World Events

End of the World in 2012? Maya “Doomsday” Calendar Explained

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: December 20, 2011   View Article

It’s remotely possible the world will end in December 2012. But don’t credit the ancient Maya calendar for predicting it, say experts on the Mesoamerican culture.

It’s true that the so-called long-count calendar—which spans roughly 5,125 years starting in 3114 B.C.—reaches the end of a cycle on December 21, 2012.

That day brings to a close the 13th Bak’tun, an almost 400-year period in the Maya long-count calendar.

But rather than moving to the next Bak’tun, the calendar will reset at the end of the 13th cycle, akin to the way a 1960s automobile would click over at mile 99,999.9 and reset to zero.

Robots to the rescue in Japan

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 15, 2011   View Article

As the search for survivors and grim recovery of bodies continues following the devastating one-two punch of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, researchers are weighing what types of robots could be most helpful.

There are ground-based robots, for example, designed to climb up and down piles of rubble and slither into otherwise inaccessible cracks to look for survivors. Other robots are designed to work underwater, looking for survivors in cars that fell off bridges and to check the integrity of infrastructure.

Could big quake happen here? Yes

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 11, 2011   View Article

As the world tunes in to the disaster following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan today — and with waves rattling nerves along the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii — a question rises to the fore: Could such a disaster happen here?

The short answer is yes. It already has. Major quakes of a similar style rupture along the 680-mile-long Cascadia subduction zone, a fault that runs from Northern California to British Columbia, every few hundred years. They trigger tsunami waves reaching up to 15 feet high that hit the shore about 10 to 15 minutes later.

The fault last ruptured in 1700 – a magnitude-9 event that sent tsunami waves crashing into Japan. Experts believe it is a matter of when, not if, the next one will happen, according to Brian Atwater, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington and an expert on the 1700 event.

“There’s no reason to question the history here,” he told me today.

Seven priceless treasures lost to war

Publication: MSNBC.com   Date: October 11, 2010   View Article

During the fall of Baghdad in 2003, thousands of artifacts were taken from the Iraqi capital’s National Museum, whose holdings documented the rise of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. Scholars called the losses a tragedy for all of humanity.

Since the looting, about 5,000 artifacts have been recovered and returned to Iraq, including the antiquities shown here that were seized by Syrian authorities after they were smuggled across the border. About 600 of the artifacts that had been returned went missing once more – and were found again just this month, misplaced among kitchen supplies at the Iraqi prime minister’s office.

Experts believe more than 15,000 artifacts remain at large.

Check out six more historical and archaeological treasures lost to wars and conflict, from the invasion of Iraq to a 17th century attack on the Parthenon. Some treasures have been restored or replicated; others are gone forever.

Earth Day at 40: How it Began, Where It’s Going

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 22, 2010   View Article

From grassroots beginnings in 1970, Earth Day—which celebrates its 40th anniversary today—has blossomed into a global tradition.

Organizers expect more than a billion to honor Earth Day in 2010—but many will do so with Facebook rather than megaphones.

As part of the Billion Acts of Green, an initiative organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Earth Day Network’s Green Generation campaign, more than 30 million people will use social media to encourage green activities. One commenter on the Earth Day Network Web site named “Elroy,” for example, plans to “shower with a friend”—presumably to conserve water and electricity.

St. Patrick’s Day 2010: Irish Shamrock Shortage and More

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: March 17, 2010   View Article

Today, St. Patrick’s Day 2010, millions of people will don green and celebrate the Irish with parades, good cheer, and perhaps a pint of beer. But pinning a shamrock to your lapel in 2010 may require a heaping helping of the luck of the Irish.

Find out why shamrocks are in short supply, what St. Patrick really did, and more in our no-blarney roundup of St. Patrick’s Day facts.

Baseball in the cold a mental, physical challenge

Publication: MSNBC.com   Date: October 26, 2009   View Article

Baseball fans looking over the equipment list — balaclavas, tights, parkas, and hand warmers — are forgiven if they think the Phillies and Yankees are headed for a ski vacation.

The World Series begins Wednesday, the latest start in the game’s history at Oct. 28. Odds favor some frigid nights of baseball with bundled-up players trying to keep their heads in the game.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach