LOS ANGELES - Next month, the sun and six of the planets will line up like cosmic billiard balls in a configuration doomsayers warn could shift the Earth's poles, trigger earthquakes, ruin the stock market and usher in the Age of Aquarius if anyone survives.
Astronomers are bracing for the May 5-16 alignment, too, but not out of fear their observatories will crumble.
They will be busy debunking the end-of-the-world predictions, just as they did when the planets lined up in 1982, 1962 and about every 20 years before that. They will have to do it again in 2020, too.
''If people are determined to be anxious about something, I think it would be a lot better if they were anxious about their driving on the freeways,'' said E.C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
The alignment will involve the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and comes just when you thought it was safe to ditch those Y2K survival kits.
The May show won't even be visible because it will be obscured by the sun's glare. So if there is to be any earthly excitement, it will have to come from all those quakes, tidal waves and volcanoes.
On Thursday, in a celestial preview, three planets - Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - will appear close in the sky as they march toward the grand alignment. The crescent moon will be crammed into the same area.
''It's very pretty,'' said Dennis Mammana, astronomer at San Diego's Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. ''I think that's the limit to the significance of this thing.''
There's no risk of a collision: The moon is 239,000 miles away; Mars 216 million miles away; Jupiter 543 million miles away; and Saturn 927 million miles away.
Each one of these planetary alignments brings a new round of doomsday predictions.
A book called ''The Jupiter Effect'' received wide attention with its prediction that California would be rocked by a major earthquake indirectly caused by the 1982 alignment of the planets. It turned out to be all wrong.
Another book ominously titled ''5/5/2000: Ice, The Ultimate Disaster'' predicts the alignment and increased solar activity will unleash a complex chain of events causing the Earth's crust to slide and poles to shift.
''Quite frankly, it would be a geological Armageddon,'' said author Richard Noone. ''You'd have volcanism going on globally. Earthquakes beyond the scale anything Richter ever dreamed of. Tsunamis hundreds of feet high, sweeping hundreds of miles inland.''
The 390-page book uses ''pole shifting'' to explain everything from the disappearance of the civilization that built the pyramids to why woolly mammoths appear to be flash-frozen in Siberia.
Noone has moved his family to safety in Georgia, but astronomers say he and everybody else have nothing to worry about because the extra pull and stretching from the aligned planets is a small fraction of the moon's tidal and gravitational strength.
Astrologers, though, say the planetary alignment signals a change from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. And that's not a good thing.
The ''pileup of energy'' is going to lead to ''some very serious reversals in the stock market,'' said astrologer Norman Arens. He also predicts cataclysmic quakes, floods and volcanoes as well as a movement away from 2,000-year-old Christian principles.
Mammana countered that nobody has ever been able to explain how rocks in space can influence lives.
''It's a shame that they have to fall into the traps of things like this,'' he said. ''The universe is a grand and wonderful place, and the fact that we can understand it and predict the way it behaves is a wonderful testament to our intelligence and our ingenuity.''
And besides, Krupp said, if the end of the world is near, so what?
''There's no reason to get upset about it. If it is the end of the world, there's very little you can do,'' he said.
On the Net:
Griffith Observatory: http://www.griffithobs.org
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center: http://www.rhfleet.org
Richard Noone's home page: http://www.rnoones.com