David Morrison, 72, of Mountain View, senior scientist at the Astrobiology Institute at NASA Ames Research Center and a former student of famed scientist Carl Sagan, said he has been debunking theories about the apocalypse for about four years on his website, "Ask an Astrobiologist," the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News reported Tuesday.
"I got my first doomsday question four years ago and wondered what the heck it was," he said. "Perhaps I made the mistake of answering them, but since then I've gotten a little over 2,000 emails. I got 200 last weekend."
Morrison has also been appearing in NASA-produced videos on scientific subjects, and he said the doomsday-related videos have been getting more hits than any subject other than the Mars rover.
Morrison said the theories, which include a giant planet being bound to collide with Earth and solar flares destroying life on the planet, can be damaging to those who fear them to be true.
"I get questions from people saying, 'I'm 11 years old, and I can't sleep, I can't eat.' I have had kids saying they are considering suicide, mothers emailing me saying they are considering killing their children before the end of times," he said.
Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, said the Dec. 21 hysteria stems from a misunderstanding of the ancient Mayan calendar. She said the date marks the end of the 13th 394-year cycle in the calendar.
"It's not the end of the calendar," Joyce said. "It's the end of a cycle. It rolls over, like an odometer."