the Popular Imagination” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, in the auditorium of WCU’s Natural Sciences Building.

The lecture by Enrique A. Gomez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is free and open to the public.

Popular writers over the past three decades have speculated that the end of the 5,000-year Maya baktun cycle on Dec. 21, 2012, coincides with an alignment of the Earth, the sun and the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, where a massive black hole is suspected to reside, Gomez said.

Enrique A. Gomez

Enrique A. Gomez

“These writers further speculate that this alignment will trigger a dramatic – perhaps catastrophic – change on Earth, which was allegedly predicted by the Maya of the seventh and eighth centuries,” Gomez said. “The idea that the world ‘may end’ in 2012 has taken a hold in the public imagination in many surprising ways, including the release of a major motion picture on that theme.”

Gomez (shown at right) will present his analysis of such claims in view of the archeological record, Maya mythology and known astronomical relationships.

Gomez was raised in Mexico City, surrounded by the imagery of Aztec and classical Maya culture. “As a child, I didn’t know what these images meant, so I used to love making up stories about them,” he said. Since then, the Maya writing system has been deciphered and it is now known that many of those images refer to stories, which also are mapped out in the sky as constellations and the movement of the Milky Way, Gomez said.

“This adds to their imaginative power and explains their continuity over several hundred years, but do the popular representations of Maya belief represent truthfully what the Maya did and do believe now, or are we still making up stories about them?” Gomez said.

As a scientist, Gomez conducts research into supernovae, the formation of black holes, and gamma ray bursts, the most powerful explosions known in the universe. His research is motivated by the possibility that life on Earth may have been, and still may be, affected by powerful events in the Milky Way Galaxy.

The Nov. 11 lecture is sponsored by WCU’s department of chemistry and physics. For more information, contact Gomez at (828) 227-2718.