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 CNS Story:

2012-VATICAN Jan-6-2010 (430 words) xxxi

Forget doomsayers; stop smoking, fasten seatbelts, advises astronomer

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Forget worrying over end-of-the-world predictions; lives are more at risk of being lost from smoking and driving without a seatbelt, said a Vatican astronomer.

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno said, there is no reason to believe the claims behind the new apocalyptic science fiction film, "2012," or other doomsday scenarios.

"People have been predicting the end of the world since the dawn of humanity. Up until now, none of these theories have turned out to be true and there is no reason to believe (that they will come true) in 2012," he said in an interview published Jan. 6 in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. The article's headline read: "2012? It's not the end of the world, at all."

Brother Consolmagno said there is a more serious problem behind the many forecasts of doom on the horizon.

"These beliefs spread because we are all tempted by the desire to possess secret knowledge of the future, thinking that it will make us more powerful than others. In reality, this is only a sign of bad science or bad religion," he said.

However, the Vatican astronomer, who is a planetary scientist and an expert on meteorites, said scientists do study the possibility of asteroids plummeting to Earth.

Comets and asteroids are continually heading toward Earth, he said, but most of them are very small or they land in the ocean or in sparsely populated areas.

Yet, "sooner or later one of these bodies will hit an area that is more densely populated," said Brother Consolmagno.

Large impacts are rare, but one in Siberia in 1908 "created an explosion equivalent to an atomic bomb." Something of that magnitude "may happen every hundred years," he said.

He said it's worthwhile for scientists to keep their eyes on the 100,000 known asteroids to see if they might head into Earth's orbit as well as to study what they are made of in order to better understand how to knock them out of range if need be.

It's also better to be more concerned about man-made disasters and to work on preventing them, he said.

"It's true that in addition to human activity, many other factors may be causing global warming, but the only things we can control are the things that are caused by us. For that reason, we must not give up any attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere."

In the meantime, he said, "Not to panic. Just two precautionary measures are enough to increase the possibility of a long and healthy life: stop smoking and fasten your seatbelt."


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